Babies cannot take care of themselves. This leaves you with the job of comforting them when they are distressed, feeding them when they are hungry, settling them when they are tired, entertaining them and keeping them clean and dry. One of the joys and challenges of the early days of parenting is figuring out what your baby needs. Simply because you are the parent you do not automatically know what to do when it comes to meeting the needs of your baby. In this article we share some tips for caring for and interacting with your baby.

Your sleep needs

You probably never understood before your baby was born how important getting sleep is! Never has the phrase “sleeping like a baby” held so much meaning for you.

New parents are often asked: “Is your baby sleeping through the night yet?” Your baby’s sleeping habits may not be the same as another baby so don’t let such comments worry you. All babies are different on a multitude of dimensions, including their sleep habits, but here are some general guidelines:

  • Babies do sleep a lot – newborns sleep up to 18 hours a day during the first week, and, by the time they are a month old, they sleep 12 – 16 hours a day.
  • Newborns don’t typically stay asleep for more than 2 – 4 hours at a time, day, or night, during the first few weeks of life. They need to figure out the difference between day and night. As a result, they won’t usually sleep through the night for at least several months.
  • Until 3 months, it is normal for newborns to wake at least once or more per night.
  • By 6 months, 75% of babies will sleep until the sun rises (which means 25% will still wake sometime during the night).

As you can see, your baby’s sleep patterns create a very irregular – and tiring – schedule for you. Your job is to respond to your newborn’s cues, so you’ll probably be woken or up several times during the night to change, feed, and provide comfort. So, its not surprising that fatigue is a very common new parent experience.

Baby sleep strategies

What you can do

There are many things you can do to have the most successful sleep possible for both of you.

  1. Recognise when your baby is tired. Babies will show you they are tired by:
    • Frowning or looking unhappy
    • Moving their arms, clenching their fists, tensing their legs, or having jerky body movements
    • Crying
  2. Identify the best time to settle your baby.
    • It is usually easier to get your baby to sleep before they are overtired.
    • Recognise the first signs of tiredness, or when they are showing all signs of being tired at once.
  3. Learn how to help settle your baby.
    • Repetitive motion
    • Rock in a chair, crib
    • Gently pat or stroke your baby
    • Combine rhythmic body movements (for example, rocking and patting at the same time)
    • A soother, or if your baby is inclined; thumb sucking.
    • Sucking is a natural reflex in newborns and can help babies calm down and reach sleep.
    • Hold your baby
    • Some babies feel secure when being held which reduces the chance for distracting movements.
    • Wrap baby firmly (swaddle) in a blanket
    • Walk/pace
  4. Some general sleeping tips:
    • Establish regular day sleep routines. Overtired babies do not sleep well and regular sleep during the day helps night settling.
    • Avoid long day sleeps and have good play times. About 4 hours between daytime feeds should be the maximum time for naps.
    • Make night feeds boring with dim lights and no play. Keeping things low-key before bed helps to calm them.
    • Stick to the same sleep routines every day. Babies learn and respond to routines, so when you have one going, try to stick to it. Eventually they will learn to settle themselves to sleep and resettle if they should awaken.

Crying management strategies

Babies at 6 weeks cry an average of about 2 – 3 hours per day. This much crying can upset most parents, and make them feel helpless, sad, on edge, guilty and even angry. Its good to remember crying is normal. It is the way that babies communicate to you that they are needy. When you respond to crying, you teach your baby that you can be depended upon to meet their needs and to feel secure. Two facts are worth remembering:

  1. You will not always be able to settle your baby.
  2. It is not always possible to find a reason for your baby’s crying.

What you can do

Here are some things you can do when your baby cries:

  • Go through the obvious needs your baby may have – change, feed, burp, tired, etc. Rule out each possible cause of crying one by one.
  • Keep calm and take some slow, deep relaxing breaths. Remember, babies mirror your mood, so they become agitated if they sense you are tense.
  • A cuddle with a soothing calm and caring voice usually works wonders at helping babies feel secure.
  • Offer a soother or help them find their thumbs.
  • Quietly sing a lullaby or play soft relaxing music.
  • Dim the lights and try to provide peace and quiet. Your baby may be overstimulated and need help calming down.
  • Wrap your baby firmly to help provide a sense of security.
  • Use some constant repetitive movements like walking around the room, gently rocking baby, putting them in a sling or a baby swing.
  • Give your baby a warm relaxing bath and massage. Try floating them on their front with a hand under their chin so their head stays out of the water.

Feeding strategies

Breastfeeding is encouraged widely as a natural way to feed your baby. Breast milk has a lot of benefits:

  • It’s free.
  • It’s always available.
  • It’s fresh, clean, & safe.
  • It’s just the right temperature.
  • It has exactly the right balance of nutrients needed for your baby’s growth and protection.
  • It also helps mothers and babies feel good about and bond with each other.

Most women and their partners plan to breastfeed their babies. However, because it is a learned skill between baby and mother it sometimes takes a while to establish or may not work out. Other times there may be physical or psychological reason why breastfeeding is not the method of choice. Whatever you decide is the best method of feeding your baby, it will be the one where feeding times are calm, relaxed and loving experiences for both parents and baby.

In summary

You won’t always know instantly what your baby needs or how to soothe them. The important thing is to be prepared to stay with your baby until together you can find a solution to their distress. Remember to ask yourself what your baby is trying to communicate to you through their behaviour and crying. What would you need now if you were your baby? (i.e Tired, hot, cold, hungry, uncomfortable clothing, nappy, lonely, scared, tummy pain, need a cuddle?? etc.) Pay attention to their likes and dislikes, and observe what circumstances provides comfort to them.

Because what works one time may not work another time, it is important to try not to take it personally. Babies can be fickle, but with time you will grow to be successful, more often than not.

Use some of the nurturing skills you use with baby on yourself: be patient, kind and gentle with yourself, too!

We hope you enjoyed this article. It is one of the many support articles in the DadBooster online program. For more great tips and strategies, give DadBooster a go.