Sleep is one of those key pieces of life that most of us take for granted, until we don’t get enough! Lack of sleep not only leads to grumpiness and fatigue, but it has also been linked to memory problems, difficulty concentrating, depression, obesity and even heart disease.
Unfortunately for parents, we can only control our own sleep, not our children’s. However, we can do our best to inspire healthy sleep habits in our kids, starting as infants.
For the first couple of months of a baby’s life, there isn’t much you can do to get him or her to sleep more. The name of the game for parents is “adaptation.” Sleep when you can—which is usually when the baby is sleeping.
When a child is 2-3 months old, it’s a good idea to start a bedtime routine. It doesn’t have to be anything long or involved, or even occur at the same time every night. The key is to do something different before laying your baby down at bedtime that you don’t do the rest of the day. This could be reading a short story, singing a lullaby, or turning down the lights and rocking for a little bit. The other step at this age is to try to lay your baby down before he or she is asleep. Watch your baby closely. When he or she starts to look drowsy, lay him or her down in the crib (on their back of course) before they fall asleep. It may not work every time, and there may be times when you just want an extra snuggle and the feeling of holding a sleeping baby, but you want your baby to learn the skill of falling asleep on their own.
A Full Night’s Sleep
A common question I get asked is, “When should they sleep through the night?” Some babies start sleeping through the night after just a few weeks. Most babies will sleep through the night by 6 months. And there are a few who start sleeping through the night and then start waking up again, which is really disappointing for parents! The bottom line is that your baby will sleep through the night when he or she is ready.
Adding cereal to a bottle will NOT help, and I have many parents that can attest to that. It just so happens that a lot of babies start sleeping through the night between 4-6 months old, which is the same time most are starting to eat solid foods. For healthy babies, I generally don’t recommend feeding them in the middle of the night after 6 months. For premature babies, those who have problems gaining weight or have other health problems, talk to your doctor about what is best for them.
Setting the Scene
Another important piece of healthy sleep habits is the bedroom. Keep the room dark, and only use nightlights or lamps when you do get up during the night. Keep the room quiet and cool. Babies need their own bed, whether it is a bassinet, a pack-and-play or a crib. It should have a firm mattress with a tight-fitting sheet, and there should not be anything soft or fluffy in bed with them to avoid suffocation, including crib bumpers. For the first weeks or months, it is best to have your child in the same room with you. There is no magic time to move babies to their own room, but it works best when they are at a stage when they are only getting up once a night, or not at all.. We also know that having them fall asleep with a pacifier, if they will take one, and running a fan will help to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), although we don’t know why.
Although this article doesn’t cover every possible sleep problem, it is a start to helping your baby sleep better. If you have questions, talk with your doctor. And if you have older children, I’ll tackle their sleep habits in an upcoming post.