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Ask Dr. K

May 4, 2012

Newborn's sleep patterns will change over time

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm pregnant with my first child, a girl. I keep hearing about how little sleep I'll be getting for the next year. Can you give me a realistic idea of what to expect?

DEAR READER: Two things make your question hard to answer: (1) each baby is different from others, even from his or her siblings; and (2) each baby's sleep patterns change as time goes by.

As you'll see, there are wide ranges of what's "typical" of a baby's sleep -- and some babies don't fall even within that wide range. What's typical for most babies isn't typical for them. Some babies sleep as few as nine hours a day and others sleep as many as 18 hours.

A patient of mine had a little boy who slept 20 hours a day for the first six months of his life. My patient was concerned that there was something wrong with him. She also wondered if her son wouldn't get enough stimulation, and as a result might develop a learning disability. I told her that as long as the boy seemed happy, alert and playful during the few hours he was awake, I wouldn't be concerned. That child is now a sophomore in college and doing fine.

In the first few months, expect your baby's sleep pattern to be completely unpredictable. Over her first year, the pattern should gradually shift to become somewhat regular.

Newborns typically sleep about 16 hours a day, but they don't sleep many hours in a row. Newborns need food every few hours, so nighttime feedings cannot be avoided.

Also, it will take some time for your baby to realize that nighttime is for sleeping. Encourage her to sleep at night by minimizing any stimulation during nighttime feedings and diaper changes. Keep the lights low and don't talk, sing or play.

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