In the second instalment of Tinitrader's Baby Sleep Guide, Dr Kate Johnson shares the essential steps to follow in establishing good sleep habits during weeks 7 to 12.
Whether you are reading this wondering where the first 6 weeks went or you are starting to think about what might be around the corner – congratulations for surviving the newborn haze!
This age range can be very hard for some new parents who are seriously sleep deprived, yet still have a baby whose sleep is very much in development (read erratic).
The good news is that during this period you should start to see some big changes to your babies sleep including longer stretches of sleep for everyone.
Between 7 and 12 weeks of age is when some really positive sleep changes are starting to occur!
As you see those evening fussy periods taper off, and you see the onset of some regular social smiling and fewer dirty nappies overnight you know your baby’s circadian rhythm is maturing.
This development means that you will start to see that last late “nap”, drift earlier and earlier and turn into some serious stretches of night sleep as the sleep cycles develop in that first third of the night
If your baby is a stellar napper with upwards of 4-5 hours of daytime sleep, he may only be sleeping 9-10 hours at night. If your baby is napping more like 3-4 hours during the day, you are probably seeing 10.5 – 11.5 hours nights with 1-2, perhaps even three nighttime feedings.
Although bedtime and the first third of your baby’s night is getting nice and predictable, remember the last half to third of the night is still a challenge.
That’s the time when sleep pressure is lower, and your baby is doing more REM sleep which can lead to lots of movements and even cry out’s in sleep!
Importance of Environment
The social development that occurs around 7-9 weeks will signal your baby is getting ready to make some really strong attachments to her means and location for sleep.
Because of this, as you move along in this age range your baby’s sleep environment becomes more and more important.
This does not mean you can’t go anywhere or take your baby out for a walk or in a stroller, it simply means start keeping an eye towards your future goals and giving your baby the chance to experience the sleep location you’d ultimately like her to have on a regular basis.
How to move bedtime earlier
This is a good time to start to think about a bedtime that works best for your family.
Keep in mind a time that you can do most days – week days and weekends.
Once you determine your target bedtime range (use a 30 min window), you’ll want to start having a calm, quiet, dim environment for your baby from that time on.
Start a Bedtime Routine
Now that your baby has a predictable bedtime, it makes it MUCH MUCH easier to plan, predict and begin a bedtime routine!
By the 7-10 weeks mark, as the social smiling begins and bedtime starts to shift earlier you’ll want to be implementing your baby’s first bedtime routine.
This is an important feature of good sleep and will continue as your child grows.
At this young age, it doesn’t need to be elaborate - it can be as simple as swaddling your baby, giving him a cuddle and a kiss and telling him it’s time for sleep.
The details are not important but it is the repetitiveness each night that is the key to success.
Give them a chance to fall asleep on his own
Teaching your baby how to fall asleep on his own is a critical factor in your baby’s ability to consolidate sleep and learn to go back to sleep in the night or a nap after a brief arousal without waking your for assistance.
So for many families, it can be worth it to start to practice putting him down when he’s sleepy but still awake.
While this is a good time to start exposing your baby to this practice, it’s also not worth making yourself stressed, or overwhelmed with this.
In these first few months, practice and exposure to a sleep cue is all you can do.
If your baby isn’t responding as well as you’d hoped, or you have some other challenges to deal with (eg reflux or illness) don’t be afraid to soothe your baby to sleep.
It’s more important at this age your baby is getting adequate sleep than it is how your baby is actually falling asleep!
Daytime Cat Napping!
Around this age you might notice that your baby starts taking single sleep cycle naps of about 30-45 mins.
While there is magic solution for fixing this problem at such an early age the best solution is to soothe through sleep cycles.
Most babies have a predictable sleep cycle duration of 30-45 minutes. Time your baby from the time he falls asleep until the time he wakes to determine how long his sleep cycle lasts.
You will probably find that he sleeps an exact duration each time (e.g. 37 minutes or 41 minutes etc.).
The next time you put your baby down for his nap, go into his room a few minutes before you expect him to stir and start soothing by patting him gently, replacing his dummy, placing a heavy hand on his tummy, “shhhing” or stroking his cheek.
In other words, stay in the room with him for about 5-7 minutes and see if you can soothe him through that sleep cycle and into the next!
Morning Wake Up and First Nap
As you approach the 3-4 month mark your baby will be able to have some morning nap predictability and you’ll want to be sure you start to encourage that to happen.
Just as his circadian rhythm is maturing to drive for a more regular bedtime and organized first stretch of the night, you’ll want to start encouraging a predictable morning wake up time as well.
Begin to turn on lights, play or have a feeding, and start your day with your baby at around the same time each day – within the same 30 minute window.
As you start to see your baby’s body clock taking over and he’s naturally waking at a similar time each morning, you’ll start to be able to predict the first nap too.
For newborns, 90 mins is usually a comfortable awake period before they are ready for that first nap in the morning.
What are the best sleep products for my baby?
With so many sleep products on the range, it can be overwhelming when deciding where to begin!
Here at Tinitrader, we are massive fans of the award winning ergoPouch range of sleeping products including their swaddle, sleep suit and sleeping bag collections.
The ergoPouch range starts at a 0.3 tog, which is their summer sleeping bag. Their warmest is their ergoPouch Winter Sleeping Bag or SleepSuit Bag, which has a 3.5 tog. There are also ergoPouch sleeping bags with varying tog ratings in between, which are perfect for Autumn or Spring.
Here are the most important things to remember about sleep in this age range:
Bedtime and the first third of your baby’s night is getting nice and predictable
The last half to third of the night can still be a challenge. That’s the time when sleep pressure is lower, and your baby is doing more REM sleep which can lead to lots of movements and even cry outs in sleep!
Continue to swaddle your baby as long as it’s safe and he hasn’t started rolling.
You’ll still be feeding on demand at this age except perhaps during the first four – six hours.
You may want to slowly reduce an early-night feeding (a 9pm feed) at this point and transition to rocking, holding, and ultimately just patting your baby back to sleep
If you are working towards self-settling, try to minimize your input to their going to sleep and don’t be afraid to put them down awake
Kate has worked in the field of Sleep Medicine for over 15 years. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Melbourne and has since worked extensively both here in Australia as well as most recently in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She is passionate about working with families to help children sleep better and is the founder of Babysomnia. She currently lives in Melbourne with her husband and four young children. If you have a question for Kate you can ask it on the Facebook page or for more information check out the website at www.babysomnia.com