5 ways to healthier sleep habits for your baby

Clinical Psychologist, Nicky Cohen, offers new parents a crash course in Baby Sleep 101. Read her tips for establishing healthy and safe sleep habits.

Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

If you are the sleep-deprived parent of an infant, you’re in good company. According to research from the US-based National Sleep Foundation, 70 percent of parents are up with their baby during the night, and 75 percent of parents of infants would like to change something about their baby’s sleep. Difficulty settling to sleep, frequent night wakings and daytime sleep problems sit at the top of the list of parents’ concerns about healthy baby sleep.

How much sleep does a baby need?
In the first few months of life, the amount of sleep that babies need varies greatly, but by three to four months of age most infants need 13 to 16 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Usually this consists of 11 to 12 hours at night (including one or two night feedings until six months of age) and two to four hours during the day.

Read more: Oh, for a good night’s sleep >

Biologically, there are a lot of changes occurring in infants’ sleep over the first few months of life. Newborns experience a lot of “active” sleep, which makes them vulnerable to waking frequently. Between three to six months, infants start getting more deep sleep, which can be helpful to getting longer stretches of sleep at night. But unfortunately, poor learned sleep associations (aka as “bad habits”) are very common at this age, and they interfere with everyone getting the sleep they need, babies and parents alike. Also, during this period, greater cognitive awareness and reaching new developmental milestones (such as rolling and standing) can disturb sleep.

To help your baby – and you – get some sleep, below are some tips for establishing healthy and safe sleep habits.

Find what is soothing for your baby
Some newborn babies are soothed by swaddling, others by white noise or motion, including rocking. Until three months of age, many babies need help falling asleep, so don’t worry about “bad habits” at this young age. Feel free to rock, hold, or feed your baby to sleep if she needs your help.

Develop a sleep routine
By two months of age, a sleep routine can start to help signal to your baby that “sleepy time” is coming. A bedtime and naptime routine should be calming and predictable and, for the most part, should take place in the room where your baby sleeps. It is fine to include a feed as part of a healthy baby sleep routine — but after three months of age, feeding should not be the last thing you do before your baby goes to bed.

Implement safe sleep hygiene
According to Health Canada and Canadian Paediatric Society guidelines, infants should be placed on their back to sleep when put in their bassinet or crib, until 12 months of age. Until a child can roll on his or her own, the ‘back to sleep’ position is associated with a decreased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). However, according to the guidelines, once a child is able to roll independently after being placed in his crib, it is not necessary to roll him back, unless his physician has told you of a medical reason to do so.

Infants should sleep on a firm flat surface for all sleep periods, and their crib should meet Health Canada’s current safety standards. Due to safety concerns, soft materials such as blankets, bumper pads, and stuffed animals should not be in a baby’s sleep space.

Encourage napping
Naps are beneficial to your developing baby’s health. In fact, sleep experts believe that in young children, “sleep begets sleep” – the better rested they are, the more easily sleep comes. In the first few months, many infants are ready to sleep after one or two hours of being awake. By four or four-and-a-half months of age, most babies can be awake for two to two-and-a-half hours before needing a nap.

For healthy baby sleep, avoid over-stimulating your baby – infants often have a more difficult time falling asleep when they are overtired because cortisol, a stress hormone, is released and works to fight fatigue. This can further interfere with falling asleep. Look for your baby’s signs that she is getting tired: they may include rubbing her eyes, yawning, and getting fussy.

Read more: Snooze control: an age-by-age guide to naps >

Allow your child to learn to fall asleep independently
When your child is at least three months of age (full-term) and healthy, it is recommended that you give her the opportunity to learn to fall asleep independently. This important life-long skill is key to a child falling asleep quickly at bedtime and at naptime, and sleeping through the night. Starting this process at an early age helps prevent sleep problems from becoming chronic and more difficult to resolve.

It’s commonly thought that sleep problems are inevitable when you have a baby, but the fact is that good sleep habits can be encouraged from an early age. Most babies can learn to sleep well starting from a few months of age, but regardless of the age of your child, it is never too late to make positive changes.

Content provided by The Mark News.

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