Approximately 10%-15% of children between 4 months and 24 months of age have problems sleeping at night. They wake up and cry one or more times during the night in order to be fed or to receive attention from their parents. These incidents usually occur every night. In most instances, the baby has had the behavior since birth. If your child fits this description, the information presented here will help you understand the problem and take steps to establish a normal nighttime sleeping pattern.
What Causes Nighttime Awakening?
All children, especially during the first year of life, may awaken several times each night following dreams, but most can put themselves back to sleep. The ones who have not learned how to do this cry for a parent. If you provide too much attention (constant rocking, for example), the infant becomes dependent on you for returning to sleep.
If you play with your baby at these hours, he/she may want this kind of entertainment every night. These infants are known as trained night criers. The infants who demand to be fed as well as held are called trained night feeders. After 6 months of age, the normal separation fears of many infants are accentuated at bedtime and during the night. These children become fearful night criers.
Changing diapers during the night, allowing excessive daytime naps, and sleeping in the same room with the baby can contribute to all three types of sleep problems.
Trained Night Feeders
If your baby is fed during the night, deal with this problem first. From birth to 2 months of age, babies may awaken twice a night for feedings. Between 2 and 3 months, some babies may need one middle-of-the-night feeding. By 4 months of age, about 90% of infants can sleep more than eight consecutive hours without feeding. The remainder can learn to sleep through the night if you take the following steps:
With these measures, improvement should occur in about two weeks. It is important to start correcting the problem as early as possible. The older the child is, the longer it may take to break the habit.
Trained Night Criers
If your baby does not awaken for food but still has nighttime crying, respond briefly or not at all. Crying is not harmful and infants cannot get over this problem without some crying. When your baby awakens and cries, wait at least five minutes before going into the room. Infants should be taught to use their own resources to get back to sleep.
If the crying continues, you can go in, but do not stay longer than one minute. Act sleepy, whisper "Shhh, be quiet, everyone's sleeping," add a few reassuring comments, and give some gentle pats. Do not turn on the lights or remove your baby from the crib. Absolutely avoid rocking or playing with your baby, bringing him/her to your bed, or staying in the room for more than one minute. Most young infants will cry for 30 to 60 minutes and then fall asleep. If the crying persists, you may recheck your baby every 15 to 20 minutes for one minute or less each visit.
Fearful Night Criers
If your child sounds fearful, panics when you leave, cries until he/she vomits, or by past experience will cry nonstop for hours, go in immediately and reassure him/her. Stay as long as it takes to calm your baby, but do not lift him/her out of the crib. At the most, sit in a chair next to the crib with your hand on his/her body. Do not talk much, and leave the lights out. Leave for a few minutes every now and then to teach your child that separation is tolerable. Do the same thing at naptime and bedtime.
For separation fears, using a night-light (to offset fear of the dark) and leaving the bedroom door open (to offset fear of the parent being gone) may be helpful. During the day, respond to the child's fears with lots of hugs and comforting. Young babies may need more time being carried about in a front sling or backpack. Children of working mothers may need undivided time and cuddling in the evenings. Also, practice separation games like peekaboo, hide-and-seek, or chase me.
Steps To Take For All Types Of Sleep Problems
Whether your baby's problem is trained night feeding, trained night crying, or fearful night crying, the following measures should be helpful:
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