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A recent study found that approximately 15 million American school-age children suffer from health and behavioral problems caused by inadequate sleep. And since babies with good sleep patterns turn into children with good sleep patterns, it's wise to start instilling healthy habits early on. Here's how:
Babies who learn to fall asleep on their own are less likely to need your help getting back to sleep when they wake during the night. So, starting at around 2 months, put your child to bed when he's drowsy but awake; play music, rub his back or talk in a quiet voice to encourage slumber. Babies under 4 months aren't always able to self-soothe, so if your child cries, pick him up to comfort him, then lay him back down. Respond promptly to your baby's cries at night; responding inconsistently will result in more frequent and prolonged wakings, says Nicky Cohen, Ph.D., a Toronto-based clinical psychologist specializing in child-sleep issues. (Cohen points out that some babies cry out in their sleep, so you may want to wait a few minutes before responding to make sure your child is truly awake.)
Some babies, particularly if they're breastfed, need to eat every two to four hours around the clock until they're several months old. If your baby is still waking to eat at 6 months, begin to wean him off night feedings by rousing him 30 to 60 minutes before his usual feeding. Each night, reduce the amount of time you breastfeed by one to two minutes a session; when you get to two-minute feedings, don't wake your baby and he should sleep through the night. If your baby takes formula, eliminate 1 or 2 ounces per night feeding.
Beginning when your baby is approximately 3 months old, encourage regular nap- and bedtimes. Institute routines that are consistent, predictable and calming so your child starts to learn what is coming next: sleep.