Sleep Like a Baby: Bringing Baby Home

Blog Post #2

January 28, 2011
By: Meg Walker, RN, MSN
New Parent Support Program manager
Family Advocacy Program
Air Force Medical Operations Agency

Congratulations on your new baby! This is an exciting and busy time for you and the rest of your family as you get ready to welcome your little one. Preparing to bring your new baby home is a big job! There's the nursery to prepare, diapers, clothes and other supplies to have ready, learning about newborn care for first-time parents and concern about older siblings' adjustment to the new family member for parents with more than one child - the list goes on and on!

One hot topic for most new parents, whether this is a first baby or there are other little ones at home, is sleep, especially coping with an infant's irregular sleep pattern and ensuring the baby's sleep environment is safe.

It may seem like newborns and young infants are up all the time, but they actually sleep quite a lot - up to 16 or more hours a day. If you think about it, the baby's sleep environment is the only place where he or she is not being constantly supervised. You'll often be in another room while the baby is napping or has gone to sleep for the evening. Learning about infant sleep patterns and how to prepare a safe sleep environment can help you get ready for baby's homecoming in ways that will keep baby safe, help the whole family to get some rest and increase your peace of mind.

You've probably heard about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, a tragic situation involving the sudden unexplained death of a baby less than 1 year of age. What you may not know is that SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants ages 1 month to 1 year, and that while the causes of SIDS are not entirely known, you can reduce your baby's risk of SIDS by taking some simple safe sleep precautions. Key precautions include always placing baby on his or her back to sleep on a firm surface (like in safety-approved crib, bassinet or play yard with a fitted sheet) and ensuring baby's sleeping area does not contain any soft objects, toys, loose bedding or fluffy blankets.

Babies placed in unsafe sleeping environments are at risk for other dangers, too, like suffocation, strangulation and entrapment which can cause injury or death. The Consumer Product Safety Commission just released safe sleep information for parents of infants and young children, including a safety video to help new parents avoid these risks. The commission highlights the importance of avoiding infant positioning devices (which are not necessary and can be deadly), regularly checking cribs for loose, missing or broken parts, not trying to fix broken cribs and keeping cribs and playpens away from windows to avoid window covering and fall hazards. Stay current on safety recalls with the commission's Crib Information Center.

Many parents want to sleep close to their baby, especially during the first year, because it may make it easier to nurse and bond with your baby. Placing the baby's crib near your bed (within arm's reach) is the safest way to remain close to your baby while reducing the risk of SIDS and other dangers during sleep.

After you bring baby home, you'll find that your baby's sleep patterns may make it challenging for you to get the sleep you need. Newborns usually eat every two to three hours or more frequently because their stomachs are small and can't hold much milk. Also, babies have a different sleep pattern than older children and adults and they usually do not settle into a regular sleep pattern until they're 3 to 6 months old. Until then, they wake up easily and often, usually sleeping for short time periods, up to a few hours at a time, spaced out around the clock, day and night.

Taking all these things into consideration, it's no wonder new parents are frequently tired! There are some things you can do to deal with your baby's sleep patterns and your own fatigue in the early days at home. First, realize that you will have a period of time when it feels like your baby (and you) are up all the time, but this is a temporary situation. Try to rest when baby sleeps even if you aren't able to fall asleep completely. Lying down and resting will give your mind and body a break and help you to recharge. If possible, have a family member or trusted friend care for baby while you rest during those first few days and weeks. Be sure other caregivers understand how to maintain a safe sleep environment.

No matter how tired you get, remember that it's never safe for babies to sleep in a bed, couch or chair, either alone or with you or any other adults or children. Babies in these situations could fall, or become trapped beneath the other person, against the wall or furniture or get tangled in bed linens, with tragic results. If you bring your baby into bed to nurse, or are holding your baby and feel yourself nodding off, be sure you put him or her back in to their separate sleeping area.

As you prepare for baby, remember that you can take advantage of some great free resources for military families. The New Parent Support Program provides information and support to expectant parents and parents with children from birth to 3 years of age. The program can help you prepare for your baby by answering questions you have about your pregnancy and preparing for baby, including one-on-one information about preparing a safe sleep environment and ways you can cope with fatigue. And, if you ever have questions about safe sleep practices, please contact your installation's New Parent Support Program or Military OneSource.

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