Babies Are not Born with Set Sleep Patterns
When a newborn comes home with the family for the first time, there is a period of adjustment for everyone. While at the hospital, there are nurses to help; you are able to rest every time they take the baby to the nursery. You don't have to cook or clean. It's quite a different thing once you are home and you have complete responsibility for this new life. If you are first-time parents, your baby will be teaching you a lot as you both go on this adventure. Even if you are pros at this parenting thing, every child is different, so there will always be new things to learn.
Sleep is now at a premium. One of the best things you can do, especially in the first few weeks, is to nap any time the baby naps. Your body needs to adjust, and you will be tired. At first, the baby will likely be sleeping for about two hours at a time. You'll find yourself in a pattern of nursing, napping and new diapers. Don't try to force the baby to stay awake, or go to sleep at certain times. They have small tummies and need food frequently and will tend to fall asleep shortly after nursing.
Once the baby is about a month old, you will probably notice a change in their sleep habits. They will begin to sleep a bit longer at a stretch, around three hours at a time. Naps during the day may be about two or three hours each. You will notice they start to stay awake a bit longer after nursing. Watch for those signs that the baby is starting to get sleepy, like yawning or getting a glazed look. Once you get to know your child, you will start to see a pattern of when they are ready to sleep, and start a pre-nap or bedtime routine.
Between three and six months, most babies will begin to sleep through the night. It may not be a consistent thing at first, but their stomachs are able to hold more food and won't need to feed as often. You need to decide how to deal with those nights that the baby may slip back into the old pattern of waking off and on through the night. Do you use the "cry it out" method? Do you try co-sleeping? Do you use the "peek in and check" method?
All three of these methods have their supporters, and critics. It is up to you to decide what works best for your family. However, most doctors agree that forcing any behavior on an infant younger than one year is counterproductive. If something isn't working, try something else, while trying to maintain a routine of some sort at bedtime.
By about nine months, not only is everyone starting to get more sleep at night, your baby may only be napping once in the early afternoon. It is important that you find the best time for your baby to nap. If the nap is too early, they will probably be cranky by bedtime. If it is too late, or too long, bedtime will become a real nightmare. Look for the signs that they need a nap, and start the nap routine. If you need to adjust the start time of the nap, do so gradually by about thirty minutes a time until you find the right balance.
By establishing the routines early, and adjusting them as the sleep needs change, you will find everyone is much happier. It takes time, but it will be worth it once everyone is getting a good night's sleep.
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