By about 3 months of newborn bliss/chaos we tend to find ourselves becoming run down by the constant feeds around the clock, and the very little nighttime sleep we have been getting. Some babies will start to naturally lengthen those sleep stretches all on their own, going longer and longer in between night feeds - but if you are reading this, I am certain your baby is not one of those unicorn babies! Every baby and their needs are so different, so it is impossible to compare your baby to the next. It is so easy to find yourself becoming discouraged after hearing about your friend's 3 month old baby who sleeps 8 hour stretches at night, while yours is still waking every 2-3. There is no way to tell exactly what the reasoning behind this is, but some contributing factors to this variation may include; weight, caloric intake, temperament, digestion factors, and more. You aren’t doing anything wrong, so please don’t blame yourself! I have developed this guide to help you ensure that you are doing everything you can to help your baby get those longer stretches of sleep at night:
Caloric Intake - This is the most important step to longer stretches of sleep at night. Make sure you are offering your baby feedings every 2.5 - 3 hours throughout the day. By doing this you are ensuring that your little one is receiving as many calories as he or she can during the daytime, making sure they’re not constantly hungry throughout the night. Provide top up feedings right before naps, and a nice big full feed before bedtime.
Dream Feed - Offer a dream feed about 2.5 hours after your little one has gone to bed for the night (if they are between 0 & 4 months) If they are 4 months or older provide the dream feed between the hours of 10 & 11 pm only. This means ensuring your little one is asleep before entering the room, and picking them up and providing the feeding while they remain asleep. This feeding can take a few nights for them to catch on, and it does take about a week of consistency to see if it has any benefits for your baby or not, but it is definitely worth a try! The reason I recommend a dream feed is to make sure your baby has one last full feeding around the time you and your partner go to bed, in hopes that filling their belly while they're still asleep will give you that longer sleep stretch we are aiming for!
Naps - Did you know that daytime sleep has a HUGE impact on nights? If your little one’s days are all over the place, chances are their nights will be too! If you haven’t started implementing consistent naps, it is time to start. To do this you will want to follow age appropriate wake window’s in order to know how long your baby should be awake before offering a nap. Sleepy cues are great to follow in combination with wake windows, but following them on their own can lead you astray. It is common to see little one’s becoming very energetic around nap time, making it confusing to parents when trying to figure out if they’re tired or not! This burst of energy can actually be the start of your little one becoming overtired - so offering the nap before they get to this point is very important. If your little one is under 5 months of age and consistently taking short naps (naps under 45 mins in length) this is normal for them! After 5 months of age is when we start to see naps start to lengthen and become more predictable, but in the meantime rocking or holding your baby for the second half of the nap may help extend them for now. If your baby is older than 5 months of age, and still having short naps - nap training may be beneficial.
Cap the naps: Make sure if your baby is between the ages of 3-15 months of age you are capping those naps! Don’t let your little one sleep for longer than 2 hours at one time. Newborns usually only have one long stretch of sleep every 24 hours, so by waking them during the day, you are ensuring you are staying on top of feedings, and saving all of that extra sleep for nighttime! Keep an eye on the amount of total daytime sleep your little one is having, because too much can affect your nights as well.
Room Environment- Make sure your little one is sleeping alone in a bassinet or crib with a snug fitted sheet. The room temperature should be between 68 & 72 degrees, and the room should be very dark ( so dark that you are unable to see your hand in front of your face). Sometimes due to the location of your house it can be very hard to block out the bright sunshine, so I always recommend purchasing “portable blackout blinds” from amazon. (They’re not pretty, but they do the trick!) Playing a sound machine also does wonders! It is important that your sound machine stays playing for the duration of your little one's sleep. If it turns off half way through you may see them wake up.
Swaddle or Sleep Sack - If your baby is under 4 months of age and is NOT showing signs of rolling, swaddling can be a very effective way to get your little one to sleep, and see them stay asleep for longer periods. Babies naturally have a startle reflex, which causes them to wake up. Most of the time newborns are unable to put themselves back to sleep after they are woken up by the reflex. Using a swaddle will help prevent this. If your baby is older than 4 months, using a sleep sack can help keep them safe, while keeping them warm. Sleep sacks also prevent wakings caused by cold body temperature.
These tips should help you start reaching towards your goal of longer night time stretches. If you have done everything I have suggested above and have implemented it for at least 2 weeks with no change, head to my website and book a free consultation so we can chat about it! I would love to hear from you.
- Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant