Everyone loves a sleeping infant. They are quiet and they are so cute. They are also doing something that is crucial for everyone's health, sanity and ability to learn. Even the baby's. Naturally, parents are very interested in making sure that their children are getting enough sleep and that they're getting the right type of sleep. After all, they don't seem to sleep in the normal way - they're constantly napping everywhere and anywhere, but never when you need them to. All new parents ask a lot of questions about what they can expect and how to make the most of their baby's sleep.
What you need to know is that everything about your infant is changing in those first months. At least one expert has described the first couple months as the baby being born for a second time because of how radically the infant changes over that period.
These changes affect your child's ability to sleep and develop a good nap schedule. It brings up all sorts of obstacles, but also all kinds of relief. Your baby will go through many phases on the way to actually being able to sleep like a normal person. Here are a few things that you will have to know in the first couple of months.
15 'Night Terrors' Are A Thing
Sleep terrors or night terrors are when a person wakes up from a deep sleep in a state of panic. It can be officially called confusional arousal, but that makes much less sense. It also doesn’t describe the situation well. The baby’s eyes will bolt open and he or she may start screaming and breathing heavily. She or he will look terrified and confused. Then the baby will doze off again and not remember a thing in the morning.
These terrors aren’t dangerous, except if the kid is able to kick something hard in their panic. Make sure that they can’t do that and tuck them in after night terrors, and you have done everything necessary to take care of them. You can prevent these terrors by not waiting until the child is exhausted to put her to bed. If these episodes are frequent, you can wake the baby up temporarily before the night terrors normally start and put her back to sleep right afterward.
It is rare for someone under four to get them, but it is possible for older babies. It’s a problem that will tend to crop up, if it does, towards the end of the first couple of months.
14 How Likely Is SIDS? Depends On The Age
One of the terrors of infancy is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or what used to be called cot death. It is what it sounds like: the kid passes in his sleep for no discernable reason. Well, not no discernible reason. When the ‘Safe to Sleep’ campaign began convincing parents to put infants to sleep on their backs and take everything but a firm mattress out of the crib, the number of infants who suffered from SIDS dropped by half.
But something about the numbers remained the same, and that is that the most likely victims are between 2 to 4 months old. The risk for a one-month-old is pretty minimal, and the risk drops off to practically non-existent after the baby turns six months old. And the change in sleeping habits didn’t change the risk for one-month-olds. They seem to be more influenced by birth defects and whether the mom smoked, instead. So, don’t smoke, keep putting the baby on his back to sleep, and keep the fluffy stuff out of the crib.
13 Sleep Constructs The Brain
The first three months of life are often called the fourth trimester because they keep developing during that time. You can think of it this way: we all come out of the oven half-baked. Their brain does most of its growing while an infant is in deep, dreamy sleep. A layer of special fat called myelin, which facilitates communication between nerves, grows around the nerve fibers while the kid sleeps. The neurons make many important connections in the same state. And the connection between the two hemispheres of the brain strengthens while the baby is sleeping.
All this is laying down the groundwork for the brain’s future functioning. They make sure that the kid can learn, regulate his or her mood and control impulses in the future. Now you know why kids can wake up so exhausted.
12 Nap Time Decreases
When your baby is first born, there will be three things they do - eat, poop, and sleep. And they do a whole lot of that third thing. The average newborn sleeps for a total of 16 and 17 hours, spread out between dozens of naps. That average can vary, too. Some infants can sleep 18 hours. And they will doze off anywhere since they are, between their blurry vision and being unable to lift their heads, almost completely in their own world.
This time for sleep decreases as the infant becomes a bit more engaged with the world and needs less of that downtime to do all their growing. An infant at two months will be sleeping closer to 15 to 16 hours, with more of that time being at night (maybe, if you are lucky). The need for sleep will keep lessening over the months and years, with a spike in a need for naps when they are teens. But by then, they will want to take their nap.
11 First Breakfast, Second Breakfast, Elevensies…
The thing about infants is that they are small. I know that this isn’t news, but we sometimes forget how such a small size can affect people. For your infant, the tiny size of their stomach means that they can’t eat much in one sitting. However, with all the growing they are doing, they need a lot of food. This means that they have to space their meals out so that they are feeding every two to four hours. Sleepwise, this means that they can’t sleep for more than four hours or they will wake up starving. This is why you won’t be sleeping through the night for the next three or four months - the kid will need a midnight snack.
As the infant’s stomach grows, his ability to sleep for longer stretches will increase, until there might actually be some rest through the night for you at around three months.
10 Quality And Quantity
Infants don’t just differ from us in terms of how long they sleep. They also differ in how they sleep. Back when they were in the womb, they spent about 80% of their sleep in the active sleep mode. That meant that their eyes moved rapidly under their lids and they were not deeply asleep. Once they are born, they spend about 50% of that sleep time in the active sleep mode. Compare that to adults, who are only in that lighter sleep mode about 20% of the time that they are sleeping. You can see why it can be way easier to wake up the baby than the husband.
There is also a certain sleep cycle that we all go through (I know that sounds like a mattress commercial, but it is a real thing). During the first part, the sleep is light. It gets deeper, and then it moves on to the REM part, which is when you are dreaming. It then goes back to a light sleep. Infants go through this cycle in 50 to 60 minutes. This is much shorter than it is for us adults.
9 Better Check That Breathing
Sleep apnea is scary business. It’s when breathing is interrupted repeatedly during sleep, so you can see why parents would be worried about it. It doesn't help that for the first 6 months of life, infants are just getting a handle on the whole breathing thing, making irregular bouts of breath-holding common. Most often, the brain doesn’t tell the lungs to do its thing for a moment or two, but it can also be caused by an obstruction of the airways.
