The Circadian What?!

Do you have a new baby in the house?  If you do, chances are you are beyond exhausted.  And for good reason.  For the first few months, babies wake every one to three hours.  All night long.

Before I had a baby, the true import of that little tidbit didn't register.  I didn't realize that feedings took more than a few minutes.  My son, in fact, took about 45 minutes to an hour to breastfeed every time he woke up.   Add all the other aspects of nighttime waking - the getting up, the changing of diapers and possibly clothes and crib sheets, putting the baby back to bed, and lulling yourself back to sleep - and you have the makings of a truly sleep-deprived night.  

Before babies can sleep through the night (defined by most as sleeping 5 hours straight), they have to pass several developmental milestones.  For one, they have to adapt to the "circadian rhythm." The circadian rhythm is when the body knows to sleep at night and stay awake during the day. This rhythm begins at around eight weeks old.

Another milestone to pass is the decrease of the baby's Moro reflex.  The Moro reflex is normally present in all infants up to 3 or 4 months of age.  It is the physical response to a baby's perception of a sudden loss of support.  Scientists believe the baby feels as if he or she is falling, which causes sudden body movements, waking and crying. 

Additionally, weight is a milestone.  Most babies do not sleep for longer periods until they weigh about 12 to 13 pounds.  This is usually around three months old.  The baby must also need to feed less frequently, which depends on how much he or she can take in at a time and how much milk you are producing or providing.

    Until your little one passes these milestones, sleep can be elusive.  How can you maximize nighttime sleep time in the interim?  Here are some helpful tips. 

    1.  Help your baby adapt to the circadian rhythm by exposing him or her to more light, noise, and playtime (interaction) during the day and dim lights and quiet at nighttime.  

    2.  When baby wakes for night feedings, try changing his or her diaper before feeding. There is less risk of post-feeding wakefulness if you fill that sweet tummy and put your contented baby to bed without the jostle and interaction of a diaper change. And you won't be wakened for diaper changes in between feedings. 

    3.  During nighttime feedings, keep noise and light to a minimum.  Do not turn on the television.  Try to minimize talking and activity.  This help ensures that baby knows late night feedings do not mean late night party time.

    4.  Keep your baby's crib in your room, close to you.  The proximity makes it easier to get your baby and put him or her back to bed.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents keep their infants in their room, but in a separate crib, for a minimum of six months as a way to decrease infant fatality.  

    5.  Put your baby to bed sleepy, rather than after he or she falls asleep.  This encourages your baby to fall asleep by his or herself.  

    6.  As your baby gets older, develop a sleep routine.  Your routine should not only include putting the baby to bed at the same times of day, it should include following a process that cues your baby that it is time to sleep.  Our process was change diapers, put on sleep attire (pjs and sleepsack at night; soft pants and top and sleepsack during day naps), breastfeed while reading and rocking in the rocking chair, place baby on his back in the crib, darken the room, and leave.  For us, it worked like a charm, but you will need to experiment to find what works best for you and your family.

    Cheers to better, longer sleep!    

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