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The arrival of a baby is a joyous event, but it is also one that can have a tremendously negative impact on their parents sleep routines. Although newborns sleep for around 18 hours a day, their short sleeping patterns mean that each sleep will only last a few hours and they’ll wake up relatively frequently throughout the day and night. This stage is vital for baby’s development and in establishing long-term sleep habits, and as the months progress the value of a routine will become evident.
During the first few weeks of a baby’s life they won’t differentiate too much between night and day, and will simply wake to feed on a regular basis irrespective of what time it is. It’s vitally important to understand that all babies are different, and their sleep/wake patterns can vary a great deal without much significance. Also, individual babies can go through periods of fluctuating sleep - there’s no guarantee that they will follow the same sleep pattern night after night. That’s why there’s little if any point in trying to create a rigid sleep routine in the early weeks and months.
However, it’s never too early to introduce the basic characteristics of the day (light, frequent varied sounds) and night (dark, quiet) to help them to familiarise themselves with their experiences. Try to avoid over-protecting your baby from normal daytime noises, and equally steer clear of creating excessive light and noise at night. By simply allowing the day and night to ‘happen’ as normal, your baby will develop a clear understanding of their environment as early as possible, and this will ultimately help when a sleep routine does become possible as they get a little older.
After a period of sleeping in the parental bedroom - six months is recommended - it’s time for the baby to sleep in their own room, and their ability to sleep longer during the night gradually begins to improve.
When decorating a nursery try to stick to the same basic principles that you would apply to your own bedroom - particularly by using sedate colours, removing or minimising distractions not related to sleep, and shutting out unwanted light and noise. Lots of baby-orientated décor is based on stimulation and amusement, but be careful not to over-do it or the nursery might become more of a playroom, rather than a place of relaxation. By avoiding the things that tend to disrupt sleep you’re giving your baby the best chance of having a restful night and developing a clear sense that their nursery is place for sleep.
While a regular sleeping routine may be elusive for some time as your baby adapts to the world, their rapidly developing senses and bewildering amount of new experiences they’re having, it is well worth trying to introduce a nightly pre-sleep routine that promotes relaxation. Common parts of such a routine include a bath, listening to gentle music and reading aloud. Over time, your baby will begin associating the activities with the fact that bedtime is approaching and - hopefully - settle down for the night.
While it might seem like good sleep is a fast-fading memory during the first months of a baby’s life, the introduction of some common-sense sleep practices can have a hugely positive effect over the coming months. Making bedtime a relaxed and calming affair will help to establish a healthy sleep routine when your baby is ready, and those troublesome sleepless nights will become less frequent.