BY JAMIE LOBER
Every parent has experienced a sleepless night—or ten.
It is important to remember that you cannot always cater to your baby’s every whim and that scheduling sleep is not always a reasonable expectation. “The average two-month-old will sleep about a five-hour stretch, and our goal by four months is to get them to a seven- to eight-hour stretch. By six months, you get up to an eleven- to twelve-hour stretch at night,” says Dr. Seth Bush, pediatrician at Middle Georgia Pediatrics in Macon. Usually, when they hit twelve pounds, they are big enough to sleep through the night. “Then, they will have enough glucose stored as glycogen in their muscle and in their liver to sustain them through an overnight fast, where they can sleep eight to ten hours and their blood sugar will not drop,” explains Dr. Larry Stewart, pediatrician at Cornerstone Medical Associates in Perry. With a little patience and a lot of persistence, both you and your baby will be able to get adequate sleep in time.
Position Matters – It matters such that the correct position can even be lifesaving. Babies younger than one year should always be placed on their backs to sleep—never the tummy—to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). You may place the baby on its side for napping that is watched. They should not be sleeping on the sofa, in a regular bed, or on a swing. “Do not leave them in places where they can roll or fall,” advises Dr. Stewart. The best place to rest when not being held is in a bed with the side rails all the way up. Though every parent dreams about finally getting a good night’s sleep, even naps do not come with a guarantee. “We work with parents to get their babies sleeping through the night because that is best for the baby and parents. Naps on top of that are just icing on the cake,” comments Dr. Bush.
Be in Tune with Your Baby – Signs he is ready for sleep include yawning, rubbing his eyes, fussing, or looking away. It may be a good idea to put your baby down to rest as soon as you recognize that he is feeling sleepy. Remember to take advantage of the time he is resting, and take a nap of your own. This way, you will feel refreshed and better prepared to take care of him when he awakes.
Instill Good Habits – Instill them early on. “You want to teach the baby to self-soothe as opposed to him associating feeding or rocking with sleep,” says Dr. Bush. At about six weeks of age, he should be moved into his own room and into his own crib. Everyone handles disruptions during the night differently. Some even use it as an excuse to go out—as a family. “You may put the baby in his car seat, drive him around the neighborhood until he goes back to sleep, and then put him back to bed,” says Dr. Stewart. But don’t let this become a habit, or you’ll still be doing it at six or twelve months.
It’s Not Necessarily Hunger – It is recommended to let the baby quietly fuss for a few minutes before you reassure him by patting him on the back and saying it is time to go back to sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics tells us, “The almost universal assumption that babies wake because they’re hungry may result in parents ‘training’ the child to expect a feeding in the middle of the night. Experienced parents often wait a few minutes before responding to a child who is quietly fussing, and find that they will settle themselves.” The emphasis being on ‘quietly’. If the baby is loudly crying or screaming, then the problem could be hunger, pain, or some other discomfort that needs to be addressed. Try to keep the lights dimmed, and try not to excite your baby so he begins to associate nighttime with sleep rather than play. For the parents who do not want to exert a little extra effort, there is the cold turkey method. This is classified by refusing to continue waking up with the baby. “We do not know if there are long-lasting side effects or psychological damage from that, but the short-term side effect is the baby can get hoarse from crying,” says Dr. Stewart. Most pediatric experts discourage the use of letting the baby ‘cry it out’.
Mayo Clinic’s Special ‘Trick’ – One of the best tricks is based on a study that was done at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. They looked at a dozen parents who were in the same boat with babies not sleeping. “They were told to make a calendar of when the children got up. You should set your alarm for about fifteen minutes before the child gets up, go in there, and purposefully wake the child. Play with him until he gets sleepy, and then put him back to bed,” says Dr. Stewart. The purpose is to interrupt the child’s wakefulness. “Once you get to where the only time the child is waking up at night is when you are waking up, you can start withdrawing and stop waking him up on schedule,” says Dr. Stewart.
Remember that each baby is different – “There is nothing in the literature to indicate that babies who are wakeful at night have any different health or psychological problems than babies who are sleeping at night,” says Dr. Stewart.
Safe Bedding Practices For Infants
•Place baby on his/her back on a firm, tight-fitting mattress in a crib that meets current safety standards.
•Remove pillows, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, stuffed toys, and other soft products from the crib.
•Consider using a sleeper or other sleep clothing as an alternative to blankets, with no other covering.
•If you swaddle the baby for sleeping, be sure that the fabric is secure and won’t loosen as baby moves, resulting in the face being covered.
•If using a blanket, put baby with feet at the foot of the crib. Tuck a thin blanket around the crib mattress, reaching only as far as the baby’s chest.
•Make sure your baby’s head remains uncovered during sleep.
•Do not place baby on a waterbed, sofa, soft mattress, pillow, or other soft surface to sleep.
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.