While in the womb, your infant tends to sleep while you are awake. The motion of your movements as you go about your day are soothing to your little one, similar to the sensation of being in a rocking chair. When you fall asleep at night, and your body is still, your baby often awakes to entertain herself.
New mothers can recognize the irony in this predicament, as suddenly they are faced with a baby who sleeps throughout the day and is wide awake all night long. This becomes particularly difficult when there are older siblings who must be attended to during the daytime and a little one awake at night.
So how can you teach your newborn healthy sleep habits that she can take into her toddler years and beyond?
Know How Much Sleep Your Baby Needs
Children require different amounts of sleep based on how old they are. Use the guide below to determine how much sleep your child needs.
|Age||Hours of sleep||Additional information|
|Newborn (birth to two months)||16 to 20||Awake for 1 to 2 hours between periods of sleep|
|Infants (two months to one year)||13 to 15||Includes morning and afternoon naps|
|Toddlers (one to four years)||12||Includes an afternoon nap|
Tips For A Good Night’s Sleep
- Make sure that your baby is dry and comfortable. Change his diaper and feed your baby before putting him down for the night. This won’t guarantee a full night’s sleep, but it will be a great start.
- Do not be tempted to rock your child to sleep or hold him until he’s sleeping and transferring him to his crib once he’s asleep. Try placing your baby in his bed when he’s sleepy, but still awake. This will allow him to learn to fall asleep on his own. You’ll be thankful for this skill as he grows. Remember to place your child on his back to sleep.
- Determine a nighttime routine and follow it at the same time nightly. This may include a bath, a clean diaper, feeding, and a bedtime story, or whatever ritual you choose. However, it’s important to stick to the same schedule so that your baby associates these steps with bedtime and becomes accustomed to falling asleep upon completion of the routine.
- Limit your child’s nap time and do not allow late naps, if possible. Depending on the age of your child, try to limit naps to no more than three hours and do not allow toddlers to nap past 4:00 in the afternoon. Children who take long or late afternoon naps may not be ready to go to sleep at their bedtime. Certainly each child is different, so determine what is best for your baby and work from there.
- Do not let your child fall asleep while feeding. Sleeping with milk or juice in the mouth can lead to cavities and tooth decay, even on unformed teeth. If your child insists on a drink, offer him water instead.
Pacifiers and SIDS
Research within the past five years has shown that pacifier use is actually beneficial for your child. A study by Children’s National Medical Center in Washington DC showed using a pacifier at sleep times resulted in a “consistently reduced risk” of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In fact, the study showed that infants who used pacifiers had a decreased risk of SIDS even when sleeping on the side or prone, when bed-sharing, or when soft bedding was present.
Nationwide Children’s Hospital recommends in their Safe Sleep Practices for Babies that parents offer pacifiers at nap and bed times to reduce the risk of SIDS. Breastfeeding newborns should be well-established in nursing prior to exposure to a pacifier, usually around three or four weeks of age.
Teaching your child healthy sleep habits while she is still an infant will be helpful for both parents and child as she grows older. Maintain a simple routine and avoid altering it, even during times of change, such as a move, a new sibling, or starting preschool.