Sweet Slumber

Winter is the time when everyone around us slumbers.  Birds and squirrels nestle into nests and spend hours upon hours just resting, creating a warm nest which they dash out of from time to time in order to find food. Toads and frogs sink into the warm mud deep under the frozen lakes and lie dormant, waiting until spring before jumping back into action around the pond.  Bears hibernate, spending all winter in a tired, growly, sleepy state.

And babies?  What about the babies? Is there slumber for babies during their first year of life? The answer, as many parents will agree, is usually a resounding “not as much as we thought”.

The early childhood staff at Hopkins was recently discussing the struggle parents often have in learning how to help their baby sleep–and in learning what is normal for babies in their first year. We have compiled a list of ideas and hints that may help parents develop strategies for helping their child sleep–and maybe find a way to provide sweet slumber for the whole family.

Is there a “normal” sleep pattern for babies from birth to 12 months?

Although there are general guidelines around baby sleep patterns, it is rarely helpful  to use a label such as “normal”, “good” or “bad” when we  talk about sleep habits.  It is generally accepted that babies from birth to twelve months sleep between 14 and 18 hours, divided between naps and night time. However, predictability in sleep patterns proves to be very difficult to put on a simple time line. The Hopkins staff remembered their experiences with their own children, and we found predictability around sleeping occurred within a span of baby being around six months to eighteen months. This predictability was completely thwarted during illnesses, daylight savings time changes, and developmental milestones affecting sleep patterns (for example when the baby is learning to crawl). When considering methods for helping baby get to sleep and stay asleep, instead focus on your specific family situation and determine if what you are doing is meeting the following goals: the methods are safe, they allow all family members to get the sleep they need, and they are methods you are comfortable with.

What can parents do to help baby sleep?

As adults we find that we need certain things in order to sleep.  Some of us need white noise, some of us need to read, some of us need a completely dark and silent room. Our children will also develop ways in which they begin to calm their body down for sleep.  During the first year of life, it is our job as parents to create an environment which helps baby learn how to slow his body down and drift off to sleep.  Here are some strategies to use that help lay the groundwork for sleep:

  • Develop a bedtime routine and remain consistent.  The bedtime routine should move the baby into a calm state.  Some activities in the routine could include: bath time, feeding, story time, rocking, massaging, singing, or something else that feels restful and special. The routine does not have to be long and complicated, but should be repeated each time so that baby understands these activities are leading to sleep time
  • Choose a consistent bedtime for naps and night time sleep. By sticking with a schedule, baby’s internal clock begins to be set to a regular sleep / wake schedule.  Therefore, he is more likely (hopefully) to become tired during the time that you would like for him to go to bed
  • Avoid active play an hour before bed time.  Instead, find calm and quiet activities that encourage baby to slow his body and his mind
  • Avoid any screen time–TV or computer–an hour before bed time. Babies are easily stimulated by this, even if they are not actively “watching” it
  • Lower the lights an hour before bedtime
  • Keep the room where baby sleeps calm and simple. Avoid mobiles, bright colors and lots of toys. Send a message through the environment that this area is a place for sleep, not play
  • When possible, put baby to bed drowsy, but not yet asleep. This allows baby the experience of falling asleep on his own. This is not always possible with very young babies, as feeding often results in that precious “full belly sleep” that we so cherish, but if the opportunity presents itself to allow baby to fall asleep himself, allow the baby to do so

Baby wakes in the middle of the night

Adults and babies wake up in the middle of the night naturally. In fact, babies around 12 months old are generally still waking up one or two times a night.  We as adults tend to put ourselves back to sleep so smoothly that we rarely remember we woke up at all. We have developed “self-soothing” skills. Babies will eventually learn skills for putting themselves back to sleep too.  Our night-time interactions with baby lay the foundation for this skill.

