Nurturing Healthy Sleep habits in Babies: Essential Information Every Parent Should Know

Chiropractic Care  |  Pre-Post Natal & Child

As new parents, navigating the realm of baby sleep can often feel like diving into uncharted waters. From understanding the intricate needs of newborns to ensuring a safe and restful environment for your little one, there’s a wealth of information to absorb and apply. In this blog post, we’ll delve into important facts about baby sleep, shedding light on essential practices and red flags that every caregiver should be aware of.

Newborn Sleep Patterns

Newborn babies operate on a sleep schedule that’s vastly different from adults. They have shorter sleep cycles, which provides them the opportunity to check in with their environment (ensuring a caregiver is nearby) and signaling if they have a need, such as for milk, warmth, or a dry diaper. They require waking every few hours, not only for feeding but also for their safety. 

It’s crucial to note that newborns are not equipped to handle deep sleep phases. Their breathing patterns can change, and their neurological immaturity makes it difficult for them to awaken from a very deep sleep. This is naturally protective from SIDS. Therefore, frequent waking is not only normal but also essential for their well-being. The AAP recommends that babies share a room with their caregivers for the first year of life, but at minimum for 6 months. Sleeping within sensory range of your baby can be protective, as it allows for immediate response to their needs, promoting a sense of security and comfort for both mom and baby. 

Understanding Cosleeping

The term cosleeping gets thrown around often without much certainty of the intended meaning. Depending on the source, it can be defined in many different ways. In the most general sense, cosleeping is an infant sharing a sleep space with a caregiver. This can include room-sharing (baby sleeping in a bassinet or crib in their parents’ room), bedsharing (baby sharing the same sleep surface as their parent), and situations such as baby sleeping on a parent while on a couch or in a recliner. 

It is important to note when cosleeping is unsafe. Allowing a baby to sleep on their parent while on a couch or a recliner becomes very unsafe if the parent is at risk of falling asleep. This most often happens unintentionally, as the parent was not expecting to fall asleep but succumbed to the exhaustion of caring for a newborn. The risk of sleep-related death are 67 times higher when sleeping with a baby on a couch, armchair, or recliner. The safest option is to avoid putting yourself and your baby in this situation to avoid this risk. Many parents choose to sit in a rocking chair or on a couch for nighttime feedings to avoid falling asleep in their own bed with the baby, but it is much safer for baby to sleep in an adult bed properly set up for bedsharing than it is on a couch or chair. See below for how to set up an adult bed for safe bedsharing.

Care should be taken with allowing a baby to sleep in the same space as a sibling. It is generally accepted that a baby should not share a sleep space with a sibling for at least their first year.

The Bottom Line: Avoid cosleeping on couches or recliners, ensure your bed is set up for safe sleeping even if you don’t intend to bedshare, and keep siblings away from baby’s sleep space during their first year.

How to Get More Sleep:

Sidecar Sleeping: one form of cosleeping is attaching your baby’s crib to the side of your bed. This is done by removing one side of the crib and raising the mattress or lifting the legs of the crib so that the baby’s mattress is level with your mattress. Securing the crib to your bed is essential so that no gaps form throughout the night. Many parents like this option because baby is close and can often be soothed quickly when needed without having to get up out of bed. This allows the baby to feel secure by sensing mom or dad is close and for parents to feel comforted that baby is safe in their own sleep space.

Utilize your Partner: there are many ways to work with your partner to ensure you get more sleep. If your baby is bottle-fed, you can alternate each night who will wake to feed and change the baby, or take shifts throughout the night. If your baby is breastfed, meaning you have to be the one to feed baby every time, your partner can get up to do the diaper changes. It is important to consider your sleep as a priority even if your partner is back to work while you are home with the baby. Postpartum healing and the ability to care for a newborn baby is a monumental task that moms take on after birth. It is important that you are able to get rest as often as you are able. If you don’t have a partner, enlisting a trusted family member or friend, or hiring a postpartum doula for a few weeks to help can make a world of difference for your sleep and mental health.

