Establishing Healthy Sleep Habits for Baby

You can establish healthy sleep habits in your babies from the very beginning.  In those first few months the more you learned and sooner you started to encourage healthy sleep for your baby, the better you will be in the long run.  I remember what it was like to bring your new baby home; mind you it wasn’t that long ago for me.  I was marveling at my new baby girl, completely in love, totally in awe, and totally not expecting how sleep deprived I was going to be in about 2 months!  I needed help!  There were so many resources readily available about pregnancy, labour, breastfeeding or bottle feeding, but where was the information about sleep?  Unless you went out and looked for it, you just couldn’t find it.

I needed to know, when, and where, and how, when it came to my baby’s sleep needs.  So I’m writing this for you.  I hope I can answer those questions for you.  Those questions that I struggled to find the answer to.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

First Month – Enjoy the Ride

You come home from the hospital and now what??  Luckily in the very beginning especially the first 1-2 weeks there isn’t much you can do or should do.  This is your honeymoon period!  Enjoy it!  This is where your baby will sleep all the time, anywhere at all, and life is good.  At 1 to 8 weeks old, you’re baby hasn’t matured yet in regards to sleep, you’ll notice that sleep is very unorganized, there are no patterns, and day/night confusion.  This is okay!  It’s how it should be and unfortunately there isn’t much you can do about it.  This is your time to spoil your baby.  Yay!  You still want to encourage healthy sleep, because it’s always the best, so you need to do whatever it takes to get the baby to sleep.  At this point your babies biological sleep rhythms don’t exist, you can’t create a routine yet and you don’t have to worry about creating bad habits.  Wipe brow.  Phew!

Social Smiles – First Sleep Milestone

You’re first sleep milestone comes around 6-8 weeks of age.  This is when night sleep starts to become a bit more organized.  The longest stretch of sleep becomes more predictable in the evening hours, usually 4-6 hours long.  Something to watch out for that will help you determine you’re in that stage, is look out for your baby to start with their social smiles.  This is when he looks at you and you know that he acknowledges that you are present, and smiles at you.  That first smile is the best!

We can now work on the components of healthy sleep we do have control over – yay!

Crib Sleep is The Best Sleep

While it’s still early to enforce a consistent day-to-day routine, there are little things you can do with your child to encourage healthy sleep now and prepare them to be rock star sleepers in the future.  You want to start being consistent in where your baby is going to sleep.  You’ll notice at this stage that your baby doesn’t sleep as well in louder environments then he did as a baby.  If you aren’t planning on co-sleeping or continuing co-sleeping at this point, now is a great time to start encouraging healthy sleep, and at this age you can start to place your child to sleep in his crib, in a darker and quieter setting, as much as possible.  Remember at this age you can’t create any bad habits, but it’s always important to get your child familiar with the cribs surroundings as early as possible.  The only way he’ll get used to his crib is to be consistently in it.  That being said though if a swing or car seat sleep is what get’s the job done that day, then go for it.  That’s okay…for now.

Watch Those Drowsy Signs

Another component towards healthy sleep is to start watching out for your baby’s cues and through those cues encourage his sleep routine. At this age babies shouldn’t be up for more then an hour or two in between sleeps.  This is a great rough guide for you to follow.  At around 45 minutes to an hour you need to watch for your baby’s drowsy cues.  He could start zoning out, rubbing his eyes, pulling his ears, or turning his head from side to side.  Every child has its own set of drowsy signals so you need to learn your baby’s.  When you see these signs see if your child will put himself to sleep.  This is great start to teaching your child to self soothe, a skill that you will want to encourage as early as possible.  At his age if he can’t put himself to sleep, it’s okay.  He’s still young.  Self-soothing skills don’t really mature until at least 12 weeks of age.  This is when you can step in with your own soothing routine or sleeping cues to help prepare your baby for sleep.

Remember the goal at this point is to relax and soothe your baby, not to necessarily put your baby to sleep, that is his job.  Your soothing methods, or “cues” could be rocking, singing, nursing, bottle feeding, or a combination of these.  This soothing process doesn’t need to take very long.  This is the start to sleep training and you are starting to respect your child’s need to sleep by anticipating when he needs to go to sleep.  Learning to recognize the drowsy signs, developing a rough sleep routine at this point will avoid your baby from becoming overtired.

At this age there really aren’t any strict rules.  We want him to be as consistently rested as possible throughout the day.  So while you can start having him practice to self soothe, if you have to take over, it’s okay.  Don’t get discouraged.  This is the time you are both practicing.  Sleep at this point is still unorganized with no pattern and naps vary in duration, with some long and some short.

Overall I want to encourage a general healthy attitude about sleep.  I hope to give you the confidence you need to make the right decision.  This information will be great tools for you to learn now, and practice when you need it.

Alanna McGinn is an Infant and Toddler Sleep Consultant and Founder of Good Night Sleep Site.  She is a mom of 3 (1 + twins!) and is committed to helping families with their baby and toddler sleep needs.  http://www.goodnightsleepsite.com

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