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Establishing Healthy Sleep Patterns for Babies
All babies are different, so determining what a “normal” sleep schedule is can be difficult. However, there are certain guidelines that should help you figure out if your child has healthy sleep patterns and these change from age to age.
By 3 months your baby should start sleeping through the night, but babies are learning and observing all the time and can quickly associate sleep-time with mommy-goes-away time. Often referred to as separation anxiety, it’s a normal part of development for many babies.
The first thing you can do to help your child develop healthy sleeping patterns, is to create a bedtime routine at a very early age. Not only will a routine prepare your baby’s body for sleep, as children grow they thrive on routine and knowing what to expect. You can try a warm bath and feeding, then some rocking, singing and cuddling. If your child tends to fall asleep in your arms, begin to transition them into their crib or bassinet just before they go to sleep. Continue to sing or rub their back until they fall asleep.
There is a lot of controversy regarding the “Cry it Out” method of letting your children self-soothe by crying until they settle down but it is generally agreed upon that allowing your baby to cry for 10-15 minutes is not detrimental to their health. Never hesitate to comfort your child if you feel they are distressed. While most will tell you this is coddling, you are actually helping to foster their sense of independence.
By the age of 8-12 months, your baby will begin to need less sleep during the day and should be regularly sleeping through the night. However, babies in this age range are also more stimulated, may be teething or may be weaning from the breast so these transitions and physical changes may cause disruptions in sleep patterns.
Maintain your bedtime routine and prepare different soothing strategies should they begin to wake in the night. Some babies are comforted back to sleep with another feed or bottle, while others may need to be rocked and sung to. Find what works for your baby and prepared to implement your strategy in the middle of the night.
Once your baby grows into a toddler they will begin to need about 11 hours or so during the night. Your child is intelligent and receptive at this stage, so now is the time to teach him self-soothing without resulting to allowing him to cry himself to sleep. Continue your night-time ritual and assure him he will be safe until you return. You can promise to check on him in 5 minutes (and make good on that promise). Children at this age still need reassurance that you are nearby.
Beware of the negotiating toddler. They are very keen on talking their way out of bedtime. Your child may take their time to follow their bedtime routine to prolong the inevitable separation from you. He may ask for a drink, one more song, one more book – Don’t let him stall. Everything can wait for the next day. Also, don’t wait around for him to fuss. Finish the tuck-in and leave.
There are many pieces of advice when it comes to having your child develop healthy sleep patterns. When it comes down to it, the best thing is to create a routine that works for you and your child and maintain consistency. Eventually he will learn what is expected at bedtime and will gain confidence that the nighttime separation is only temporary.
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