Sleep is important for all of us, including our children. Sleep really impacts how well kids’ brains function. Although most of us think sleep is automatic, the truth is that we must teach our babies to sleep just like we have to teach them manners later on.
The good news is, we can help our children learn good sleep habits from as young as five to six months, which they’ll carry through into toddlerhood and beyond.
Start by avoiding these common sleep disruptors, and always seek professional advice when in doubt.
Feeding to sleep
Although you want to ensure that your baby doesn’t go to sleep hungry, many sleep experts agree that it’s important not to rely on feeding to get your little one to sleep, and, in fact, there should be a break in between the two, so that children don’t associate feeding with sleeping.
If you always breastfeed right before putting your little one down, she’ll more than likely become dependent on you and the breast to get back to sleep in the middle of the night.
Napping on the go
Your baby should nap in her crib as much as possible. “If she often falls asleep in a stroller or a car seat, she’s going to associate motion with sleep and have a hard time nodding off without it.
Too much awake time
If you’re dealing with multiple night wake-ups or your child’s up too early in the morning (before or about 5am), she could be overtired from an inappropriate wake time (the total time she’s awake from one sleep to the next, including feeding, eating, playing and nappy changes).
To avoid this, parents should watch for signals that indicate that your baby is getting tired, in conjunction with the awake-time schedule.
Here’s a sample schedule:
- One to two months: awake time of 40-60 minutes.
- Two to three months: awake time of 60-90 minutes.
- Four to six months: awake time of 90 minutes to two hours.
- Six to 12 months: awake time of two to three and half hours, depending on nap lengths.
“It’s also important to watch for sleep cues,” advises Una. “Younger babies tend to suck on their fists to soothe themselves, whereas older babies may rub their eyes or pull on their ears to indicate that they’re tired,” she adds. The aim is not to allow your little one to become overtired and to stick to a regular bedtime and naptime schedule.
Not feeding enough during the day
When you’re ready to introduce solids to your baby, at about six months, don’t be afraid to offer a variety of foods from all the essential food groups, including protein, fats, carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables. (Always speak to your paediatrician first if you suspect your child has any food allergies.)
One common mistake most parents make is to only offer breast milk during the day, which often results in a hungry baby before bed