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Sleeping Baby

Getting Your Baby to Sleep in Two "Easy" Steps

In the beginning, most babies do not know how to settle themselves and go to sleep without your help (see The Newborn Sleep Schedule). When it is time for bed, many parents find themselves rocking or feeding their baby to sleep.
Unfortunately, as babies grow older, these bedtime tricks may become part of a routine that will become increasingly difficult to keep up. Before you know what has happened, you might find yourself performing these same tricks four, five, or even six times a night.
To create a new sleep pattern for your baby (and you!), you need to accomplish two steps.
  1. Find and take advantage of the drowsy sleep stage
  2. Help your baby to get through the active/light sleep stage without you.
By now you know when your baby is ready for bed. You should aim to have him completely ready for bed by the time he is displaying all of the "I'm ready to sleep" cues. That means, he's been fed, has been washed up, and is in his jammies. Once all of that is done and he's showing signs that he's ready for bed, this is the moment to put him down to sleep on his own.
The goal is to let your baby learn to fall asleep on his own. This is usually a lot easier said than done. The reason most parents find themselves unable to put their drowsy baby down to sleep in the beginning is because doing so often starts a crying fit. This prompts activities that prevent the tears, such as rocking, bouncing, and even driving.

Learning New Tricks

Now it is time to break this grueling routine and create a new routine that works for everyone. Putting your baby down while he is drowsy (and not yet sleeping), in theory, is easy to do. Walking away from your baby while he starts to cry is a very difficult thing to do, but is sometimes necessary.
For some babies, the crying may slow down and eventually stop as they tucker themselves out. For others, it could go on for a lot longer than you had imagined. The practice of letting a baby "cry it out" is smart in theory, but awful in reality.
When setting your baby down to sleep while he is awake, he may begin to cry. If that happens, wait a few minutes before going back in. If his cries continue beyond 10 minutes, try coming back into the room to:
  • Reassure and soothe him, but don't pick him up.
  • Make sure that your baby has everything he needs -- blankie, binkie, etc., and that nothing has been tossed out of the crib.
  • Reassure yourself -- your baby is crying, but otherwise is healthy and fine.
Do this three times. Then wait awhile and repeat when you feel you need to. The idea is to let your baby know that you are still there for him, but to not drive yourself crazy in the process. Essentially, you are both learning a new routine, which is not an easy task.
After a few days of this new routine, your baby should take less and less time to settle himself. Not only will you find that putting him down to sleep is much easier, but the times that he wakes up in the middle of the night are nothing like they used to be. It may include a few cries, maybe a whine or two, and then you have a sleeping baby without jumping through the hoops you used to!
(To learn how many hours of daytime sleep your growing infant needs, read Nap Time.)
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