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Dealing with Baby Sleep Issues: Birth to 3 Months

Dealing with Baby Sleep Issues: Birth to 3 Months

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Updated on May 25, 2012

Hey, we feel your pain! Almost every newborn goes through a period of frequent night waking, it's pretty common to feel totally sleep deprived for the first few months. Even though it's a completely normal stage of life, you can try to isolate some of the most common newborn sleep issues to figure out why your little one is resisting sleep. That way, you can do your best to steal a few extra z's so you can function—at least a little bit—during the day.

  • Night feedings. It's said that your stomach is the size of your fist. Check out your sleeping cutie's little hand—it doesn't make for much room, does it? Your infant has an impossibly tiny tummy and can only eat in small doses. The result? She's starving after just a couple hours, and nothing will change that. If you're breastfeeding, you'll be up feeding every two to three hours, but bottle-feeders might get just a few minutes more. Since you need to feed your babe when she's hungry, consider having her sleep in a bassinet or co-sleeper in your room so you're not fully waking each time she needs to eat.
  • Mixing day and night. Hey, you know that dark means bedtime, but you can't expect a newborn to grasp that concept right away. Depending on her habits in utero, you might end up with a little one who is wide awake come 3 a.m. and sleepy in the late afternoon, which makes your days seem mixed up too. Turn her right-side up again by working to delineate between day and night. Keep your house as bright as possible during the day, even when your little one is napping. Then, when it's bedtime, make sure that the lights are kept dim, especially when you're tackling midnight feedings and changings.
  • SIDS. Sorry, mama; this one is all on you. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is a real risk, but a Scottish study found that 87 percent of SIDS deaths were the result of unsafe sleeping environments; most often soft bedding or allowing baby to sleep on her tummy. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you always put your babe on her back to sleep, and make sure that you clear heavy blankets and pillows out of her crib.
  • Startling. Have you ever noticed that your snoozing baby will suddenly flinch, causing her to cry out and wake? It's behavior called startling, and it can be a serious cause of stress for your little one. After spending nine months in the enclosed space of your belly, all of the freedom she gets in the wide open world can make your baby feel insecure. Swaddling her can help ease this stress. Special Velcro swaddling blankets make the process easier, but regular, thin receiving blankets wrapped tightly around your newborn make her feel snug, secure and less likely to wake from startling.
  • Reflux. If your baby isn't just awake, but screaming in pain all night long, it's more than just regular night-waking. About half of all babies spit up at least once per day, but reflux is more than just normal spit up. It's the result of acid splashing up your baby's esophageal tube, making it super uncomfortable for her, especially when she's laying flat in a bed. If you suspect reflex, a trip to the doc is in order. Along with medicine and changes in feeding, you can roll a towel and place it under the top of her crib mattress so she sleeps in a reclined position so stomach acid stays put. Just make sure the bed isn't so high that she rolls downward—a couple inches is fine.
  • Trouble settling. Most people read or watch TV to unwind after a stressful day. Translate that habit to baby world, and it's easy to see why your newborn fusses when you go straight from feeding or play to bedtime. Instead, Dr. Robert Oexman, the director of the Sleep to Live Institute, suggests a predictable and soothing bedtime routine to ease your baby into dreamland. "Starting with the first night at home, you and your baby should develop a routine associated with sleep. If you do not have one now, it is not too late to start," he says. "This should be one hour to a minimum of 30 minutes prior to putting them in bed." Baby massage, songs, nursery rhymes or a nightly warm bath can help your baby prepare her body and mind for sleepy-time.
  • General waking. Create a schedule around your sudden lack of sleep. A 2011 study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews found that most newborns between 0-3 months wake around 3.4 times per night. Taking naps during the day and switching off nighttime duties with your partner can help you cope until your babe starts sleeping for longer stretches, usually at the tail-end at those first three months.

While newborn sleep issues can seem like a never-ending battle, it's important to remember that these sleepless rounds with late-night TV and morning caffeine aren't going to last forever. By the end of three months, your baby should start sleeping for longer stretches, which means you'll get some blessed shut-eye as well. For now, it's all part of the initiation into parenthood that makes you the nurturing, intuitive—and tired—mom you are.

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