How to get a baby to sleep more?


(Hadley Hooper)

Question: Our son is 3½ months old, and we really need him to go to sleep on his own.

Currently one of us will swaddle him at night and then rock him in our recliner until he falls asleep about 11 or 11:30. Half of the time he will sleep until 7 in the morning, but the rest of the time he wakes up in the middle of the night.

How can we get him to sleep through the night? Should we put him to bed earlier? Or should we stop rocking him to sleep and let him go to sleep on his own?

Answer: Sleeping from 11:30 until 7 a.m.? You are some kind of lucky. Most parents would say that their babies were sleeping through the night if they stayed asleep for eight hours because even one wake-up in the night is pretty amazing in a child as young as your little guy.

That said, you should make some changes.

You can do what the parenting books tell you to do or you can treat your baby the way your friends treat their babies, but you’ll do best if you do what feels right to you.

Some parents keep their baby in a crib in his own room because they deeply need to have some time and space for themselves, while other parents put their baby in a crib or a bassinette in their own room. If that’s not close enough, they put her in a sidecar (or co-sleeper) next to their bed. Some even share their bed with her, which can be mighty handy, particularly for a breast-feeding mom. But the American Academy of Pediatrics is against this practice because it might lead to sudden infant death syndrome, and it cites a new study that calls bed-sharing the greatest risk for sleep-related infant deaths.

This idea, however, is strongly challenged in La Leche League International’s new book, “Sweet Sleep” by Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, Linda J. Smith and Teresa Pitman (Ballantine; $20), with the provision that the baby is at least 4 months old and a number of their safety recommendations are followed.

Although the AAP emphasizes a baby’s need for safety and this book talks about his emotional needs, neither spends much time talking about a child’s need to be as independent as possible at every age and stage.

Although most American parents still follow the bedtime advice that Dr. Spock gave us nearly 70 years ago, French parents have children who usually sleep through the night at just 2 or 3 months. Pamela Druckerman explains it quite well in “Bringing Up Bébé” (Penguin; $15). Sleeping infants, she says, stir every couple of hours, but they seldom wake up in the night once their synapses become connected, which happens in the first few months of life. That’s why French parents don’t pick their infants up even when they wake up, look around and maybe give a squawk or two. Instead, they watch quietly and wait to see if their babies are really awake or if they’ll shut their eyes again and go back to sleep, which is what they usually do. And hallelujah, it sounds like your son is doing that, too. If so, his synapses will continue to connect in the next few weeks and then he’ll start sleeping like a French baby: 10 hours a night, every night.

Whether your little boy sleeps through the night or not, you should start putting him down around 7 or 8. This will not only give you and your husband a little time together, but it is also easier to start this habit now rather than waiting until he’s older and has ideas of his own.

You should also make sure that your son has the same quiet, calm bedtime routine every night, because children need order and ritual at the end of their day. Begin by nursing your son and then showing him that wonderful wordless, two-sided board book “Black & White” by Tana Hoban (Greenwillow; $8), which babies love because their eyes respond only to black and white in the early months. A soft lullaby or two comes next, then turn on the night light and put him to bed while he’s drowsy but still awake. This will let your little boy put himself to sleep: his first step toward independence and one of the most important.

Send questions about parenting to advice@margueritekelly.com.

Also at washingtonpost.com Read a transcript of a recent live Q&A hosted by Kelly at washingtonpost.com/advice , where you can also find past Family Almanac columns.

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