My baby is six weeks old, but I need help now. What can I do?
The first few weeks with your baby may have seemed manageable, but the hours of lost sleep can catch up to you quickly. There is no shame in feeling overwhelmed. You’ve experienced a lot of changes in a very short period of time! If you find yourself struggling and need someone to talk to, I am available and can offer tips and guidance to help you through the next few weeks.
True sleep training, however, cannot really begin until an infant is at least 8 weeks gestationally corrected since their bodies are not developmentally ready to wait several hours between feeding or sleep periods. During these early weeks, babies are establishing their natural circadian rhythms which are regulated by internal factors like hunger and tiredness, as well as external ones, such as light and dark, and day-to-day activities.
It’s important to remember that your baby can’t learn “bad” sleep habits in early infancy, nor can you make any sleep mistakes unless you are compromising your baby’s safety. While there are plenty of ways to help parents adjust to the new demands of infancy, the ideal time to begin implementing a sleep plan is 8-16 weeks of age.
My 4-week old cries any time I put him down. I feel like I am holding him all day and all night. Am I doing something wrong?
This is still a big period of adjustment for your baby and since crying is the only way babies can communicate at this age, they are likely expressing feelings like confusion, hunger or exhaustion. As long as you are safely attending to your baby’s needs, you aren’t teaching any bad habits at this age. In fact, your baby legitimately needs your love and nurture, so take advantage of their portability and feel free to hold, rock, walk or feed your baby to help calm them. Just take care to avoid inadvertently falling asleep while holding your baby, as pediatricians agree this can compromise your child’s safety.
This can also be a good time to begin showing your baby that you may need to safely set them down for a few minutes at a time, but will always return to offer warm snuggles. Start with small increments of time – say 3 to 5 minutes – and work on completing a short task, like taking a shower or folding laundry. You may also find that certain times of day work better than others. In my case, my newborns tended to fuss and cry more from 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m., so I would try to structure my day in a way that I could do more small tasks in the morning and early afternoon.
Remember, you’ve experienced a lot of change in a short amount of time so there is no shame in taking breaks for yourself. If possible, try to enlist the support of a friend or partner to help hold and care for your baby – they would probably relish the opportunity to help you!
I’m worried that sleep teaching will decrease my milk supply. Will I need to stop breastfeeding?
Absolutely not. Your milk supply is based on your child’s demands, so when your baby begins sleeping for 11-13 hours at night your body will adjust accordingly. To avoid any discomfort associated with these changes to your supply, it may be helpful to pump once or twice in the evening – once after putting your baby to bed and again before you go to sleep for the night. In the morning, your breasts will feel very full, but your baby will also be very hungry after a long night’s sleep. And, you’ll have some extra milk from the previous night to offer your child if you’re at all uncertain they received enough in a 24-hour period.
When is the best time to begin sleep teaching?
Typically, between 8 and 16 weeks of age is the ideal time to begin sleep teaching. When your baby reaches that age, it’s best to choose a time when you can fully commit to your child’s sleep plan for a two-week period. If you have prior commitments or travel plans on the horizon, it’s advisable to wait until your schedule clears to begin helping your child develop healthy sleep habits. Also, consider implementing your personalized sleep plan toward the end of a work-week, so you and your partner have time over the weekend to adjust to the changes in your child’s schedule.
It’s important to remember that children thrive on consistency, and your level of commitment and dedication directly impacts their success.
Two weeks seems like a long time to dedicate to sleep teaching. Is there a way we can speed up the process to get our child sleeping through the night?
Learning to sleep is like developing any other healthy habit – while you may see immediate results, it takes commitment and dedication over a longer period of time to ensure success. And, since all of us are unique, the learning process will naturally come faster for some and slower for others.
With the Sleep Pea approach, most parents agree that they see their child sleeping for longer stretches – if not through the night – within just a few days. But, children are not robots. Some respond immediately and positively to change, while others take a bit longer to fall into a routine. Many children who start out strong will experience short, very fixable regressions within a few days, while others may see months pass before they hit a small bump.
Therefore, two weeks is the recommended amount of time to clear your schedule and focus heavily on helping your child develop healthy sleep habits. After that time, you can begin to experiment with more flexibility, keeping in mind that you may need to course-correct from time-to-time to ensure you’re not falling into any negative sleep associations or habits.
Regardless, Sleep Pea’s goal is to empower parents to understand their child’s needs and be able to respond to the inevitable changes in their child’s sleep behavior over time.
Is there a way to teach our baby to sleep without letting her cry?
Most parents will agree, hearing your child cry can be gut-wrenching. After all, we are biologically programmed to respond to our children’s needs and it can be stressful trying to figure out why a baby is crying with so little ability to communicate. Fortunately, most cries are simply a result of hunger, exhaustion or a dirty diaper and therefore easily soothed.
In some cases however, babies cry out in their sleep or simply need a way to signal frustration. Well-meaning parents sometimes tend to interfere too quickly and end up interrupting a baby’s attempt to let off steam – after all, crying is one of the only ways baby’s can communicate in their first year of life.
