So your baby is not sleeping through the night? First, don’t blame yourself. Having a newborn on your hands is hard, all-encompassing work, and sleep deprivation (on your end) can make you confused about a lot of things. Second, don’t give up. I talk to many parents who give up on sleep training too quickly when there are some easy fixes that can help your baby sleep through the night. Visit Nelda Maschmeyer's website www.thebabysleepteacher.com for more information.
Some parents are trying so hard to sleep train when their baby is simply too young. Most babies cannot learn how to soothe themselves to sleep before about three months old, and most doctors recommend waiting until then or even after.
Pediatric sleep disorders expert Deborah Lin-Dyken says, "Given the right circumstances and the right stage of development, usually between 3 and 6 months of age, (self-soothing) will happen on its own."
You can begin setting up some key sleep associations and routines early on, but, in my experience, something about sleeping through the night just clicks for babies around three to four months.
Some parents tell me their baby is waking up between three and nine times per night when their baby is already 12 months old — or even 3 years old. According to WhatToExpect.com, "if your little one has reached the six-month mark, you can bet that she's waking not because she needs to eat during the night, but because she's become accustomed to it." It takes awhile to break a habit, but it’s a habit you probably need to break for everyone’s sanity.
I often hear of parents taking their baby out to eat at night followed by other activities and then placing baby in bed when they finally get home at 10 p.m. Two hours later, baby is up again and ready to play. The problem here is baby has no idea it is time for bed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents "set up a quiet routine before bedtime to help your child understand that it will soon be time to go to sleep. Use this time to read him a story, listen to quiet music, or give him a bath. It may be tempting to play with your child before bed. However, active play may make your child too excited to sleep."
Some parents develop a solid routine but then place their baby in bed anywhere between 6:30 and 11 p.m. Babies need a consistent time frame. Pick a time of night at which your baby should be asleep (again, 7 p.m. is a time I highly recommend) and stick to it as closely as you can. Your baby will begin to understand that 7 p.m. translates to sleeping-through-the-night time.
"Be consistent," states the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Make bedtime the same time every night. This helps your child, know what to expect and helps him establish healthy sleep patterns."
Where do you place your baby to sleep through the night? How do you set the stage for her sleep? Is it in the same quiet and dimly lit place every night or does it differ every night? Putting your baby to bed in a quiet room with the shades drawn will do wonders for his sleep schedule.
Is your baby eating/nursing at specific time periods throughout the day or simply snacking as he, or as you, see the need? Snacking is dangerous for many reasons but especially because baby’s belly is never completely full, so when you place her in bed at night and she wakes up, she really is hungry again because she never had a full meal.
Baby expert Dr. Sears advises, "Tank up baby with frequent feedings during the day. As babies get bigger, they get busier during the day and forget to eat. So, they make up for missed feedings at night."
This seems like a no-brainer, but often babies cannot take the feel of a dirty diaper in bed. Try to change/check him one more time before you place him in bed for the night, even if you just changed him 20 minutes ago.
Burping can definitely be a chore, but sometimes putting in a few more pats will elicit that burp that your baby desperately needs so she is not lying in bed with gas trapped in her chest. Many babies have acid-reflux that causes them to wake up through the night, so the more you can burp her, the less likely she will wake up at 2 a.m. crying in discomfort.
Are you letting your baby sleep too much during the day? If you are, your baby has confused her days with nights. Lin-Dyken says, "Establish a wake-up time and stick to it, even if your baby was up most of the night. Sleeping in may be attractive option for both of you, but it won't help you reach your goal of sleeping soundly at night."
Additionally, do not let your baby sleep longer than three consecutive hours during the day or he will think he has checked off his night sleep. Keep in mind that it is OK if your baby sleeps for two hours in the morning and two-and-a-half hours in the afternoon. He just should not sleep longer than three hours during one nap.
Are you keeping your baby awake during the day in hopes that she will be so tired that she will simply crash at the end of the day and sleep for hours and hours? This strategy can work with adults, but babies are on a different system. Most babies require 14 to 16 hours of sleep per day. If she has been awake all day, she is actually overtired and wired and may be even harder to put to sleep and keep asleep than if she had had great naps during the day.