Congratulations! You've made it through the worst of the sleepless nights and are ready to move into establishing a bedtime routine for baby. A full night of sleep is within your reach!
By now, your baby's internal clock has kicked in, and he can differentiate between day and night. He should be on the way toward an established sleep pattern. During this time, babies need an average of 14 hours of sleep per day: At 4 months, a baby can go eight hours at night without a feeding; by 5 months, he can sleep for 10 or 11 hours straight. Babies will sleep four to five hours during the day, spread out over three naps. At 6 months, babies need an average of 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, and 3.5 hours of daytime naps spread over two to three naps.
Time to Make the Move?
This is usually the stage where a baby becomes too big for the bassinet and is moved to his crib, preferably in his own room where he can sleep without interruption. But what if you've been using a cosleeper or bedside crib? "If you find that you like the idea of cosleeping but everybody is tired all the time -- if it's all 'co-' and no 'sleep' -- consider whether it's time to make a change," says Kim West, aka "The Sleep Lady" and author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight. And don't feel bad if you've decided sleeping in one room is ultimately not right for you. "It's hard to be a wonderful, responsive, cheerful parent if you are constantly fighting to keep your eyes open, and prolonged exhaustion can be a risk factor for depression," West says.
Children crave routine, so it's important to have an established bedtime for baby. "Once that internal clock kicks in, you'll notice the baby has a preference for when he wants to go to sleep," says Nadav Traeger, M.D, director of pediatric sleep medicine at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center. And you know that "witching hour" that so many new moms talk about? It usually occurs in the evenings, and the primary reason for it is that the baby is tired. So if your baby gets fussy around 6 p.m., start getting him ready for bed at 5:30 so that he's already dozing off before the crankiness begins.
Don't Downplay Naps
According to West, the 30-minute catnap simply won't suffice anymore. "At this stage, napping is all about length and predictability," she says. "Nap training is hard for parents. Babies, like adults, simply have trouble sleeping when it's not dark. In addition, babies aren't yet good at helping themselves switch gears from active to restful. They fight it off because they would much rather stay up to play, explore, and be with you." But if a baby doesn't nap well during the day, he'll eventually become overtired and overstimulated -- making it harder to get him to bed at night. Ideally, 4- and 5-month-old babies should nap for 90 minutes or longer for two of the three naps (the third one can be shorter); 6-month-olds should nap 1.5 to two hours twice a day (the third, shorter nap is now optional). West also recommends having the baby nap in his crib -- not the car seat, stroller, or swing.
Recognize Sleep Signals
Your baby will send some pretty clear signs that she's ready for sleep. "I often tell parents to become sensitive to their child's personal sleep signals," says Marc Weissbluth, M.D. a pediatrician and author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. "This means that you should capture that magic moment when the child is tired, ready to sleep, and easily falls asleep. The magic moment is a slight quieting, a slight staring off, and a hint of calmness." Other signals include yawning, rubbing her eyes, and losing interest in other people or her toys. The key is to put Baby to bed before she becomes so tired that crying, fussing, or a tantrum starts.
Start Sleep Training
We all wake up several times throughout the night. While adults simply roll over and go back to sleep, many babies expect you to come into the room to help them doze off again. It's important that your baby learns to self-soothe so that she can get herself back to sleep. From letting the baby cry for periods of time until she fall asleep (Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber, M.D.) using a no-tears method (The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley, M.D.), or finding something between (Dr. Weissbluth's Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child), it's really up to you which one you go with. "Think about your baby's temperament and what she can handle," Dr. Traeger says. Still not sure? Consult your pediatrician, who has heard feedback from patients, and might even have experience with her own kids!
If you haven't already, start cutting out the middle-of-the-night feedings. "You want to really focus on meeting the baby's nutritional needs during the day so he doesn't eat at night," West says. "He should be either sleeping through the night or eating only once at night." To accomplish this goal, West recommends cluster feeding, which is more frequent feedings in the late afternoon or early evening. "This might help calm him, enhance his evening sleep, and also reassure you at night that he is getting enough food," she says.
Stamping Out Separation Anxiety
It first peaks at around 6 months, and it increases when Baby is overtired. Your baby might fight to go down for naps and bedtime -- and wake up several times throughout the night -- in order to be with you. Helping your child to self-soothe will can ease this problem. "A 'lovey,' a special stuffed animal or blanket and sometimes called a 'transitional object' can be a useful tool to ease separation anxiety and weaken other sleep-disrupting nighttime habits," West says.
Your Baby's Changing Sleep Routine
Learn more about your baby's ever-changing sleep habits:
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