A newborn’s sleep patterns — usually the opposite of ours — have a way of confounding weary parents. But you can help ease your tiny tot into a rhythm that will eventually allow you both to get a better night’s rest. Try these tips:
Treat day and night differently with your baby. As you feed him, change him, and hold him close at night, keep the lights low, and limit noise and other stimulation. Save exciting interactions and play for daytime. Little by little, he’ll get the hang of it.
Create a soothing environment. Try to simulate the experience of the womb with firm support, dim lights, and gentle swaying. Swaddling can also help, but take precautions against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by positioning your baby on his back and keeping his mouth and nose free of anything that might interfere with his air supply.
Make sure his hands are free. Before birth, babies suck on their fingers and thumbs to soothe themselves. If you leave your baby’s hands uncovered, he can use them to settle himself for sleep.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Both parents will need lots of assistance from the rest of the family during these first sleep-deprived weeks. You’ll have your hands full with a new baby, but you may be able to catch up on sleep if you have help with cooking, laundry, and caring for older siblings. Your sleep is important, too.
Gradually, you’ll do less as your baby learns to handle the sensations of the world outside the womb on his own. At around 4 months of age, his sleep patterns will start to become more organized, and he’ll be better able to soothe himself down to sleep.
Joshua Sparrow, M.D., is the co-author with T. Berry Brazelton of Sleep: The Brazelton Way. He is also director of strategy, planning, and program development at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, Children’s Hospital, Boston.