Getting Used to Baby’s Inconsistent Sleep

One of the basic truths when it comes to babies is that they want to do things their way, and on their own schedule. You struggle with your baby’s sleep patterns, for example. Once you think you’ve got her figured out, she switches things all around. Often, it isn’t so much that your baby has just decided to make a change as it is the fact that there’s something else going on in your baby’s life that is causing this change.

One thing that can create inconsistent sleep for your baby is a change in his eating habits. When you introduce solid foods to his diet for the first time, for example, it will most definitely affect the way that he sleeps. The same is true if your baby happens to develop a food allergy of some sort or another; it’s just likely to mess with his sleep.

A cold is another common reason that your baby might have inconsistent sleep. She might get sick and not feel well at all, but it can be two, three, or even more days before she starts to show any symptoms that you can see. She just doesn’t feel good.

Obviously, addressing the root cause of your baby’s inconsistent sleep is the key to getting things back to normal. If your baby’s sleep patterns have changed because he’s started to eat solid foods, that means you’re just going to have to wait it out. If it’s because she’s ill, it means you need to treat the symptoms of her illness so that she will feel better.

What makes matters especially frustrating in this regard is that your baby, through the first couple of years of life, is still trying to establish sleep patterns. Something like a cold or a change in feeding habits can change that schedule, and make it harder for your baby to establish those patterns.

The best thing you can do when your baby has inconsistent sleep issues is to recognize what’s at the root cause. Try to be patient with your baby, and do what you can to resolve the underlying issue.

Sleep and the Newborn Baby


Newborns spend most of their time sleeping. On average, a newborn baby will sleep between sixteen and seventeen hours per day for their first three to four months. Unfortunately for the parents, this sleep tends to be in two to four hour stretches.

It’s perfectly normal for babies to wake up frequently. In fact, a healthy newborn baby should wake up every two to four hours to eat. For the first few months of her life, a newborn’s stomach isn’t large enough or developed enough to handle enough food to tide her over any longer than that. She going to wake up, and she’s going to be hungry.

Of course, this means that even though baby is going to get 16+ hours or sleep every day, mom and dad are going to have a really tough time carving out eight hours of sleep at night. Fortunately, this doesn’t last forever. Somewhere between a year and two years old, most babies start sleeping through the night, giving mom and dad some much needed rest.

In the meanwhile, there are some things you can do to make it through these first few months. Try this:

  • Take turns with night time parenting. If you’re bottle feeding, this is fairly easy. If you’re breastfeeding, mom will still have to pull the majority of nighttime baby duty (after all, baby will generally be hungry), but dad can still help out with everything except the actual feeding.
  • Take naps. Lots of naps. Anytime baby is sleeping is a good time for mom and/or dad to catch up on some much needed sleep, too. If you need to, let the dishes of the vacuuming go for a day. Your rest is important, and that will still be there tomorrow.
  • Make nighttime parenting as boring as possible. To a baby, everything is new, and everything is fascinating. Most babies can start recognizing the difference between day and night as early as two weeks old. They can begin to sleep for slightly longer periods at night and slightly shorter periods during the day. The best way to help them do this is to keep things dark and relatively uninteresting during nighttime feedings.

There will be times when the early stages of your baby’s life seem to take forever. In reality, it doesn’t last very long. As babies grow, they will generally develop sleep habits closer to your own. Until then, remind yourself that you will look back fondly at these times sooner than you think.

Preventing SIDS


There are few things that are scarier to new parents than the thought of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS typically occurs between the ages of one month and one year. It is not completely preventable.

We still have a lot to learn about SIDS. In the meanwhile, there are a number of things we can do to reduce our babies’ risk of SIDS. These include:

  • Back Sleeping. Always place your baby to sleep on her back. Since the Back to Sleep program in the 1990s shed light on the fact that tummy and side sleeping increased the risk of SIDS, we have been able to reduce the instances of SIDS considerably.
  • Share a Room, but not a Bed. Research consistently shows that babies are safest when they share a room with their parents, but sleeping in the same bed poses the risk of suffocation. Place the crib in your room until baby is at least six months old.
  • Use a firm mattress designed for baby’s crib. The mattress should fit in the crib snugly, with no gaps.
  • Breastfeed your baby if possible. In addition to a plethora of health benefits for baby and mother, breastfeeding has been shown to lower the rate of SIDS.
  • Don’t smoke around baby. Don’t allow others to smoke around baby. While we don’t know enough about SIDS yet, we do know that it is causes by disturbances in baby’s breathing. The more smoke your baby is exposed to, the greater her chances of SIDS. If you must smoke, do so away from your baby.
  • Keep the crib clean and empty (except for baby). It can be tempting to fill baby’s crib up with toys, pillows, baby blankets, and stuffed animals, but these all increase the risk of SIDS. Consider using a sleep sack instead of a blanket. If you do use a blanket, use one blanket and swaddle your baby in it. For older babies, tuck blankets in firmly if you use them at all.
  • Use a pacifier. The risk of SIDS is significantly reduced if baby uses a pacifier when she sleeps.
  • Discuss any abnormalities in baby’s breathing with your pediatrician. You’ll especially want to make sure to mention if your baby stops breathing, gags, turns blue, or goes limp while she is sleeping, after she has spit up, or at any other time.

