Friday, January 16, 2009

10 steps to help baby sleep through the night

When trying to teach your baby to sleep through the night you shouldn't expect miracles right away, every baby is different and some will get the hang of sleeping through very quickly while others may need a little more perseverance. However, by being consistent with whatever routine you and your partner choose, your baby will eventually master the art of settling him or herself to sleep and you'll be able to enjoy nights of uninterrupted rest - good luck!

1. Teach your baby the difference between night and day

Babies are born with no concept of circadian rhythm and so have little understanding of the difference between night and day. The only way they will learn that day is for being awake and active and night is for being asleep is if you teach them. The easiest way to do this is by giving your baby lots of attention and activity in the day and as little stimulation as possible during the night hours.

When you're feeding your baby in the day make sure that it's a bright environment with lots of noise and stimulation - try talking or singing to your baby as they feed. On the other hand, keep light and noise to a minimum during nighttime feeds so that your baby stays relaxed and doesn't become fully alert. Along the same lines try not to make daytime naps too dark or too quiet so that your baby learns to differentiate them from nighttime sleep.

2. Establish a bedtime routine

Getting your baby used to a bedtime routine featuring a relaxing bath, a story and a cuddle (or whatever works for you) will help them to understand that it's time to settle down for the evening and will give them cues about what they're expected to do next . Try to make the bedtime routine as relaxing as possible so that it's easier for them to become drowsy and learn the cues for sleep.

3. Teach your baby that cot equals sleep

When your baby starts to look tired and get fussy , be it day or night, make sure that you lay them down in their cot or moses basket before they fall asleep. This will help your baby to learn that being in their cot means that it's time to nap. By the same thread, try not to leave your baby in their cot for too long after they've woken up (providing it's not the middle of the night) as this will help reinforce the idea that cot equals sleep.

4. Teach your baby to settle themselves

Although it can be difficult, you should try to avoid rocking or feeding your baby to sleep as this often leads to an inevitable howling session when they wake and aren't in your arms. If you get your baby completely ready for bed, place them in their cot while they're very drowsy but not actually asleep and then stay with them until they dose off, over time they'll begin to settle themselves so that eventually you'll be able to leave the room when they're still awake.

5. Use a comforter

Babies often startle awake in the night and then start to cry because they feel alone. To overcome this problem you could try putting their favourite blanket or toy in their cot with them (or at least in eye sight) as often simply seeing their comforter can give your baby the feeling of security they need to fall back to sleep. It can help if you cuddle their soother for a little while before placing it in the cot so that it becomes 'mummy scented' as this can reassure baby that you're close to hand during the night.

6. Make sure the temperature is right

It's a good idea to keep an eye on the temperature of your baby's nursery, as not only will your baby be uncomfortable and more likely to wake up distressed if she is too hot or too cold, but also maintaining a regular temperature will help to reduce the risk of SIDS. Your baby's hands and feet can often feel colder than the rest of their body so try using the temperature of their tummy as a gauge.

7. Leave your baby to chat

Often your baby will wake in the night and then settle him or herself back to sleep soon after without your help. For this reason when you hear your baby wake, unless they are crying, try to avoid getting up just to check on them as there is a good chance that they may go back to sleep on their own accord.

8. Don't pick your baby up

If your baby is distressed you should go to her straight away but unless they're ill or you are away from home in a 'strange' place don't take them out of their cot. Instead, stand by the side of the cot, holding their hands, rubbing their tummy and talking or singing to them until they relax back to sleep. After a couple of nights doing this you should try to leave it a couple of minutes before you go to the cot side, gradually extending the time you take night by night.

9. Gradually retreat

After a few days of soothing your baby back to sleep you can start retreating towards the door after a few minutes of comforting. How you do this is entirely up to you, you can immediately leave the room for a few minutes before going back to comfort your baby or, alternatively, you can stay in the room with your baby soothing them from a distance. Gradually start to increase the length of time you're away from your baby until they starts to settle without your help.

10. Persevere

It may take well over a week for your baby to learn to sleep through the night (this equates to roughly 6 hours for a newborn and 10-12 hours for a one year old) and you may have to endure hours of torturous crying in the process. However, if you and your partner persevere together, providing support for each other during the sleepless nights and taking it in turn to reassure your baby, gradually you'll notice that they wake less, with each each crying episode getting shorter and each successive night getting better.

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