Q. I am a stay-at-home mother of three boys. My 7-week-old son is completely blind. He also has his days and nights mixed up. He sleeps 7 hours straight, just from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. I try to take catnaps when I can, but the lack of sleep is starting to get to me. Is there any way to get my 7-week-old to start sleeping at night instead of in the day, even though he cannot see light?
A. Just as you suspect, your baby's blindness does interfere with the usual day/night, sleep/wake patterns. His eyes do not perceive the contrast between bright and dark that usually causes the brain to get into a pattern of sleeping at night. Yet even though he's blind, it's likely that your baby can perceive some difference in day and night.
When you have a baby who requires extra care, it's important to remember to take care of yourself too. Your baby needs a rested mother, and it sounds like you need to get more sleep. Try these tips to help reverse his sleeping patterns to get more sleep at night rather than during the day:
Make daytime more fun. Try to keep your baby awake more during the day. As soon as he starts to fall asleep, engage him in active play. Keep a list of the activities that stimulate him most and rotate novel activities to keep him interested. When babies lack the use of one sense, their other senses, such as touch and hearing, become more aware and perceptive. Sing songs, play music, and give your baby a massage. Let him learn to enjoy these sounds and touches while awake.
Nap with baby. Babies who have a predictable nap schedule during the day tend to sleep longer stretches at night. So why not take a nap together during the times in the day when you are the most tired? Snuggle side-by-side in your bed and sing or nurse your baby off to sleep. Try to stick to the same times each day, and just enjoy a 1-1½ hour nap together.
Explore the bright outdoors. Strap your baby in a carrier and step outside for an hour a day. It's not only a good exercise for you; it's also stimulating to the baby. Your child will be likely to perceive the increased brightness of sunlight as daytime. Also, the normal sounds of the outdoors -- birds, traffic, children playing in parks -- will only become more stimulating to him as he gets older. Try to spend as much time outdoors as you can, time and weather permitting.
Try new sleeping arrangements. Figure out where your baby sleeps the longest stretches. It could be in a crib in your room, in a bedside co-sleeper, or snuggled next to you in bed. If you are breastfeeding, sharing your bed with the baby can be especially helpful -- since you can simply roll over and nurse your baby without completely awakening.
Get help! Enlist your oldest child to hold the baby while you take a nap during the day. Hire a teen to come in after school and help you with the family. New mothers often try to do too many things that sap their energy from being a full-time mother. Sit down with your husband and define priorities. Try to delegate household chores so that you can devote yourself to full-time mothering.
The good news is that between three and six months most babies undergo sleep maturity. In time, your baby's schedule should normalize so that he sleeps longer stretches at night and less during the day. Just have a little patience.