Above All Else, Be Consistent
After the bedtime routine, put your child in her bed. Don’t kid yourself: The first few times you try to institute these behavior changes, your child is likely to cry. It’s okay to “allow her to cry for a few minutes,” says Bobbi Hopkins, MD, a pediatric neurologist/sleep medicine physician in the Texas Children’s Hospital Sleep Center in Houston, Texas. “Check in and make sure she’s okay, but limit physical contact.” If you cave in and offer one more hug, story or nursing-feed, your child will never learn to comfort herself. Instead, she’ll become more dependent on your help for getting to sleep.
Do the same thing when she wakes up in the middle of the night. If you’ve been feeding or rocking your baby back into slumber, she’ll expect this every night—and you’ll never get any rest. By 6 months old, a child no longer needs a nocturnal feeding. When she wakes, wait a few minutes to see if she will return to sleep. If the crying continues, simply go in and check to make sure she’s safe, then leave. You may have to check in multiple times the first few nights you institute these changes. Your child will eventually learn that you will always be there when needed—and that feedings, books and cuddles aren’t going to happen in the middle of the night anymore. “But you must be consistent in your responses every night,” stresses Hopkins. “If you give in or change the routine or only try these techniques for one or two nights, it will take a lot longer to establish new sleep habits.”
Lighting helps to establish your infant’s biological clock. Keep lights bright during your child’s waking hours and dim the lights an hour before bedtime. At naptime, shut the blinds and use the same 1-2-3 bedtime-routine activities, but for no longer than 20 minutes. Check in if your child cries, but then leave again. If you remain steadfast when instituting these changes, you’ll see rapid improvement in four to 14 nights, say experts. Remember that illnesses, vacations and other out-of-the-ordinary situations can gum up your good work, so be prepared for small setbacks from time to time. You’ll need to reteach your child, but the second time around won’t take as long or be as draining. “If you do the same thing every night at the same time, over and over again, your child will learn to go to sleep by himself,” assures Hopkins. “And everybody in the family will feel better.”