Bedsharing: Bedsharing can be a valuable option for breastfeeding mothers seeking to optimize sleep. However, it’s crucial to practice safe sleep habits. Follow the Safe Sleep 7 to ensure optimal safety for baby in an adult sleep environment:

  1. Parents are nonsmokers
  2. Sober and unimpaired by medication (or sleep deprivation!)
  3. Baby is breastfed
  4. Baby is healthy and born full-term
  5. Baby on their back
  6. Lightly dressed
  7. On a safe surface 

The safest set up for bedsharing is on a firm mattress low to the ground with only one pillow for the caregiver, baby is lightly dressed to avoid overheating (NO SLEEP SACKS OR SWADDLES) and blankets for the parent are kept away from the baby’s body. Cords and electronics must be kept out of reach of baby and bed should be low to the ground and away from gaps so that baby will not become entrapped between the wall and mattress. Bedsharing parents often wear warmer layers for themselves such as an adult sleep sack or keep the blankets at waist level. 

While baby is under 6 months old, the recommended sleep position is the Cuddle Curl. This positions baby’s face at mother’s breast level and mother’s arm between baby’s head and her pillow, and her legs curled underneath baby. The cuddle curl also protects the mother from rolling onto her baby. 

Sidelying breastfeeding can be a comfortable and safe method for nighttime feeding sessions, allowing for both mom and baby to meet their needs of close contact and feeding while continuing to get much needed sleep. In his book Safe Infant Sleep, Dr. James McKenna defines the term breastsleeping as a natural way for a breastfeeding mother and baby to share a sleep space and provide easy access for baby to nurse throughout the night.

Addressing Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation is a common challenge for new parents, but it’s essential to prioritize safety. If you find yourself severely sleep-deprived, cosleeping may no longer be a safe option. Instead, seek support from trusted family members or friends who can provide opportunities for you to catch up on much-needed rest. 

It is common for babies to go through sleep pattern changes based on neurological development, what is often referred to as “sleep regressions” or “sleep progressions”, at various ages throughout their first couple of years. It is important to recognize the red flags of baby sleep to identify when a baby’s patterns or behaviors are outside of the norm and may indicate a condition that requires extra attention.

Recognizing Red Flags:

  • Snoring / mouth breathing
  • Sleep apnea (pauses in breathing / gasping for air)
  • Frequent congestion
  • Feeding issues
  • Excessive grunting
  • Restlessness
  • Consistently failing to sleep for more than 30 consecutive minutes, even when in parent’s arms

Sleep deprivation is an incredibly difficult experience, whether or not there are red flags associated with the cause. Finding ways to cope with sleep deprivation can help you regulate your body during this difficult time. Relying on your community can be beneficial by allowing a trusted friend or family member to hold baby while you nap or have partner take over night wakes if possible. If you are breastfeeding, having your partner bring you the baby so you move as little as possible can even help your body rest by knowing someone else is alert to baby’s needs, allowing your nervous system a little more space to regulate. 

Nervous system regulation is at the root of sleep stress as your body has not had time to reset. Chiropractic care, fascial bodywork, and mind-body healing such as Neuro Emotional Technique are all ways to provide your nervous system with the opportunity to unload its burdens and regulate more effectively. You are able to rest easier and show up more relaxed when your nervous system is regulated.

Seeking Professional Care

Many of the issues affecting baby sleep can be improved with appropriate pediatric care, including chiropractic, lactation assistance with an IBCLC, or evaluation by a pediatric dentist or airway specialist. Consulting with a qualified healthcare provider can help address any concerns and ensure optimal sleep and development for your baby.

Understanding the nuances of baby sleep is essential for promoting a safe and nurturing environment for your little one. By prioritizing safe sleep practices, recognizing red flags, and seeking appropriate support when needed, you can lay the foundation for healthy sleep habits that will benefit your baby for years to come.