Before we get into the process of sleep training and how to help your baby sleep through the night, there are some important ground rules you should know that will help your baby get better sleep.
Infant Sleep Myths
There are several myths about a baby’s sleep which are prevalent among parents. Not only are these ideas ineffective, but they could actually be harmful:
Baby sleep myth #1: Giving rice in a baby bottle will help baby sleep better
Adding rice cereal to a bottle doesn’t actually help your baby sleep longer. This myth persists because babies begin sleeping longer through the night starting between eight weeks and four months old, which coincides with the age at which many parents start giving cereal. However, recent guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics advise against this. It’s strongly recommended that parents do not rush solid foods (including rice cereal), and wait until their baby is at least 4 months old, since introducing solids earlier than this has been linked to an increase in diabetes, obesity, and other health problems for your child later on.
Baby sleep myth #2: It’s bad to let your baby be lulled to sleep while nursing or feeding
The reality is that it’s virtually impossible to keep an infant from nodding off during these times. Swaddled in your arms with a full belly of milk, a baby’s natural tendency is to get sleepy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a baby falling asleep in your arms, and it doesn’t hurt their sleep habits one bit.
Baby sleep myth #3: You should let your baby cry themselves to sleep
A number of parents subscribe to the no-affection theory of sleep, under the mistaken premise that giving their baby attention before bed or when they wake up crying at night will teach a youngster to become over-dependent. But letting a baby cry themselves to sleep is just cruel, and this method is more likely to backfire than it is to help your child develop healthy sleep habits.
As Dr. Harvey Karp, M.D. writes: “It’s just wrong to tell parents and caregivers not to cuddle their baby to sleep. You’re not spoiling your baby when you do this – you’re teaching her that you love her and that she can depend on you.” (Karp, 2012, p. 64) It’s ok to let her fuss for a few minutes to allow her the opportunity to fall back asleep on her own, but you should never ignore a distressed baby or promote a bedtime ritual that involves a sense of abandonment and a stream of tears.
Basic Tips for Putting Your Baby to Sleep
Most babies have little trouble finding the time for sleep. But when an infant is fussy, they won’t be content for you to merely lay them down in bed and expect them to nod off. They need some sort of calming stimulation. Try these methods.
- A simple thing such as humming to your baby while you stroke her thigh can put her to sleep.
- Caress her torso in slow circles across her body, with one hand doing the rubbing and the other holding her fingers rocking, walking with your baby, or patting him on the back also worked.
- Put your infant in his car seat carrier and rock it back and forth while singing to him.
- Utilizing pacifiers.
- Keep in mind that newborns tend to doze most easily when given gentle, continuous stimulation. Use background noise such as the TV, soft music, etc.
- “Sometimes you may think your baby is waking up when she’s actually going through a phase of very light slumber. She could be squirming, startling, fussing, or even crying – and still be asleep. Or she may be awake but on the verge of drifting off again if left alone. Don’t make the mistake of trying to comfort her during these moments; you’ll only awaken he further and delay her going back to sleep. Instead, if you let her fuss and even cry for a few minutes, she’ll learn to get herself to sleep without relying on you. Some babies actually need to let off energy by crying in order to settle into sleep or rouse themselves out of it. As much as fifteen to twenty minutes of fussing won’t do your infant any harm. Just be sure she’s not crying out of hunger or pain, or because her diaper is wet.” – S. P. Shelov (1998, p. 230) Personally, I think 15 to 20 minutes is a little too long for a baby to cry it out on their own, but the basic premise remains the same: a little fussing and crying will not harm your little one.
- If it’s too dark in the room, consider adding a nightlight. Infants draw comfort from familiar surroundings. If your baby wakes up in the night and it’s too dark to see, she may become agitated. Having enough light to see her familiar surrounding will often help her to fall back asleep.
- Consider sleeping with the door open, especially if your baby beds down in another room.
- Some parents find that strapping their baby in the car and driving them around the block a few times will put them to sleep. The sound and vibrations of the engine can be soothing.
Be careful not to do anything you don’t want to repeat. Whatever methods you use to get you baby to sleep at night, it’s best to avoid things that are especially labor intensive or exhausting. If your baby comes to expect a 20 minute cuddle or a trip to your bed whenever she cries, she’ll soon come to depend upon these responses when she wakes at night, and will struggle to go back to sleep without them.
Keep your objective in mind as you struggle through these nights. It’s better to develop healthy sleep habits you can live with them than it is to start a pattern that’s excessively parent-intensive because it’s the easy thing to do on that particular night. Taking the ‘easy’ approach often leads to much more pain later on.