Young babies have different
sleep needs and habits. Some babies sleep for 20 hours per day, while others need only 12 hours. By six months, your child should have a fairly predictable sleeping pattern that includes one or two naps during the day and a good stretch of sleeping at night. How you react when your baby wakes up helps establish sleeping habits that may last for years.
Between birth and seven months, your baby develops an emotional attachment with her (or his) primary caregivers.
If she has been cared for in a sensitive, accepting, responsive way, she will feel secure. Your baby needs you to respond when she cries and to calm her before she becomes very upset. This is how she learns to trust people, which helps her form healthy relationships with others.
The next six months
Many factors can disturb your baby’s sleep pattern, such as teething, minor illness or any other changein her life. Bad sleeping habits formed early in your baby’s life can be difficult to change later on. Sometimes a new physical development – such as learning to crawl – can disturb your baby’s sleep. Your baby may be excited about this new skill and find it difficult to settle down. Sleeping patterns can be disturbed when your baby is being weaned from the breast, too. Even
adjusting to new milk or food can disturb your baby’s sleep. Going into the hospital, a parent returning to work, or starting daycare are all exciting activities that can throw off a sleeping routine.
Good vs. bad sleep routines
The following habits can cause sleeping difficulties, sooner or later:
Letting your baby fall asleep at the breast or with a bottle. Holding or rocking your
baby to sleep. Letting your baby hold on to your hair, finger, nose, etc., when falling asleep. After your baby gets used to going to sleep in these ways, it can take months or years for her to overcome this habit.
Falling asleep alone
Make soothing sounds when you put your baby down for a nap or to bed at night, such as singing or humming, or speak softly to her. Make sure there are interesting objects to look at in your baby’s room. Let your baby cry for five to 10 minutes before going into her room. Only go into her room if she becomes very upset. Install a night light or leave your child’s bedroom door open a little bit. Almost all babies make a fuss about going to bed at one time or another. A pleasant, consistent bedtime ritual can make all the difference.
Starting and sticking with a routine
Try to make sure that early evening and bedtime is calm. Bathe your baby before
bed. Read a bedtime story or sing. Tell your baby, gently, but firmly, that it’s time
to sleep. Do not rock your baby or pick her up again unless she is very
upset. Going to sleep at the beginning of the night is a very important part of
your baby’s sleep routine. What you do if your baby wakes up is also important. Babies need you to respond when they cry, are hungry or get very upset. Sometimes babies wake briefly simply because they are sleeping lightly and can be soothed back to sleep without needing to be fed, picked up or rocked. Your voice and a gentle pat may help settle your baby if she wakes up. Go into the room only for a minute or so to say good night again – without picking her up. If your baby does not settle after you have left the room, call out to her so she
knows you’re still nearby. You must balance your baby’s need to be soothed
and reassured with the need for her to learn to comfort herself. Many parents allow their children sleep in bed with them. Although many experts disagree,
as long as this is a comfortable sleeping arrangement for all family members, this is fine.
Dr. Sarah Landy, PhD, is a psychologist at The Hincks/Dellcrest Centre and member of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto and Department of Psychology, York University