One of the greatest stressors to new parents can be navigating and aiding the sleep of their newborn. Although many parents spend time preparing for birth, less attention is given to caring for the baby once they are born. Few parents feel prepared for the abrupt change and many are left feeling helpless in soothing their crying baby and assisting them in falling and more importantly staying asleep.
Generally, newborns split their sleep time to approximately 8 hours during the day and another 8 at night. Although newborns are obtaining approximately 16 hours of sleep a day, it is likely that they will not sleep more than 1 to 2 hours at a time. Most babies don't start sleeping through the night (6 to 8 hours) without waking until they are about 3 months old, or until they weigh ~12 to 13 pounds. Infant sleep cycles are also shorter (30 to 40 minutes) than their adult counter part (90 minutes) Infant sleep consists mostly of deep NRem sleep that is used to build brain neuropathways. Sleep is a time for growth and development of the infant brain. During the stages of early life, it is all about creating these pathways and connections for learning.
The National Sleep Foundation recommended that newborns get 14-17 hours of sleep a day, infants get 12-15 hours, and that toddlers clock in 11-14 hours of shut eye a day. As more seasoned parents know, even within "normal" there is bound to be some variation, so don't compare your baby to your best friend's baby.
Newborn to 1 month: 15-17 hours of sleep. Around 7-9 hours during the night, 8 hours during the day.
1 month to 3 months: 14-16 hours of sleep. Around 7-9 during the night, 6-7 hours during the day.
3 months to 6 months: 13-16 hours of sleep. Around 8-10 during the night, 4-6 during the day.
6 months to 9 months: 12-15 hours of sleep. Around 9-10 during the night, 3-5 during the day.
9 months to a year: 12-15 hours of sleep. Around 10-11 during the night, 3-4 during the day.
1 year to 1 1/2 years: 12-14 hours of sleep. Around 10-11 during the night, 2-3 during the day.
1 1/2 years to 2 years: 12-14 hours of sleep. Around 10-11 during the night, 1-3 during the day.
But what happens when the baby is not sleeping? Infants cry to communicate a need with us; whether that is that they are hungry, tired, passing a stool, over/understimulated, trying to sooth, or need to be changed. Learning how to communicate and read the cues of our little one can be confusing and frustrating but it doesn’t have to be.
A fussy baby is commonly referred to as colic baby; clinically, Colic is a baby that actually cries for at least 3 hours a day, for at least 3 days a week, for 3 or more weeks. There are several theories as to why colic occurs from an overwhelmed nervous system, to incomplete development of ‘good bacteria’ in the stomach, to allergies. While there are several theories, the results are the same: overwhelmed and tired parents.
Colic is NOT inevitable though! Thankfully, there are also ways to keep the frustration at bay; in some cultures, colic is minimal or completely non existent. Colic typically occurs between 2 weeks and 6 months of age as baby comes to an awareness of the world around them. After being born, babies are frustrated. Afterall, you’re no longer holding, feeding, shushing, and rocking your baby 24/7! A good school of thought to calm your baby is to ‘recreate’ the womb with what’s known as the 5 S’s: Swaddling, side/stomach, shushing, swinging, and Sucking.
The first S is Swaddling. The purpose of the sleep aids is to create a comforting environment like the one in the womb. Swaddling prepares your baby for soothing, but wrapping alone rarely turns on the calming reflex. Some babies may become fussier as they are initially bundled. For this reason, swaddling can seem counterintuitive for some people. If your baby is fighting the swaddle, try swaddling tighter for the first few months with their arms down at their sides. While swaddled, your baby feels most at home and safe like it did while in utero and they are unable to wiggle, hit themselves or startle which can cause frustration and cause them to wake.
The second S is Side and stomach positions. We all know tummy time is important, but what job does it have in soothing your baby to sleep? While on their back, baby has the potential to trigger their ‘moro reflex’. This reflex is a startle reflex, where baby feels like they are falling and their arms and legs flail out as if to catch onto something. Obviously, this sensation can be quite frightening and upsetting to a newborn. Thankfully, placing baby onto their side (Facing slightly down) or stomach resets their balance center found in the inner ear and can help calm them. Holding in the football position, resting on top of you, or lying face down on your lap are just as good, and better, than placing them facedown alone. Once calmed, you can gently turn baby back onto their back for sleep.”
The third S is Sushing Sounds. While in utero, the sounds surrounding your baby are about as loud as a vacuum or shower, much louder than most would think! Replicating this sushing sound will help calm your little one. If you want to get technical about it, place a sound meter app next to your baby’s ear to measure the dB. You’re aiming for 80-90 dB to calm screaming, and 65dB for sleeping. Adding this S to the environment can help your baby sleep anywhere. One bit of caution: do not use white noise all day so your baby has a chance to develop the ability to pick out the little noises around them. Shushing is for calming, naps, and sleep to help your baby sleep longer and better.
The fourth S is Swinging. While in utero, baby was constantly being rocked, shook, and jostled. Understimulation can be just as frustrating as overstimulation. For this sleep aid, we’re looking to stimulate the calming reflex and keep it turned on. For screaming, short and quick swings will start the calming reflex. Once your child is calming down, make the motions larger and more dramatic, eventually slowing down your swing. Always support their head and neck during this S, and make sure to incorporate other S’s such as sucking, sushing, and stomach lying for the complete calming environment.
The final S is Sucking. While nursing (called nutritive sucking), the baby's calming reflex is triggered. This is why some cultures offer a breast anytime a baby gets fussy. Not for hunger, but for comfort. Even sucking on a pacifier or a finger (nonutritive sucking) can activate this calming reflex. Like baby meditation, this S keeps baby calm, lowers baby’s heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels. Sucking is usually the final layered calming aid that leads the baby into a deep restful sleep.
You can find what combination of the S’s work for your baby’s unique needs. When your baby begins to fuss, add an S one by one to see which combination soothes your baby the best.
Keep in mind, babies don’t understand schedules until a couple months into life! While you may want to sleep for 10-12 hours a night, your baby doesn’t understand this concept. You can, however, train your baby to know when to sleep by forming habits. When getting ready for a nap, have a set plan; Turn lights out, feed, rock, and say a set script such as “good night, I love you!”. This applies to the night sleep too, though this routine should take a bit longer: Bath, lights out, feed, book, music, rock, say your script etc. If they get fussy, come in and repeat the last part of your routine (gently rock and say your script. Just to let them know you are still there).
The goal of calming fussiness and forming sleep habits is to train your baby to expect nothing but love from you. It is impossible to ‘spoil’ your baby in the first year of life with your attention. In !Kung and Native American cultures, whose babies have next to no colic symptoms, provide what most people would call lavish and immediate attention to their infants, who then grow up to be active and independent children and adults. Enjoy this beautiful time with your baby, allowing your energy and love to flow freely and often!