Get your baby to sleep like a dream
There will be no tossing if you turn to these simple snooze rules.
1. Make his crib sleep central.
Letting Baby doze in the stroller can allow you to blitz through errands, but a little one who is used to snoozing in motion may find it hard to drift off in his crib, says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., author of Sleeping Through the Night. Plus, catching zzz's on the fly means naptime won't be consistent. "Parents tend to let babies sleep when they want to, but it's important for them to realize, This is rest time, and this is wake time," says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., a psychologist in Wexford, Pennsylvania. Try to organize your day so Baby can conk out in his crib. If he's resistant, make the transition slowly, Dr. Mindell suggests. "Focus on having him fall asleep in the crib for one nap a day, then move on to all naps.
2. Create a relaxing routine.
In the very first weeks of Mom-dom, it seemed as if feeding and rocking your baby was pretty much all you did, so it was only natural that you ended up feeding and rocking your sweetie to sleep. And that was just fine. "During the first few months, babies don't have their own strategies for soothing themselves, and they don't form bad habits," says pediatrician Ari Brown, M.D., author of Baby 411. But that changes: As they near their fourth month, little ones start developing a sleep routine, so if nursing or cuddling is the only way to get your cherub to dreamland, you're in trouble. "Babies wake up two to six times a night, which means that whatever you're doing to get him to sleep at bedtime, you'll need to do that same thing whenever he stirs," Dr. Mindell says. Instead, create a bedtime routine that will help your baby associate new activities with sleep: Give him a bath, put on his pj's, read a story, then dim the lights. "If the same thing happens every night, he'll eventually start to understand that sleep is soon to come," Dr. Mindell says. Put Baby in his crib drowsy but not asleep, so he connects sleep with being in his crib, not in your arms, and can learn to conk out by himself. Work up to this gradually by reducing rocking time. Next: Keep your hand on his belly as he drifts off. Once he's okay with that, you can try sitting where he can see you till he falls asleep. Soon, you should be able to tiptoe out after putting him down.
3. Ballpark a regular bedtime.
Although your newborn may naturally go to bed later because her sleep patterns are jumbled, by 5 months old or so, she'll be ready to hit the sack at 7 or 8 p.m. If your baby tends to doze off about an hour before then, start treating that as her bedtime rather than as a nap: "Wash her, put her in pj's, and call it a night," Dr. Mindell recommends. You can also roll bedtime forward by 15 minutes every few days until you reach 7 p.m. or so. Night, night!
Better naps for baby
You probably noticed that newborn-hood is a total free-for-all when it comes to sleep. But by 3 months, start setting a loose nap schedule. "Putting your child down to nap at the same times every day will set her internal clock to be sleepy at those moments," Dr. Mindell says. Peek at this sample napping snapshot:
- If Baby wakes up at 6 a.m., put her down at 8 a.m.
- When she wakes, let her stay up for two hours until nap two.
- Repeat for naps three and four.
If she fights sleep, check in on her at regular intervals (every 5, 10, or 15 minutes) for about an hour, suggests Jill Spivack, L.C.S.W., coauthor of The Sleepeasy Solution. "Stand next to the crib without touching her, and say something like, 'I love you. You can do it,' in a soothing voice." Then leave the room so she has a chance to lull herself to sleep. It helps to have a naptime routine -- sing a lullaby, read a story. And be sure to keep the room dark (room-darkening shades help) and reasonably quiet.
Originally published in the October 2011 issue of American Baby magazine. Updated June 2013.