How to encourage your baby’s sleep
It’s every new parent’s eternal question: When will my baby sleep through the night? “The answer depends on how you define ‘sleep through the night,’” says Traeger. “Twelve hours may not happen for a year, but a six- to seven-hour stretch of nighttime sleep can happen when your baby is 6 months old.”
Although you’re going to be on your baby’s clock for the first few months, there are several things you can do to promote his sleep now:
You may have heard that formula-fed kids sleep better and longer, but our experts say there is very little difference in slumber time between breastfed and formula-fed babies. Plus, the health benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh any marginal sleep difference your friends or family may claim! (In addition, breastfed babies have a lower SIDS rate than formula-fed babies do. See “Safe Sleeping” on page TK.)
Start a bedtime routine as soon as possible.
When your baby is younger than 3 months old, he cannot yet tell the difference between night and day. Relaxing activities at the same time every night can help your infant discern between playtime and quiet time. “A good routine could be something like a bath, PJs, reading a book, feeding, swaddling, then placing the baby in the crib and turning out the lights,” says Altmann. “He may fall asleep during the feeding or you can rock him to sleep, which at this age is fine.”
When your baby is 3 to 4 months old, place him in the crib when he’s still awake.
Be consistent with your nightly routine, but end it while your baby is drowsy yet still awake enough to learn how to soothe himself to sleep. If feeding or rocking always puts him to sleep, reverse the order of your bedtime routine so you end with story time. If he gets used to always being rocked or fed to sleep, he will need you to do this every night and in the middle of the night every time he wakes up. “It’s very easy to feed or rock your baby to sleep,” says Fatima S. Khan, MD, FAAP, chair of pediatrics at Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora, Ill., and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Rush Medical College in Chicago. “But are you going to be able to sustain this for the next year…or two?”
At the 3 a.m. wake-up call, wait a few minutes before you jump in.
After four months of age, an infant’s cry could be just a wakeful part of his sleep cycle and he may go back to sleep on his own. “He’ll eventually sleep through these middle-of-the-night awakenings,” says Altmann. Unless you’re certain your baby is hungry or in distress, it’s okay to wait a few minutes to see what happens.
Cribs (or bassinets) are for sleeping.
Always put your baby to sleep in the same place at naptime and bedtime. “Make the crib the main place your baby sleeps—not the stroller, bed, car seat or playpen,” suggests Traeger. “If you have playtime elsewhere and make the crib a place just for sleeping, it sends a strong signal.”
Be consistent with your baby’s sleep environment.
When your infant wakes up for a feeding, turn on the lights just enough to give her your breast or bottle. If you keep the lights dim, it lets baby know it’s still nighttime. And keep the noise down as well. “Avoid sound machines and music at bedtime—they’re a crutch,” says Traeger. “Quiet is best.” In the morning, turn on the lights, open the shades and greet your baby with squeals of “good morning.” She’ll know it’s time to be alert and play.
Don’t skip a daytime nap hoping that your baby will sleep longer at night.
“This strategy often backfires,” says Traeger. Overly tired babies usually have more trouble going to sleep and staying asleep than those who are well-rested.
NEXT: HOW TO GET THE SLEEP YOU NEED