How To Solve Baby Sleep Problems

Crying baby

As any new parent can tell you, "sleeping like a baby" doesn't mean what you think it does. Babies are notoriously bad sleepers and exhausted parents everywhere are willing to try anything to get a good night's sleep. If you find yourself pacing the floor in the wee hours of the night trying to convince your baby that nighttime is meant for sleeping, here are a few tips to help you solve your baby's sleep problems:

  1. If you are concerned that your baby doesn't sleep normally, start with a visit to your pediatrician. Although there is usually nothing wrong, occasionally a sleepless baby may be suffering from an ear infection or other ailment that keeps her from getting a restful sleep.

  2. Consider the age of your baby. Normal sleep patterns are in a constant state of change, so what is considered typical at three months and at nine months are very different. Here are a few guidelines based on age:
    • From birth through about two months, your baby will probably sleep approximately 16 hours each day, but most of that sleep will be in about two hour stretches. By three months, she will likely sleep for about 14 hours a day and may be able to sleep three or four hours at a time. It is not uncommon for her to have her days and nights mixed up, though, so this is a good time to begin to teach her that nighttime is for sleeping. During daylight hours, play actively with her, keep her environment bright, and do not make attempts to keep things quiet. As evening draws near, dim the lights and provide a calmer, quieter environment. For middle of the night feedings, try not to talk too much to your baby, just take care of her needs quietly and then return her to her crib.
    • From three to six months, take advantage of your baby's increasing ability to sleep for longer periods of time. Establish routine times for naps and bedtime. Try to lay your baby down when he is sleepy, but not completely asleep. This will help to teach him to fall asleep on his own; the sooner he learns this most valuable skill, the sooner it will be that you can have an uninterrupted night's sleep! Six month old babies are physically capable of sleeping through the night, but depending on the habits that have been established by that time, they may not choose to.
    • From six to nine months, many babies, even those who had previously mastered sleeping through the night, begin to wake one or more times overnight. Teething can make babies of this age uncomfortable and this is also a period when many babies first experience separation anxiety. If your baby wakes during the night and her cries are insistent, do go and comfort her, but resist the urge to stay with her until she falls asleep. If you do so on a regular basis, she will lose her ability to fall asleep on her own. Remember those first few sleepless months?!
    • From nine to twelve months, your baby should be able to sleep well again, but when he does wake up, he may sit up or pull himself up in the crib and want to play. Most parents find that if they ignore the baby's nighttime requests, he will soon learn to fall back to sleep. Also, he should be on a well-established two nap a day routine, which will help him to regulate his sleep.
    • Sometime between your baby's first birthday and when she turns 18 months old, she will probably be ready to take one long afternoon nap rather than two shorter naps each day. The transition can be a bit tricky since she is accustomed to sleeping in the morning, so expect a crabby baby in the late morning for the first week or so after you make the transition. If you find that your baby is not sleeping well at night, increase, rather than decrease, her afternoon nap time. Many parents mistakenly assume that if a baby cannot sleep at night, it means that they are sleeping too much during the day. Most often, however, the opposite is true. Overtired babies have a lot of trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, so be sure that your toddler is getting a solid afternoon snooze.
    • After 18 months, many children will object to going to bed, not because they aren't tired, but simply because they are trying to exert some control over their lives. This is perfectly natural, and there are ways to get your child into bed without an argument. Since you cannot give in and allow your child to stay up and watch the late, late show, offer him some control by giving him choices about his bedtime routine. Ask him if he'd prefer to brush his teeth before or after he gets into his pajamas. Let him choose a bedtime story. Give him every opportunity to make a few choices of his own and he will be far less likely to argue with you over getting into bed.
  3. For babies of all ages, it is important to provide an environment conducive to good sleep. Dress your baby in light clothing and keep the room a little on the cool side. Parents often over bundle babies, which not only makes the baby uncomfortable, but increases their SIDS risk.
  4. Premature babies often take a bit longer to sleep through the night than their full-term peers. Allow an extra month or two for preemies to catch up to other babies in their age group.
  5. Dr Richard Ferber, Director of The Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders in Boston, devised a progressive method of teaching your baby to sleep through the night. In short, Dr. Ferber recommends putting babies over six months old to bed when they are wide awake and then gradually stretching out the time that you take to respond to your baby's nighttime cries. Dr. Ferber's methods are somewhat controversial to some parents, while others find that this method quickly teaches their baby to fall asleep without adult intervention. If you'd like to learn more about Dr. Ferber's theories about pediatric sleep disorders, you can pick up a copy of his book, Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems.


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Another reason keeping a baby awake at night is infant colic. Some babies don't like being swaddled, so swaddling irritates them. Sleeping position also matters: my son has been preferring to sleep on his stomach since he was born, and I have not resisted that, despite the SIDS risk, because he had extremely high neck control since birth, and could easily lift his head and turn side to side at two weeks; the only time I slept well was when he was on his stomach (he'd wake up within half an hour on his back). Some babies fall asleep like magic when breastfed. Burping them before putting them to bed is also a must. Pacifiers also work for most babies, to soothe them to sleep.

By Sadaf Farooqi