None of these things, in and of can completely prevent SIDS. Still, they represent the best preventative measures we have at this point.

Pacifiers and Baby Sleep


For a long time, parents who put their babies to sleep with a pacifier caught a lot of flak. Some were concerned that using a pacifier might cause problems when babies’ teeth start coming in.  Some have expressed concern that using a pacifier might hinder breastfeeding. Others simply didn’t feel that popping a pacifier in baby’s mouth every time she cries is good parenting. In recent years, however, the research has shown that there are some pretty significant benefits to putting a baby down with a pacifier.

Benefits of Using a Pacifier

It has long been known that babies tend to fall asleep better when they are suckling. This is true whether they are sucking on a bottle, the breast, or a pacifier. Even when they’re not hungry, suckling is soothing for babies.

Using a pacifier has other benefits beyond soothing your baby, however. Studies have shown that putting your baby down to sleep with a pacifier significantly reduces his chance of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Additionally, many parents have found that using a pacifier made the weaning process easier.

Concerns about Pacifiers

In all fairness, there are some legitimate concerns with using pacifiers. One of them is that they may cause confusion for breastfeeding babies. Generally speaking, the risk of SIDS is strongest after baby is one month old and before her first birthday. If you are concerned about nipple confusion, don’t give your baby a pacifier until after she’s a month old.

Some studies show that babies who use pacifiers are more prone to ear infections. It isn’t really known why this is, but babies who sleep with a pacifier have about 40% more ear infections than babies who sleep without a pacifier.

Another legitimate concern is that parents might use the pacifier when they should be feeding the baby instead. If there’s any doubt as to whether baby is hungry, you should feed her instead of reaching for the pacifier. Still, most babies’ need to suckle stretches beyond their need for feeding.

Pacifier Safety

Most parents find that the benefits of using a pacifier outweigh the concerns. If you do choose to use a pacifier, follow these tips for safety:

  • Choose a pacifier with a nipple that is symmetrical.
  • Choose a pacifier with vent holes in the mouth shield. This allows air in and out better.
  • Don’t attach pacifiers to baby with cords. This can present a strangulation risk.
  • Don’t share pacifiers.
  • Clean pacifiers regularly.


Helping Your Baby to Sleep through the Night


One of the first things most new parents want to know is, “When will my baby sleep through the night?”

That answer varies from baby to baby, of course. No two are completely alike. In general, babies are able to start sleeping through the night between four and six months of age. Before that, their tummies aren’t developed enough to keep them full and satisfied through a full night’s sleep, and they will generally wake up at least once every four hours.

While you can’t completely control your baby’s sleep schedule, there are some things you can do, even during the newborn stages, to encourage your baby to sleep through the nighttime. While these aren’t fail proof, they do give you the best chances that your baby will begin sleeping through the night when he is old enough to do so.

Here are some of the best things you can do to help your baby sleep work towards sleeping through the night:

  • Be active with her during the day time. When your baby is awake during the daytime, play with her, sing to her, and otherwise stimulate her. This sends the message that daytime is fun and is really the best time to be awake.
  • Keep things calm at night time. Err to the side of keeping things boring. Feed her and take care of her needs, of course, but keep the lights down low and don’t play with or otherwise stimulate baby at night. If you sing to her, keep the songs soft and soothing.
  • Wait a minute (or a few minutes) before tending to baby. As parents, our first instincts are to rush to get the baby every time she moves or makes a sound. Often, if they aren’t hungry, babies will fall back to sleep if you leave them alone for a minute or two.
  • Put your baby to bed before she falls asleep. Most of us love having baby fall asleep in our arms. There’s nothing wrong with that, but putting baby to bed when she’s drowsy but not yet asleep can help her learn to fall asleep on her own.
  • Use a bedtime routine. As much as possible, follow the same routine before bed. Sing the same songs, read the same stories, give the baby a bath at the same time, etc. The more baby begins to associate these things with night time and going to sleep, the sooner she is likely to sleep through the night.

Understand that nothing is foolproof when it comes to getting your baby to sleep through the night. Some babies will take to it naturally, while others will continue to wake up in the middle of the night until well into the toddler stages. Be encouraged, though. Even the worst baby night owls eventually start sleeping through the night before high school.