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Up all night? Bedtime tips to help you and your newborn get some rest

There is no time in life as predictably exhausting as those first couple months with a new baby. Not only is your little one adjusting to the world, you are recovering from a nine-month marathon. But when it comes to sleep, how much can you really expect from your newborn? Young babies aren’t necessarily supposed to sleep all night long. Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night and Gentle Baby Care shares some advice on ways to help your family develop a sleeping schedule you all can live with.

Waking for night feedings

Many pediatricians recommend that parents not let a newborn sleep longer than three or four hours without feeding, and the vast majority of babies wake far more frequently than that. (Remember, too, that there are a few exceptional babies who can go longer.) No matter what, your baby will wake up during the night. The key is to learn when you should pick her up for a night feeding and when you can let her go back to sleep on her own.
This is a time when you need to really focus your instincts and intuition. This is when you should try very hard to learn how to read your baby’s signals.

Here’s a tip that I am amazed to have never read in a baby book, but is critically important for you to know. Babies make many sleeping sounds, from grunts to whimpers to outright cries, and these noises don’t always signal awakening. These are what I call “sleeping noises,” and your baby is nearly or even totally asleep during these episodes. These are not the cries that mean, “Mommy, I need you!” They are just sleeping sounds. I remember when my first baby, Angela, was a newborn sleeping in a cradle next to my bed. Her cry awakened me many times, yet she was asleep in my arms before I even made it from cradle to rocking chair to sit down. She was making sleeping noises. In my desire to respond to my baby’s every cry, I actually taught her to wake up more often!

You need to listen and watch your baby carefully. Learn to differentiate between these sleeping sounds, and awake and hungry sounds. If she is really awake and hungry, feed her as soon as possible. If you do respond immediately when she is hungry, she will most likely go back to sleep quickly. But, if you let her cry escalate, she will wake herself up totally, and it will be harder and take longer for her to go back to sleep. Not to mention that you will then be wide awake, too!

Help your baby distinguish day from night
A newborn baby sleeps about 16 to 18 hours per day, and this sleep is distributed evenly over six to seven brief sleep periods. You can help your baby distinguish between nighttime sleep and daytime sleep, and thus help him sleep longer periods at night.

Begin by having your baby take his daytime naps in a light room where he can hear the noises of the day, perhaps a bassinet or cradle in the main area of your home. Make nighttime sleep dark and quiet. This means no talking, singing, or lights in the middle of the night. If your home is noisy after baby’s bedtime, use “white noise” to cover up the sounds of the family.

This white noise can be soft background music, the hum of a heater or fan (safety precautions taken), or any other steady sound. You can even purchase small clock/radios with white noise functions (they sound like spring rain or a babbling brook), or cassette tapes with quiet nature sounds or even those of the womb.

You can also help your baby differentiate day naps from night sleep by using a nightly bath and a change into sleeping pajamas to signal the difference between the two.

Keep your nighttime feedings quiet and mellow. There’s no need to talk or sing to your little one in the middle of the night; save all that for daytime.

Nightime bottlefeeding with ease
If you are bottlefeeding your baby, make sure that everything you need for night feeding is close at hand and ready to use. Your goal is for baby to stay in a sleepy state and nod right back off to sleep. If you have to run to the kitchen to prepare a bottle while baby fusses or cries, you’ll just bring both of you to the point of being wide awake, and what may have been a brief night waking will turn into a long period of wakefulness.

Nighttime diapers
If your baby is waking every hour or two during the night, you don’t have to change her diaper every time. Again, remembering when Angela was a “newborn” and I was a “newmom,” I dutifully changed her every hour or two when she woke up. Oftentimes, I was changing one dry diaper for a new one. I eventually learned that I was more tuned in to the diaper issue than she was!

I suggest that you put your baby in a good-quality nighttime diaper, and when she wakes, do a quick check. Change her only if you have to, and do it quickly, quietly, and as in the dark as possible. Use a tiny night light when you change the baby, and avoid any bright lights that can signal “daytime.” Have your changing supplies organized and close to baby’s bed, and make sure you use a warm cloth to wipe that sleepy bottom. (Check into the many available types of baby-wipe warmers, and keep one near your nighttime changing station.) Nighttime cues
You will want to create special cues that signal bedtime sleep. A consistent, exact bedtime routine that begins at least 30 minutes before sleep time is very helpful in getting baby to organize his day/night sleep pattern.

Have realistic expectations
Your newborn baby will not sleep through the night. There are no magic answers and no shortcuts to sleep maturity. If you focus on your wish for a full night’s sleep, you’ll just push yourself to the point of weeping over what you cannot have right now. The best advice I can give you is to remind yourself that these early months with your baby will pass quickly. And then you’ll look back fondly on those memories of holding your newborn in your arms.

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