Sleep mistake #1: Keeping the baby up too long
Babies younger than 12 weeks have periods of wakefulness that last only 60 to 90 minutes. After 12 weeks, start to follow the two-hour rule: Put your baby down to sleep no more than two hours after he woke from his last nap, whether he's acting tired or not. Try positioning your baby at the bottom of his crib, so that his feet touch the rails or footboard. He's used to his feet hitting the walls of the womb when he kicks, Prueher notes, so being in a big open crib may make him feel insecure. Between 3 and 4 months, your baby's natural biological rhythm has formed and you should start to adhere to a stricter schedule of about three naps during the day, and an early bedtime of about 7 pm.
Sleep mistake #2: Using feeding as a crutch
When nursing your baby, get in the habit of breaking the latch before she nods off. Then you can tuck her in drowsy and she'll get used to settling herself. As your baby starts to sleep longer at night, feed her more efficiently during the day, says Prueher. That means moving away from frequent "snacking" and on to an every three-to-four-hour eating schedule after the age of 3 months. You want to be sure she is getting the same number of calories, or else she'll continue to wake from hunger during the night.
Sleep mistake #3: Napping on the go
The first two naps of the day are the most important, because they're more restorative mentally and physically. As much as possible, stay home with your baby during the first half of the day so he always gets to take these naps in his crib. If you're going back to work, talk to caregivers about maintaining a consistent morning routine too.
Sleep mistake #4: Rushing in too fast
Get to know your baby's cries. If she's doing what Prueher describes as "interval crying," which rises and then descends again, as well as moving her head in a side-to-side rocking motion, let her be! She's trying to settle herself back to sleep and if you interrupt you'll make her more upset and thwart her efforts.
Sleep mistake #5: Too much stimulation
Once lights are out, keep them that way, emphasizes Prueher. Don't talk or sing to your baby or take him out of bed either, unless he still needs a night feeding. And then, get it over with as quickly and quietly as possible.
Originally published in American Baby magazine in November 2014.
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