Sleep apnea is more common in babies born prematurely, and the more premature the baby, the more common the sleep apnea. As the child gets older and their brain gets a better handle on breathing, it becomes a bit less common. Though truthfully, many adults have sleep apnea, too.
8 Getting Into The Rhythm
When you are in a womb, it is always twilight. Everything is muffled and covered by the swishing noises of the internal organs, and the light is dim. Naturally, you don’t need to sleep during the night in these conditions, as any pregnant mom who has been woken up by being kicked can tell you. This lack of a circadian rhythm continues for a few months after the baby is born and makes any type of sleep training pointless. Their bodies have no clue that darkness means night-time, which means sleep time. They just doze off whenever. They don’t make the transition to a normal human circadian rhythm until they are at least eight weeks old, though even then it can be patchy.
At that point, you can start to work on a sleep schedule for the kid, if only by starting to put him or her in the crib when they are getting drowsy instead of when they are already asleep.
7 Their Eyes Are So Open
This is something that can weird a witness out and has a fancy name: nocturnal lagophthalmos. Of course, the nocturnal part is a bit of a misnomer for a baby, since they sleep for much of the day as well as the night. Basically, a baby’s eyes slip half open as the baby reaches deep REM sleep. Why does this happen? Nobody really knows. When adults do this, it can indicate a health issue such as facial nerve damage, but in infants, it is only worrisome if they keep them eyes open for so long that their eyes get red and irritated. Fortunately, it is easy to close their eyes when they are in deep sleep. You just gently lower their lids. This tendency gets less common as the baby grows older, so you will see this lessen over the first two months.
6 A Shift In Consistency
Sleep training is all the rage here in the US. There are thousands of books about how to help your baby get into a healthy sleeping routine. Well, they all have one big stumbling block (other than the fact that they are written by school counselors and other not-actually-experts) and that is the erratic sleeping needs of your average infants. They can conk out for hours one day and barely need a nap the next. However, as the first two months pass, the kid gets a little more regular in his sleep patterns. Your best bet for a two-month-old infant is to get into a sleep-eat-play pattern and focus on the first two naps of the day, which are the most restorative naps of the day. Ignore the clock here, your kid can’t even see the numbers.
5 Too Alert To Doze
When your baby is first born, they are in their own little bubble, barely aware of anything beyond their own nose. Their internal reactions are the only things that are really clear to them. This is why babies are famous for falling asleep in all situations. Over time, the kid becomes a little more conscious of his or her surroundings. By two months, they are peering up at colorful items and interacting with the people that they now may recognize as their parents. This means that they can no longer doze off next to a running vacuum or a blaring TV. Nope, you will have to set up a quiet, dark room and stop playing with the baby before you lay them down. Putting the kid down will only get harder from here.
4 Sleep During Colic
Colic is the big mystery of childhood. The baby is crying for no particular reason that anyone can discern and they won’t stop. Particularly, colic is when a well-fed infant cries for more than three hours a day for more than three weeks. This interferes with any chance at sleep for quite a long time, since infants as young as two weeks can start doing this. They can be overly sensitive to light and noise, and their constant fussing can get worse in the evening. This can go on for up to three to four months and then stop as suddenly as it began. You’re stuck trying to soothe the baby as best you can until the kid just outgrows it.
Of course, the oversensitivity and tendency to bawl for no reason will interfere with the nap schedule. Once the kid outgrows it, you can start developing some good sleep habits.
3 Nobody Sleeps Through The Night
There are some parents that claim that their little bundles of joy were sleeping through the night by the time they were three months old. These parents are mistaken. Babies sleep for a maximum of five hours, and, as you may remember, they cycle between deep and light sleep very quickly. This means that they will wake up during the night, but that doesn’t mean that the adults in their life will wake up at the same time. Infants sometimes wake up during their light sleep phase, squeak for a minute, and then doze off. The parent, deep asleep, might not know that the kid woke up.
Actually, absolutely nobody has ever slept completely through the night, no matter how old they get. We are all on different sleep cycles, and we frequently wake up at least a little during the light sleep phase.
2 Sharing Your Bed With The Baby Gets Safer
Pediatricians really hate the trend of sleeping with infants. The general feeling is that there is a risk of exhausted parents rolling over on the baby and of SIDS, at least for smoking parents or people who keep the baby in their bed for more than an hour. The risk of SIDS for a baby who shares a bed with his parents also seems to fluctuate with age. For non-smoking parents, the risk seems to peak when the infant is eight weeks old, and a Scottish study found that risks from bedsharing are highest for infants under eleven weeks. As the baby gets older, the risks seem to peter out, maybe because they are too big to just roll over.
The recommendation from pediatricians is to put the crib in your room with you so that you can always see the kid, but don’t keep the baby in your bed for too long.
1 Babies Can’t Self Soothe For The First Month
You can’t spoil an infant, and you certainly can’t teach an infant to take care of themselves. They're so small, their brain is barely even half-baked yet. Another thing you cannot teach a month old baby is to get themselves to sleep. They are used to falling asleep in the warm amniotic fluid of the womb while gently rocking to the rhythm of your movements. Between the uninterrupted flow of thoughts in the baby’s head and the radically different surroundings, they can’t get themselves to sleep. Once they realize that they are uncomfortable for some reason, they will cry until you do something to make the discomfort go away. This is not a sign of anything to come. It's a sign that they are a neonate. You can start teaching the baby to self-soothe around two months, when the environment and mental gymnastics are no longer weirding him out.
Sources: babysleepsite.com, easybabylife.com, webmd.com, parents.com, kidshealth.org, washingtonpost.com, oregonlive.com