Getting Baby To Sleep Through The Night

Learn some tricks to getting a good night's rest for the whole family.

Parents yearn for the day when their baby will sleep through the night. There are countless baby books claiming to contain the magic cure for sleepless nights. Some experts claim the only thing to do is let the baby cry. Others claim "˜crying it out' is a harmful practice and the best solution is a nurturing family bed. Still others recommend a gradual separation allowing the parent to sit with the baby until he or she falls asleep while slowly moving the chair out of the room over the course of weeks. A parent's job is to get to know their child and decide which sleep method (or combination) will help their child and work in their family.

Parents should realize that many experts consider a baby sleeping five hours in a row to be sleeping through the night. Therefore one should not be discouraged to find that their three month old is not sleeping from 8PM to 8AM. This twelve-hour night might happen, if one is lucky. But it's not the common behavior. Parents should also not be discouraged by other's claims that their child slept through the night at eight weeks. This could mean that the child slept eight hours in a row two nights in a row. No matter what "˜method' one employs, it is likely that your baby will take two steps forward and one step back all through his or her first year before reliably sleeping ten hours in a row.

Family Bed

The family bed has been somewhat controversial because it brings up visions of ten-year-olds still in bed with mom and dad. And of course there is always the occasional horror story of an infant being suffocated in the middle of the night. There is no evidence to suggest that SIDS is more prevalent with families that choose to share their bed. The risks of a child smothering in a bed are very slight as long as there is common sense used. The mattress should be firm, no plush pillows, no gaps between the headboard and mattress. Use a bedrail and never drink or take drugs (including cold medicine) as that could inhibit your ability to wake should there be a problem.

Many families choose to keep baby in bed with them for the first few months while feeding is frequent. They gradually move the child out of the bed before he or she becomes "˜aware' of the situation- before ten months. This is an excellent option for those that do not want to pad down cold halls in the middle of the night and don't like the idea of a restless toddler in their bed. Of course moving the baby from king size to crib size with no breast nearby is somewhat tricky. But it can be done and there is more than one way to do it.

If you don't mind sharing your bed indefinitely, then don't worry about moving baby at all. But do realize that children are restless and if you are planning on a family bed, then invest in a king size so everyone has a chance to sleep. Also be aware that there will come a day when baby is ready to sleep before you are and he or she will also be capable of climbing off the bed. This means your bedroom must be completely baby-proof so your child cannot get hurt wandering around without crib walls.

Crying it Out

It is important to note that experts do not recommend letting a child less than five months old "˜cry it out'. Before a child has reached five months he or she has not learned cause and effect. This means that if you are trying to teach your child to put him or herself to sleep, you will likely fail, as the baby's brain is not yet wired to learn this particular lesson. It's also important to be consistent when using this method and know when it's not working. If your child becomes unusually withdrawn or does not respond within a week or two, talk to your pediatrician for recommendations.

One of the better-known researchers of sleep problems is Richard Ferber, MD. While many associate his name with crying, Ferber claims his method is a way to reduce the crying. He recommends that parents who want to try his method initiate a consistent nighttime routine that ends with putting the child to bed while awake. The parent then leaves the room for a few minutes (anywhere from two to twenty). If the child falls asleep, all is well. If baby fusses then the parent returns and comforts the child for no more than two minutes leaving the room again before the child falls asleep and then returning after a longer interval. This is repeated until the interval is twenty minutes and the baby is never left alone to cry longer than that. Most parents find that the baby will fall asleep within an hour the first night and after a shorter time the next night. Nighttime wakings are treated the same as bedtime.

Other Options

Many parents do not let their children cry and do not use the family bed. Some simply rock their babies and toddlers to sleep or give them a pacifier and have no problems with middle of the night wakings. Some parents just tolerate the wakings until the child is older and able to communicate. There is no unspoken parenting rule that your child must sleep a certain way at a certain time. It's up to you to decide how your family will deal with this issue.

If you are looking for solutions, then first look at the problem. Why is the baby waking? Is he or she hungry? Then perhaps you need to feed more during the day and gradually lessen the amount given at night either by watering down the bottle or lessening the time breastfeeding. Is it a matter of separation anxiety? Dr. Jeffrey Hull (who does not advocate letting baby cry) recommends a slow transition of sitting by the child's bed when he or she is very tired each night then gradually moving your chair toward the door and just outside your child's room so that baby will think that mommy is right outside the door. If you approach the problem systematically looking for a cause, you will eventually find a solution.

Regardless of what you try to get baby to sleep, there are some universal "˜dos and don'ts'.

Do respond to newborn cries. Hold them even if they continue to cry! Babies that are held and cuddled cry less.

Do seek the advice of a professional if your baby seems to be having trouble. You may find there is a medical problem. For example, ear infections are often undetectable during the day and cause much discomfort when baby lies down.

Do give your child the opportunity to fall asleep by his or herself when you can early on. If you instill the habit early, there may never be a problem.

Do try to get rid of the bottle and pacifier before twelve months or so. Pacifiers satisfy a need to suck early on. However, after six months they become something different. After thirteen months the bottle and pacifier habits become more difficult to moderate.

Do be consistent and keep in mind what you are trying to teach your child. If you bring your child into bed after ten minutes of crying every night he or she will learn to cry for ten minutes. You are better off bringing them to bed right away.

Don't put your child in bed with you if you have been drinking or taking any kind of drug.

Don't ignore a sick child. When your child is sick, all bets are off.

Remember there will come a day when your child will be sleeping until noon and you will be the one doing the waking. Until that time, persevere and realize that this too shall pass.

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