Taking care of a newborn baby is no easy task, especially if you are a first-time parent. Most people about to have their first baby have numerous concerns because they want to provide the best care possible for their child. It’s normal to have a lot of questions, particularly about the baby’s growth spurts and sleep patterns. It’s critical for your baby’s health that you find the answers to any questions and concerns you may have.
If you need any medical assistance with your newborn child, do not hesitate to call VNA Health Care at (630) 892-4355 for guidance from experienced nurse practitioners and doctors. In this guide, we will answer some of the common questions first-time parents have about babies.
Do Babies Grow in Their Sleep?
The short answer is yes, studies indicate that babies undergo measurable growth when they are asleep. While we don’t know the exact nature behind the phenomenon, there are some theories.
When babies sleep, their bodies start producing human growth hormone (HGH) in larger quantities. According to sleep biology experts, newborns only experience 2 distinct sleep cycles of which 50% is non-REM sleep and 50% is REM sleep. Around 3 months of age, babies start to experience the same 4 distinct sleep cycles as adults and gradually spend less time in REM sleep. Adults only spend about 20% of their time in REM sleep. REM sleep plays an important role in healthy brain development and stimulates the areas of your brain essential to learning. The highest concentration of human growth hormone is released during the third stage of non-REM sleep and the body repairs and regrows tissues, builds muscle and bone, and strengthens the immune system. Both non-REM and REM sleep are critical to children’s development.
Newborn babies spend up to 18 hours in sleep compared to a adults who spend at least 7 hours in sleep at night. As newborns spend half of their time in non-REM sleep, it allows for a greater amount of time for the production and release of human growth hormone in the pituitary gland to support babies’ frequent growth spurts.
Hormonal signals have a very active role in triggering growth spurts in babies and children, right up to the time when they become teens. When babies sleep, these growth spurts can actually cause growing pains, mainly due to bone growth and aching limbs.
The increased intensity of growth spurts while sleeping is one potential reason why babies may suddenly wake up crying, often in the middle of the night. The strength of an early growth spurt is based on daily sleep patterns, like how often the baby naps and how long they sleep at night. With longer sleep duration and more naps, growth spurts increase, affecting the child’s physical comfort.
Likewise, babies who sleep less in those early months may have fewer and less intense growth spurts, which might affect their total body length and how quickly they add to their birth weight.
It’s vital to ensure that your baby gets enough sleep in order to ensure continued growth as well as physical and mental health.
How Can I Improve My Baby’s Nighttime Sleep Cycles?
Babies waking up crying during the night is a very normal occurrence during the first 4 to 6 months. Parents will usually end up getting a lot less sleep than they are used to during these early months. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to change this as babies do not yet have an established sleep rhythm.
It takes several months for infant sleep cycles to adjust to the normal cycle that adults follow. But the good news is that eventually, all babies will adjust their sleep and wake cycles to the routine followed by the family.
You can do a few things to encourage this behavior:
- Keep a routine in the family of going to bed around the same time each night.
- Don’t keep bright lights on in the room during a baby’s sleep time at night.
- Sing lullabies to the baby at the same time each night.
- Swaddle the baby securely in blankets for the first 2–3 months before putting them into the crib.
Another important thing is to teach the baby how to fall asleep by themselves. Instead of putting a baby down into the crib after they fall asleep, put them in when they are starting to feel drowsy. If you constantly cuddle your baby until they fall asleep, they may associate sleep with cuddling.
How Long Should I Breastfeed My Baby?
A baby’s general health and immunity are significantly influenced by breastfeeding. The mother’s milk contains nutrients that can have a massive impact on the long-term health, weight gain, and future growth timing of a baby.
Babies who get regular breast milk fare far better than babies who are not breastfed. The longer you breastfeed your baby, the greater the health benefits.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a baby should be given only breast milk during the first 6 months of life. Ideally, breastfeeding should be continued for the entire first year, while gradually introducing the baby to appropriate foods. Medical contraindications to breastfeeding are rare and include if a mother has an HIV infection, human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II infection, untreated brucellosis, or suspected or confirmed Ebola virus disease.
Substances such as illicit opioids, cocaine, and phencyclidine are also considered contraindications to breastfeeding because of their potential effect on the infant’s long-term neurobehavioral development.
