Why is it so important for your newborn to sleep well

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Sleephealthfoundation.org.au – tips to help baby sleep better; sleep tips for new mothers

Welcoming your newborn baby home is an exciting experience but it’s a well-known fact that babies can also turn your world “upside down” for a while until they establish sleep routines. To help you ensure that both you, as a new parent, and your baby can develop healthy sleep practices the Sleep Health Foundation has some great advice which can be accessed free through their website.

Why is it so important for your newborn to sleep well?

Sleep is vital for normal growth and development of an infant as well as for emotional health and other important body functions. Many people see sleep as the time for rest but in fact the brain is very active during sleep. Newborns are going through a phase of intense development and they need enough sleep to ensure this happens. On average a newborn infant will need to sleep for around 16-18hrs per day.

How do I help my newborn establish good sleep patterns?

During the first weeks of life your baby does not yet have a set day-night rhythm and the sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm) hasn’t developed. Most newborns will sleep for periods of around 2.5 to 4 hours at a time so one of the ways to help create their rhythm is to set a pattern of sleep which is coordinated around feeding times, both during the day and night. By about 10-12 weeks of age infant sleep will start to become more consolidated to night-time. You can encourage your baby to develop this pattern with social cues to sleep such as saving stimulating interaction for daylight hours, using low light overnight when feeding and giving your baby a chance to resettle themselves when they stir through the night. Be consistent in your approach to sleep from the start and this will help your baby develop good patterns long-term.

When should I worry if my newborn isn’t settling?

Infants cry and become unsettled for lots of reasons- sometimes they are hungry, have a wet or dirty nappy, are overtired and sometimes it is to let you know they are not feeling right. So how do you know when to worry? The first three months of life is when infants will cry the most, with increased crying starting around 2 weeks of age and peaking around 6-8 weeks. Most infants will settle from this period around 4-6 months of age. If this doesn’t happen it may be worth seeking a medical review.

If your baby cries but can settle with comfort from you, this is most likely normal. Be careful to not overreact to crying. Sometimes it is worth seeing if they will settle themselves before you go to them- this is allowing them to learn how to self-soothe, which is an important step for all babies to learn. If you are concerned your baby will not settle with comfort and that there may be something else going on it is important to seek advice. This can be from a family member, health professional or from online resources. The raising children’s website is an excellent place to start (http://raisingchildren.net.au/sleep/babies_sleep.html).

What’s important for my baby’s sleep as they get older?

The most important message is to be consistent. Establish regular sleep times and a daily bedtime routine. This helps prepare your child for sleep and also helps them understand that the time has come for sleep. Teach them early how important good sleep is for them.