Will I ever sleep again? What every new parent should know.

One thing that has always been a topic of conversation when it comes to children is sleep. As a postpartum nurse, I always told my clients to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” This is always easier said than done. Some infants, it seems, have their own agenda! The great thing about your infant’s sleeping habits is they can be changed. Expecting any child to sleep through the night is setting yourself up for failure… Let me explain.

Everyone goes through the same sleep cycle. Starting with light sleep that progresses to your REM cycle, deep sleep, then the wake stage. Sleep patterns can change based on age, illness, emotional or environmental factors. Children tend to go through their stages faster than adults and tend to wake when they transition through the different stages of the sleep cycle. This means more possibilities for waking. Children on average wake 4-6 times during the night. Children are creatures of habit and routine. They tend to take their cues from the adults around them. If you always put your child to bed by rocking them, then your child will most likely need that to fall asleep. You set the conditions for your child’s sleep routine.

There are two types of sleepers. One is the self-soother. This child wakes during the night but is able to go back to sleep without intervention from the parents. This doesn’t mean they don’t cry or make any noise. They might cry a little but will soothe themselves right back to sleep. The other type, signalers, however, do need help from parents to go back to sleep. This is usually a learned habit. If a parent rocks a child until they fall asleep or brings them to their bed at night, the child associates this with sleep. The child then may need this action to sleep. Many different methods have been introduced over the years regarding sleep training your child. I will say that every child is different. One method may work for one child whereas the next child responds differently.

Sleep safety is an exceedingly important topic. Over the years, recommendations have changed and parents will do just about anything for their child to sleep. Especially if their child is not a routine sleeper. The easiest recommendation is the ABC model. The A stands for alone. Always put your child to sleep by themselves. Do not put them with a sibling or in the bed with an adult. The B stands for placing the child on their back to sleep. This positioning should be done through 1 year of age. Even when the child is able to roll, place the child initially on their back. If they move while they sleep that is fine as long as they are in a safe position. The C stands for crib. Always place your child in a crib, bassinet or other sleep approved bed. The crib should have a firm mattress and slats no wider than two and a half inches. There should be no soft surfaces in the crib with the infant (i.e. pillows, comforters, stuffed toys, dock-a-tot). Once the child is old enough to pull themselves up, the crib bumpers/mobiles should be removed. The room in which the child sleeps should be kept at a comfortable temperature. Do not place the child directly under or near the air-conditioner/heater. Also, do not wrap the child in multiple blankets. The use of sleep sacks versus blankets is also recommended.

Understanding sleep cycles and habits will help parents establish healthy sleep routines for their children. Changing already established habits can be difficult at first, but children are flexible and able to establish new habits. Understanding your child’s sleep cues is also essential. Most of all, be patient with yourself and your child. Sleep will come … eventually. For more information about safe sleep/sleep habits, contact the New Parent Support Program Coordinator Julie Rapp, RN, MSN, CMSRN, at Rappj@magellanfederal.com or call Army Community Service at 876-5397.

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