Getting a baby to sleep through the night can be one of the most difficult challenges parents face. Many parents wake up three or four times a night to soothe their baby or toddler back to sleep.
On the other hand, teaching a child to sleep through the night can be one of the most rewarding accomplishments for both the child and the parent. For the parent, an uninterrupted seven or eight hours of sleep is well needed and deserved. For the baby, learning to fall asleep on his or her own — and back to sleep when he or she wakes up — teaches valuable skills baby will use as he or she grows into toddlerhood and childhood.
Children depend on parents to help them develop good sleep habits. In order to do so, it is important to have a sensible plan that both parents agree to and stick with. The earlier the guidelines for sleep are established, the easier it will be to prevent sleep problems in the future.
Parents can teach their baby good sleep habits starting in the newborn period. This is the time to begin teaching baby how to fall asleep on his or her own and, as baby grows, continue to sleep throughout the night. At around 2 to 3 months of age, many babies begin to sleep through the night. By following a few simple guidelines, parents can be on their way to a stress-free, sleep-filled night.
Sleeping guidelines for babies 1 and younger:
• Establish a bedtime routine. Children need familiarity, and a bedtime ritual can be very comforting. This may include eating dinner at least one hour before bed, taking a warm bath, putting on a fresh diaper and clean pajamas and reading a bedtime story. When establishing the routine, add one element each week until you find a routine that works. Be sure to complete the bedtime routine before your child falls asleep.
• Insist that once your child is put to bed, he must stay there. This can be difficult at any age. If your toddler is having a temper tantrum, you should ignore it and leave the room. By responding to protests, you will only teach him he can prolong his bedtime.
• Never ignore a child's nightmares or bedtime fears. Everyone has four or five dreams each night, some of which may be nightmares. Always reassure your child. If nightmares continue, consider what might be causing the fears, such as something on television. Eliminate television at least a half-hour before bedtime, and avoid programs with violence or scary themes.
Contact your child's physician during office hours if you are unable to find a way to soothe your newborn's crying. If your baby cries constantly for more than two hours or acts sick, call his or her pediatrician immediately.