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I’m so tired – when will my baby start sleeping through the night?

Tips for getting your baby into a sleep routine, and boosting your own energy

By Nate Chomilo, MD
August 14, 2017

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You tiptoe around the house. You shush anyone who walks through the door. And you’ve mastered the death glare when your spouse drops the spoon into the sink. Like many new moms, you may have found that it’s often difficult to find sleep for you or your new addition.

How much should my baby be sleeping?

Your baby went through a lot in his first week! Between the delivery, potential circumcision and getting adjusted to the new world around him, your baby used up a lot of energy. Because of this, he might be a sound and consistent sleeper in the first two weeks and you’ll be thrilled. But, your baby’s sleeping patterns will likely change as he becomes more awake and aware. And adjusting to that may lead to more frustration for you.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a “normal” amount of time or time of day that babies sleep, especially in the first few weeks. Your baby may sleep anywhere from 16 to 17 hours a day, but this sleep may come in one to two hour increments all throughout the day. And I know this probably isn’t news you want to hear right now, but most babies don’t have a regular sleep cycle until they’re around six months old!

So what can you do in the meantime? A good place to start is talking to your pediatrician, family medicine doctors or nurse. We are here to help.

How can I help my baby stop fussing and go to sleep?

When your baby won’t stop crying, the natural reaction is to get more and more upset, worried and impatient. In those first several months, babies lack the ability to calm themselves. But you can help them. A good first step is to check on your baby to make sure there isn't something obvious that’s making him fussy, like needing a diaper change or lying in an awkward position. If your baby has just eaten, it’s possible that he may have reflux and keeping him upright after may help.

Still have a fussy guy? Try some of these tips to help your baby, and you, find the rest you need.

Put your baby to bed drowsy.

As nice and comforting as it is to rock your baby to sleep in your arms, you can unintentionally develop poor sleep habits by doing this. Try to put your baby into his crib while he’s still drowsy but not completely asleep. This way, your baby learns to fall asleep on his own and, when he awakes in the middle of the night, he has a better chance of falling back asleep. I’ll admit, as a new dad myself, this is easier said than done! But consistency does pay off and routines like this will help your baby fall asleep faster and easier.

Teach night vs. day.

It’s never too early to start trying to develop good sleep habits with your baby. Part of that is helping your baby distinguish between night and day. Daytime is therefore playtime! Be as active as possible during the day. Open up the shades, let the sunshine pour in and make some noise while your baby is sleeping. Make noise around a sleeping baby? I know, it sounds crazy. But this is a good way to help your baby realize that it is daytime. Then at night, be as quiet as possible. When you’re up for middle-of-the-night feedings it should be all business. Change your baby without cooing, playing or chatting. Your focus is to get him back to sleep quickly rather than playing with him.

Try the five S’s to help your baby sleep.

  1. Swaddling - Newborns have a startle reflex that they can’t control. If your baby has this reflex in the middle of the night, he may have a hard time going back to sleep. Swaddling your baby by wrapping his arms close to his sides may help, especially in the first couple months. There are swaddle sacks you can buy to help do the work for you, or you can ask your pediatrician or nurse for tips on swaddling with blankets.
  2. Side or Stomach - Some babies have a hard time digesting milk if they are lying on their backs. After feeding, try rocking or holding your baby on his left side or stomach. Just make sure you put your baby on his back when you lay him to sleep.
  3. Shushing - Loud shushing, white noise or even music can help calm a baby. If you played music for your baby while he was in the womb, try playing that same music again. It has been shown to be recognizable and comforting for your baby.
  4. Swinging - By swinging a baby gently, you are helping mimic what they felt in the womb. This may be enough to help calm your baby and help him get to sleep.
  5. Sucking - Most babies relax when they start sucking. Trying a pacifier to help your baby drift into sleep can help. If you are nursing it can be helpful to wait until breastfeeding is well established (generally 1-2 weeks) prior to introducing a pacifier.

How can I boost my own energy?

Taking care of a new baby around the clock is a big job! That can often mean your own self-care falls behind. Just like your baby, moms and dads can benefit from routines, too. Start with keeping up on your fluids and making healthy food choices. Then build in other healthy habits. Exercise can go a long way and even a little walk can help clear your mind and get you reenergized. We can’t say it enough – you need sleep too! This can be hard because there are always things to do after you finally get your baby to sleep. But, sleep train yourself right alongside him. This means if you are excessively tired, when your baby sleeps, you sleep too. Chores around the house can wait. Finally, avoid excessive caffeine as an artificial energy boost. Caffeine impacts your ability to sleep and, if you are breastfeeding, can contribute to your baby’s fussiness.

Talking to your partner about helping around the house.

Parenting is meant to be a team sport! Like any successful team that means practice and planning in advance are critical. Although moms often carry a large burden when it comes to feeding and caring for a newborn, partners want to be useful, too. Talking to your partner early in the process before you are both exhausted will help. Ask your partner what their expectations are and let them know how you see duties being shared. Maybe you feed and your partner changes diapers? Some nights you pump and you pass off bottle duties? One person takes charge of planning and making (or ordering) meals to avoid the dreaded question about “What do you want to do for dinner?” As a dad, I know we want to be a helping and comforting presence, not an additional burden or stress to be managed. Talking through new roles early on will give us the ability to help you the most!

About Nate Chomilo, MD

Dr. Nate Chomilo is a general pediatrician (doctor for kids in the clinic) and a hospital internist (doctor for adults in the hospital). He is passionate about helping families raise healthy and successful children and being an advocate for children within our communities. Dr. Chomilo has a special interest in early childhood literacy (helping kids learn to love books) and health literacy in general. Outside of his position with Park Nicollet, he serves as the Medical Director for Reach Out and Read MN. This is a non-profit organization that promotes early childhood literacy in pediatric exam rooms. He has also been appointed to Governor Mark Dayton’s Early Learning Council. When he’s not working, Dr. Chomilo and his wife enjoy reading to their newborn son and are currently busy trying to sleep train him, and catch a few minutes of rest for themselves.

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