What is Tummy Time and Why is it Important For a Baby?
Tummy time is the time that a baby spends on their stomach when awake. Your baby should be doing tummy time right from the very early days. It helps improve the muscles and bones in the baby’s shoulders, hands, neck, back, and feet so they can achieve the correct growth timings.
If you don’t encourage enough tummy time, your baby may experience slower development of the upper body. You can start with just a few minutes in the beginning, before gradually increasing it to 10 or 15 minutes as they grow.
You can encourage tummy time by getting down on the floor with the baby, talking to them and making them look up to you, using bright-colored toys, playing fun music, and so on. But always remember, babies should never be allowed to sleep on their tummies – only do tummy time during their waking hours.
What Objects And Toys Can I Use To Aid My Baby’s Development?
For any baby under the age of one year, you should never keep any toys, pillows, blankets, or other objects in the crib. All that you need in there is a firm mattress with a well-fitted sheet. Everything else could pose a danger to the life of your precious one.
However, during regular play time when they are awake, you can use child-safe toys in bright colors to help train their eyes. The toys may also be used during tummy time to keep them more active and engaged.
Is Crying Really Healthy For Babies? Should I Allow My Little One To Cry?
The first cry of a baby is pivotal – it opens the baby’s airways and lungs for the first time and allows them to breathe normally. When in utero, a baby gets oxygen from the mother through the umbilical cord. This obviously changes when the baby exits the womb.
The nose, mouth, and lungs truly start operating only when a baby is born. And that first cry is a positive sign that they are working properly. After that, crying is just a way for a baby to communicate what they feel – hunger, pain, fear, and so on.
You should never allow a baby to keep crying non-stop for an extended time. Try to figure out what they need and provide it. This may sound easier than it is – sometimes, a baby will just not stop crying, even if you feed them, change them, cuddle them, and do everything else you can think of to soothe them.
If the baby doesn’t stop crying, even after you tried everything in your parental arsenal, or if you notice any other behavioral changes you should contact your VNA provider.
When Will My Baby Start Walking?
Most babies take at least a year before their body is strong enough to walk on two feet. This is not something you can anticipate or rush – just be patient and let nature take its course. Do not worry if other babies achieve milestones faster than your child. As long as they are continuing to show development of other motor skills including sitting, standing and crawling, there is likely no cause for concern.
All babies will first learn how to crawl, around the age of 6 to 10 months. Crawling is an important milestone, as it helps to make the baby’s bones and muscles strong. After just a few days or weeks, they may start «cruising» – holding onto furniture and other things to stand upright and move around.
After about 4 months of further growth spurts, crawling, and cruising, a baby is usually ready to start walking. There is no strict age for walking. In some babies, it can happen as early as 9 months, but this is quite rare.
The usual timeframe is somewhere between months 11 and 14, with some babies taking up to 18 months to start walking. You should consider asking your VNA provider for a milestones chart designed to help parents understand the main indications of healthy and on-time growth spurts.
How Do I Know If My Baby’s Eyes Are Working Properly?
For the first two months, a baby’s eyes are still developing the basic functions. In these months, they cannot see very well or focus on movement properly. You may even notice their eyes rolling in different directions.
By the time they reach 3 months old, this should change – they will be able to work both eyes together, focus on objects, and track moving objects and people. If this does not happen to your baby at around 3 months, you should talk to your VNA provider.
Later, by the time they turn 5–8 months old, most babies can recognize their parents and see things fully across a room. After 8 months their eyes develop enough coordination and depth perception to allow them to crawl, grip things, and eventually stand up.
You should only be concerned if you notice the following things after the baby reaches 3 months old:
- One eye is always turning away from or towards the nose.
- The eyes consistently show a great delay in tracking a moving object.
Visit a VNA Health Care Center for All Your Pediatric Concerns
VNA Health Care is a non-profit organization with a focus on providing high-quality yet affordable health services to residents in the Chicago suburbs. We especially aim to help underserved communities as well as people who are uninsured or underinsured.
If you have any doubts or concerns regarding the health and growth of your baby, feel free to reach out to our doctors and nurse practitioners. To request an appointment with a pediatric specialist, give us a call at (630) 892-4355 or contact us online.