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Children's Health

Helping Babies Sleep Through the Night

At birth, newborn babies have no clear sense of day and night. They wake as often as every hour to eat because their tummies hold very little, only one-half to one ounce of breast milk or formula. By two months, most healthy term babies no longer require night feedings and learn to sleep for 5-6 hour stretches. However, many infants and children have a return to night waking throughout the first 4-5 years of life, most often during periods of large changes in development, such as 9 months of age.

At nine months of age, babies learn that objects and people do not go away even when they can't be seen. When waking up during the night, the babies of responsive parents know that crying will bring a parent and possibly the opportunity to play and practice the many new skills learned at this age. Fortunately, this won't last forever, and there are many good tactics to discourage this behavior.

To help your baby learn to sleep through the night, try these research-tested strategies:

Step 1: Make daytime different from nighttime.
Fill the daytime with varied activities and play time. In contrast, make the time after dinner quiet and low key. Keep levels of noise, light, and play low when it's time to sleep.

Step 2: Have a bedtime routine.
Help your baby know it is time to sleep by having a simple bedtime routine and putting your baby to bed at the same time every night. As much as possible, perform nighttime activities in the same order each night (bath, pajamas, milk, story, bedtime). This routine doesn't have to be long and drawn out; it just has to put a baby's mind into "sleep mode." Bedtime should be in the early evening between 7:00 PM and 8:00 PM.

Step 3: Let your baby learn to fall asleep alone.
Babies need to learn to fall asleep on their own, without outside help. Avoid feeding or rocking your baby to sleep. Instead, put your baby to bed awake or drowsy. This allows your baby the chance to fall asleep by himself or herself. If your baby wakes and fusses a bit at night, wait several minutes before responding to give your baby the opportunity to quiet down and fall back asleep unassisted.

Step 4: Stick to it.
It may take 7-14 days for your baby to learn how to fall asleep alone after two months of age, when night feedings are no longer needed. By sticking to a pre-sleep routine, a regular bedtime, and a low level of response to fussing, your baby will learn to sleep at night.

For more information:

American Academy of Pediatrics
Family Education
Sleeping Through the Night, by Jodi A. Mindell.
The Baby Sleep Book, by William Sears, MD

References:
Coping with Crying
Sleeplessness, Night Awakening, and Night Crying in the Infant and Toddler

Created by:
Tiffany Scheibley, BS, RN
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Student
The Ohio State University
College of Nursing

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This article is a NetWellness exclusive.

Last Reviewed: Oct 07, 2008

Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University