It’s perfectly normal for baby to wake up at night. By Annabeth Leow
Photo: Leung Cho Pan / www.123rf.com
Exhausted new parents, sinking into bed after a long day, may quickly learn to dread their baby’s midnight wails. But experts say such crying is normal and parents must learn to let babies get into a healthy sleep cycle.
Infants have different sleeping needs from adults and many manage to sleep through the night only from around the nine-month mark. During their first year, babies will spend most of the day sleeping and this can range from 14 to 20 hours. Much of this is rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which experts believe is necessary for infant development. So babies will stir more easily.
“It is normal for babies to wake up intermittently in the night and go back to sleep spontaneously,” said Dr Mahesh Babu Ramamurthy, head and senior consultant of National University Hospital’s paediatric pulmonary and sleep division.
Dr Petrina Wong, a paediatric consultant at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), said that while the baby is asleep, he may smile, grimace or make a sucking action, and his fingers and feet may twitch occasionally. “An older infant may wake up at night to pull himself up to stand or practise newfound skills,” she added.
Babies should be able to sleep for 10 to 12 hours at night from when they are three to four months, said Dr Janice Wong, a paediatrician with Thomson Paediatric Centre. They may wake up once or twice and need to be fed or have their diapers changed. Once babies are able to sleep through the night, they will still need daytime naps – each lasting two to three hours – until the age of three or so.
KKH’s Dr Wong said: “When a baby starts to have a regular sleep-wake cycle and does not require night feedings, this may be the right time to start sleep training.” Sleep training refers to giving babies a routine to fall asleep consistently and independently.
Mrs Emeline Hare, 41, a post-partum “doula”, or mother’s companion, with more than 10 years of childcare experience, said: “I’m a firm believer in the need to give our children indicators about bedtime, such as creating a routine that shows them love, and gives them security and confidence to fall asleep independently.” These bedtime cues include feeding the baby, dimming the lights and reading a bedtime story before putting him to bed.
“We create a ritual by doing the same thing and being very repetitive, so he knows what’s happening,” she said, adding that this helps babies feel secure and fall asleep more readily.
But Dr Mahesh cautioned that, while caregivers can keep drowsy babies company, “they should let the baby go to sleep on his own”. He said: “It is common for parents or grandparents to fall into the habit of rocking the baby and feeding him to sleep, and so forth. These habits are extremely difficult to break.”
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2017, with the headline ‘Rock-a-buy baby‘.