At best, most newborns don’t sleep more than two to three hours at a time, day or night. A newborn’s nutritional needs and developmental maturity won’t be ready for a full five to seven hour stretch for a while. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t start helping your baby develop good sleep habits. By creating a healthy, safe sleep environment and planting the seeds of good sleep habits, you’ll plant roots for a lifetime of high-quality sleep.
A Safe Sleep Environment
Even if you set up the nursery long before your baby arrived, it’s a good idea to give everything a last check to make sure all safety measures are in place. A baby-safe sleep environment include:
A crib, bassinet, or playpen that meets all current safety guidelines including no head or footboard with decorative cutouts and slats that are no more than 1 ⅜ inches apart.
A location that’s away from windows or cords that could be reached by your baby.
No toys, blankets, and crib bumpers as they pose a suffocation hazard. Extra layers, as well as sleep sacks or sleep blankets, should provide the warmth your baby needs.
A mattress with a snug fit that’s low enough that your baby cannot crawl or fall out of the crib. You’ll have to keep an eye on it and lower the mattress as he grows.
While baby monitors aren't a necessity, they do offer peace of mind and give you some extra freedom while your baby sleeps. Be sure the cord is kept well away from the crib.
The Start of Healthy Sleep Habits
Unfortunately, babies don’t normally have a regular sleep cycle until they are about six months old. However, healthy sleep habits can begin even before your baby is able to sleep through the night. Try to:
Keep nighttime feedings and diaper changes quiet and dark. Nighttime feedings should be all business so that your baby is wakened as little as possible.
Develop a bedtime routine. Bedtime routines can start as soon as your baby comes home from the hospital. As your baby’s nervous system develops, a regular routine will help trigger the release of sleep hormones. Some classic bedtime activities include reading a book, taking a warm bath, or rocking in a rocking chair.
Play and stimulate your baby’s senses during the day. As your baby stays awake longer during the day, he’ll start to sleep for longer stretches at night. It also helps to start establishing those developing circadian rhythms, the natural cycles the body uses to time the sleep-wake cycle.
Lay your baby down when he’s drowsy, not asleep. Your baby will learn how to self-soothe as he gets used to falling asleep on his own. This can also cut down on nighttime waking as he’ll learn to put himself back to sleep as he gets older.
Don’t jump to soothe. Some babies fuss a little before bed to let out some pent-up tension. Let your baby fuss for a few minutes before going in to soothe him. If he continues to fuss, make sure to keep the room dark and quiet so as not to overstimulate your baby when you soothe him.
Stacey L. Nash is a Seattle area writer for Tuck.com whose insomnia led her to research all aspects of sleep. With a degree in communications from the University of Puget Sound, she helps put sleep into the forefront of the health and wellness conversation. When not researching and writing about sleep, she spends time with her husband and four children on their heavily-wooded, twelve-acre piece of heaven.