Whether it’s your first baby or your fifth, welcoming an infant into your home is a wonderful occasion. It’s an exciting time when the smallest family member is settling into your intimate environment. Certainly, it’s a time to appreciate every precious moment and to delight in what lies ahead for baby and you.
That said, at times taking care of an infant may feel overwhelming. As we all know, babies don’t come with instruction manuals, which means that parents spend a lot of time wondering what the heck to do to keep baby happy and healthy.
Even the best intentioned may not know what to do when faced with a brand new challenge. For example, if your 6-week old fights sleep, what do you do?
Know the numbers
It’s always a good practice to arm yourself with relevant facts before tackling a new problem. In this instance, knowing how much sleep your little one actually needs is extremely beneficial. If you have a sense of the parameters—namely, what is too little and what is too much sleep—you can establish realistic goals.
How much should infants sleep?
Keep in mind that all babies are individuals and, therefore, they may have unique sleeping patterns. In other words, your baby may not sleep at the same times as your cousin’s baby, but that’s probably OK. Infants have yet to establish regular sleep patterns so don’t worry if you can’t predict the exact times for napping and going to bed at night.
Here are some general guidelines: In a 24-hour period, infants should get between 14 and 17 hours of sleep. Specifically, baby should enjoy 8-9 hours of overnight sleep and then take numerous naps (totaling 7-9 hours of sleep) during the day. In the early days, it’s perfectly normal if babies don’t seem to do anything other than eat and sleep!
Why infants fight sleep
There are a variety of reasons why an infant might refuse to settle down for a nap or for an overnight snooze. Unfortunately, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution; what’s more, what works to put baby to bed one day may not work the next.
So, do your best to remain patient and keep your expectations at a minimum. And when in doubt (or when you’re at your wit’s end), consult your pediatrician.
Is baby comfortable?
Babies need to feel tired and safe in order to naturally drop off to sleep. Sometimes, when babies are put down on their backs, they feel too exposed and become anxious and unable to drift off. Unfortunately, putting babies to bed on their stomachs is not recommended because this position has been linked to SIDS.
So, what do you do to let baby know she’s safe and sound?
Does baby feel secure?
The goal is to make baby feel as secure as possible so she can sleep safely on her back. If she’s using a large crib, try switching it out for a smaller one or a bassinet. Another option is to swaddle her in a soft, gently weighted sleep sack.
Benefits of swaddling
- Keeps arms and legs tucked in so baby won’t make a sudden movement and wake up.
- The feeling of being “wrapped up” is reminiscent of being in the womb.
- The blanket will keep baby’s body at a controlled temperature.
- Baby won’t be able to accidentally scratch herself with her fingernails.
It’s time to stop swaddling when baby can poke her arms or legs out of the blanket.
Is baby confused about the time?
In the early stages, baby doesn’t have an established circadian rhythm, or inner clock. In turn, she may confuse night and day, especially if she’s taking multiple naps during the daylight hours. As she develops, she will adjust to the 2-hour cycle, but right now you may need to help her out.
The first thing to do is to make sure you are treating naptime and bedtime differently. For example, naps shouldn’t be longer than 3 hours (whereas an overnight snooze should last longer). During a nap, go ahead and turn down the lights, but at bedtime darken the room even more and maybe use a “nightlight” or play certain music that you reserve for overnight.
Another tip is to make sure baby soaks up some sunshine during the day (either outside or by receiving sunlight through a window). The sunlight helps to naturally adjusts baby’s inner clock and should help her to regulate her sleep cycle.
Is baby all hyped up?
If baby has been enjoying playtime a little too much, she may have trouble winding down. It’s important to give her time to transition (to go from eyes wide open to eyes closed), rather than plopping her in her crib immediately after a stimulating play date. In addition, be mindful when planning your days’ activities; try not to book too much. Remember, overscheduling can lead to overstimulation!
Is baby distracted?
Everything is new to your infant, including sights, smells, and the way things feel. If baby is having trouble sleeping, check to see if she is uncomfortable in her clothes, in her blanket, or if there is a smell or sound in her room that’s distracting her.
- Temperature in the room (either too hot or too cold)
- Open window (noise from outside or a draft)
- Scratchy clothes or annoying tags on the clothes
- Uncomfortable blanket (swaddled too tightly/loosely)
- Noise from another room (TV, conversation)
- Too much light in the room
- Unfamiliar smell (from cooking, a candle, laundry detergent or soap)
Is baby hungry?
While it’s true that infants eat frequently, they don’t necessarily fill their tummies every time. In turn, it’s common for a baby to fight sleep if she is hungry. It’s impossible to say how much your baby should be eating—this is something to discuss with your pediatrician. However, once you know what a healthy amount looks like, you’ll know if she needs to eat in order to nod off.
Is baby sick?
If baby is fussing, there’s always a chance that she is under the weather. While it’s tough to decipher exactly what may be going on with her, some common ailments include a cold or allergies, a stomach ache (gas, reflux, or constipation).
For an upset tummy, you may be able to cycle her legs, rock her gently, burp her, or rub her belly. That said, be sure to contact your pediatrician with any medical concerns.
Is baby overtired?
This may not sound logical, but if baby misses a nap or is deprived of sleep for some reason, she may have a harder time following her normal sleep schedule and she may fuss when she’s put down as she is overtired.
This is tough for some parents to grasp because, really, it doesn’t make much sense. But remember, even if baby is obviously exhausted, it doesn’t guarantee that she’ll go right to sleep.
Tips to prevent overtiredness: Learn to spot the signs of a tired baby, like rubbing eyes, yawning, clenching fists, clinginess, fussing, and even sudden bursts of energy.
Is baby lonely?
While your goal should be to teach baby to sleep independently, at just a few weeks old she’s probably not quite ready to fall asleep entirely on her own. With this in mind, consider staying in baby’s room until she falls asleep. You may choose to rock her until her eyelids close or wear her in a carrier until the gentle movement lulls her to sleep.
Important note: Check with your pediatrician regarding the appropriate age to introduce a lovey or a blanket (it is most likely closer to 6 months old).
If you need additional support
Chances are if baby isn’t sleeping well, you aren’t either. When you’re exhausted, it can feel overwhelming to make decisions regarding the care of your infant (not to mention trying to keep the rest of your family on track). The time to ask for help is before it becomes too much to handle.
Find a support group
Many moms agree that it’s worth joining a parenting support group if you’re looking for advice or emotional support. Sometimes just sharing stories and being around others who are in a similar situation is enough to get you through the trickier stages. Always remember that you don’t have to be on your own.
Write it down
You may find it useful to keep a journal of naps and bedtimes. Sometimes writing things down will reveal a pattern of behavior that that you can share with your pediatrician. Or members of your support group. Another reason to journal is so you can be reminded of what sleep strategies have worked for you in the past.
Take care of yourself
Sleep training is one of the most challenging parts of caring for an infant. Knowing this, it’s important to be mindful of self-care. What this means is you need to take a bit of time every day to focus on yourself. It doesn’t have to take up too much of your time: you could take an evening bath, an afternoon stroll, work in the garden for 30 minutes, or eat lunch outside.
The reason is, the better you feel (both mentally and physically), the more capable you’ll be in terms of caring for your little one. And overall, you’ll be able to find joy in not just the easier moments, but the more difficult ones as well.