It is respectful and builds a trusting relationship when a parent attends to the needs of her baby–whether the needs are being met during the day or the night. It is also important to remember that one of the baby’s core needs is for sleep, and that a parent will likely be more in tune to the child’s needs if she is getting enough sleep herself.

We can attend to the needs of our child during this first year while also reinforcing the idea that night time is for sleep by using some of the following strategies:

  • Keep the room dark when you go to your child during the night
  • While attending to their needs be loving, but as “boring” as possible
  • Remember that the strategy you are using to help your child go to sleep now will likely become a sleep association–the child will  be looking to these methods in the months to come as a means of helping him go back to sleep. Build habits you feel comfortable with
  • Some babies make noise as they sleep–crying out or whining or groaning. Remember that these noises do not necessarily mean a baby is in distress. Allow the baby a moment to drop back into sleep herself before entering the room to comfort her. If baby continues to cry, then you know she needs you. If she doesn’t, she has begun working on the skill of soothing herself to sleep

Normal disruptions in sleep patterns

Just when a parent feels like the family has hit upon a sleep system that is working for everyone, baby is likely to enter a stage that shifts her ability to sleep.  This is due to normal development. The following ages and stages often result in baby’s sleep being disrupted:

  • around 4 months, baby’s brain goes through a cognitive shift, and this often disrupts sleep
  • around 8 months baby develops “object permanence”. This means a baby knows a parent is nearby and would prefer to be with them. Even at night. This often disrupts sleep
  • around 9 months baby learns how to fight sleep, even when he really needs it. This resistance can disrupt sleep
  • When baby learns a new motor skill–such as sitting up, crawling or pulling to a stand, this will disrupt sleep.  The brain is re-adjusting to such a huge motor activity, and sleep is disrupted

During these normal periods of sleep disruption, it is beneficial to continue to stick to the back-to-sleep routine that has been working. Stay consistent through these stages, and trust that baby will remember how to go back to sleep as he moves out of this stage of development.

Books for parents to read while awake at 2am

  • Touchpoints by T. Berry Brazelton
  • Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth
  • Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber
  • Sleepless in America by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

Sweet Dreams!

Toilet Learning Workshop, Thursday, Feb. 24

For parents of infants and toddlers, parents only class

Are you tired of buying diapers and hearing about other children who were trained at 15 months? This seminar will cover the physical, mental, and emotional readiness involved in toilet learning. We will focus on helpful strategies to encourage the process while maintaining your child’s sense of control.

Date: Thursday, Feb.24

Time: 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Location: Harley Hopkins Family Center, 125 Monroe Ave. S., Hopkins

Cost: $10/adult, $15/household. Child care for children birth through kindergarten available, $5 per child in Harley Rm. 35.

To register call 952-988-5000 or register on-line at www.HopkinsCommunityEd.org.

A Trusted Resource–At Your Fingertips!

Although we all agree parenting is our most important task, we also agree that it is mixed in and around the thousands of other things we do in a day.  We work, we cook, we clean, we launder, we do endless errands, and we do it all in the spirit of providing a safe, secure and supportive household for our children. We want to do what is best for our children, and we wish we could learn about how to do that as quickly as we can–because our kids grow up so fast. Before we know it, our kids will be running out the door with the car keys in their hand, and we will hope that all we did for them throughout these childhood years was enough to help them stay strong as they make their way through the world on their own.

The Early Childhood staff at Hopkins are dedicated to helping parents find the information they need at the time that is most convenient for your family.  We offer classes at a variety of times, we offer one-to-one visits for parents under one year of age, we offer evening seminars and story-time dinners to help families meet and greet others in their community who are living through the same parenting issues.  We are also invested in sharing resources that are trustworthy as well as convenient for parents looking to find information on the web. The Early Learning Digest is one of those resources.

The Minnesota Department of Education and the Working Family Resource Center have partnered to provide research-based information about the development of children from birth through age five. This collaboration is possible through two innovative initiatives of the Dept. of Ed.: MN Parents Know and Help Me Grow.

