Q & A: What Parents Want to Know About Baby's Sleep
One of the things expectant parents worry about is if they'll ever get a good night's sleep again after their baby's born. Here are expert answers to the most common questions.
Q: How much sleep does a newborn baby actually need?
A: The average newborn sleeps a total of 14 to 18 hours a day, older infants from 13 to 14 hours, says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center, Children's Hospital in Philadelphia and author of Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night's Sleep, revised edition (HarperCollins). "The best way to judge whether or not your baby is getting enough sleep is to look at his behavior throughout the day," Mindell says. "If he sleeps 11 hours and is perky and happy, that's enough."
Q: My baby seems to have his days and nights confused. Should I do anything?
A: "Encourage him to switch," Mindell says. "At night, keep the lights low, and move slowly when you feed him. Be boring. Make sure he is exposed to bright light in the morning, and keep him as busy as you can during the day. Make noise. Play with him." In other words, during the day, be interesting.
Q: Are bedtime rituals important?
A: Yes. "Sleep time should be consistent," Mindell says. "Each family has to develop its own routine, but doing the same activities in the same order every day helps the baby anticipate what will come next." Mindell suggests doing three or four winding-down activities for a total of 20 to 30 minutes; these can include massages, baths, lullabies, prayers, rocking, nursing and reading.
Q: If I rock my baby to sleep, won't he become dependent on it?
A: "If you are doing this and your baby is sleeping all night, don't worry," says Jennifer Waldburger, L.C.S.W., co-owner of the Los Angeles-based consultation service Sleepy Planet. "After about four months, if he's waking up, you probably need to let him do the last little bit of falling asleep on his own. You can still rock him as part of the wind-down process, but put him down drowsy, not asleep. When a baby is put to sleep a certain way and wakes up, he checks to see if everything is the same as it was when he went to sleep," Waldburger explains. "So if you nursed him to sleep, he will look for your breast. Same with rocking him or playing music."
Q: Should I try to get my baby's naptimes on a schedule?
A: Look to your baby for his evolving schedule after about 3 months; before that, anything goes. "You don't have to be rigid," Mindell says, "but some structure helps both parents and baby. By 9 months of age, most babies naturally move to napping at around 9 a.m. and 2 p.m." But don't try to force your baby to follow a schedule just to make it more convenient for you.