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Understanding Colic and Routines: Sleep in Newborns




One of the major problems that new parents face when trying to help their little one cope with colic is consistent sleep. The sporadic sleep patterns that can occur as the result of all the crying make keeping your baby to a schedule extremely challenging, to say the least. Sleep in newborns differs from sleep in older children in several important ways.

By understanding how your baby’s sleep patterns can affect irritability and crankiness, you can work to reduce colicky symptoms that occur because your baby is stressed and unable to sleep. Because adequate sleep is intrinsically tied to having a healthy baby, you want to be sure that you are doing everything you can to promote healthy sleep habits from the start.

In general, newborns tend to sleep much of the day and night, waking only to feed. However, this sleep doesn’t occur all in one long stretch – generally, newborns only sleep for 3 to 4 hours at a time at the most. Bottle fed babies do not wake as often as breastfed babies, but this is generally because breast milk is more easily digested, and so babies wake up hungry more often. Because of this continual sleeping and eating pattern, it is not uncommon for babies to get their days and nights confused – to them, there is no immediate difference.

Even without having days and nights confused, a colicky infant will often start to cry in the evenings, and may cry throughout the night, only to fall asleep in the morning just as parents need to get ready to face the day! When this happens, it leads to additional stress for everyone in the family, as parents try to juggle the responsibility of caring for their newborn with the very real need to rest and get some sleep.

Parents of a baby with colic have few options when it comes to evening fussiness, but there are some things that can be done to encourage sleep in newborns, particularly if your household is typically very busy in the evenings. First, you must understand that babies take their stress cues from those around them. This means that if everyone in the house is rushing around, trying to get to after school activities, handle appointments, watch television, and take care of other activities, your baby can easily become overwhelmed.

Some babies, when they become overly excited by their surroundings, cannot cope and relax again, and this causes prolonged crying that cannot easily be soothed. One of the best ways to help your baby avoid this kind of colic is to set up a routine that reinforces daytime wakefulness and nighttime sleeping. There are several ways to do this:

  • Make daytime more active.

Sing songs, talk to your baby, and spend time on chores and other noisy activities during the daytime. Your baby will get used to this increased activity gradually, and will come to associate the daytime with wakefulness as he or she matures.

  • Make nighttime more restful.

Likewise, when evening rolls around, dim the lights in your home, try to keep the noise levels down, and minimize the amount of activity that your baby is exposed to. This may mean keeping the television off in the main room in the evenings, and it may also mean asking siblings to keep noise levels down once it’s time for baby to start winding down for bed.Swaddle your baby. Some babies relax better when they are tightly swaddled. Usually this works best with younger infants, as this mimics the confines and warmth of the womb. If your baby is fussy and flails a lot, try swaddling as a solution.

Remember, sleep in newborns is not the same as sleep in older children and adults.

Even if you can get your baby to adjust to your schedule, you shouldn’t expect him or her to sleep through the night in the first few months of life. Instead, you should aim for more wakefulness during the day, and more sleep at night. If you work on minimizing the stressors that can make your baby wound up and cranky in the evenings, then may be able to reduce colicky symptoms and get more rest.


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