Oh, Baby! Expert Sleep Advice for New Parents
Friday, December 1, 2017
A recently published study from Canada revealed what many parents already know: How much your baby sleeps affects your mental health. The data confirmed that parents of troublesome sleepers had higher incidences of depression, given their own fatigue and self-doubt about how to help their child. The study recommended seeking expert intervention early to prevent sleep problems from spiraling.
“Bedtime can be extremely stressful for families,” says Erin Leichman, Ph.D., research psychologist at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, “especially with babies who have trouble sleeping.”
Leichman, an expert in pediatric sleep, also serves as the executive director of the Pediatric Sleep Council. On Baby Sleep Day (March 1), she and her international pediatric sleep colleagues provided free, individualized and evidence-based answers to over 300 questions that parents submitted via Facebook. The majority of questions concerned overnight waking, sleep training and naps.
“Baby Sleep Day was an exciting opportunity to provide support to parents throughout the world who are experiencing ongoing sleep issues,” says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., professor of psychology at SJU and chair of the Pediatric Sleep Council.
To bring awareness to the problems families often face and the importance of healthy sleep, Leichman offers key advice for parents with babies and toddlers, who have trouble sleeping or falling asleep.
“The best way to respond to problematic overnight wakings is with consistency,” says Leichman, “and with as little attention as possible.” She recommends keeping noise, activity and light to a minimum. She also urges parents to pay attention to what their children usually need in order to return to sleep during the night.
“For instance, if an older infant or toddler needs to be fed to fall back to sleep,” says Leichman, “that’s usually because the child is fed to sleep at bedtime. Children typically need what they had at bedtime to return to sleep during the night.”
Her key advice for teaching children to sleep for longer stretches is to help them fall asleep without needing to be fed, adding, “Unless there is a medical problem, the less help a child needs to fall asleep, the better.”
Leichman cites that one of the most common questions parents ask is, “Do I have to sleep train my baby?”
According to Leichman, not necessarily. There is great variability in sleep habits in infants and toddlers, as well as in a family’s preference on approaching sleep, and appropriate expectations depend on a child’s age and developmental needs.
“Some babies sleep for long stretches overnight more easily than others,” says Leichman. “If you have a baby who sleeps well in a safe environment without intervention, then why change a thing?”
She also advises parents that sleep patterns aren’t always fixed, saying, “If your once easy sleeper is now having some trouble, it may be time to consider sleep training.”
“My six-month-old still takes three to four naps per day,” one parent told Leichman, and asked, “Is this normal?”
“Some babies nap several times a day until they’re about nine months old,” says Leichman, “and sometimes for even longer.”
Often, frequent nappers fall asleep about two hours after they wake up, according to Leichman. Alternatively, babies on different schedules nap about twice per day, around 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.
“Everyone is different,” Leichman concludes, “and as long as your child gets enough sleep, there’s no need to worry.”
Research psychologist Erin Leichman, Ph.D., NCSP, is an expert in pediatric sleep. She can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the Office of Marketing and Communications at 610-660-3240.