When you have a baby, whether it’s your firstborn or lastborn, the biggest problem when you get home is how to get proper shuteye. Unlike us adults, your newborn doesn’t have that beautifully well-adjusted circadian rhythm that tells us that when the sun goes down, it’s time to sleep.
Dr. Nilong Vyas, a pediatrician and founder of Sleepless in NOLA, a sleep consulting program that teaches families how to get their children sleeping through the night, weighs in on proper sleep habits in babies.
What does a good bedtime routine look like?
Your baby’s bedtime routine should look a lot like your own. Your bedtime routine is a ritual that you perform around the same time each night and is what signals to your body that it’s time to sleep. Your baby’s need for a routine is no different. “It helps to establish a consistent pattern that the child can recall and allows them to associate that with sleep,” shares Dr. Vyas. “The routine can include things such as getting on jammies, reading books, turning off lights, singing a song, and then going to sleep. It is very important to create and maintain a bedtime routine for all children, at any age.”
How many hours should a baby be sleeping at night?
This could depend on your baby as even adults require different amounts of sleep from person to person. You might need a full eight hours but maybe your sister works perfectly fine on six hours of sleep.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, newborns require 14-17 hours of sleep including naps, and infants aged 4-12 months need 12-16 hours of sleep, also including naps. Once your child is one or two years old, they can work off 11-14 hours of sleep divided between bedtime and naptime.
However, don’t panic about making these exact hours! Babies will naturally wake up during the night, and maybe they aren’t so enthused about naptime, either. Everything will smooth out with time and patience.
“Most babies begin to approximate a more ‘adult’ sleep schedule between three months and one year of age. During this time of life, babies begin to sleep for longer periods during the night and shorter periods during the daytime,” offers Dr. Vyas.
We’re struggling to get the baby to sleep. What do we do?
Nothing can make you feel more like you’re not fit to be a parent than a baby that’s fussy all night, but don’t be hard on yourself. If you’re trying to get your baby to sleep independently right now, you’re probably not sleeping well either. Don’t fret, there are plenty of resources at your disposal. Consulting a pediatric sleep specialist like Dr. Vyas, or bringing up your concerns to your pediatrician, can get you on track for a restful night’s sleep.
“If you feel as though you are stuck and the information online is too confusing or contradictory, using the help of a pediatric sleep coach can be tremendously useful and life-changing for you and your child,” advises Dr. Vyas.
When should we seek out help?
Reach out as soon as possible if you and your family are suffering from poor quality sleep. You can’t function properly as a parent off little to no sleep, and your baby won’t be doing so hot either. Nobody’s having a good time when that first tooth is coming in.
“In my experience, many parents wait too long. They assume the problem will eventually go away on its own or the child will grow out of it. But it ends up leading to poor sleep and bad moods for the whole family,” notes Dr. Vyas. “If there is a sleep regression because of a developmental milestone, that regression should last as little as three days and up to two weeks. If it is lasting longer, it is better to reach out for help rather than wait and have the problem escalate.”
Any other advice?
Honestly, being a parent is tough. Every year it seems like the guidelines change or maybe your grandma’s, mama’s, or aunt’s advice doesn’t feel right to you. There is no shame in feeling lost as a parent. Whether it’s your first baby or your third, there are things you won’t be prepared for. Reaching out will give you some peace of mind.
“Parenting is the hardest job in the world, and if your child is not sleeping well, it becomes even harder. There is no need to suffer and feel as though you are a failure if you have to ask for help. It doesn’t matter where you get help from, as long as you get help. Ideally, that help is from a trusted source with research and experience that backs them up, so you are not left in a position where the problem is worsened,” concludes Dr. Vyas.
By Sarah Batrous