When a newborn arrives on the planet, it has no understanding of the difference between night and day. Usually, babies are more wakeful at night and sleepy in the daytime (their normal womb pattern if mother has been moving, and up in the daytime.)
Over the first few months, it slowly learns about the rhythms of light and dark. Adults are the teachers. We teach babies cues about quiet and awake times by our rhythms and routines. By keeping things quiet and dark during the night, the baby slowly learns to sleep in longer stretches. Keeping the lights dim, and not talking to the baby at night (and if you do, whisper) helps them learn to be quiet. Not changing the babys diaper in the middle of the night allows them to get used to the long stretch of no disturbance when they do sleep several hours. Pretend the baby is already sleeping a 6-8 hour stretch! If the baby wakes up after a few hours of sleep, dont rush right over and pick him up. Give the baby 10 minutes to see if he will fall asleep again. If his eyes are still closed, he really could still be sleeping even though he might be crying.
Babies have no filters in place to our stimulating world. I believe their way of coping with all the noise, lights, motion and brain input is to let off some steam occasionally. They cry. Crying is not necessarily a bad thing.
It is their language of communication. Sometimes you can hear the drama of complaint, and other times frustration and grunting. And of course, loud crying of demand and attention. Making peace with some crying and frustrating noises from baby is important. This is how babies learn to self-regulate.
Helping baby get into a good sleepy-time routine can be fairly easy. About 20-30 minutes before bedtime, dont vigorously play with the baby or stimulate him. Play soft lullaby music or read to him softly, or just hold him and rock him a little. Many parents find a bath and massage before bed can make for a better sleep stretch.
Dont feed your baby to sleep. This is one thing that definitely will work against any easy sleep routine in the future. If a baby learns to suck and drink milk to fall asleep, he wont learn how to put himself to sleep without moms assistance. Every hour, all night long, when baby stirs and awakens, he will demand the bottle or breast to fall back asleep
a little sucking and drinking. A bad habit to encourage! Babies actually sleep better or a semi-empty stomach, like adults (especially colicy babies.)
So, it is best to make the last feeding before bed no closer than 30 minutes.
Around 4-6 months of age, when the soft baby teeth begin to erupt, they are exposed to milk sugar, and over time, cavities can develop if baby is fed to sleep with milk. Dentists definitely recommend against feeding a baby to sleep once he has teeth.
I think it is Mother Natures way of reminding us that developmentally, at about 4-6 months, when the teeth pop through, a baby is definitely physically able to give up middle of the night feedings with our encouragement.
After a baby is 3-4 months old, make sure he is not sleeping too much during the day. Three to four hours of napping is average, and the last nap should end at least 2-3 hours before bedtime at night. That usually means no napping after 4-5pm.
Exposing the baby to fresh air and light during the daytime has also shown to help set the internal clock to more restful sleeping at night.
Each month as baby becomes smarter and more understanding of its world, you will notice the endurance to stay awake grows longer. By 6 to 9 months of age, a baby is usually decreasing naps to just a few a day, totaling about 4 hours. At this point, baby should be sleeping 11-12 hours NON-INTURRUPTED, without any need for food.
If a mother and baby are co-sleeping and breastfeeding, the baby might be awakening several times during the night to feed. By 6 months of age this pattern is not the best plan for baby. Parents may need support and more information about how to change this routine.
Contact Marsha Podd R.N., C.L.E. at
or at (415) 883-4442 for more information.
Marsha is an OB/GYN nurse, and a certified lactation specialist with a degree in child development. She has over 20 years of experience working with parents and young children. She has lectured on child development issues both nationally and internationally. She has also authored many jounal articles and has been written about in the Wall Street Journal.