Dr. Gellner: Newborns have a time schedule all their own, and often it does not match what the parents are used to. How and when should new parents try to get their baby on a sleep schedule?
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Dr. Gellner: Newborns have spent their whole existence in a dark space with no agenda except to develop and grow, being fed through the umbilical cord, peeing. That's what amniotic fluid is unborn baby pee. Not pooping and not using their lungs. So when they're born, all of a sudden they've got to adjust and figure out how to eat, breathe, poop, and when to be awake according to our schedules.
Babies can't tell time, so they don't know when they're supposed to be alert, when to sleep, when to eat, and so one of the jobs of a new parent is helping their new little person adjust to the outside world. Sounds easy, right? Just ask any new parent, and they'll tell you it's anything but easy. Babies think that 3:00 a.m. is a great time to be up. They think that daytime naps are good because you as a parent can get so much done while they sleep.
For the first few days of their little lives, new parents will be at the mercy of their babies in terms of time schedules. By about two to four weeks old though, babies should start to develop routines. But you may not be able to get them on a really good sleep schedule until they're two to three months old. That's when they are finishing up a big growth spurt, and their eating and sleeping patterns start to stabilize. They're eating on a more consistent and predictable basis, so they sleep a little better.
The best thing that new parents can do to help babies figure out daytime versus nighttime is to keep everything bright and stimulating and don't insist on everyone being super quiet during the day, and at night keep the lights dim, make all your interactions with your baby as boring as possible and just try to keep everything calm.
Parents should put their babies to bed drowsy but still awake so the baby learns to fall asleep in their own space, and be sure they're on their backs and there's nothing in there bassinet or crib that could suffocate them. I've found sleep sacks were great. They kept my winter babies cozy but let their arms stick out because they hated being swaddled, and then there was nothing else in their bassinet except them. No pillows, no blankets, no stuffed animals, nada. A lot of sleep issues with kids start as they get older. So if you can help your baby establish good sleep habits from a young age, it can prevent a lot of problems later on when they become toddlers.
If your baby has a lot of difficulty with getting on a good sleep schedule, talk to your baby's pediatrician so they can get a better history of what's going on and give you some guidance so you all sleep better.
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