Learning Healthy Sleep Habits

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Having realistic expectations about your baby’s sleep habits will make the transition of bringing home your little one a little less intimidating.

In those first couple of weeks we undoubtedly question everything we do; we read every book and surf the net to make sure we are providing our little one with the absolute best. But given that every human being is different, the package of needs that comes with a baby will vary as well.

One important need is SLEEP.  The last of the days of having a good night’s rest or sleeping in until you decide to wake up is the common and expected attitude most seasoned parents have and won’t hesitate to remind you of. Sure, at the beginning it’s an adjustment for everyone, but if you approach sleep realistically everyone in the family can get the rest they need.

Here are some guidelines to follow from the very beginning to guide your family to the path of healthy sleep.

Before 6-8 weeks your baby has no biological sleep rhythms.

What does that mean? Basically saying since there are no obvious patterns in sleep, your baby will sleep wherever and whenever she wants to. You cannot manipulate her sleeping patterns. During this time do whatever it takes to get your baby to sleep especially if you have a colicky infant. You don’t have to worry about creating bad habits. Take a breather and enjoy your baby.

Three milestones to look for to know your baby is ready to learn healthy sleep patterns:

These three biological signs of maturity occur around the same time and will give you a better clue to where your baby is biologically.

1.  Social smiles: Once your baby starts smiling directly at you and is engaged by you, you can now say your baby is a “social being.”

2.  Night sleep is organized. This means that the longest single sleep period occurs at night. This block of sleep time can range from 4-6 hours at a time and occurs sometime during the night hours.

3.  The third milestone is that late in the day fussy hour that starts to peak and eventually goes away.

Why is it important to know about these three biological milestones? Well, this is the time you can start taking steps to get your baby on the path to healthy sleep.  Here’s how:

Steps to take when your baby is ready to establish healthy sleep habits

Social Smiles: Now your baby is a social being; so with all the new distractions she might be less inclined to just go to sleep when she’s tired. We might need to be a little more proactive and step in to remind our baby it’s time to go to sleep. Since day sleep is not organized until around 4 months of age, all we can do is get our baby down to sleep before she becomes overtired, that is if she hasn’t fallen asleep on her own. You will start by looking for her sleepy signs. A baby at this age can only tolerate about 1 hour of wake time before she starts becoming tired. This would be the perfect time to start looking for those subtle cues. Your baby might appear to space out, rub her eyes, pull a blanket close to her face. Whatever the signs, these are your cues to start soothing your baby to sleep.

Soothing routine: Along with watching for your baby’s sleepy cues you will need to come up with a soothing routine that your baby will use as a cue to going to sleep. You want to think about where you would like your baby to sleep for all sleep times. Consistency is key and doing it the same way every day in the same place helps establish this cue. So, if you have been using a bassinet or side car attachment to your bed or even in some cases the car seat or swing, but ultimately you would like to start using the crib, now is the best time to make that change. Your soothing routine should start in the room that your baby will be sleeping in. You might sit in a chair, nurse or bottle feed your baby, or rock your baby. Remember it’s a cue not a means to sleep so the process really shouldn’t take much more than 15 minutes. You want to make sure that your baby is aware of what is going on so make sure that once you go through the process that your baby is put down somewhat awake. We don’t want to “trick” our baby and put her down when she is completely asleep. We want to be fair and honest and make sure our baby understands what’s going on.

Naps: Once you get your baby down to sleep, the duration of the nap will vary tremendously. You might have some naps that are only 45 minutes and others 2 hours. There is no pattern. For those ultra short naps, get into the habit of waiting a bit, maybe 5 minutes, to just give your baby a chance to put herself back to sleep if she needs to. All together you might have 4-5 naps a day. Over the next couple of weeks by following this routine you are already setting a healthy foundation for sleep. As you get closer to 4 months of age you will start seeing a pattern in day sleep and times around the clock which seem to be better napping times. Once you see this then you can start scheduling naps around the clock and only put your baby down to sleep at those optimum times (max 3 naps a day). Now your baby’s day sleep is officially organized and both day and night biological sleep rhythms are set.

Bedtime: Along with establishing a soothing routine, a consistent place for your baby to sleep and watching your baby for sleep cues, you also want to start pushing that bedtime earlier in the evening. Where we used to put our baby down to sleep for the night after 9pm, since night sleep is organized that is the time to start pushing it earlier and earlier over a couple of months. By the time day sleep becomes organized the bedtime will need to be in the range of 5pm-8pm depending on when the last nap ended.

Following this regiment will not only establish a wonderful healthy foundation for sleep for your baby but will help all family members to maintain a healthy sleep schedule.

Deborah Pedrick is the founder of familysleep.com.