It's always better to establish healthy sleep habits from an early age, but it's never too late to start giving your child the benefit of a good night's sleep. Not only does it encourage healthy sleep patterns for your child, therefore enabling more sleep for you, it helps your child feel safe and secure.
Let me reiterate that every child is unique and has a slightly different sleep pattern just like we do as adults. As much as I encourage you to be consistent and follow my guidelines I don't want you to be rigid, I stress that each child has their own individual needs and you need to listen to your child's cues.
The key here really, is to teach your child to self soothe and fall asleep on their own. Therefore when they wake during the night they will be able to put themselves back to sleep. This develops independence and again makes your child feel very secure and content. Here are some guidelines to help you promote healthy sleep habits for your child.
Establish a routine
Establish a feeding schedule and don't feed on demand. Feeding on demand encourages your child to snack all day instead of getting a full meal. Breast milk has two consistencies the fore milk is the sweet sugary milk and the hind milk has the rich fat content which is needed for brain development. So if your child snacks all day they miss a lot of the rich hind milk.
Enforce regular naps. Sleep begets sleep, so good quality naps will equal a better nights sleep. A nap less than 45 minutes doesn't count. Your child needs to sleep 45 minutes or longer to have the benefit of a full sleep cycle.
Sleep, eat then play. Your child should always eat upon waking and not eat before sleep. The calories can give a surge of energy therefore can effect their sleep.
Don't feed your child as soon as they wake up. It's important to encourage your child to wake up happy. They should be content to wait and play on their own while waiting for you to come. This encourages independence and better enables your child to self-soothe.
Set a night and morning feed. For example, every day you feed your child at 7pm and 6am give or take 10-15 minutes. As your child gets older and requires less nighttime feeds you can gradually dwindle them and push your child to the morning "breakfast time" feed.
Set a consistent bedtime. Enjoy a nice bedtime routine. For example: have a nice bath, milk, books and then into bed.
Stop any vice your child has to get to sleep
Whether it's holding, rocking, swinging or bouncing: Put your baby down awake, they need to learn how to fall asleep on their own and in a calm, motionless environment. Whatever your child needs to fall asleep they will need again when they wake during the night. After time this will stop working and your child will need more and more rocking etc.
Lose the pacifier. Your baby does not need a pacifier after 3 months and it actually inhibits sleep.
Don't over stimulate
Don't smother or over stimulate your child. Babies need a lot of love, affection and a need to be held but learn to put your child down. Children need quiet time on the floor without noisy toys and lights flashing. It's important they learn to relax be content without you constantly entertaining them. A content baby is a happy baby, which in turn will carry over to the crib.
Create a cozy sleeping environment
The bedroom temperature should be between 61-67 Degrees Fahrenheit. Pajamas and bedding should be soft and comfortable. Bedroom should be calm and inviting.
Learn the cry
Don't jump at every little noise your child makes. They are not always hungry when they cry. Just remember the only way babies communicate is through crying. So they could be telling you they are hungry, wet, dirty, gassy, tired, just uncomfortable or even bored. For instance if your child cries from gas pain and you feed them again thinking they are hungry you just compound the problem and actually make the gas worse. Learn the cry and you will know when something is wrong, if your child isn't feeling well or perhaps teething.
Talk to your child
Communicate with them, tell them it's naptime or bedtime and it's time to sleep. You may not think this is worthwhile at such a young age, but babies are smarter than we give them credit for. They may not fully understand you but the constant repetition and association makes them feel secure in the actions you're taking. This is key and will also help develop your child's language skills.
Consistency makes or breaks the program. You have to be consistent or this will not work. Children and babies are much smarter than we give them credit for. Consistency teaches a child cause and effect. So if your child is tired, you put them down for a nap and you take them out 5 minutes later because they cried, you're teaching them to cry and they will be taken out of their crib.
When are there exceptions to these guidelines? If your child has been diagnosed with severe colic, acid reflux, your child is sick or otherwise under the physicians care and guidance.
Originally published in 2010.
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