I often get calls from parents with babies who are younger than six months old. I’m honest with them and explain that most babies under six months of age truly need their parents to comfort them. Research states that such young babies just haven’t developed the coping skills they need to sleep without any intervention.
However, many parents want to do something to maximize sleep for their families and start to develop some healthy sleep habits. If that’s your case, there are some gentle things that you can do without negatively impacting your child’s brain development or parent/child attachment and still help your child feel safe and secure.
- Focus on bedtime. Because of the way sleep develops, babies often take their longest stretch of sleep, immediately following when they are put down for the night. This makes bedtime the easiest place to start to teach your child the skill of falling asleep independently. You can do this by having a predictable pre-bed environment and routine and placing your child down to sleep awake when possible.
- Prevent overtiredness. Most parents know the saying, “Sleep begets sleep” and it’s true. Each time that a baby’s body gets ready to sleep and they don’t, their brain sends them a wake-up call that’s the equivalent of a shot of espresso. The more times they miss an opportunity to sleep, the more wired they become and the harder it is for them to relax when they are ready. To avoid this cycle of fatigue, help them sleep whenever necessary.
- Expose them to fresh air and sunlight. Not only will this help you get a jump on regulating your baby’s circadian rhythm (the times that he is most awake and most sleepy during the course of the day), but it will can also help provide a sensory-rich environment which provides fuel for brain development.
- Look for extra times to bond during the day. Babies can wake up more than necessary if they are craving some extra bonding time with their mom or dad. Make sure that your child is getting lots of opportunity to snuggle, engage, and interact during the day so they don’t seek a rendezvous at 3 a.m