Go to bed, sleepy head
By Cheryl Harbour
During the first few weeks and months of a baby’s life, there’s a whole lot of sleeping going on!
Parents and grandparents may be particularly focused on sleep because good sleep is equated with healthy growth, and because the adults caring for a new baby need sleep, too. So, the more you know about babies them to sleep, keeping them asleep and keeping them safe while they sleep, the more help you can be.
6 States of Consciousness:
Quiet awake: Babies tend to watch and listen. The amount of time infants spend in this state increases as time goes on. By one month, it’s typical to be in this state for about 2-1/2 hours a day.
Active alert: The baby’s arms might be waving and legs kicking. Sometimes this state happens just before fussiness, and close on the heels of fussiness can come crying.
Crying state: Probably the one babies are most known for; usually a result of being hungry, uncomfortable, overtired, or unhappy. But determining which of these is happening at any given moment remains a major mystery.
Drowsiness: In an infant this state looks much like it does in anyone else – drooping eyelids, unfocused stare, yawns, and stretches. This state happens when the baby is going in or out of sleep
Active sleep: Also known as REM sleep for “rapid eye movement,” babies often move restlessly and make little noises. Babies spend about half their sleep time in active sleep. Observers report that babies typically alternate between active and quiet sleep about every 30 minutes.
Quiet sleep: In this state babies move less and breathe more regularly. The baby seems to have “zonked out.” This is usually when the parents are also most relaxed!
A newborn typically spends 16 or 17 hours per day sleeping but it’s broken up into many segments, usually no longer than two to four hours, and sometimes much shorter.
As much as we want babies to get a good night’s sleep, you’ll feel better about sleep interruptions if you remember that waking up is actually a survival skill because it assures that the baby is fed and cared for.
Do babies dream?
Wonder if babies dream? Adults dream during the REM cycle but in babies, REM sleep fills a different need. Scientists believe that’s when infants’ brains are building pathways, connecting those pathways, and laying the foundation for language.
Sleep strategies change over time: Babies are no longer put on their tummies to sleep.
You may remember when doctors recommended putting your baby on his or her tummy to sleep to reduce the chance of aspirating and choking. In the mid-1980s, research started linking tummy-sleeping to higher incidences of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and by 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised against tummy sleeping. This advice has weathered the test of time because the recommendation for back sleeping was confirmed by the AAP in early 2017.
SIDS has been studied extensively and here are the other things to avoid:
- Keeping the room too stuffy and too warm. A temperature of around 68 degrees is recommended.
- Soft bedding – it’s recommended to keep blankets, quilts, etc. out of the baby’s bed until the age of one year.
- Smoking – second-hand smoke raises the risk of SIDS.
- Experts also recommend against side sleeping, because the baby may roll onto his/her tummy.
BUT…babies often don’t sleep as well as on their backs, so what can you do?
Enter…the art of swaddling
One of the remedies developed to calm the newborn’s startle reflex that seems more common with back-sleeping is the swaddling technique, in which a baby’s arms are tucked snugly at his/her side while the baby is wrapped in a cocoon. Most hospitals teach new parents this technique – and the parents can teach you if they want you to use it. Swaddling can be done with a blanket – but special suits are also available. These come with Velcro in all the right places. You will know you have done the job well if the baby looks like a burrito.
Swaddled babies should definitely not sleep on their tummies – or be swaddled if they are able to turn from their back to their tummy. Their legs should also not be tightly swaddled because they need to move their hips for normal development.
If you feel a little rusty, here’s a video that shows how to swaddle and calm an infant.
Why do lullabies work?
The practice of singing softly to help a baby sleep is as old as time. But modern research offers some explanation for its success. One is that an ancient part of the brain in the limbic system holds the emotional responses to music, and in doing so, quiets the physical response to a stimulating world. Another explanation is that the meter of most lullabies (6/8 time) gives a rocking or swaying rhythm that closely matches what conditions were like for the baby before birth.
As your GRANDbaby gets older, sleep habits change
Most babies do not begin sleeping through the night (6 to 8 hours) without waking until at least 3 months of age, or until they weigh 12 to 13 pounds. However, this varies considerably and some babies do not sleep through the night until closer to 1 year.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – CHERYL HARBOUR
Cheryl Harbour is the special editor of “My GRANDbaby” section and author of Good to Be Grand: making the Most of your Grandchild’s First Year, a combination of up-to-date information and grandparently inspiration.