The Early Learning Digest provides a snapshot of information about parenting and child-rearing in a concise way that parents will appreciate. In addition, there are options within the e-newsletter to link to more information if you are interested in learning more about a topic.

Early Learning Digest is a resource you can trust. Click on this link to learn more about this informative newsletter, and to subscribe to its bi-monthly publication:


Helping Siblings Welcome A New Baby

Hopkins ECFE helps you celebrate the new baby in your house by offering a Baby Shower! This evening event provides an opportunity to learn about early literacy strategies, share strategies for using baby sign language and enjoy time with other parents who know exactly how tired and how excited you are.

If interested in registering yourself and your child (age birth through 15 months), please call Kathryn at 952.988.5000.

A new baby always brings excitement and questions in equal measure. When your baby is the second or third child in a household, some of the initial questions of parenthood have already been answered, but this new sibling will bring with her a new set of experiences for all family members to get used to.

The early childhood staff at Hopkins has offered to “shower” you with advice about helping all the siblings in your newly expanded family get along smoothly. With a keen understanding of the limited time available to parents of a new baby, we will format this to prioritize efficient reading.

When baby is really young:
• When older siblings come to the hospital to visit, remember they are coming to see the parent, not the baby. Greet your older children with wide open arms, try not to be holding baby when they arrive.
• Pull out the pictures of your older children when they were babies. Tell them stories about what it was like when they were babies. Talk about what you did for them when they were babies.
• When nursing or bottle feeding your baby, use this time to read a story or tell a story to your older siblings. Make feeding time a time for family togetherness.
• Provide time for your older sibling to “act out” their desire to be younger again. Older children often regress when faced with a new child. Provide an opportunity to safely do this.
• Give the older sibling a job to do to help with the baby. For instance, the older sibling can be in charge of finding the rattle, or getting a diaper. Talk to the older sibling about how grown up he is and how helpful he is to be doing this job.
• A young child attaches and bonds with a younger sibling through touch. For this reason, allow the older sibling to touch the baby. Monitor the touches to ensure safety, but allow touch and interaction to occur.

As baby gets older:
• Establish a time with older siblings that are one-to-one time, without the baby. This special time with your child–even if it is simply ½ hour–can ease the times when you need to focus solely on your baby.
• Don’t “attach” requests to the baby. For instance, don’t make the request for older children to be quiet “because the baby is sleeping.” Instead request simply that they use their inside voices.
• When an older sibling is inappropriate with the baby, hold the baby in your arms and talk to the baby about why she might not like it. For instance, if an older sibling hits his baby sibling, hold the baby and say “You don’t like to be hit because it hurts you and scares you. You want to be touched gently so you don’t get scared.” Talk to baby rather than disciplining the older child.
• Find opportunities to give your older child the impression that the baby has to wait for the older one to get his needs met. For instance, if your older child would like you to read a story–even if the baby is completely content with what she is doing at that time–be sure to stop and tell the baby “Baby, you need to wait now while I read a story.” The older child hears that his parent is putting his needs before baby. This is very satisfying to the older sibling who is very often hearing that it is his needs that have to wait while baby is attended to.
• Teach the older child how to interact with baby. Give basic, child appropriate information about what baby needs. For example, talk about baby needing gentle touches, baby often being satisfied to give up a toy if it is replaced with another, using distraction as a means of helping baby move from one activity to another
• Be an advocate for the relationship between your children. Teach all of your children skills for getting along with each other, and interrupt children if play becomes hurtful or inappropriate. Children learn how to get along when their parents teach the skills for cooperation. Children do not learn this instinctively.

Books for Children:
1. On Mothers Lap by Ann Herbert Scott
2. Poor Carl by Nancy Carlson
3. The New Baby by Mr. Rogers
4. The New Baby at Your House by Joanna Cole

Books for Parents:
1. Welcoming Your Second Baby by Vicki Lansky
2. Loving Each One Best by Nancy Samalin