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Babies and Sleep

baby sleeping on his back

Most parents expect that their baby will wake up in the night. Parents do not realize just how exhausting that can be. After a week or two, you may feel sleep-deprived.

Normal Sleep and Infants

It is normal for a newborn to sleep just a few hours at a time in the first few weeks. Waking every two to three hours is normal. As baby grows, he or she will spend more time awake during the day and start to sleep longer at night. Babies give up morning and afternoon naps at their own times. Every baby sleeps in his or her own special way.

  • Babies go into light sleep for about 20 minutes. Then, they go into deep sleep.
  • They will move, twitch and make noise while asleep. This is the safe way for babies to sleep.
  • Baby’s room should not be too warm. Heat encourages baby to sleep too deeply.
  • Baby needs to sleep on his or her back.

Sleeping Through

  • Sleeping through the night means baby sleeps 5-6 hours.
  • About half of babies will be sleeping through when they reach 6 months old.
  • By 9 months, most babies will sleep through.
  • Both parents and research say that feeding extra food, or feeding solids, does nothing to help a baby sleep through. In fact, baby may end up with a sore tummy, making the sleep even more of a problem.

Baby should only sleep on his or her back. This reduces the risk for SIDS. Tummy sleeping and side sleeping are not safe. When baby can roll from back to front and front to back he or she can sleep however he or she chooses.

Encouraging Bedtime and Naptime

  • Babies need to wind down before falling asleep.
  • A warm bath, final feed and then a cuddle will help baby feel relaxed and sleepy.
  • As baby gets older, you can try a routine composed of a bath, a snack, a story, a song, etc.
  • Make a bedtime routine you can stick with. Some babies do not mind having their routine changed, others will find change hard to handle.
  • Keep regular times and routines for naps and bedtime. This helps baby feel secure.

Night Waking and Self-Soothing

  • Even when baby is sleeping for several hours, he or she may wake up for a short time.
  • Sometimes baby will wiggle around, find a new comfortable position and go back to sleep.
  • This is called self-soothing and is a skill all babies need to learn at around six months.
  • Sometimes baby wakes up and does not know how to get back to sleep. Then, he or she may need a cuddle or pat to feel secure and comforted.
  • This may happen along with discomforts like teething or illness.
  • It may also happen when baby is learning a new developmental task like rolling over, sitting, crawling, etc.
  • Some older children will continue to wake at night to breastfeed and this is normal.
Age Total Hours of Sleep Per Day Number of Short Naps Number of Long Sleeps
0-6 months About 16 2 or more 2
6-12 months About 14 2-3 1-2
1-2 years 10-13 1-2 1

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that babies sleep in a safe crib in the same room as their parent(s) for the first 6 months.
Instead of a blanket, use light sleeping clothing for your baby, such as a one piece sleeper. Do not use pillows, toys, blankets or bumper pads.

What about Bed Sharing?

In many cultures, parents sleep within “sensory” distance of each other, meaning that each can tell the other is near by their touch, sight or even smell. This is called co-sleeping or sleep-sharing. Bed sharing is when parents share the same sleep surface with their children. Room sharing is when parents have a crib in the same room, or a bassinet or portable crib near the bed.

Health Canada does not recommend bed sharing because of the potential hazards such as accidental suffocation or injury. The World Health Organization and many researchers acknowledge that bed sharing is commonly practiced around the world. Bed sharing can promote breastfeeding. It is important for parents to make an informed decision and if they decide to bed share with baby they need to know how to reduce the risks.

Bed sharing supporters believe, and there are some studies that support their beliefs – that bed sharing:

  • Encourages breastfeeding by making nighttime feeding more convenient.
  • Makes it easier for a nursing mother to get her sleep cycle in-sync with her baby’s.
  • Helps babies fall asleep more easily, especially in the first few months and when they wake in the night.
  • Helps babies get more nighttime sleep.
  • Helps parents feel close to their babies and may promote attachment and security in infants.

Sharing a couch, futon, beanbag chair, recliner, armchair, air mattress, memory foam, or any makeshift bed is completely UNSAFE.  Babies are at a higher risk of SIDS and can suffocate by being trapped against pillows or up against the headboard or parent in this sleeping arrangement.

Other factors that increase the risk of SIDS or suffocation include:

  • Any smoking in the room, this includes  first, second or third-hand smoke.
  • A parent who has recently used alcohol or drugs, or taken a medication that lowers awareness of the baby.
  • A parent who is obese.
  • A baby who is formula fed.
  • A partner unaware that baby is in the bed.
  • Sharing the bed with pets or other children.
  • Parents who are extremely tired.
  • Using pillows and bedcovers (e.g. duvets).

Room sharing is a safer alternative to bed sharing and may lower risk of SIDS.

NEVER sleep with baby in a recliner or on a couch.

How to Bed-share as Safely as Possible:

Despite the risks, some parents decide that this sleeping arrangement is best for their family.  If so, consider these precautions from the Canadian Pediatric Society and La Leache League International.

  • Don’t share a bed with an infant under four months of age – a bassinet or crib next to the bed is a better choice.
  • Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep.
  • Dress your baby in minimal clothing to prevent overheating.
  • Make sure there are no spaces between the mattress and the wall. or mattress and the headboard.
  • Make sure your mattress fits snuggly in the bed frame.
  • Don’t cover your child’s head while sleeping.
  • Don’t use pillows. comforters or duvets.
  • Avoid using alcohol, street drugs, or other medication that might keep you from waking or cause you to roll over onto your baby.
  • Never allow other young children or pets to sleep with an infant.
  • Never allow a baby to sleep alone in a bed.

References:

  • Caring For Kids (online) 2016
  • KidsHealth.org 2014
  • La Leache League International (online) 2014
  • Unicef.org.uk  (2014)