Creating Healthy Sleep Habits

Even when they no longer need nightly feedings, some babies have trouble falling -- and staying -- asleep. Here are some strategies for solving the sleep problem.

Breaking Bad Habits

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Once a baby is 3 months old, he no longer has physiological need to be fed during the night. But at 5 months, a fair number of infants are still experiencing problems (or even developing new ones) falling asleep at bedtime or after waking in the middle of the night. Often, well-meaning parents take too active a role in soothing their babies to sleep. The result is a baby who can nod off only with a parent's help and two adults who are absolutely desperate for a good, uninterrupted night's sleep.

Mercifully, most sleep difficulties can be solved relatively easily by following some basic rules. But don't put the task off. Sleep problems become more ingrained as children get older.

Help your baby break the habit of falling asleep only with your assistance. Many new parents assume that rocking, nursing, or singing a baby to sleep is what being a loving mother or father is all about (and these activities can be very pleasurable for both of you). But if you always let your little one nod off in your arms, she will come to expect it. Then, when she awakens during the night, she'll feel helpless and will cry for assistance.

You do not have to eliminate bedtime rituals altogether. You can rock or nurse your baby until she gets drowsy. The point is to put her in her crib while she's still awake, so that the last thing she sees is her mattress-not you. Then when she wakes in the middle of the night, she'll be so accustomed to this familiar sign that she'll probably fall back to sleep.

If your baby is already addicted to your arms, however, she's sure to cry if you put her in her crib awake. You'll have to muster a lot of emotional strength to wean your baby of this habit.

Begin by putting her down and comforting her for about five minutes, then leave the room. If she cries, let her do so for about five minutes, then go back in and soothe her, but don't take her out of the crib. When she's calm, leave the room again. If she begins to cry, wait another five minutes before you return and calm her down always leaving her in the crib. Repeat this procedure until she falls asleep herself. And for the next few weeks, gradually lengthen the time between soothings.

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