Tips to help babies sleep, keep parents happier

Posted at 1:20 PM, Jun 12, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-12 16:09:21-04

By Dr. Harvey Karp
(CNN) — According to a recent BabyCenter survey of 1,000 moms, exhaustion is their No. 1 complaint!

In fact, 29% of new moms can’t remember the last time they slept 8 hours. And the problem doesn’t just last a few months. One in three kids continues to fight sleep or wake up in the black of night… most nights.

Extreme fatigue is corrosive to the happiness of this time of life. Tired parents feel demoralized, angry, forgetful – and their health suffers too!

Exhaustion is a main trigger for postpartum depression (which affects 10 to 15% of moms and many dads). It also leads to breastfeeding failure, child abuse, unsafe sleep practices and car accidents. Poor sleep even changes your metabolism and makes moms and dads gain weight (even when you reduce your calories)!

Parents are desperate for help. Yet, too many of the sleep books on the shelves promote some tired old sleep myths and misinformation, including:

Babies need to sleep in a quiet room… wrong!

Never rock your baby to sleep… wrong!

Rice cereal promotes an infant’s sleep… wrong!

I tackled many of these misconceptions and offer parents and doctors a totally new understanding of the sleep needs of young children in my new book.

For example:

* Babies CAN be taught to sleep longer from the first weeks of life by using swaddling + a rumbly white noise, for all naps and nights.

* Letting your baby fall asleep in your arms is one of the sweetest joys of having a baby, but you should always wake your baby up – for 5 to 10 seconds – when you place him in bed.

It’s a useful technique that I call “wake and sleep.” The truth is that babies can be allowed to fall asleep in your arms, but when placed into be they should be jostled a bit or have the soles of their feet slightly scratched to rouse them. They don’t usually cry much because they have a tummy full of warm milk and they’re snuggly swaddled and have white noise playing.

So most babies just briefly look around for 5 to 10 seconds and then relax into slumber and that’s what you want to see!

Your little one is learning the basic skill of self-soothing without any holding, rocking,suckling. (Those sleep cues are very hard to wean later, but sound is very easy to wean! So it’s a great sleep cue for infants to help them fall back asleep in the dark of night.)

* Pick the best type of white noise. Some sounds boost sleep and others actually make it hard to sleep! Pick sounds that are rough, rumbly and low-pitched (not hissy and high-pitched, like radio static, waves or babbling brooks)

* Use white noise for all children…all sleep…. all year! It can even help your infant sleep through teething pains.

* To reduce your toddlers bedtime resistance, think of the bedtime routine starting after breakfast.

Here are just a few of the many things you can do to reduce sleep-time struggles: Get him out for exercise and fresh air (even in bad weather); avoid stimulants (cola, ice tea, dark chocolate); practice boosting confidence and cooperation during the day (using “The Happiest Toddler” DVD tips like “gossiping”, “playing the boob” and “patience stretching”); dim the lights and turn on some soft white noise about 1 hour before bedtime.

All of these cue his brain that bedtime is near.

Editor’s note: Pediatrician and best-selling author Dr. Harvey Karp has been giving parents advice on how their children can be the “happiest babies and toddlers on the block,” by providing tips on how to help them sleep better and how to better communicate with young children. Her new book is called “The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep: Birth to 5 Years.”

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