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Sleep and Your Baby: 10 Common Questions Answered

Sleepy Time

Sleep! It’s one of the most common issues concerning parents of young children. In addition to wanting to know how to get your child to be a better sleeper, many moms and dads often have bedtime-related questions not always answered in articles addressing a child’s sleeping patterns. If you too are looking for better ways to help you and your child get seem much needed Zzzzs, rest assured! Babble has answers to your commonly asked questions from our contributing pediatricians.

How do I know how much sleep my child needs at different ages?

Like many human behaviors, sleep needs vary widely among individuals, and babies are no exception,” says Dr. Karen Sadler, a pediatrician in the Boston area and Associate Instructor of Pediatrics and Boston University School of Medicine. “A newborn sleeps, on average, 16 hours per day, but this can range from 11 to 23 hours per day. Brand new babies have no day/night distinction, and the length of their sleep is limited by their hunger, requiring them to eat every three to four hours at max.”

By age 3 to 4 months, most babies can manage a six- to eight-hour stretch at night, especially if they have reached a weight of 13 pounds; but, as Dr. Sadler explains, this pattern may not be stable. “Weeks after nice eight-hour nights, illness, teething, or the hunger of a growth spurt can disrupt a sleep pattern.”

“At 4 to 7 months, babies can sleep a solid eight-hour night, with two daytime naps of one to three hours,” says Dr. Sadler, adding that by 8 to 12 months, a ten- to twelve-hour sleep at night with one to two naps is the norm.

When should my baby sleep through the night without a feeding?

“No baby really sleeps through the night,” explains Dr. Robert M. Jacobson, Chair and Professor of Pediatrics at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “Even the ones that quietly proceed through the night without waking their parents are waking about every hour and a half. I think that babies can get through the night without a feeding as soon as [they've] regained [their] birth weight, are feeding frequently during the day and evening, and are continuing to gain weight normally.”

When can my baby sleep without a hat or without being swaddled?

“I don’t recommend that babies sleep with hats at home unless they are small for gestational age, premature, or are struggling with weight gain,” Dr. Jacobson says in response to the first part of this common question.

So what about swaddling? “Swaddling means different things to different people. In general, babies should wear one more layer of clothing than their parents. If, by swaddling, you mean wrapping tight, then think of swaddling as a comfort measure for the newborn and young infant. Parents should abandon it, when it no longer comforts the infant.” Dr. Jacobson also suggests that in the first few weeks of life with a full-term child, parents might swaddle the baby below his or her arms, leaving the arms and hands free.

I know babies are supposed to sleep on their backs, but mine keeps turning over on his tummy. What should I do?

“I feel particularly passionate about this topic,” says Dr. Eve R. Colson, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Yale University School of Medicine, and director of the Well Newborn Nursery at Yale-New Haven Hospital. “We recommend that all healthy newborns be placed on the back to sleep.” She also suggests only putting babies to sleep in a safe environment and on a firm mattress, with no stuffed animals, heavy blankets, or pillows. “At about 5 months of age, the baby may learn to roll over,” Dr. Colson adds. At this point, parents no longer have to flip their baby onto his or her back in the middle of the night. However, SIDS precautions should still be taken.

How do I know when to take the bumper pad and mobile off a crib?

Bumper pads are used during infancy as a cushion against the hard surfaces of a crib, but they can also be a safety hazard. “Parents should be sure that the pad is secured to the crib with at least six straps and that the straps are tied tightly. When a baby learns to pull to a standing position, pads and any other objects that can be used as a step to climb out should be removed,” says Dr. Sadler.

She adds that a mobile should be securely attached to the side of the crib and hung high enough so that it remains out of a baby’s reach. “It should be taken down when a child is 5 months old or learns to sit.”

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