Wednesday, September 26th, 2007 at 3:24 pm in Babies & Tots.
Blankies, teddy bears and soul-wracking, relentless parental exhaustion are hallmarks of the baby years. And sleep deprivation is what turns perfectly intelligent moms and dads into zombies who will do anything – anything! – to get a few hours sleep. Naturally, the marketplace has responded. These days, you can hire sleep consultants, browse “sleep training” books by the hundreds, and buy all manner of products, from nightmare-prevention nightcaps to aromatherapy dollies – as grandmas ’round the world roll their eyes at the very thought. 2 a.m. feedings aren’t exactly new to the species, after all. But they’re still awfully painful while you’re going through them – we remember them well. The Times ran a big story on infant sleep training last year, but it’s such a classic issue, we’re reprinting the resources and tips section here …
SWEET DREAMS … and HOW TO GET THEM:
The amazing thing about babies is that although they sleep 14 to 18 hours a day, very few of those hours seem to be in the middle of the night. But a study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that nearly every baby sleep training method works, as long as parents are consistent. And, researchers said, the “drowsy but awake” method is by far the easiest on both baby and parents. In any case, pick one method that fits your family’s comfort level – and tolerance for tears – and stick to it.
NEWBORNS: It can take a newborn several weeks to sort out day and night (you can help by settling baby into a quiet, dark room at night), and six weeks to develop a sleeping pattern of sorts. Infants should sleep on their backs in a crib or bassinet that has been cleared of pillows, piles of stuffed animals and anything else that poses a smothering danger. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends against co-sleeping because of the potential SIDS risk.
BABIES: Make sure the nursery is dark or dimly lit, and a comfortable temperature. A too-warm baby is a fussy baby. Keep nighttime interactions to a minimum. Do not turn on lights, play peek-a-boo or flip on MTV while you nurse. And sacrilegious as it sounds, you don’t have to change diapers every time baby wakes up. And tempting as it is to let your baby fall asleep at the breast or bottle, it’s best to place him back in the crib or bassinet while he is still groggily awake, so he learns to fall asleep on his own. The “drowsy-but-awake” method helps eliminate sleep issues before they begin. Sleep consultant Kim West suggests waiting until baby’s arms and legs grow heavy and her sucking slows, then gently place her in her crib. On the “sleepiness scale” – 1 being wide awake and 10 out cold – that’s a drowsy 7. Turn down the baby monitor. Babies naturally awaken three to five times a night. Do not rush in at every whimper or snuffle – those are the sounds of a baby who’s either still asleep or trying to settle himself. Let him.
SCHEDULES: Set a sleep schedule for your baby at eight to 12 weeks, with bedtime and naptime at roughly the same time each day. Develop a bedtime ritual – feeding, bathing, lullabies or picture books. Maximize your own sleeping time by waking baby gently and doing one last feeding at 11 p.m. or just before you go to bed. Most infants start sleeping through the night – or enough of the night, six hours or more, that parents begin feeling sane again – when the babies hit the magic 12-pound mark. Sleep consultants say by seven months, most babies can sleep 11 to 12 hours.
ADDITIONAL TIPS: Counterintuitive though it is, a well-rested baby sleeps better at night. Over-fatigue causes sleep problems, say doctors, and hinders a baby’s ability to settle down at night. You and your spouse or partner are a team. Take turns, support each other – and make sure you discuss strategy during the day, not at 2 a.m. when everyone is tearful. And finally, think about sleep training as an evolving process, not a task to be checked off. When baby starts waking up at 3 a.m. again, it’s not that you failed. You’ve simply moved on to the next chapter. New teeth, stuffy noses, growth spurts and developmental milestones – such as learning to stand or talk – are all potential sleep disrupters. Be consistent. Keep the lights low. Pry baby’s panicked grip off the crib rail, gently bend his knees and help him lie down again. Murmur soothingly. It’s just a phase.
RESOURCES: Still need help? The Berkeley Parent Network has a large section on sleep issues, parent tips and strategies. Bananas, the Oakland-based child care resource and referral center, runs parenting workshops, including one on sleep issues. Visit BabyCenter.com for the lowdown on Ferber and other sleep training methods.