Though some newborns sleep as many as 20 hours a day, plenty more don’t. And even babies who sleep a lot do it, at first, in small stretches around the clock. Some seem to sleep most during the day, and are wakeful and unhappy at night, making afternoon naps for you absolutely essential.
Though most new parents yearn for more sleep, a newborn who sleeps too much worries health professionals. A new baby’s stomach is tiny and needs refilling often, and if you’re breastfeeding, these early days are important for establishing your milk supply. If your baby often sleeps longer than four hours between daytime feeds, you may be advised to wake her up every three hours for feeding.
Gradually, your baby will stay awake for longer stretches of time during the day, and her time awake at night will decrease. Sleeping through the night may still be months away, but with any luck, you’ll begin to get at least one longer stretch. It’s amazing how good four straight hours feels to a new mom!
For many years, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS, or crib death, in which an apparently healthy baby dies suddenly and unexpectedly) has been a complete mystery. But researchers have identified some risk factors that increase the likelihood of SIDS.
The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends the following precautions:
Put your baby to sleep on her back
Research shows that this sleep position dramatically reduces the incidence of SIDS. (Some babies have a medical problem that means they must sleep on their tummies – your doctor will advise you.) Once your baby can roll over, you can let her choose her own sleep position.
Give your baby a smoke-free environment
Research clearly shows that babies who are regularly exposed to cigarette smoke have a higher rate of SIDS.
Breastfeed your baby
It has many health benefits and probably gives some protection against SIDS.
Put your baby on a firm mattress
Avoid pillows, puffy bedding, stuffed toys and bumper pads in the baby’s crib; these prevent proper air circulation around your baby’s face.
Avoid overheating your baby
A room temperature that would be comfortable for you should be fine for your baby.
Keep your baby close at night
Having baby’s crib in your room may be protective against SIDS.
Is co-sleeping safe?
While co-sleeping (when a baby sleeps in the same bed as her parents) has been practised widely throughout the world, it has been the subject of debate in recent years because of a concern that it increases the risk of SIDS.
Advocates, however, argue that co-sleeping is not dangerous in itself. Parents who bring their babies into bed say it makes breastfeeding easier, allows moms a better night’s sleep and is comforting for babies.
If you choose to sleep with your baby, knowing how to do it safely is essential.
In addition to the basic safe sleep guide- lines, you should also take the following precautions:
Don’t sleep with your baby if you smoked during pregnancy or if you or your partner currently smoke.
Don’t sleep with your baby if you are impaired in any way.
Check your bed safety
There must be no chance of the baby falling from the bed, or getting caught in cracks between the mattress and bed frame or wall. Don’t sleep with your baby on a waterbed, soft chair or couch.
A version of this article appeared in our Fall/Winter 2013 Newborn baby book with the headline “Sleep, Baby, Sleep,” pp. 14-5.