The Baby Sleep Cycle
One of the first questions from just about every new parent is, “How much should my baby sleep?” At first, it may seem like baby sleeps too much, but then again, there may be times when he doesn't seem to sleep enough (especially when you're trying to get some sleep!). The real answer to this question, however, is that the number of hours your baby sleeps will change a bit over the next several months.
Since babies generally sleep about sixteen out of each twenty-four hours, that means they typically aren't able to sleep more than a few hours at a time. In terms of sleep cycles, then, babies experience about seven asleep/ awake cycles, often evenly spaced every day.
Sleep cycles change over the first six months of baby's life. By the age of six months, your baby will most likely sleep about eleven hours each night, with a one- to two-hour late-morning and late-afternoon nap. Keeping baby on a routine will go a long way toward developing good sleep habits as baby grows.
Making Sure Baby Gets Good Sleep
Many first-time parents believe (mistakenly) that babies are supposed to sleep all day and night until they are a few months old. This is not true. Babies, especially newborns, do require lots of sleep to grow, but they should only sleep at two- to three-hour intervals during the day. The main reason for waking your baby, if she is sleeping longer than three hours at a stretch, is to make sure the baby is getting proper nourishment. If the baby is not getting enough food at regular times throughout the day, it will only serve to make your nights longer.
Teach Baby to Sleep
Some parents actually lie down near baby and pretend to sleep, just to get baby to fall asleep in a more emotionally secure way. Of course, the downside here is that you could really fall asleep, even before baby does, and if you think that might happen, be sure baby is safe in her crib before putting your head on a pillow. It's dangerous for baby to sleep in your bed!
Don't Interfere with Self-Comforting
If baby prefers thumb sucking as a calming way to drift off to sleep, resist the temptation to pop the thumb out of baby's mouth. Thumb sucking can be a healthy way for any child under the age of five years old to self-comfort — and self-comforting is something you'll learn to appreciate once you start getting a good night's sleep as a result!
While some babies choose their thumbs, others comfort themselves with a pacifier (though they're not adept with it at first) or by rocking themselves to sleep. At least for a few years, whatever gets baby through the night is generally alright — so relax! Enjoy the fact that baby knows how to provide some comfort and let you get some well-deserved sleep.