Baby Sleep from A to Z

Trying to teach your infant to sleep through the night? We can help. These 26 tips and tricks will have your little one nodding off in no time.

A through L

A is for appetite. Hungry newborns typically need to nurse every two to three hours. Two- to 3-month-olds will usually wake up two or three times during the night to be fed. By 6 months, a baby can sleep, without waking out of hunger, for eight hours, says Parents adviser Jodi A. Mindell, Ph.D., author of Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night's Sleep.

If your baby is older than this and still waking more than once a night to nurse, he's likely doing it out of habit. To break the association between nursing and sleep, feed him earlier in the evening and put him in his crib while he's still awake. Once your baby learns how to doze off on his own at bedtime, he'll be able to fall back to sleep in the middle of the night without your help.

B is for bedtime boo-boos. These three bad habits will only make it harder for your baby to fall asleep on her own: n Putting a bottle in the crib--even if it's just water. n Rocking her to sleep. n Becoming a slave to the baby monitor. Dashing in every time your baby whimpers will just make you frantic--or, worse, wake up your infant!

C is for "crying it out." You can start teaching your baby to sleep through the night between 3 and 6 months of age. Put your infant in his crib while he's still awake. Even if he cries when you leave the room, don't go back in for five minutes. If he's still crying after that, return to the nursery to reassure him but don't pick him up. Continue to check on him every five to ten minutes, and repeat the process each night until he learns to fall asleep on his own. (It takes about a week.)

D is for "does my baby get enough sleep?" In general, newborns sleep 14 1/2 hours a day, although anything from 10 1/2 to 18 hours is considered normal. From 2 months until 1 year, babies average 14 hours of shut-eye each day.

E is for extra tears. Teaching a baby to sleep isn't easy. Don't be surprised if your baby hollers and cries for an hour or more in the beginning. Just check in on her frequently--and don't give up!

F is for family bed. While some parents swear by the family bed, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends putting your infant in a crib. It's the safest place for your baby, and it will encourage him to learn to doze off on his own. If your heart's set on bed sharing, make it as safe as possible by removing quilts, pillows, and other soft bedding and making sure there's no space between the mattress and headboard (or the wall) where your baby could get trapped.

G is for Goodnight Moon. Read a story to your baby each night. Not only will your voice calm her, but it's a great ritual to continue throughout her childhood.

H is for help! Having trouble getting your baby to sleep consistently? Don't suffer in silence. Talk to your pediatrician, or search the Internet for advice. A great Website besides this one is www.sleepfoundation.org.

I is for illness. Don't expect your youngster to rest well while he's sick. To make him more comfortable, suction his nose right before bed, moisten the air in his room with a humidifier, and slightly raise one end of his crib mattress by putting a book underneath it. You may also need to temporarily abandon his sleep regimen.

J is for jammies. For safety's sake, dress your baby in flame-retardant sleepwear. Look for tags that say "pajamas," as opposed to "playwear," to make sure the outfit meets federal safety requirements.

K is for kisses. We know it's hard to resist showering your cutie pie with affection, but don't get too cuddly when you're trying to put her back to sleep in the middle of the night. At three in the morning, you're better off with a businesslike attitude than a lovefest, Dr. Mindell advises.

L is for lullabies. A song before bedtime is a good way for both you and your baby to feel close and wind down at the end of the day. Want to learn some new ones? Try The Rock-A-Bye Collection: A Treasure of Unique Lullabyes for All Ages, by J. Aaron Brown (a songbook comes with the tape or CD).

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Next: M through Z

M through Z

M is for morning madness. If your baby consistently wakes up from 4 to 6 A.M., what you're doing at bedtime may be to blame. "If your baby will only go back to sleep in the mornings if you rock him or bring him into bed with you, it means he's been conditioned to think that he can't fall asleep without you," says Gerald Rosen, M.D., a pediatrician at the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorder Center, in Minneapolis. The solution: Teach him to fall asleep on his own at bedtime. This way he'll know how to drift off again if he wakes up too early. Know when to admit defeat, however. If your baby consistently gets up before dawn, is alert, and won't go back to sleep no matter what, he may simply be a morning person.

N is for naps. Ever wonder how many naps a baby really needs? According to Marc Weissbluth, M.D., author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, a newborn's sleep is distributed throughout the day and night, with each session lasting from 30 minutes to three hours. A 2- to 4-month-old naps two or three times a day for about 5 hours total. By 5 to 8 months, most babies take fewer naps, averaging 3 1/2 hours of sleep during the day. From 9 to 12 months, a baby averages 2 1/2 naptime hours.

O is for overexhaustion. Put your baby down for a nap or bedtime at the first sign that she's sleepy. One strategy that won't work: trying to keep your baby awake longer so that she'll sleep later the next morning. "If your baby is going to bed too late, she'll be sleep-deprived and have more trouble sleeping soundly through the night and into the morning," Dr. Mindell warns.

P is for position problems. If your 5-month-old rolls onto his tummy during the night, rest easy. Once infants reach this age, they are generally no longer at risk for SIDS and don't need to be returned to their backs. (Make sure there is nothing soft in the crib that he can roll onto, such as a blanket or stuffed toy.)

Q is for quiet. If outdoor traffic or boisterous siblings are keeping your baby awake, try turning a fan on low to drown out the noise. Or buy a white-noise machine. The Sound Screen is available for $45 at www.therapyshop.com, or try a white noise CD for $16 at www.purewhitenoise.com.

R is for routine, routine, routine. Babies who don't have consistent bedtime routines are at risk for developing sleep problems. Every evening, follow a predictable pattern of activities, such as giving your baby a bath, dressing her in pajamas, and then putting her in the crib.

S is for stressed-out! It's hard to care for an infant when you're exhausted. If you can't nap when your baby does, find other ways to reenergize, such as heading outside for some air. If friends offer to help, ask them to take the baby for a walk so you can have some downtime.

T is for twitching. Whoever invented the expression "sleeping like a baby" obviously didn't have kids. It's common for infants to twitch, jerk their limbs, or smile in their sleep. These activities are perfectly normal and don't interfere with their slumber.

U is for unusually drowsy. If you're nursing, check with your doctor before taking any medication. Some over-the-counter drugs can travel through your breast milk and make your infant overly tired or too revved up to sleep properly.

V is for vacations. Crossing time zones, using unfamiliar cribs, and sleeping in a hotel or at Grandma's house can throw off even the most solid sleeper. Try to maintain the same bedtime routine and nap schedule. When you return home, you may need to spend a few nights reminding your baby how to fall asleep.

W is for winding down. Whether your routine ends with reading a story or singing a lullaby, finish your ritual in the room your baby sleeps in. This lets him know it's time for bed.

X&Y are for X and Y chromosomes. Despite what you may have heard, boy and girl babies need the same amount of shut-eye--and you should treat them the same when teaching them to sleep. "Boy babies sleep as much as girls do," Dr. Weissbluth says.

Z is for Zzzz. While it may make you tired just thinking about it, the work you put into teaching your baby healthy sleep habits now will pay off with restful nights for your little one--and for you--in the long run. Sweet dreams!

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Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the May 2003 issue of Parents magazine.

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