“Okay,” you say, “I understand this developmental design, but when will my baby sleep through the night?” The age at which babies settle – meaning they go to sleep easily and stay asleep varies widely among babies. For some infants sleep is easily come by, but they don’t stay asleep. Others go to sleep with difficulty but will stay asleep. Other exhausting babies neither want to go to sleep nor stay asleep.
One thing we have learned during our years in pediatrics is that babies do what they do because they’re designed that way. In the case of infant sleep, research suggests that active sleep protects babies. Suppose your baby sleeps like an adult, meaning predominantly deep sleep. Sounds wonderful! For you, perhaps, but not for baby. Suppose baby had a need for warmth, food, or even unobstructed air, but because he was sleeping so deeply he couldn’t arouse to recognize and act on these needs. Baby’s well being could be threatened. It appears that babies come wired with infant sleep patterns that enable them to awaken in response to circumstances that threaten their well being. We believe, and research supports, that frequent stages of active (REM) sleep serve the best physiologic interest of babies during the early months, when their well being is most threatened.
Safe infant sleep ultimately begins with a healthy gestation. Specifically, safe infant sleep begins without the fetus being exposed to maternal smoke during pregnancy.
A second factor that has a strong influence on safe infant sleep is breastfeeding. Breastfeeding significantly helps to protect infants from death including deaths from SIDS/SUDI and from secondary disease and/or congenital conditions. Post-natally safe infant sleep begins especially with the presence of an informed, breastfeeding, committed mother, or an informed and committed father.