Ten Tips for Teaching Baby to Sleep Through
You’ve got a new baby in the house. Congratulations! And now you feel like part of a sleep deprivation experiment. Sooner or later, the cycle of waking every few hours all night long takes its toll and your body and mind start to suffer from lack of sleep. Something’s got to give, and it can’t be you since you have so many responsibilities.
The knack of sleeping through the night is a learned habit. Babies do not come equipped with this ability. When they first arrive, their little bodies simply cannot go that long without food. New parents are prepared for this and plan to spend a few weeks with less sleep than normal. Many doctors claim that a baby’s weight dictates when that blessed first uninterrupted night of sleep will occur. Twelve pounds is the magic number. So unless your child has some special circumstances, you can start looking for that milestone when your baby weighs approximately twelve pounds.
Once your little one has managed to lengthen out the time between feedings and has slept all night a few times, your actions and responses will determine how often those quiet nights occur and when they become the normal routine. Try these suggestions to bring quiet nights to your house sooner rather than later.
§ Keep to a schedule. People are designed to eat and sleep on a regular schedule. You get hungry at mealtimes and sleepy at bedtime because you do these things at roughly the same time each day. Your baby is the same way, and will learn to eat and sleep at regular times if you offer food and rest at regular times.
§ Limit evening naps if your infant is having trouble falling asleep at bedtime. Sometimes it’s easy to want your little one to sleep during the early evening hours so that you can spend uninterrupted time with the rest of your family or your spouse, but if bedtime is becoming difficult, you may need to rethink this strategy. It’s not very healthy to trade quiet early evenings for a wide-awake baby at two in the morning.
§ Be soothing at bedtime. Avoid overstimulating your youngster in the evening. If your child has trouble settling down for sleep, check what’s going on after supper. Physical play, bath time, sometimes even shopping can stimulate a child and cause sleep difficulties.
§ Create a bedtime routine. Babies feel more secure when routines are established and consistent. If you always feed baby, sit and rock while you read a story or sing a lullaby, then put the little one to bed, baby will come to associate the routine with sleep time. Just be sure to make your routine portable (something that can be done at grandma’s house or in a hotel), and have different care givers participate. If Mom always puts baby to bed, the sitter will have a hard time when you choose to go out for a movie. If Dad always has the honor, then Mom might have trouble when Dad has to be away on a business trip.
§ Put your baby in bed before he or she actually falls asleep. I know it feels all warm and snuggly to hold the little one until the eyes close and the breathing is soft and slow, but you will find that baby will quickly come to feel that your presence is necessary for sleep. You don’t want that! You want your little one to come to understand that sleep is something that everyone does on his or her own.
§ Young infants may like to be “swaddled.” This ancient technique involves wrapping baby snuggly in a blanket so that arms and legs are close to the body. Some think that little ones appreciate this because they are unused to all of the sensory input coming from their new little bodies. Swaddling reduces the random movements of their limbs and makes it easier to rest. To swaddle a child, lay him or her on a blanket with some space at the feet. Fold the blanket over the baby’s body on one side, fold up the blanket below the feet, and wrap the other side of the blanket around the infant. Do not cover face or head, and lay the baby on his or her back on a firm mattress. This method works well for very young children who are not yet trying to roll or scoot.
§ Be low-key at night. When baby does wake, keep the lights low and your voice quiet. Do just what you need to do to make your little one comfortable and no more. You certainly don’t want your youngster to decide that late night is play time! Be minimalist in the middle of the night, or you may need to buy one of those baby T-shirts that announce a party in the crib at 3 AM!
§ Be prepared to listen to a bit of crying. Yung infants should have every cry investigated and their needs should be met in the night. This is how they learn to trust that parents and caregivers are always there and always ready to make things right. However, at some point in infancy, little ones also develop a sense of boredom and will cry at times to cause someone to pick them up, play with them, or move them around to new scenery. These things are great during the day, and you should respond to these wishes within reason. But you do not want to have to do these things at night! If your child cries, by all means, check on the baby. Make sure the child is comfortable, dry, safe, and physically satisfied. It’s really hard to sleep if you are thirsty or sore or cold. Once you’re satisfied that all is well, give the young one a quick good-night pat and leave the room. If the crying starts again right away because you left, wait a few minutes before responding. Repeat the good-night pat and leave the room. Each time the baby cries, wait just a little bit longer before responding. You can watch the clock or set a timer if you need to, as long as you’re sure that there is no physical need that should be met.
§ Praise your child in the morning when the night has been quiet. Just because your baby cannot talk to you just yet doesn’t mean that the child doesn’t understand some of your words or at least your tone and demeanor. He or she will get the message that you are pleased with the quiet night and will respond to this praise.
§ If these suggestions fail you, by all means talk to your doctor or healthcare professional. It’s that important that you get your family back on a regular schedule of sleeping through the night nearly every evening. You’ll feel better and your baby will feel better in the long run.