During the first six months of a baby’s life there are numerous factors that influence the development of sleep. These factors highlight the way in which normal infant development and sleep interrelate. By having some of this knowledge, parents can have a better idea when to be more present with their little one at night, and when they can use gentle sleep methods to help encourage sleep.
Factors That Affect Newborn Sleep
- Development of the Circadian Rhythms
- The circadian rhythm is a person’s internal clock that regulates one's biological activity in a 24hr period. It regulates one’s sleep/wake cycle, melatonin secretion, cortisol, bowel movements, and other biological functions. When babies come into this world, this internal clock has not been established. It can take 2 to 4 months to develop this internal clock.
- Establishing Milk Supply and Breastfeeding
- During the first several weeks and months, mothers are establishing/building milk supply, helping little ones learn how to latch, dealing with low or over milk production, sore nipples, plugged ducts, mastitis... These hurdles can potentially lead to increased night wakings.
- Growth Spurts
- During growth spurts, it can feel as though the baby needs to eat all the time. This increase need for food can affect night wakings. The infant that has dropped down to 2 feeds at night might need an additional feed during this period. These spurts happen roughly 7-10 day, 3 weeks, 3 months, 4 months and 6 months. The growth spurt typically last 2-3 days.
- Developmental Leaps
- Developmental leaps are the periods of time where the brain undergoes significant growth and learning. Once the leap has been completed, the baby will process information and perceive their environment in a different way.
- Movement Milestones
- Rolling, learning to crawl, learning to pull up to standing, walking are all movement milestones that can lead to increase night wakings. It can take a couple of days or weeks for a child to incorporate these new skills into their sleep habits.
- Medical Issues
- Teething, ear infections, colds, reflux, and colic all have the potential to impact your newborn’s ability to sleep at night.
Tips for Developing Healthy Baby Sleep Habits
- Exposure to Light
- Exposure to light does help an infant establish their circadian rhythm. This means taking walks, meeting your friends at the cafe, running errands, to name a few. Getting out the house and into fresh air can also help create sleepiness in babies, help with colic issues, and support the mother's well-being.
- Establish a Daily Rhythm
- Spend a couple of days paying attention your newborn sleep cues. By paying attention, most babies will present their rhythm. Strive to obtain a rhythm that is reliable and flexible. Doing the same things, in the same order helps establish positive sleep associations and can maintain their daily rhythm.
- Daytime sleep helps tremendously with nighttime sleep. Most newborns need to sleep every 45-90minutes. Try a couple of the naps on a stationary surface, and some naps can be on the go.
- Follow your baby’s cues for feeds. Try not to let your little one go more than 3 hrs without a feed. Try to cluster feed in the late afternoons. You can also try to dream feed your little one when you are going to bed. Frequent night waking may indicate there is a feeding issue. Consult with your lactation consultant if you have questions and/or concerns.
- Newborn Sleep Environment
- Keep your baby's sleeping room dark, dark, dark. Whether you are co-sleeping, room sharing, or solitary sleeping, make sure her sleep environment is safe. APA recommends room sharing the first 5 months. If you are co-sleeping or room sharing, be mindful of the computer screen in the room. The light that emanates from the screen can wake up the baby. Sound machines help dampen the sudden noises that can occur in the house. Consider keeping the room relaxing and non-stimulating. This means be mindful of mobiles, huge stuffed animals in the corner of the room, even the printed sheets. These can stimulate a baby.
You know your baby the best, and sometimes, it just takes some trial and error to figure out what is going to work for your particular family’s dynamic.
If you have questions, add a comment here, see the advice archive about infant sleep, or ask a question about newborn sleep patterns and baby sleep strategies in the NaturallyBorn "advice" area.