If the only thing preventing you from sleeping like a baby is your baby, what should you do?
First, take comfort in the fact that you are certainly not alone in this dilemma. On average, a parent of a new baby loses 400 to 750 hours of sleep during the first year. Approximately 30 percent of young children (one to four years old) demand parental intervention at least once nightly. You can’t simply ignore the problem or lock yourself in a soundproof bedroom.
Newborns (Birth to Four Months)
Minimize Nighttime Activity: Newborns have no idea that nighttime is for sleeping; they do the majority of their resting during the daytime and are ready to play at 3 a.m. Avoid exciting the baby with singing, music, laughter, and bright light during nighttime feedings and diaper changing. Use only daytime for playtime. It will bring about a quicker adaption to an eventual diurnal schedule.
Eliminate Night Feedings When Appropriate: Exhausted breastfeeding mothers of newborns should freeze their milk when possible and enlist the help of another reliable party to take over some of the night feedings. Uninterrupted sleep is essential for good maternal care, as sleep deprivation is sure to affect your mood and stamina. As the baby grows nighttime feedings should be eliminated through a gradual weaning process.
Infants (Five to Eight Months)
Establish a Regular Sleep Schedule: Make sure your infant maintains a regular sleep-wake schedule, going to bed at the same time every night, including weekends. During this stage, most babies can sleep through the night, often for eight hours.
Ignore the Calls: If you run to your infant every time he or she cries, you are being trained by your demanding child; answering only loud cries will bring more loud cries sooner. If your child wakes up often in the night crying for you, try ignoring the calls (as long as you know the infant is safe and dry). You’ll find that after several (understandably unbearable) minutes the crying will subside and your child will fall back to sleep.
Minimize Teething Problems: While teething can cause an infant enough pain to keep him or her awake for several nights, it should not be a cause for long-term sleep disturbances. For the occasional teething-related awakening, comfort your infant verbally as well as physically. If your child has been having sleep problems for over a week, a doctor can prescribe medicine to soothe the inflammation and provide at least temporary relief.
Toddlers (Nine to Eighteen Months)
Establish a Good Bedroom Environment: A night-light or an open door always makes toddlers feel more secure. Keep the temperature of the bedroom around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. A room that is too hot or too cold can interfere with normal sleep patterns.
Reassure and Comfort: This is the age when separation anxiety first occurs. As a result, many children attempt to delay their bedtimes by making persistent demands for your presence. Rocking an infant creates a soothing rhythm conducive to sleep. However, it’s a good idea to leave the bedroom even if your child is still awake. This way you avoid establishing a pattern of dependence that can lead to the child’s having problems falling asleep later on.
Provide a Surrogate Parent: Encourage nighttime attachment to a doll or stuffed animal. Upon awakening in the middle of the night your child will feel comforted by the presence of this familiar toy.
Preschoolers (Two to Five Years)
Encourage naps: An early-afternoon daytime nap can prevent irritability in the late afternoon when the effects of any sleep deprivation would be most evident.
Establish bedtime rituals: Bedtime rituals instill a feeling of security in a small child. You decide the bedtime, but let your child decide which pajamas to wear, what story to read, or what lullabies to hear.
Avoid nightmares: Nightmares are bad dreams that seem to happen fairly often at this age. Don’t let your child watch scary movies, especially those involving children; at this young age, kids still have difficulty separating fantasy from reality.
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