Help! "My 3-week-old sleeps all day and is up all night!" "My 6-week-old baby screams every day from 6-8pm." "Our newborn only sleeps in our arms." These are all pleas I hear from new parents (often sent in the wee hours of the morning). While I wish that I could help them teach their babies to sleep, the reality is that for the first six-eight weeks of a (full-term) baby's life, there is nothing you can do to influence their schedule or teach them sleeping skills. Of course, there are the blessed few with dream babies who sleep day and night from day one. For the rest of us, there are ways to cope:
A Cure for the Confusion?
The dreaded day/night confusion! Babies are born without a clock awareness. Our bodies follow circadian rhythms that are controlled by external light and dark cues. Without these rhythms present, a newborn's sleep lacks any pattern. Unfortunately there isn't a lot you can do to fix this issue. Some babies respond well to light therapy- making sure they are exposed to sunlight upon waking and through the day and then come evening, dimming all of the lights in the house until bedtime. This can start to prime their biological clock. It is also helpful to keep the room dim for any night feedings and to interact with your baby as little as possible so they understand that it is in fact time to sleep and not play. When you are in the thick of day/night confusion it seems utterly horrible, but remind yourself that it is only for a short time and that all babies grow out of it by six weeks of age.
If your baby could talk, that is what he would tell you about that. It is impossible to get a baby under eight weeks on anything that resembles a consistent schedule. One day there will be a two-hour morning nap then next day that nap will be 30 minutes. No circadian rhythm equals no sleep schedule. If you are in need of a rule that you can apply to your newborn's sleep, here it is: your baby cannot handle being awake for longer than 45-60 minutes at a time for the first two months of their life. So make sure to keep an eye on the clock and provide your little one with a nap when the time rolls around. If you can hit that mark and get your baby down for a nap before he becomes overtired, not only will you have a happier, better-rested baby, but in a matter of weeks you will see a true schedule emerging.
That Dreaded Time of Day
Most of us have heard of the Witching Hour, that lovely time of day when your precious baby just doesn't seem so precious. Most parents assume it's just something that they have to live with until their baby grows out of it. Maybe, but remember that wakeful period we just discussed? With 99% of the newborns I have worked with, once their caregivers were watching the clock and taking care that their baby was asleep before they became overtired, it disappeared! For many babies, the witching hour is just the baby's way of saying, "I am really tired here." If your baby's Witching Hour begins in the early evening around 6pm or later, opt for an early bedtime instead trying to squeeze in one last nap. Yes, your baby may be ready for a feed just three hours later (at your bedtime– bonus!), but they will be happy, rested and not screaming through your dinner.
I Want a Golden Goose Now, Daddy!
While none of us want to raise a spoiled child, this is one time you do not need to worry about that occurring. You cannot spoil a baby under eight weeks of age or do anything that will impact their ability to learn to self-soothe at a later date! Do whatever it takes to get your baby and you the sleep you need. Be it a pacifier, a swing, your arms, white noise, a swaddle– figure out what works for your baby and it will help save your sanity in those early days.