Sleep. It's The Stuff Of Which Dreams Are Made -- Particularly When You Have A Newborn Baby

Sleep. It's the stuff of which dreams are made -- particularly when you have a newborn baby... Ann Douglas, author of The Unofficial Guide to Having a Baby, has some information about your new baby's needs.
Ann Douglas

Erratic sleep patterns
A long day of parenthood is finally drawing to a close. You abandon your plans to fold that last load of laundry, heading for bed instead. You no sooner fall into a deep sleep when you're awakened by the only member of your family who seems to be getting enough rest: your baby!

If you're feeling a bit frazzled and exhausted by your baby's erratic sleep patterns, you're not alone. According to Dr Richard Ferber, author of Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, newborn babies typically sleep about sixteen or seventeen hours per day, but rarely for more than a few hours at a time.

Evolving over time
Fortunately, babies' sleep patterns evolve over time. "During the first few weeks of life, a baby's patterns are erratic," said Dr Deborah Lin-Dyken, a developmental pediatrician at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. "By age three to six months, however, most babies have switched to a circadian rhythm in which they sleep more at night than during the day."

Teaching night and day
It's at this point that most babies are ready to start sleeping through the night. According to Dr Alan Greene, a pediatrician in San Mateo, California, babies are able to make this transition more easily if their parents have helped them to learn how to differentiate between night and day during their first weeks of life.
To help young babies to learn the difference between night and day, Greene suggests that parents expose their babies to normal household noise during their waking hours, and engage in plenty of direct eye contact - something that babies find particularly stimulating.

To help young babies to learn the difference between night and day, Greene suggests that parents expose their babies to normal household noise during their waking hours, and engage in plenty of direct eye contact - something that babies find particularly stimulating.

"The most powerful wake-up activity is direct eye contact. When your baby locks eyes with you, it's almost like she's drinking a double latté. Her heart beat speeds up, her blood pressure rises a bit, and she becomes more awake." Greene also suggests that parents stroke their babies' feet during the daytime because this stimulates the pineal gland which helps in the regulation of the body's circadian rhythms. At night, the amount of stimulation should be kept to a minimum, and parents should rely upon a series of pre-bedtime rituals designed to cue the baby to the fact that the sandman awaits!

Interrupted nights aren't always a problem
While some babies start sleeping through the night largely on their own, others seem determined to stubbornly resist their parents' attempts to encourage them to abandon their nocturnal habits. Still, while it can be exhausting to have your sleep disrupted night after night, not everyone sees parenting a night-waking baby as a problem. Some parents - particularly ones with other children who demand their time and attention by day - may actually cherish a few stolen moments alone with their baby in the wee hours of the morning. Others - while not exactly overjoyed at the prospect of losing sleep - simply accept the fact that the baby is not yet ready to sleep through the night, and resolve to make the most of the situation while they wait for their baby's sleep patterns to mature.

Some parents (especially those in dual-working or single-parent households) may have a strong need to encourage their babies to sleep through the night as soon as possible. "For Joshua's first six weeks, Shannon was on maternity leave, so we were able to get up with him and she could catch up on her sleep during the day," said James Tew of Elgin, Illinois. "As she reached the end of her leave, we tried to get him adjusted more to our schedule, by putting him down to sleep at certain times and not picking him up if he woke during the night. That took some self discipline, since our first instinct was to go quiet him or give him a bottle, but we stuck to that. It actually only took a couple of nights before he slept through the night."

Part 2: The family bed and a look at Ferber

PregnancyAndBaby.com

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