Getting an Infant to Sleep: Strategies for Parents

When it comes to getting an infant to sleep, there are many factors that parents have to balance. They have to balance the child’s personality and preferences with the recommendations of doctors and parenting guides-and these two things are seldom perfectly aligned. They have to balance the child’s sleep schedule with their own schedules. They have to figure out how to regulate the child’s naps so that he or she sleeps the proper amount during the night. And in addition to these issues, there may be other, unexpected factors that come into play. All in all, figuring out how to give your child healthy sleep is one of the biggest challenges of the first several months of parenting.

Sleep duration
For new parents, one of the most surprising things about the infant stage is just how much newborns sleep. For the first week after birth, expect the child to sleep about 16 hours a day. However, what makes this stage difficult is the fact that the child will sleep no more than four to five hours during the longest sleep stretch of the day. So parents who are hoping to get some good rest after the difficult labor process are often further taxed by frequent wakeups for feeding and diaper changes.

But your child’s sleep habits will soon become more consistent. After just a week or two, the child will begin to sleep a little less-usually around 15 hours per day-with the longest stretches of sleep being anywhere from five to nine hours. This is when parents can finally get some rest of their own. Over the following year the child will continue to sleep less and less, but things will become more calm and predictable.

Whatever stage you are in, you will find that the best way to get your own rest and hence to have a balanced household is to be on the baby’s schedule as much as possible. This is hard when you have a work schedule to adhere to, but the good news is that after a few short weeks or months, the child will naturally begin sleeping long stretches at night.

Signs of sleepiness
Another key to establishing good sleeping habits for your child is to learn how to recognize when he or she is sleeping. This way, you will learn when to begin the putting-to-bed routine, which will become a key bonding time for the whole family. Here are some of the common signs of sleepiness in infants:

  • Less activity
  • Slower movements
  • Fewer vocalizations
  • Weak sucking
  • Decreased interest in things that are going on around him or her
  • Less focus on the eyes
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Repeated yawning

If the child is not put to bed soon, these signs usually give way to more obvious signs of fatigue such as fussiness, irritability, and eye rubbing. If you get to this stage, it is definitely time to put the child to bed.

The bedtime routine
Perhaps the most important strategy for encouraging your infant to sleep well is to develop a bedtime routine that you go through every night prior to the child’s long bout of sleep. Your child’s tastes and behaviors will guide the details of your routine, but here are some general things that parents should consider doing.

  1. Snuggle: Hold the baby close to make her feel warm, and show her calm affection. It is best to do this sitting or even lying down, if possible.
  2. Rhythmic motions: At bedtime, children love to be rocked. Any repetitive motion is liable to make your child tired even when it is not bedtime.
  3. Calming sounds: Many infants respond well to gentle white noise such as a fan or even recorded ocean sounds. Experiment with things like this during the initial weeks of your child’s life.
  4. Teamwork: Some babies find it difficult to get to sleep when they can hear something going on elsewhere in the home. This is why it is a good idea for both parents to be present when putting the child to bed. Work together to calm the child and make him or her comfortable.
  5. Repeat: Develop a nightly routine, making adjustments whenever you find things that work, and keep it going every night. This way, your child comes to expect bedtime and is more ready to sleep when the time comes.

By Lisa Pecos