Sleep, Infants and Parents

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Jodi Mindell, Expert on Sleep and Children Issues
Jodi Mindell, PhD.

We are first-time parents and are concerned about the amount of sleep our newborn child should get.

When babies first come home from the hospital, they sleep anywhere from 10 to 18 hours a day. Sleep of newborns isn't consolidated so it tends to come in "chunks" that last anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours at a time, during the day and at night. Furthermore, some newborns have their days and nights reversed and sleep more during the day.

There is little you as a new parent can do at first, except to let the baby govern her schedule. After about 4-6 weeks, sleep patterns will develop. Pay attention to when your baby usually gets sleep, when she needs naps, and when she is ready to sleep at night. Just don't expect her to be consistent on a day-to-day basis yet.

What about naps? How frequently and how long should we expect our baby to nap?

In early infancy, napping usually occurs 2-4 times a day for 30 minutes to 2 hours at a time. By 6-9 months, the baby usually takes only 2 naps a day. By 18 months, she will probably nap only in the afternoon, and by the age of 2 1/2-5 years, she will give up naps entirely.

How should we prepare our baby for sleep, and where should she sleep?

For newborns, be sure to follow the guidelines to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): place your baby to sleep on her back, avoid smoking, and make sure there are no pillows, comforters, stuffed animals or other materials that could suffocate or smother the baby. Don't make the room too warm, and dress her as you would dress for bed. Some newborns sleep better swaddled, because normal jerks in their sleep can wake them up.

Parents need to make their own decisions as to where their baby sleeps, whether in a crib, a bassinet, or the parents' bed. Be sure, though, that wherever your baby sleeps, she is safe. In addition, I strongly encourage parents to decide by the time the