Getting a good night's sleep: There's nothing more confounding to parents in the months after baby is born. To help parents understand how baby sleep patterns work, when to expect baby to start sleeping through the night, and what parents can do to encourage baby to go to sleep on his or her own, we asked two leading pediatricians for their guidance.
Learning Infant Sleep Patterns
Many parents are eager for their infant to begin sleeping through the night. Although some babies do sleep "all night"—which, according to Dr. Dania Lindenberg, is considered by some experts to mean from midnight to about 5:00 a.m.—others take a while to reach that point.
Dr. Lindenberg, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in San Diego, Calif., notes that "Babies are definitely physiologically able to sleep through the night by the time they are about 4 to 6 months old and weigh about 15 pounds. But it depends so much on the particular child and parents," she adds. "Some babies sleep through the night as early as 2 or 3 months of age, whereas others may not do so until after a year." Dr. Lindenberg says it depends on the baby's temperament, the parents' desire to sleep train, and the parents' child-rearing philosophy, such as "attachment parenting" or "co-sleeping."
Dr. Iris A. Perez, Associate Director of the Childrens Hospital Los Angeles Pediatric Sleep Laboratory, suggests that parents can expect their infants to sleep through the night by the time they are between 6 and 9 months old.
"By 6 months of age," says Dr. Perez, "infants can sleep for six- to seven-hour stretches at night. As the child matures, the nighttime sleep is sustained to up to 10 to 12 hours a night at one year of age. However," she continues, "brief arousals and awakenings do occur at this time. When infants can return to sleep on their own without parental intervention, they are considered to be sleeping through the night," she says.
Teaching the difference between night and day
Many babies confuse nighttime and daytime, making a good night's sleep even more unlikely for parents.
Dr. Lindenberg advises that after baby reaches 1 to 2 months of age, parents should continue to feed baby every two to three hours during the day, to lessen nighttime hunger. "Place the baby in a soothing, dark atmosphere at night and keep the noise down," she says, noting that babies will learn the difference once their brains mature a bit and their physiologic rhythms become established.
Adds Dr. Perez: "One of the ways parents can help their infants is to establish a bedtime schedule and bedtime routine, which may include giving a bath, reading, or listening to music. They should keep the infant's room cool and dark at night, and allow light exposure during the day," she says.
Teaching baby to go to sleep
Self-soothing is an important skill for baby to master. After the first year, some babies develop the ability to self-soothe after nighttime awakenings. "In general," says Dr. Perez, "infants are more likely to self-soothe after 4 to 6 months of age when they are no longer nursed at night." Although colicky babies may take hours to self-soothe, Dr. Lindenberg adds that "babies with calm temperaments may calm down in minutes."
Parents can practice several ways to help baby self-soothe. Placing the infant in the crib while still awake, and allowing the infant to fall asleep on his or her own with minimal contact, can help develop self-soothing behaviors, says Dr. Perez, as can having babies sleep alone in their own cribs. She explains that many infants use their thumb or hand as a sleep aid.
"It is important to remember, however," Dr. Perez cautions, "that soft objects such as pillows, stuffed toys, or blankets should not be used as a sleep aid, due to increased risks of SIDS" (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
For complete information on helping your baby start sleeping through the night, contact your pediatrician.
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