It’s an exciting time when parents bring their newborn home for the first time, but things quickly can get overwhelming when they discover their precious baby is a night owl. Or an early riser. Or both.
Krames StayWell, a patient education organization that provides educational information for hospitals and others, stated on Hendrick Medical Center’s website that many parents are surprised to learn that most babies do not know how to put themselves to sleep. Those infants need assistance from their parents in developing this skill.
Establishing a routine is important, said Tasha Baxter, mother of a 5-year-old and a 4-year-old. The Nolan County resident said the best thing she did in helping her children learn how to fall asleep at a regular time each night was to establish a routine — which might have included a bath, a bottle or nursing, then rocking and reading to them.
Continuing with a routine has helped as her children grow older.
“As long as I stick to a schedule, they usually don’t get up after I put them to bed,” she said.
Now that they are older, she will let them watch a short cartoon before bed to settle them down. She also said that a little snack is not a bad idea if the child is hungry, because it’s difficult to sleep when one’s stomach is growling.
Abilene resident Janell McWhorter said that reading to her children — then her grandchildren — helped them settle down, as did singing to them while rocking them, activities that also can be relaxing to the parent. She said also she would rub her children’s backs and pray with them, and that her children enjoyed these calming activities even into their preteen years.
Krames StayWell noted that putting your baby down before he falls asleep is important in helping the child develop the skill to fall asleep on his own. Establishing a good bedtime routine to settle the child, then putting the baby to bed while he is calm yet awake, is best for long-term good sleeping habits, experts said.
It’s also best not to let your child get too cranky before beginning the bedtime routine, experts said. Watch for signs of sleepiness or sleep readiness such as rubbing eyes, yawning, looking away or fussing. Overtired and/or overstimulated children can be more difficult to settle at bedtime. Swaddling can help calm some overstimulated infants.
In his book “On Becoming Babywise,” Garry Ezzo outlines the need to get a child on a good feeding schedule to get them on a good sleeping schedule. His advice includes making sure a child eats fully at meals instead of snacking. He said he believes that if a child is fuller, he will sleep better and longer.
Naps are important, too.
According to Pamela Stock with American Baby magazine, most babies can sleep for about six hours at a time by the time they are 3 months old, and regular napping is important to that formula. Without naps, a child can be too tired and cranky to settle down at night.
Schedule naps to fit into the child’s routine, such as at midmorning and in the afternoon. Putting the child down for a nap close to the same times every day will help develop a schedule.
Sometimes schedules get out of whack when other children and activities come into play, but adhering as close to your baby’s schedule as possible will help the child develop good sleep habits.
“Stick to your baby’s sleep routine whenever possible,” advises the March of Dimes website.
The website also recommends planning ahead if your baby’s routine may need a temporary change for travel or events. “Try to get back to his schedule and routine as soon as possible,” the website says.