When we, as new parents or parents- to-be, think about our children sleeping, we all dream of a happy,
peaceful child sleeping soundly while we’re in
the other room getting a full night’s rest ourselves. This is rarely the reality, however—at
least at the beginning of parenthood. How do
we make that dream a reality?
Newborns: Parents Need to
Be in Survival Mode
Newborns may sleep as much as 22 hours of a
24-hour day—but not for long stretches. They
don’t have any notion of day or night, so they
wake up to eat and get their diaper changed
every one to three hours, around the clock. I
always tell new parents that they need to think
of themselves as being in “survival mode.”
Sleep when the baby sleeps. This is easy
enough with your first child, but much harder
if you have older children who also need your
attention. Recognize that you’re not going to
accomplish much else, because you’ll only
have those one- to three-hour sleep stretches.
Safe sleep setups: As adoptive parents, we
may have been waiting a long time for our
kids, and there’s nothing nicer than a sleepy
baby in your arms. But when you’re planning
to go to sleep yourself or when you are so ex-
hausted that you might fall asleep, it’s impor-
tant that you put your baby on his back in a
safe place to sleep—a firm, flat surface with
no blankets or fluffy toys. This can be in a
crib, a bassinet, or a sidecar co-sleeper that
parks next to your bed. Co-sleeping with a
newborn in your bed is not safe.
Adjust the environment and feel free to use
props: Short of sleeping in the same bed, do
what you can to settle your baby and get some
sleep yourself: dim the lights, play soft mu-
sic. Babies are often soothed by background
noise. There are CDs and apps with sounds
like ocean waves or rainfall, or many par-
ents just run the clothes dryer or the vacuum
cleaner. Swaddling a baby helps reduce his
startle reflex; a pacifier can help because many
babies are soothed by sucking on things.
“Wear” your baby during the day: When
you’re awake, a Moby wrap, Ergo, or another
safe carrier will let you move around while
keeping baby close—hearing your heart,
feeling the rhythm of your breathing.
Encourage self-soothing as your baby
grows: Between four and six months of age,
most babies can start to self-soothe and sleep
for longer stretches at a time—up to six hours,
and then eventually 10 to 12. This is a beautiful
thing for parents. Instead of feeding your baby
until he’s sound asleep and then very gingerly
putting him down, you can start to put the
baby into his crib when he’s drowsy but not all
the way asleep. The baby begins to learn that
AdoptionMedicine EXPERT ADVICE
Raising a Sound Sleeper
Sarah Springer, M.D., FAAP,
is the Medical Director of Adoption
Health Services of Western Pennsylvania. She has been working
in the field of adoption medicine
for more than 20 years, and is a
member of the Executive Committee of the American Academy of
Pediatrics’ Council on Foster Care,
Adoption, & Kinship Care. She is a
mother through adoption.
Dreaming of a good night’s rest? A doctor recommends sleep
strategies for parents who adopted a newborn or an older child.
Tune in for Better Sleep Listen to the replay of Dr.
Springer’s sleep webinar for even more practical advice.