Must-Know Advice from the Sleep Lady
I have a tough time with most sleep-training methods -- how is yours different?
Kim West: My Sleep Lady Shuffle gently helps babies 6 months and older learn how to fall asleep -- and fall back to sleep -- on their own without using cry-it-out-style techniques. In a nutshell, the method involves putting your child down awake and comforting your child while you sit next to the crib. Every few nights, you move farther away, while continuing to soothe from afar, until you're eventually outside the door -- and finally, back in your own bed. Within a couple of weeks, you should be able to put your baby down, say good night, and walk out the door knowing that she'll be able to fall asleep without crutches such as nursing, rocking, or patting.
Did you use the Shuffle on your kids?
Kim West: I gently sleep-shaped my children when they were newborns so I wouldn't have to sleep-train them later. I got them on a flexible feeding and eating schedule, fed them upon wake-up, and put them to bed awake at bedtime. None of these ideas were popular 15 years ago. My second daughter had pretty bad reflux, so I waited until her reflux was under control to get serious about her sleep. The bottom line: I made my babies' sleep schedule a priority. I was stuck in the house a lot, but happy, well-rested children make for a happy, well-rested mom and family.
My baby is only a month old. What's the best age to begin sleep training?
Kim West: I don't recommend any formal sleep training until after 4 months of age. But you can do gentle sleep shaping beginning around 6-8 weeks, focusing on night sleep, which develops first. When possible, use soothing tools, such as swaddling, shushing, and pacifiers, so that you have a repertoire of soothing techniques other than nursing. And at bedtime, start trying to put your baby down when she's awake, staying with her, offering physical and verbal reassurance, and picking her up to calm her if need be.
What is the best way to help my newborn differentiate night from day?
Kim West: During the day, expose him to sunlight and wake him for a feeding after three hours of sleep. At night, keep feedings quiet, dimly lit, and boring. The goal is to act as his external melatonin, since he won't start producing enough to set his circadian rhythms until age 3-4 months.
What is the biggest mistake parents make when it comes to babies and sleep?
Kim West: The biggest mistake is not making their child's sleep a priority. Children need an average of 10-11 hours of nighttime sleep for the first nine years of life -- late bedtimes and skipped naps will create more night wakings, poor sleep quality, and an overtired child. Other common sabotagers: using nursing, bottles, and constant rocking as a sleep crutch; believing your baby's habits will change on their own; and reacting inconsistently to kids' wakings in the middle of the night instead of making a proactive strategy ahead of time.
If I put my baby to bed later or cut back on his naps, won't he sleep later and more solidly at night?
Kim West: If only it were that easy. In fact, when you let your child get overtired, he becomes wired and irritated -- which is why so many babies have that notorious witching hour in the early evening. This makes it harder for him to get to sleep and stay asleep. It may sound counterintuitive, but the later you put your child down and the more you deprive him of those much-needed naps, the worse your nights -- and early mornings -- will be. The average 6-month-old needs about 3 1/2 hours of sleep during the day and should go down for bed at 7 or 7:30 p.m. at the latest.
Will giving my baby cereal just before bed help her sleep through the night? What about formula versus breast milk?
Kim West: If your baby is growing well and eating well during the day, and if you and your doctor have decided she's reached a stage where she no longer needs to eat at night, what matters is that she knows how to put herself to sleep or back to sleep without being fed. Research shows that feeding young babies rice cereal at bedtime doesn't significantly affect how long they snooze. And while formula does take longer to digest than breast milk, it won't make much difference if your baby can't fall back to sleep unassisted.
I have two other kids and don't have time to give my baby a long bedtime routine.
Kim West: All you need is a short routine -- 15-20 minutes maximum, and possibly shorter for young infants. If you have more than one child you can read them a book together, then take the baby to his room for a final feeding, quiet story, or a song before putting him down. Even adults should have a brief bedtime routine. This helps cue the brain to slow down, secrete melatonin, and become drowsy.
How do I know if my baby is getting enough sleep?
Kim West: Look at my Website or books for the average amount of sleep that corresponds to your baby's age. During the first month, newborns sleep 16-18 hours out of every 24. During the second month, it's 15 1/2-17, and by the time they reach the 4 or 5 months, most are sleeping 10-11 hours at night and napping four to five hours. The rest of the first year sees little change in nighttime sleep and progressively shorter naptimes. Your child shouldn't stray from the average by more than one hour -- and if she's chronically cranky, yawning, or rubbing her eyes, she's probably short on sleep. Remember that alert, bright-eyed babies may be more tired than you think -- they just have a harder time shutting out the world.
We've been cosleeping since our baby was born 10 months ago -- I don't even know how to start training her.
Kim West: One option is to slowly move Baby's cosleeper, bassinet, or crib further away from your bed. Another route is to cosleep in your baby's room for a few days, pick the night when you'll begin putting her in her crib at bedtime, then begin doing the Shuffle -- soothing her from a chair and moving that chair progressively farther away every few nights until you're no longer in the room. If your child naps well with you, then you may be able to continue to do this while you work on night sleep -- that is, if you still want to nap twice a day yourself.
I'm too tired to slog through a book -- in the end, what's the secret to sleep-training success?
Kim West: The secret is consistency. You have options in sleep training, and it's important to pick the method that you feel is the best match for your child and your parenting philosophy. Be sure to choose the one you believe you can follow through with night after night.
Copyright © 2010 Meredith Corporation.
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