Somehow, just when parents think they are about to go crazy from sleep deprivation, infants start snoozing for longer periods. At first, babies' tiny stomachs need food between every two to three hours. They are barely awake for a few minutes after eating before they settle back to sleep—where a great deal of brain maturation goes on (that's why they spend so much time in dreamland). Here's how much sleep your baby needs—and what can you do to help him get it.
1 TO 5 WEEKS: Babies sleep between 16 and 18 hours a day in their first few weeks of life. At 4 weeks, they snooze about 14½ hours a day, and nap at any time, without any pattern emerging yet.
6 WEEKS: At this point you may see a longer period of sleep—about four hours—begin at night, especially if you help teach your infant the difference between night and day. Well-meaning new parents, hoping to help their babies nap well during the day, may shut the nursery blinds, turn off cell phones, and tiptoe around until baby wakes. A better approach: Keep the shades partly open during naps, and don't shelter your baby from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. After he rouses himself and eats, play with him before he nods off again.
At night, do just the opposite. When your baby cries for you, take care of his needs quietly and matter-of-factly. Don't talk or sing to him; just feed and/or change his diaper before putting him back to bed with a kiss. Don't turn on a light; instead, do everything by the nightlight. You want your little one to learn that when the house is quiet and dark, it's not playtime anymore: This is when the whole family sleeps.
2 MONTHS: This is usually the earliest that a baby will "sleep through the night." As your pediatrician will tell you, sleeping through the night does not mean that your newborn will suddenly snooze for an eight-hour stretch. Instead, it means that an infant can string together five to six hours of consecutive sleep. Now is the time to establish important habits that will help him be a good sleeper. Start by:
3 TO 6 MONTHS: Your growing baby is still sleeping a total of about 14½ hours a day, but increasingly more during the night. By now, three distinct daily naps should emerge. As much as you can, try scheduling your days around your baby's naps so that he nods off at the same time in his same old crib (do a very abbreviated version of your bedtime routine before naps, such as a nursing session or bottle followed by a lullaby). When you've run one too many errands and your little guy falls asleep in the car for the half hour ride home, he may not take the two-hour nap he really needs.
9 TO 12 MONTHS: Your baby will hit the hay for about 10 hours at night and will drop one nap—taking two for about two hours apiece.
18 MONTHS: Now your baby needs about 13 hours of sleep a day—roughly 10½ at night and 2½ during the day (one to two naps).
Remember that these figures are averages. Some kids just need more sleep than others. But all kids fall asleep at some point, and what you'll remember from those hazy first months of parenthood is not the sleep you lost—but the enormous love you gained!
This article was written by the publishers of Parents and American Baby magazines.
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