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Hush, little baby: helping little ones get their sleep

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It’s December, which means it’s Evan’s birthday month. I still have trouble believing we have a full-fledged toddler and not a little baby I can rock in my arms whenever I want (trust me, I still try – the new three-year-old is not having it most days).

We’re the first to admit that when it comes to sleep, we’ve been lucky. Evan slept through the night when he was just a few months old, and he’s been a consistent sleeper ever since. In fact, one of the “tells” that lets us know he’s sick is restless, interrupted nighttime sleep. But those first few months, when Jason and I were both sleep deprived and waking up for feedings (and every little noise or hitch in breathing), managing Evan’s sleep was a matter of trial and error.

Children’s Hospital Colorado, the experts when it comes to babies and kids, have a few tips for helping transition your baby into healthy sleeping habits:

  • Set up a quiet routine for bedtime and be consistent. Our nighttime routine starts with calming our bodies (thank you for that turn of phrase, daycare), reading a book, brushing teeth and taking a bath, getting into our pajamas, and then sharing goodnight hugs and kisses before tucking Evan in for the night. If we skip a step, he calls us on it – and bedtime doesn’t go as smoothly.
  • Put your baby to bed when drowsy but still awake to help him or her learn to fall asleep on her own. We knew early on that if Evan fell asleep on us, he would wake up as soon as we moved. Making sure to pay attention to his sleepiness cues and get him into bed not only helped him learn to sleep but helped us free ourselves from the task of being his bed so he would sleep at all.
  • Wait a few minutes before responding to your baby’s fussing to see if he/she can fall back to sleep on his/her own. Being pretty laid-back people, this was an easier task for us than a lot of parents. But especially when he was tiny and oh so helpless, letting Evan fuss was a challenge. We didn’t let him cry for hours on end, but we did give him a chance to calm himself down before going in to comfort him. And often, a simple back rub and soothing words was all it took to help him drift off.
  • For older children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, elementary school-age kids need 10 to 11 hours of sleep and kids ages 10 to 17 need 8.5 to 9.25 hours daily. Younger children need even more, so it can be helpful to write down just how much sleep your little one has gotten to make sure they’re getting enough. Our kid seems like a sleep champ at the moment – usually 10 hours a night plus another 2 hours of napping, on average.
  • Children using or watching electronics should turn them off at least one hour before bedtime. This is one area we could work on, because we have a habit of watching movies together in the evening. Luckily our standard bedtime routine puts at least 30-45 minutes of distance between Evan and his last bit of screen time for the day. But it’s definitely an area we can improve on (and I’m much worse at screen time than Jason is).

If you have a infant at home, there are also ways to set up your home and sleeping space not just for sleep success but for sleep safety. Here’s more tips from Children’s:

  • Babies should sleep alone in a bed made for babies, not with another child or an adult (known as “bed sharing”). Even pillows can be a hazard to infants, who don’t have the strength to remove obstructions from their faces or bodies.
  • Keep your baby safe in a bassinet at arm’s reach and at bed level, not in your bed. This is a safe alternative to bed sharing. Evan slept alongside our bed in a mesh sleeping rocker, so he was nearby without me worrying about harming him in his (or my) sleep.
  • Babies should always sleep on their back. Once Evan could roll himself over, we knew it was safe to let him sleep on his stomach if he fell asleep there, because he was strong enough to “rescue” himself and move his head if something impeded his breathing. Small infants don’t have that strength.
  • Use a Onzie or sleep sack instead of a blanket to prevent head covering and overheating. The hospital where Evan was born sent us home with a sleep sack, and Evan loved being swaddled and cozy while still being able to kick his feet.
  • Propping babies on pillows is high risk; lay them flat on the back. We only used pillows, like a Boppy, to prop Evan up when he was awake and we were nearby, since he liked to watch the world go by. At bedtime, flat is best.
  • Do not use sleep positioners, pillows, crib-bumpers, or blankets in a baby crib. A safe baby crib doesn’t look cute in pictures, because it’s literally just a mattress covered with a sheet. Being cute and adding extra bedding or accessories isn’t worth the risk to your child.
  • Consider using a pacifier, these are protective. Evan ditched his pacifier around the four-month mark, but early on he would use a pacifier when sleeping. Studies have shown babies who use pacifiers have a lower risk of SIDS.
  • Provide a smoke-free environment. Babies are at extreme risk of both second-hand and passive smoke if they live in a home with smokers. Not only can they breathe in the nicotine, but the harmful particles can also settle on clothes and bedding.

If you’ve got a young child at home, Children’s Hospital of Colorado is hosting a live chat on December 16th, from 9am to 4pm, to discuss all things babies. Hear from pediatric experts and get answers to your own most-asked parenting questions by visiting Just Ask Children’s. And don’t forget to connect with them on Facebook and Twitter!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Children’s Hospital Colorado. The opinions and text are all mine.