Newborn Series: Sleep
Newborns sleep most of the day (up to 18 hours per day). Infant sleep cycles typically do not regulate until 3-6 months of age. Occasionally, babies will sleep through the night as early as 3 weeks -just be thankful if this happens. Most likely, your baby will be getting up to feed every 2-3 hours regardless of the time. After your baby has regained their birth weight or after 1-2 weeks, let your baby sleep as long as they can during the night. However, during the day, do not let your baby sleep more than 3 hours at a time. This will help stimulate a more regular nighttime sleep pattern.
Most infants can “sleep through the night” (at least 6 hours) between 3-6 months of age. This happens when they can tolerate 6 ounces of milk at a time – typically correlates with a weight of 13-15 pounds. This is the point at which their stomachs can hold enough to sustain them through the night, and they are no longer awakening due to hunger. There will come a point when it is clear they are getting up solely because of habit and just wanting to be comforted and held rather than being truly hungry. Once they reach this milestone, we recommend beginning to train them to sleep through the night (see below). Sleeping through the night would be considered at least 6 hours. This is also a good time to relocate them into a separate room.
Infants should sleep on their backs and/or their sides with no loose or thick bedding or pillows in the crib. Be careful with loose-fitting bumpers or bumpers with long ties since a baby could get stuck between the bumper and the mattress.
Sleep Training – Ferber Method
The Ferber method is a sleep-training strategy developed by Richard Ferber, a pediatrician and the director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital Boston. In 1985, Ferber wrote the best-selling book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems (which he later updated in 2006), that detailed his method of allowing babies to cry for a certain period of time before comforting them.
The strategy, known as the Ferber method (also called “graduated extinction”), was designed to help babies learn to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own—or fall back to sleep independently if they wake up in the middle of the night.
The Ferber method differs from another popular technique called extinction-sleep training (the cry-it-out method)— which is essentially ignoring your child, even if they cry, until they go to sleep. The cry-it-out method was kind of the default mode in the late 19th and early 20th century, where the whole thing was you really should not spoil your child. The Ferber method differs because it involves checking in on your child at gradually increasing time intervals
How does it work?
Here is how to introduce the Ferber sleep method for your baby. After following a set bedtime routine, place your drowsy infant in the crib while they are still awake, then leave the room. If they cry, wait for a period—Ferber suggests three minutes the first night—before returning to the room to briefly comfort them.
Comforting could be patting your baby’s back or talking in a soothing voice. It should not involve picking them up, feeding them, or turning on the light. This reassurance should last only a minute or two.
Leave the room again and extend the time period (Ferber suggests five minutes) in which you allow your child to cry. Ferber refers to this technique as “progressive waiting.” If necessary, come in again and briefly comfort them, and then leave while they are still awake, repeating this process, but extending the wait time to 10 minutes, until they fall asleep without you being in the room. If your child wakes up in the middle of the night, repeat this process to help them go back to sleep.
On the second day, allow your baby to cry for five minutes initially, then 10 minutes, and then 12 minutes. On the third day, begin at 10 minutes, then 12 minutes, and then 15 minutes. The idea is that after a few days of slowly increasing the waiting time, most babies will eventually learn to fall asleep on their own, knowing that Mom or Dad is not going to pick them up when they cry.
Tips for Success:
As often is the case in most child-rearing ventures, the key to making the Ferber method work is consistency. The process should take a few days or a week—not weeks and weeks. If it is dragging out, make sure your partner is on the same page as you. Picking up the baby and rocking them when they cry at night can drag out the process. A lot of parents feel stress or guilt about any sort of behavior modification but we say you owe it to yourself and your child to have healthy sleep habits.
Here are some other tips for Ferber method success:
- Establish a bedtime routine—including bathing, reading books, or other soothing activities—by 6 to 8 weeks of age. This consistency helps your baby learn what to expect each night, and it helps set your baby’s internal clock.
- Avoid sleep training during big life changes for your baby, such as teething or getting a new nanny. Your little one does not need the added stress.
- If your baby still has nighttime feedings, follow the Ferber method chart for getting them back to sleep afterwards.
- Place your infant in the crib while they are still awake, but drowsy. If you put babies to bed when they are already sleeping, they won’t recognize their surroundings upon waking, making it harder to self-soothe.
- Make sure to implement the Ferber method for naps, too. Most naps should happen in the crib, which helps create a consistent sleep routine.