Over the next six months, your baby's sleep needs won't change much. From 6 to 8 months, a baby should get an average of 11 uninterrupted hours of sleep each night and 3.5 hours each day, spread out over two to three naps (a morning, afternoon, and late-afternoon nap). From nine to 12 months, the amount of hours of sleep at night stays at 11, but Baby needs only three hours of sleep during the day, with the number of naps dropping to two (the short late-afternoon nap will be eliminated).
With an established bedtime you might notice that putting your little one to sleep each night can be a great bonding experience. "As your baby grows, bedtime can be fun as you begin to share quiet songs and games and create family rituals," Kim West, aka "The Sleep Lady" and author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight. Remember to focus on activities that will help calm your baby and prepare her for sleep -- avoid anything that might overstimulate her, such as loud music, toys, or TV.
As your baby becomes more mobile, you'll also need to reevaluate his sleeping environment. Take a look around the room for any potential hazards. A baby can easily use the crib's bumpers to stand on and climb out. In addition, wall hangings, pictures, curtains, and window blinds cords are potentially harmful if left within Baby's reach. If you're not sure what dangers to look for, consider hiring a babyproofing specialist to do it for you.
"It's important that the crib is used only for sleeping so that the baby associates it only with bedtime and naptime," says Nadav Traeger, M.D. director of pediatric sleep medicine at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center. "There should not be any playing or eating, and just some light reading, in the crib or bed when the child gets older." With that in mind, try to make a habit of the baby sleeping only in his crib -- not in the stroller, car seat, or play pen. Of course, there will be times when your little one simply dozes off when taking a drive or on a walk. That's fine, Dr. Traeger says, as long as the bulk of the baby's sleep takes place in his crib.
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Around 12 months and older, some babies begin to experience night terrors, which occur when the child starts screaming or crying uncontrollably at the same time every night. The baby is actually asleep during the entire ordeal and isn't aware of what's going on. What can a parent do? Set your alarm clock for 30 minutes before your child usually wakes up screaming, then go in and gently wake him up. You don't need to get him out of bed; just wake him so that you abort the sleep stage that leads to the night terrors. If you do this for two or three nights, the night terrors should go away completely.
As your baby approaches her first birthday, don't be surprised if she starts to fight you when going to bed for the night. After all, she'd much rather be hanging out with Mama and Dada than getting some much-needed shut-eye. "This is when Baby starts asserting more independence, but don't give too many allowances when it comes to bedtime," says Dr. Traeger. "If parents change the routine too much, it will in turn change their baby's sleep patterns -- for the worse." Remember, consistency is key.
According to West, many sleep problems at this age involve associations with sleeping and eating. "You don't want her falling asleep at the breast or with a bottle in her mouth -- because it interferes with sleep independence, and it's terrible for those little teeth that are going to be bursting out any day," West says. She suggests setting recognizable mealtimes so your baby is not eating all day, which is an incentive to get up to snack all night.
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There will be cases when your baby gives you a hard time with napping, and certain events -- holidays, trips, illnesses -- can also have a negative impact on your child's routine. "Over many weeks or months, your child develops 'cumulative sleepiness' until he hits a wall and becomes way overtired," says Marc Weissbluth, M.D., a pediatrician and author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. "In this state, it's difficult for him to nap because his body is geared up to fight the fatigue." If you run into problems with naptimes, try a temporarily super early bedtime to help him wake up better rested. "Often, the early bedtime will help erase his sleep debt so he is more able to relax and take a nap," Dr. Weissbluth says.
If your baby is waking up before 6 a.m., he's probably overtired. "Overtired children don't sleep as well, or as long, as well-rested ones," West says. Think about your child's sleep schedule and decide if he is:
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