How to Teach Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night
Moms almost always have bags under our eyes. That’s just the way it is. But in the first few days of our newborn’s life, these bags get even heavier. Dad has them too. What we want most of all is for our baby to sleep for eight hours so that we, too, can get some rest.
The truth is, we have to be patient, especially for the first three months.
What can we hope for?
Don’t give up, it will get better with time. Here we will explain what will happen to your baby’s sleep pattern, and how we can help babies sleep longer.
What can we do to help babies sleep through the night? Reading this question, you might expect to find some magical, failsafe formula. But, as you will already know, with human beings there is no such thing.
However, there are a few techniques that you can put into practice. Try them out and see which work best for you. One thing that is key is establishing a routine.
Babies already know how to sleep, they just have a different sleep pattern than adults. As explained in the book Sleep Without Tears, by Rosa Jove, studies have proven that in the womb, by the third trimester of pregnancy, the fetus displays periods of movement followed by phases of inactivity. These are very similar to the sleep pattern of a newborn.
From birth, the baby will gradually sleep less and less, and in a more stable pattern. They will have a long nighttime sleep and short naps after feeding.
One of the best pieces of advice is to help your baby maintain this pattern with a daily routine. This way, we can make those naps easier, and make sure bedtime is at roughly the same time each day. These are moments which allow you to get some rest.
Sleep is a progressive process, which adapts to the needs of the human being. A newborn does not sleep in the same way as a child. A child, in turn, sleeps differently to an adult, who sleeps differently to an elderly person. At different ages, we have different needs.
-Rosa Jove, Sleep Without Tears (‘Dormir sin Lagrimas’)-
The most sensible thing, for the first three months of their life, is to follow the signs that your baby gives you. For example, if they fall asleep while nursing or while you are holding them in your arms, lay them in a place where they can sleep. This might be their crib, a pram or a basket.
Some experts explain that, during early infancy, your baby can go quickly from being sleepy to alert and awake. So, if they are awake, encourage this conscious state by playing with them. This way, you will help them to distinguish between periods of wakefulness and sleep.
It is also good to help your baby to differentiate between day and night. You can do this through interaction. For example, during the day, play with your baby, talk to them or play them music. At night, try to talk in a low voice, and avoid having the lights on. This will help.
Benefits of a routine
Jove explains that, from birth to four-six months, babies’ sleep has just two phases, while from that age onwards it can have up to five phases, just like adults. This explains the quick shift between sleep and wakefulness.
The fact that their sleep has only two phases means that they wake up often. Once these two phases are over, they wake up to eat, to strengthen the bond with their parents and to avoid danger. After all, they do not know that there is no danger, and they need the security of knowing that their parents are nearby, as the psychologist explains.
Richard Ferber, author of Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, highlights the fact that by the time babies are three months old, they will already have developed a fairly predictable 24-hour pattern, and it is necessary to give them consistent structure.
At this stage, you should make an effort to establish a daily routine and stick to it as much as possible. In this way, the author says, it is likely that your child will continue to develop good sleep patterns.
As Ferber explains, if your child’s mealtimes, playtimes, bath times and times for other activities change constantly, there is a greater likelihood of their sleep patterns being irregular.
Jove points out that nobody has ever shown routines to be harmful (unless, of course, they become obsessive and inflexible, which can give rise to certain disorders).
However, remember that routines should be flexible, but predictable. Don’t obsess over schedules. It doesn’t matter if your timetable is off by half an hour, or if you occasionally skip part of your regular routine.
Jove and other authors also highlight the importance of breastfeeding to help babies to sleep. This is due to the composition of breastmilk, as well as relaxing mother-baby contact and the calming effect of sucking.
Breastfeeding doesn’t just benefit the child, but also the mother. Hormones released during breastfeeding help her to fall asleep more easily, says the Sleep Without Tears author, who is also a proponent of co-sleeping.