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Parent's Corner

Sweet Dreams: Getting Your Baby to Sleep

By: Pamela Brill

Sleep. It's one of those basic life necessities that we tend to take for granted…until we're suddenly missing it. As a new mom, chances are it's something you're probably not getting enough of these days—and something you envy in your ever-slumbering newborn.

Whether you've been blessed with a good sleeper or are dealing with a colicky one, it helps to know how to develop healthy sleep habits for your child. Below, experts share their secrets for setting up a sleep-friendly nursery and getting your baby to sleep on her own—all of which translates into more shut-eye for both of you.

How Many Zzzz's Are Enough?

If it seems like your baby is asleep more than she's awake, don't be surprised. According to the experts, newborns log an average of 15-18 hours of rest in one day.  "The average newborn sleeps much of the day and night for the first weeks," says Carole Arsenault, author of The Baby Nurse Bible and founder of Boston Baby Nurse. "They will usually wake for feedings and have occasional short periods of wakefulness, but will quickly tire and fall back asleep."

In the beginning, newborns experience day/night confusion. "Their sleep patterns are not consistent and they do not sleep for long stretches yet," notes Whitney Roban, a New York-based pediatric sleep therapist. Once a baby reaches the six-week mark, they often begin sleeping in more predictable cycles.

Routine-Ready

The six-week mark is an ideal time to begin implementing a sleep schedule. "At that age, most babies need to nap every 1 ˝- 2 hours, so try putting your baby down before she becomes overtired," recommends Roban.

But, she cautions, don't expect your little one to take to this new routine right away. "You may not see consistent sleep patterns emerge before 16 weeks," she notes, adding that you should put your baby down before the two-hour mark if she is still taking cat naps.

In fact, consistent nighttime sleep may take even longer than regular daytime naps: typically at 5-6 months. Therefore, six weeks is also an advisable benchmark for establishing bedtime. "It's a good time to start implementing an early bedtime instead of keeping your baby up late in the hopes she will sleep a longer stretch at night," notes Roban.

Nap-Friendly Nursery

To make your child's room conducive to a good night's sleep, be sure the nursery is calm, dark, quiet and safe. Be sure the crib has a standard set-up—mattress and crib sheet—and no added bells and whistles, like bumpers or toys that make noise. For lighting, Roban suggests a dimmer switch and a nightlight "so you don't have to turn on the lights if you need to enter the room during the night." And be sure place your baby on her back without the use of any pillows or bumpers for safety reasons.

As to whether or not to rock your baby to sleep and then transfer her to her crib, experts agree: always put your child down awake to foster independent sleeping. "If a baby is consistently falling asleep at the breast, in your arms or in a swing, she will never learn to fall asleep on her own," says Arsenault. "This is crucial since babies, as do adults, will wake several times during the night. If they do not know how to fall asleep on their own, they will not be good sleepers."

For Crying Out Loud

Because not all babies sleep easily, new parents may fret over whether or not to pick up a sobbing infant or let them learn how to self-soothe. In their professional experiences, both Arsenault's and Roban's clients have utilized the "cry it out" Ferber method. However, Roban notes even greater success with Dr. Marc Weissbluth's extinction method, lauding its shorter duration. "It usually takes only 2-3 nights for success, and parents are more likely to remain consistent with a method in which progress is seen in a short amount of time.

 "The key to any sleep training success, no matter which method you use, is 100-percent consistency," she adds. "If you are committed to your child's sleep, you will have a very well-rested family for years to come."