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The first three months are tough for most new parents. There’s just so much going on from learning what the different kinds of crying mean, bonding time, how to play with baby, constant cleaning of the baby and soiled linen, to feeding routines, and sleep schedules among so much more. Part of that list also includes raging new-mummy hormones and very likely sleep deprivation and anxiety for the new daddy. Of all the factors, one of the most discussed is probably baby sleep patterns.
Most new parents identify with a baby schedule that seems to change every few days. It takes a while to figure out how much sleep your baby prefers and to work around that. Sometimes a good feed, a nice burp or ensuring the baby feels dry for a longer period works to pave the way for longer sleep time. Babies naturally sleep a lot. The general average is 15 to 16 hours for a new born right up to about 3 months. The size of the baby’s stomach demands that it will sleep a few hours at a time and wake up to be fed. By the sixth month it is possible for a baby to sleep through the night. While we tend to think that sleeping too little might be the main concern of all parents, there are many folks who actually wonder whether their baby is sleeping too much!
We asked paediatrician Dr. Neeta Nathani of Nathani Children's Hospital if parents whose babies in the first three months seem to be sleeping too much should worry. Here’s what she said: “Babies like adults have various stages and depth of sleep. Depending upon the stage the baby may actively move or be easily awakened or may lie very still. There is Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and non REM types of sleep. Non REM has four stages starting from just a little drowsy, light sleep, deep sleep and very deep sleep. When a baby is getting up he will go through the different cycles in reverse order. All parents should know that timing and duration varies from one baby to another. What they should do is check the other activities regarding feeding, urination and activity. If other things are normal then there’s no need to worry. However remember that babies less than 3 months should be woken up for feeding if the time lapsed is more than 3 hours.”
Sleep is imperative for the baby as that is when maximum growth happens physically, mentally and emotionally. If intuitively you feel uncomfortable about the amount of time your baby sleeps you should speak with your paediatrician about it. Additionally if you notice that the baby sleeps for more than about 18 hours and the duration of wakefulness is only about half an hour each time then that requires checking with the doctor as well. Sometimes manageable conditions like sleep apnea and celiac disease that bring down the ability of the body to absorb nutrients could be the underlying cause of too much sleep. If your baby at 3+ months still sleeps like a newborn treat that as a red flag requiring attention.
Often babies with easy temperaments tend to be good sleepers. However babies need to thrive which means that they need to develop completely on all levels as they initiate interaction and have opportunities to learn how to roll, crawl, and talk. A baby who sleeps excessively needs to be woken up to be fed and also woken up to experience physical touch and attachment promoting behaviours. Baby wearing is a good option for parents of heavy sleepers as it offers the baby direct touch and stimulation.
Always remember as with most other factors, the ‘normal’ range is very wide and as long as your baby is interactive, happy, and alert you need to keep the worry bug away and enjoy the phase while it lasts.