From A to ZZZZs: Solving Baby Sleep Problems

by Ann Douglas

While your nightstand may be overflowing with books about pregnancy and birth, you may want to add a baby sleep book to that stack, too. Getting the sleep facts of life before your baby arrives on the scene can help you to be a more rested new parent. Here's a quick guide to get you started.

Top Seven Strategies for Preventing Baby Sleep Problems

  1. Try to get your newborn to bed when he is sleepy but not overtired.
  2. Use the power of daylight to reset your newborn's sleep-wake clock.
  3. Provide your newborn with a sleep environment that is sleep enhancing, not sleep inhibiting. Make sure your newborn's sleep environment is safe, too.
  4. Start thinking about how you're gradually going to teach your baby self-soothing skills. (You want to start teaching your baby these skills by the time he is three- to four-months of age -- the time when babies are capable of learning about sleep associations.)
  5. Think about how you're going to ease your newborn into a more regular sleep and nap schedule. (Pay attention to his evolving sleep-wake rhythms and you'll start to see patterns start to emerge.)
  6. Avoid highly stimulating forms of activity right before bedtime or your newborn may be too wound up to go to sleep.
  7. Don't forget to practice good sleep habits (don't overdo it with the caffeine or the alcohol, particularly close to bedtime; and make sure you're getting enough physical activity to be physically tired at the end of the day) and make sleep a priority for yourself, too.

"Everyone in my life keeps passing along different baby sleep advice. Even the experts don't agree! I don't know who to believe."

What to try
It is confusing-and overwhelming. But you'll lose a lot less sleep over sleep once you accept that there's no one-size-fits-all sleep solution. Before you settle on any sort of sleep training method, make sure it's the right one for you and your baby. Your parent intuition will help you to come up with a customized sleep solution-perhaps the best elements of some "off the shelf" sleep solutions or something uniquely designed by you to meet your child/family's needs.

"My baby startles into wakefulness the moment I get him to sleep. Then I have to start trying to get him to sleep all over again."

What to try
You can minimize the likelihood of startling once baby is in bed by minimizing transition to sleep environment: smell, temperature, noise, motion/vibration. As baby gets a little older, you'll want to start thinking about encouraging a self-soothing routine, but while the colic is the primary concern, make soothing your baby the priority.

"Our newborn is waking up every two hours to be fed. We're hardly getting any sleep."

What to try
Your newborn is growing at such a rapid rate that she needs to dine around the clock in order to take in enough calories to fuel that growth. (Her stomach is still very small, so it can't hold much food at one time.) Because you can't do much about the frequency of these feedings, you need to work on the other side of the equation-maximizing your opportunities for sleep and boosting your energy in other ways. Here are a few tips:
• Sleep when the baby sleeps (or make daytime sleep a priority as much as you can).
• Have your baby room in with you and simplify nighttime parenting by only changing your baby when your baby actually needs to be changed in the night (soiled diapers or very wet diapers).
• Call for backup (e.g., your partner, family, friends, postpartum doula, and anyone else who may be willing to pitch in).
• Boost your energy through exercise and ensure that you're consuming ample quantities of high-quality foods.
• Learn to manage the stress that goes along with being chronically sleep deprived. Talk to a friend or join a moms' group (face-to-face or online).

"My baby hates sleeping on her back, but I know this is the sleep position that leading health authorities recommend."


It's also possible that your baby may suffer from sleep apnea. If this is the case then supplying a CPAP machine for your young one could solve many of their problems.