During the sleep teaching process, we work together to better understand when and why your child is likely to express frustration and how you can respond to ensure you’re not abandoning her, but also give her the space to self-soothe without interruption. Sometimes understanding a little more about why your child is crying is all parents need to feel more confident that they are not harming their children by not responding immediately to their cries.
My baby has day and night mixed up – he sleeps throughout the day and is up all night. What can I do to change this?
This is very normal, and one of the biggest reasons exhaustion begins to creep up quickly on parents in the first few weeks of infancy. Unfortunately, as we find ourselves succumbing to night-after-night of little to no sleep, we tend to build unrealistic expectations that our newborns should adjust to their new world more quickly than they’re prepared to do.
During the first six weeks of an infant’s life, there isn’t much parents can do to change their baby’s sleep patterns – baby’s simply aren’t developmentally ready to truly know the difference between night and day.
However, you can begin to lay a foundation for healthy sleep by keeping nighttime feedings boring. While your head is understandably bobbing just to stay awake, try to resist the urge to turn on light and volume sources such as TVs and PDAs, instead opting for the darkness that will help your baby understand night is peaceful and quiet. Likewise, try exposing your child to appropriate natural light sources, as well as household and environmental noises, during daylight hours so they associate daytime with activity. Sometimes taking a walk or playing with your baby by a window is a helpful and healthy source of natural light and activity.
The good news is that most babies begin to naturally figure out night and day by three months of age, if not sooner.
When will my baby start taking longer naps? My three-month old naps, but only for 20 minutes at a time.
During the first two months your baby’s brain is still trying to establish natural circadian rhythms and sort out the difference between night and day; naps are therefore almost always sporadic and disorganized until eight to twelve weeks of age. For the time being, try following your baby’s lead by allowing them to sleep uninterrupted for short spurts during the day.
After 8 weeks of age, try to aim for naps that last a minimum of 45 minutes (and no longer than 2 ½ hours). If your baby sleeps less than 45 minutes, keep a close eye on their “tired signs” and try not to let more than 1 ½ hours pass between naps. This means that if you put your baby down for a nap at 8 a.m. and they sleep until 8:30 a.m., you should aim to have them down for another nap no later than 9:30 a.m., and sometimes a bit sooner if they begin showing tired signs before then. Your goal is to avoid having your child get over-tired, which makes it more difficult for them to self-soothe and fall asleep.
You should also consider checking their sleeping environment: Is the room or nursery dark enough for daytime sleep? Have you eliminated distractions such as mobiles and crib toys? Is the temperature between 68 and 72 degrees? Could you benefit from a sound machine to help block daytime background noise?
My friends assure me that their kids all had sleep issues but eventually outgrew them. On average, how long does it take for babies to overcome their sleep issues?
Since all families and children are unique, it’s difficult to pinpoint when children typically outgrow sleep issues, if at all. In many cases, well-meaning parents have inadvertently supported and grown so accustomed to their child’s negative sleep associations that they have come to believe that their child is a “night owl,” an “early riser,” or “not a napper.”
Unfortunately, nearly half of children who experience consistent night wakings or missed naps at eight months of age typically still have sleep issues at four years of age. In many cases, interrupted sleep leads to behavioral issues during organized activities or at school, setting many children at an unintended disadvantage.
Most parents would probably agree that, given the opportunity, they would elect to give their child the best possible start to ensure greater chances of participation and success.
It’s never too late to begin working on establishing healthy sleep habits! Try talking to your partner or supportive caretaker to see whether sleep teaching is the right approach for you and your child. If you agree that it is, Sleep Pea can help.
I think my baby and I would both benefit from more structure in our day. How old does my baby need to be to start on a schedule?
While it sounds ideal, starting schedules before your baby is eight weeks old is developmentally unrealistic. Life-changing and exhausting as it may be, these first weeks of life are normally sporadic and disorganized since your baby is still working out their natural rhythms, feeding frequently and adjusting to the world outside of your dark, comforting womb.
Many parents choose to start laying the foundation for a schedule – albeit a loose one – shortly after eight weeks of age. If you choose to do the same, remember to be realistic with your expectations for your little one. Since your baby is still developing in many important ways, it’s unlikely they will fall into a pattern as quickly as you’d like or expect.
By 12 – 16 weeks of age, most babies will begin to fall into a more predictable feeding pattern, which makes it easier to gauge when they will need to nap and go to bed at night.
To help inform your decision about starting a schedule, it’s best to check with your pediatrician to make sure your baby is consuming enough daytime calories to support longer sleep cycles.
My 11-week old, who was calm and a great sleeper from the beginning, seems to be increasingly agitated and crying more often. Could this be colic?
If you have any questions or doubts about your baby’s temperament, consult with your pediatrician to rule out any lingering concerns.
Shortly after birth, our precious newborns become increasingly interested in the world around them, responding and reacting to all sorts of stimuli. This curiosity, while developmentally important, quickly leads to overstimulation and, inevitably, an expression of frustration and exhaustion that your baby communicates by crying.
If you haven’t yet considered sleep teaching, now is a wonderful time to do so. In many cases, choosing an early bedtime for your baby (between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.), focusing on naps (typically four daily at this age), and ensuring your baby’s sleep environment is supportive of their sleep needs is just the start you may need to help ease your child’s agitation.