Newborn Sleep and Crying

Sleep

Tired mother with babyNewborns may sleep as much as 16 hours in a 24-hour period, usually four-and-a-half hours at a time.

To help your baby adjust to sleeping at night:

  • Keep lights dim and your voice low to reinforce the message that nighttime is for sleeping. 
  • Start a bedtime routine by reading, singing or having quiet time before putting him in bed. 
  • Resist the urge to play with or talk to your baby during late-night diaper changes.
  • Be consistent in your routine because it may take several weeks for your baby’s brain to recognize the difference between night and day.

By the time your baby is 2 months old, he should be sleeping six to eight hours through the night. If your baby isn’t sleeping through the night by 4 months, talk with your doctor. 

Crying

Crying is your baby’s only real form of communication. It’s the only way he can let you know that something in his little world isn’t right. If he cries, pick him up. Newborns can’t be “spoiled” by too much attention. Answering his cries for help promptly will make him cry less. 

Within a 24-hour period, newborns usually cry for two hours or more. It’s a normal part of adjusting, and he will cry less as he gets more accustomed to the sights and sounds of his new surroundings. Of course we don’t know for certain, but it appears that babies sometimes cry as a way of releasing tension or to block out sensations that are too intense. In fact, some babies cannot fall asleep without crying.

If your baby cries more than three hours a day, at least three days a week, for at least three weeks in a row, he may have colic. Episodes of colic usually begin suddenly and for no apparent reason late in the afternoon or evening. Try the following suggestions if your baby is colicky or has afternoon crying episodes:

  • Swaddle your baby snugly in a blanket, leaving one arm free and the other tucked inside.
  • Gently rock your baby while rubbing his head, chest or back.
  • Position your baby tummy down on your lap or upright on your shoulder or against your chest.
  • Give your baby a warm bath.
  • Play soft music or a continuous sound like the clothes dryer or a recording of the ocean.
  • Take your baby for a walk.
  • Offer a pacifier or your finger to suck on.
  • Turn down the lights and noise in the room.

Don’t take your baby’s crying personally. He can feel your tension and will only cry more. Visit www.cryingplan.com for more information on handling the stress of a crying baby.

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) 

Anyone who has ever taken care of a fussy baby, or a baby who cries endlessly, knows how stressful this can be. Sometimes, usually out of frustration, a caregiver may shake the baby forcefully, trying to make him stop crying. This is never the right thing to do! Your baby’s tiny, fragile brain can be severely damaged. It takes only a few seconds of shaking to cause irreversible brain damage in an infant. 

Ways to cope with the stress of crying include:

  • Placing your baby in a safe place (crib, car seat), walking away and take a few minutes to calm down. As long as your baby is safe, has eaten and has a clean diaper, it is OK to let him cry until you feel better. 
  • Sit on the front porch, step into the backyard or spend some time listening to music. 
  • Call a friend or relative for help. 

Visit www.cryingplan.com for more information on shaken baby syndrome and handling the stress of a crying baby. Call 911 immediately if you think your baby has been shaken.

Crying plan

To help cope with crying, create a “Crying Plan.” This should include a list of friends or family and phone numbers of people you can call for help or comfort during periods of crying.

If you know he is not hungry, sick or uncomfortable, you might try: 

  • Rocking, either in a rocking chair or in your arms as you sway from side to side.
  • Gently stroking his head or patting his back or chest.
  • Swaddling (wrapping him snugly in a receiving blanket).
  • Playing soft music, singing or talking.
  • Walking him in your arms, a stroller or a carriage.
  • Rhythmic noise and vibration.
  • Burping him to relieve any trapped gas bubbles.

If the crying becomes too much for you to handle:

  • It’s OK to walk away. 
  • Place your baby in a safe place (crib, car seat) and then take a few minutes to calm down. As long as your baby is safe, has eaten and has a clean diaper, it is OK to let him cry until you feel better. 
  • Sit on the front porch, step into the backyard or spend some time listening to music. 
  • Call a friend or relative to relieve tension. 
  • Find ways to relieve your stress so you will be a better parent and a better partner.

Some newborns cry more often during the day than others. The period when they cry most often typically begins when your baby is 2 weeks old and continues until he is 3 or 4 months old. During this time, your baby may cry for what seems to be no reason, and he likely will be difficult to soothe. Many parents and caregivers would feel better if they could just “fix” whatever was “bothering” their little ones. But that’s not always possible.

Dads, don’t take it personally

Dad holding baby on shoulderCrying one to four hours a day is quite normal for newborns. Even so, it can be frustrating. The crying usually peaks in the afternoon and evening hours – right when many fathers are returning home from work. You may feel like you are doing something wrong or that your baby doesn’t like you. Please know that you are not alone. Many parents, especially fathers, feel this way, even though that’s simply not the case.

Remember, this is a normal part of development for many infants, and the crying doesn’t last forever. It diminishes significantly after the first couple of months. The crying also won’t last all day and night, so you will have many cherished moments with your newborn. So take time to enjoy your little one. They grow up faster than you can imagine. It’s more important to stay calm than it is to stop the crying.

Most importantly, never shake your baby. That can cause permanent injury or even death.

Resources

 

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