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Sleeping positions

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a healthy baby be put on his or her back to nap and at bedtime. You do not need to keep checking after you lay your baby down to sleep. AAP based this guideline on research that linked sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) with sleeping on the tummy. These are other ways to reduce the risk of SIDS and suffocation:

  • Put your baby to sleep on a firm surface.
  • Do not use soft bedding or have toys in bed.
  • Keep your baby warm but not overheated. 
  • Do not let any person smoke around your baby.

To keep your baby from having a flat spot at the back of the head, switch crib ends for naps and bedtime from week to week. Put your baby down to sleep on one end of the crib for a week. Next week, put your baby down to sleep on the other end.

Put your baby on his or her tummy for part of each wakeful period. This helps strengthen neck muscles and the upper body. Always stay with your baby during "tummy time."

Most newborns sleep 10-20 hours per day. Waking and sleeping periods vary from day to day. Very few infants sleep through the night during the first weeks. It takes months for most babies to achieve this. There are many reasons why an infant wakes at night:

  • Your baby may be wet or cold.
  • Sudden noises may startle your baby.
  • Your baby may be ill or hungry.

Some babies mix up day and night. If you notice your baby is sleeping for longer stretches during the day, wake him after 2-3 hours. A bath or massage during the early evening may help him relax. If your infant wakes during the night, keep the room quiet and dimly lit.

Places to sleep

According to the AAP, the safest place for your sleeping newborn is in a crib or bassinet in your room. Use car seats and carriers only when you travel. Never put your baby in a beanbag chair.

If you bring your infant into your bed for feeding or comfort, return him or her to the crib or bassinet when you go back to sleep. There is an increased risk of SIDS among infants who sleep in their parents' bed. Never let a premature baby sleep in your bed.

The AAP suggests you give your baby a pacifier. It appears this practice may reduce the chance of SIDS. If you breastfeed your baby, establish that first and wait at least a month to offer a pacifier.

Sleeping & napping

When your baby reaches the age of 2 or 3 months, slowly start teaching him or her to fall asleep on their own. Lay your baby down when he or she is very drowsy. As your baby gets used to being in bed, try putting him or her down so he or she can try to put themself to sleep. Let him or her cry for a short time (10 minutes) before you go to settle him or her with singing, rocking, patting or whatever works. If you let him or her practice falling asleep this way, he or she will slowly get better at settling. Learn the cues your baby gives when tired. A tired baby may:

  • Get fussy
  • Rub eyes or face
  • Become active and wiggly

Lay your baby down at the first sign of tired cues. If you wait too long, your overtired baby may have a harder time falling asleep. If he or she wakes in less than 1 hour from a nap, let him or her cry a bit to see if he or she can go back to sleep. Most babies need at least a 1 hour nap to be rested. If your baby misses naps, he or she may have more trouble falling asleep at night and may have more restless nights, too.

By 4-6 months, many babies can sleep 10-12 hours a night. (There may be one feeding somewhere in the middle.) They are also able to sleep 3-4 hours during the day during 2-3 naps.

A baby who is happy and well during the day but wakeful at night is likely to have disturbed sleep, not an illness. A sick baby may be wakeful and fussy both day and night.

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