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SALT LAKE CITY — Sleep training is a popular way for helping babies – and exhausted parents – get a full night’s rest. If you choose this path, experts generally recommend that your baby be 4 months or older before beginning.
However, there are things that parents can do earlier on to set their newborns up for sleeping success, whether or not they plan to use sleep training later.
One of the ways to establish good sleep habits early, according to BabyCenter.com, is to help your baby understand the difference between night and day. Since the two are opposites, your little one’s sleep and wake routines should be opposites as well.
Here are some key scheduling elements for securing some extra Z’s in the future:
Night: Keep it dark
Help your baby associate nighttime with darkness in order to help correct her sleep schedule, as recommended by the UK’s National Health Service and others. Try dimming the lights while getting ready for bed. You can also use blackout curtains if it’s still light out at bedtime.
During nighttime feedings, try to keep the room as dark as possible (as long as you can still find your way to the bassinet).
Day: Keep it sunny
When it’s time to start the day, have your baby “help” you open the curtains. This is his signal to wake up and play! Open them slowly, though, so his little eyes can adjust to the sudden light exposure.
Naps during the day can be in dim lighting but should still be noticeably different from nighttime.
Night: Prepare to snooze
Establishing a bedtime routine can indicate to your baby that it’s time to sleep. It may not seem like she even notices for a while, but it should have an impact down the road. Prepping for bed should include quiet, relaxing activities such as:
- A warm bath
- Bedtime stories
- Cozy pajamas or a swaddle
- Lavender-scented or other calming baby lotion
Opening the blinds shouldn’t be the only part of getting ready. After breakfast and a clean diaper, change your baby out of his pajamas and into play clothes (now’s the time to try out that cute onesie with the matching hat). Show your baby fun things to look at now that it’s light enough to see.
Interaction and sound
Since night is for sleeping, not chatting, keep things as quiet as possible during nighttime feedings. The less social interaction you have with your baby, the more likely he'll stay sleepy. This includes talking, playing or even prolonged eye contact.
The Baby Sleep Site notes that wombs have consistent noise, so your newborn won’t be used to sleeping when it’s quiet. Playing white noise covers up the silence without stimulating your baby too much. You can buy white noise machines or just play a YouTube video like this one.
Newborns shouldn’t be awake all day, but you can still help yours learn that light and noise mean playtime. Every time she wakes up from a nap, try giving her something to do until she gives you sleeping cues. Make faces, put on music, play with toys or whatever else your baby fancies.
Don’t tiptoe around the house during naptime. Your baby will get used to the background noise and associate it as part of the day.
The American Academy of Pediatrics' Healthychildren.org website is among those that recommend not rocking your baby to sleep. It may be a sweet bonding experience, but when done every time your baby can grow too accustomed to it instead of learning to put himself to sleep. Instead of rocking, try putting him to bed while he is drowsy but not asleep yet.
Be strategic with diaper changing. At night, change her diaper before feeding. It may be easier for the baby to fall back asleep right after her late-night snack. During the day, use the movement from diaper changing to help your baby wake up after she’s eaten.
Even following these tips, you’re sure to have some sleepless nights. Read up on how to deal with sleep deprivation here. Before implementing any kind of sleep schedule, check with your pediatrician for recommendations.
Rachel Garcia is an aspiring graduate and mother of one. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.