10 Tips for Getting Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night

Health & Wellness on 12.14.11
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Sleep deprived? I've been there. After many sleepless nights and a whole lot of research and experimentation, I've come up with some solid answers to the question, "How do I get my baby to sleep through the night?" There hasn't been one single tactic that worked, but a combination of tips and strategies.

Hang in there and read these tips for getting more sleep for you and your baby:

1. Eliminate Day/Night Confusion.

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I know the saying goes, "Never wake a sleeping baby." There is only one exception to that rule: if one of your baby's daytime naps lasts longer than three hours, it's time to wake her and feed her.

A typical newborn needs to be fed every 2 to 3 hours around the clock. By six-weeks old, your baby will sleep for a four-to-six-hour "long" stretch during a 24-hour period, which you obviously want to happen at night.

2. Develop a Bedtime Routine as Soon as Possible

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From the night you come home from the hospital, you can start using a bedtime routine to help make your child sleepy. An easy routine consists of dinner, bath, pajamas and story time.

Bathe her, even if this just means wiping her down with a warm, damp washcloth. Your child will become warm in the bath, then cool down as you remove her from the water and dry her. This slight cooling of body temperature will help your baby fall asleep

3. Try the 5 S's of Sleep

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While it's important to know how to get a baby to stop crying, it's not always easy. If your baby is younger than four months and needs to be soothed, then this tip is for you.

Dr. Harvey Karp recommends the 5 S's to get your baby to fall asleep and to sleep longer in a book and DVD called The Happiest Baby on the Block.

The 5 S's are:

  1. Swaddling
  2. Side/stomach positioning in the parents' arms. (See Kermit above, swaddled and on his side.)
  3. Shushing: as loud as a vacuum cleaner.
  4. Swinging: this is more like a gentle jiggling motion - the DVD is excellent for demonstrating the correct method.
  5. Sucking: either a pacifier or finger.

If you have to choose between the book and DVD, then go for the DVD for overall speed of gleaning and applying the information. I borrowed both the book and the DVD from my local library.

4. Make Sure Your Baby Stays Well-Rested

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It's counterintuitive, but true: Skipping naps or keeping your baby up later will not result in a better night's sleep.

In the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child, Marc Weissbluth, M.D. writes, "Sleep begets sleep." An overtired child will have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep. A well-rested baby will fall asleep easier and is more likely to sleep for longer periods of time. 

If your baby wakes with an abrupt scream -- 45 minutes to one hour after falling asleep, during the night, early in the morning, or wakes from her nap screaming -- she's overtired. It might take several nights of a very early bedtime before the screams-upon-waking stop.

5. Get Your Baby on a Feeding Schedule

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The one book I wish I'd found earlier is called The Baby Sleep Solution: A Proven Program to Teach Your Baby to Sleep Twelve Hours a Night. The book explains when and how to establish a regular feeding schedule.

A regular feeding schedule will allow your baby to get hungry for her next meal. She will eat more to satisfy her hunger when it's time to eat, and sleep longer stretches at night without waking to be fed.

6. Make it EASY

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The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems: Sleeping, Feeding, and Behavior--Beyond the Basics from Infancy Through Toddlerhood says to establish a daytime routine called E.A.S.Y., which stands for Eat, Activity, Sleep, You.

This means that after your baby wakes, it's time to eat. Next is an activity, like a diaper change and tummy time. Then your baby will sleep -- and here's the beauty -- while your baby sleeps, make time for YOU. Showers are good. Naps are even better.

7. Don't Feel Pressure to Co-Sleep

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Co-sleeping might benefit a minority of parents, and I have heard anecdotally that some mothers sleep best with their babies beside them. If this is you, then by all means, do not let me discourage you from doing what works for you. 

However, feeling pressure to co-sleep when it's not what works for you becomes an unhealthy ideal that leads to poor-quality sleep for many parents and children. So if someone tries to insist that co-sleeping is best, feel free to nod politely while you listen to what your own instincts are telling you.

8. Treat Sleep as a Treat

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Some parents feel a sense of anxiety when it's time to go through the separation involved with putting their baby down to sleep. Plenty of parents have been threatened with napping almost as a form of punishment when they were kids themselves: "If you don't stop whining, you are going to your room for a nap!"

Sleep is not a punishment, it's a treat! Getting all comfy and cozy in the crib should be offered up as an indulgence and a pleasure, never something to be dreaded or endured. When your baby protests, it will be easier to reassure her if you sincerely feel that sleep is a good thing.

9. Ignore the Guilt and Hostility

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You might choose to cry it out, or try a controlled crying method like Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems by Dr. Richard Ferber (aka Ferberizing, or the Ferber method). Methods of helping your baby sleep are personal decisions that parents need to make without added stress or guilt.

Science doesn't back the claim that crying alone is harmful to babies. Despite what some insist, it's unlikely our sole means of communication as infants would easily result in impairment.

One caveat: if your baby cries when you put her down as if she's in pain, it's possible that acid is burning her esophagus. Ask your pediatrician about treatments for reflux.

10. Follow Your Instincts to Create Your Own Solution

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Sleep training has a lot in common with dieting: so many books and web sites claim to have the ultimate solution that will work for everybody. Even though it's an attractive premise, we know it's a load of hooey.

Every child-and-parent combo is different, and you never know what might work for you until you try it. Be flexible when a method you were positive would be a fit ends up failing your situation.

It's unlikely you will find one single method that works perfectly for you throughout every stage of your unique snowflake's infancy. Armed with information and your own instincts, you will be able to create a solution that works for you and your child.

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