Understanding Your Baby’s Sleep Habits

The average newborn sleeps much of the day and night, waking only for feedings every few hours. It is often hard for new parents to know how long and how often a newborn should sleep. Unfortunately, there is no set schedule at first and many newborns have their days and nights confused—they think they are supposed to be awake at night and sleep in the daytime.

Sleeping vs. Eating

Generally, newborns sleep about eight to nine hours in the daytime and about eight hours at night. Most babies do not begin sleeping through the night (six to eight hours) without waking until about three months of age, or until they weigh 12 to 13 pounds. Newborns and young infants have a small stomach and must wake every few hours to eat.

In most cases, your baby will awaken and be ready to eat about every three to four hours. It is not necessary to wake a baby for feedings unless you have been advised to do so by your baby's doctor. However, do not let a newborn sleep longer than five hours at a time in the first five to six weeks. Some premature babies need more frequent feedings and must be awakened to eat.

Helping Your Baby Sleep

Babies may not be able to establish their own sleeping and waking patterns, especially in going to sleep. You can help your baby sleep by recognizing signs of sleep readiness, such as rubbing his eyes, yawning, looking away, and fussing.

You can also teach him to fall asleep on his own, and providing the right environment for comfortable and safe sleep.

Although it is surprising, not all babies know how to put themselves to sleep. When it is time for bed, many parents want to rock or breastfeed a baby to help her fall asleep. Establishing a routine like this at bedtime is a good idea. However, be sure that the baby does not fall asleep in your arms. This may become a pattern and the baby may begin to expect to be in your arms in order to fall asleep. When the baby briefly awakens during a sleep cycle, she may not be able to go back to sleep on her own.

Most experts suggest allowing a baby to become sleepy in your arms, then placing him in the bed while still awake. This way your baby learns how to go to sleep on his own. Playing soft music while your baby is getting sleepy is also a good way to help establish a bedtime routine.

Also, never put a baby to bed with a bottle propped for feeding. This is a dangerous practice that can lead to ear infections and choking.

Watch for changes in your baby's sleep pattern. If your baby has been sleeping consistently, and suddenly is waking, there may be a problem such as an ear infection. Some sleep disturbances are simply due to changes in development or because of overstimulation.

Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Jovino, DO

Date Last Reviewed: 4/6/2010

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