While babies are developing in the womb Doctors and researchers have found that they are more active at night, and more passive during the day. Of course any 8.5 month pregnant mother could tell you that as well, but for some reason as soon as the Dr. says it, people take it seriously.
One of the hurdles that new parents face upon bringing their new bundle of joy home from the hospital is the issue of sleepless nights. While the baby seems to have no problem sleeping during the day, each night is a constant parade of crying, feeding and pooping. Over the years I have developed a few quick tips to help new parents minimize the readjustment period, and to speed the process of switching the infant's sleeping-time to night, and awake-time to day.
This is not sleep training, but it is a good foundation to start from when the time for sleep training comes (after 3 months, preferably after 4 months).
There are a few reasons why this works to help your baby sleep better at night. First, a consistent environment is soothing to infants. The less they have to adjust to differing input the better, and since it's easier to keep the nursery lighted than to keep it dark I recommend that. Second, because infants eyes are under-developed, it is easier for them to open their eyes and look around and be stimulated by their environment in a darkened room. To encourage babies to reconfigure their sleep patterns from day to night start by keeping a light on at night for the firs week or two, then drawing the blinds during the day for about one more week. After the babies are consistently sleeping at night more regularly than during the day, at the end of the third week, suddenly switch the lighting to dark at night (around 8pm or so), and brighter during the day (around 6am or so).
2. Use some sort of noise-maker in the nursery at night.
Again, this mimics the environment that the baby was used to in the womb. Noise, most especially white noise provides enough stimulation that infants tend to "turn off" their listening part of the brain, which lends itself well to falling to sleep. Also, if someone in the house makes a noise, a floorboard squeaks, a dog barks or a television show has some loud special effects, the babies mind is already tuning out the low-level noises from the noise-maker, and easily tunes out the extraneous sounds as well. This results in fewer adrenaline fueled "startling" waking moments, and that is good for sleep. During the day I recommend that the house be kept pretty quiet for the first three weeks, as time goes on turn up the volume of music, play, and stimulation during the day, and if you want to, try to phase out the noise machine at night. Personally, I don't see any reason to completely ween a baby of a noise-maker. As a matter of fact I think that it is a useful tool to continue to use throughout the babies first couple of years.
3. Swaddle your baby tightly.I know that this is hardly ground-breaking news, but what many parents have difficulty with in practice is the proper execution of swaddling. The purpose of swaddling is to immobilize your babies arms and in some cases legs. While there are many different types of swaddling wraps, blankets and techniques, the problem parents have in implementing any of them is in tightness. It is much more frustrating for a baby to have an arm that can move just a little bit than it is to have arms completely immobilized. Loose swaddling also presents a danger in the form of suffocation. In loose swaddles a baby can wiggle and squirm down further into the blanket blocking their flow of air. Tight swaddling is much safer and effective in promoting long peaceful sleep habits for your baby.
4. Keep a warm temperature in the nursery.
If you think about the environment your baby was used to, it was a 98.6 degree (37º C) bath. Hats and blankets help to retain some of your babies warmth, but the harder they have to work to stay warm, the less energy they have left to devote to their most important job that they do while asleep: growing. My personal opinion of the right temperature for the nursery is 70-71 degrees Fahrenheit (21º C). This temperature ensures that babies do not have too big a shock when they are unwrapped for a diaper-change in the middle of the night, while not keeping the room so hot as to make swaddling uncomfortably hot.
5. Do not wait for your baby to wake up to eat.When your baby starts grunting and wiggling while still asleep at night, get ready and use gentle and even motions in offering your baby the breast or bottle. Try to feed and burp your baby while they are still completely asleep as much of the time as you can. When a baby cries for food adrenalin is released into their bodies, and this can really disrupt their attempts to fall back asleep, and stay asleep. The more seamless, and the longer you can extend the periods of night-sleep the easier the transition will be when it comes time to consider sleep training options.
I hope these tips and tricks work as well for you as they have for me. I will post more on this series soon. Don't forget to tell your friends if you like the advice you get here, and please let me know if you have any questions about things I've written about.