If there was one question I hated hearing after my daughter was born, it was this: "Is she sleeping through the night yet?" Every time I said, "no," it was with a sense of shame. Was I doing something wrong here? Why wasn't my baby meeting everyone's expectations? Were the expectations too high?
Baby sleep is one of the most confusing things for parents. Are they getting enough? Are they getting too much? And why won't the baby just stop crying and sleep already?
I've been there, done that, but frankly it's all such a haze of sleepless nights that I have no real advice to give. Which is why I turned to Dr. Rachel Moon, a pediatrician and safe sleep expert, and author of the new book, SLEEP: What Every Parent Needs to Know, published this month by the American Academy of Pediatrics. I wanted to know: why is baby sleep so hard on parents and what the heck are we doing wrong?
Here's what Dr. Moon had to say about baby sleep mistakes ... and how to get some real shut eye:
What is the biggest mistake parents make at bedtime with baby?
The most common thing that I see is that parents rock or hold the baby until s/he is asleep, then move the baby to the crib. The baby then becomes used to falling asleep while being held or rocked, and does not learn to fall asleep on his/her own. When the baby wakes up in the middle of the night, the baby will need to be rocked/held again in order to go back to sleep.
How do we correct this?
To correct this, you need to place your baby in the crib when s/he is drowsy, but still slightly awake.
Parents are always concerned about "sleeping through the night," but what does that really mean? For a baby, how many hours of sleep is "sleeping through the night"?
Sleeping through the night really means five to six hours at a time without waking an adult up.
Is there a point when parents shouldn't expect babies to sleep through?
No 2-week-old should sleep through the night. A 2-week-old needs to wake every two to three hours to feed.
Is there a point by which every baby/toddler SHOULD be able to sleep through?
Most babies will be able to sleep five to six hours at a time by 6 months of age, and some will be able to sleep for longer stretches.
What are your best tips for encouraging babies to sleep soundly or longer?
First of all, parents have to have realistic expectations. You don't want a young baby to sleep for long periods of time without waking. If they're sleeping too soundly, that may not be healthy. You want tiny awakenings periodically through the night, but the baby should be able to go back to sleep.
Different things work for different babies. For some babies, white noise or some motion helps. For others, a pacifier will help.
Should babies have a bedtime or should it be fluid?
I think that a routine is good for everyone. But you don't want to be rigid; if you need to change the time occasionally, that's fine. But in general, a routine is good.
What's a good "routine" for getting baby to sleep?
Again, it depends on the child. You want a progression that will help the child wind down. So definitely no TV or video games for at least one hour before bedtime. I like snack, bath, put on pajamas, teeth brushing, stories, and then bed.
You talk about not waking a sleeping baby. How long should parents allow a baby to sleep before they get worried? Will a baby wake up if they're hungry?
It depends on the baby and the age. In the first month, the baby should probably wake up every two to four hours. Most babies will wake up when they're hungry, but some do not. If you have a baby in the first month of life that is sleeping for more than five to six hours at a time, you should ask your pediatrician about it. This may be a problem.
'Fess up -- are you making baby sleep "mistakes"?
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