Many first time parents buy into the misconception that sleepless nights are a natural part of parenthood. The notion that parents should expect less sleep once their newborn arrives home is somewhat misleading. In the first weeks parents can expect to be awakened two or three times during the night to feed their newborn and change his or her diaper. Unfortunately, for some parents sleepless nights extend beyond the first few weeks sometimes lasting for a year or more. According to Cathryn Tobin, MD, a pediatrician, trained midwife and author of Lull-a-baby Sleep Plan: The Soothing, Superfast Way to Help Your Newborn Sleep Through the Night, parents can prevent these additional sleepless nights by teaching their baby good sleeping habits once they reach six weeks old.
At six weeks, infants are able to recognize and be calmed by mom and dad’s voice, can express their feelings through differentiated cries, can distinguish between light and darkness and begin to be able to control their emotions. Once an infant has these abilities establishing good sleeping habits where everyone can sleep through the night is rather simple and less stressful than having to break bad sleeping habits further down the road.
For mom-to-be Michele Bucklo of Boca Raton, Florida, establishing good sleeping habits early on for her son is a priority. “I hope he is a good sleeper. I’ve heard you don’t want to get a baby too used with crying for attention by running to them every time they make a noise. For the first couple of months he’ll be sleeping in the bassinet alongside our bed. I don’t want him to get used to sleeping with mom and dad so after that he will move into his own room. When I was younger I slept in my parents bed a lot and its something that’s hard to grow out of. Its important that he learn to fall asleep on his own as he gets older.” Teaching babies to fall asleep on their own, as Bucklo hopes her son will do, is the solution to sleepless nights according to Dr. Tobin. To accomplish this goal Tobin suggests parents “lull” their baby to sleep by providing a soothing sleep environment that simulates the mother’s womb.
A soothing sleep environment that includes a not too quiet home, offering your baby a pacifier when he or she is sleeping and swaddling, according to Tobin, triggers a natural “time to sleep” response in newborns.
Having spent nine months in the womb babies are accustomed to a bit of noise. Keeping your home quiet while your baby is sleeping isn’t necessary. In fact, babies find it easier to fall asleep with background sounds.
Using a pacifier provides your newborn the necessary sucking experience they are accustomed to having spent many months sucking away in the womb. Once they enter the world, babies lose this natural sucking experience until they are able to find their thumb again.
Swaddling, which is wrapping a baby snuggly in a blanket or other cloth, duplicates the cocoon-like environment of the womb. A study published in the May 2005 issue of The American Academy of Pediatrics found that when newborns were bundled up they slept better and longer, which probably explains why when you peek into the baby nursery in any hospital you’ll find most of the newborns sleeping quite contently.
Providing a sleep environment that mimics the womb is the first step towards teaching your baby to fall asleep on their own. The next step? Playing Mr. Sandman. A parent’s voice and gentle touch can work wonders. When I brought my son home from the hospital I discovered that when I gently stroked his temples with my finger he would almost immediately fall asleep. My daughter on the other hand was lured to sleep listening to Winnie the Pooh and Beatrix Potter stories while sucking her thumb. When bedtime approached I did my best Mr. Sandman impersonation and fortunately for my husband and I both our children were good sleepers.
Put simply, if you establish good sleeping habits early on for your newborn by providing a soothing sleeping environment both physically and emotionally everyone will get a lot more sleep.
Influence of Swaddling on Sleep and Arousal Characteristics of Healthy Infants, The American Academy Journal of Pediatrics, Vol. 115 No. 5 May 2005, pp. 1307-1311