During the first year the baby’s sleep habits will have changed considerably. The little baby sleeps most o£ the time. By the time he is about three months old he is beginning to be awake for longer periods, but his naps still usually follow his feedings fairly regularly. Sleep is rarely a problem with a small baby. If he is happy, contented, well fed, and healthy, he will sleep as naturally as he will eat when he is hungry. If a small baby is restless and wakeful, it is usually a sign that he is not quite well or is not getting enough to eat, and the problem should be talked over with his doctor.
During the second half of the first year, sleep becomes less regular than it was before. Babies begin to vary in the amount of sleep needed. Some babies will continue two naps a day through the whole of the first year, others begin to shift at eight or nine months to one nap daily. The time of the nap may be highly unpredictable. The baby may fall asleep in the morning one day and stay awake until after his noon meal the next day. This may be disturbing to his mother, who would like to make plans. But she must remember that it is not possible to make a child go to sleep to fit any schedule. He will sleep when he is tired. If he more or less regularly falls asleep toward the end of the morning it may be wise to push his lunch time up a bit, so that he can have an earlier lunch and then an early afternoon nap. In the same way, if he sleeps a long time in the afternoon it may be necessary to put him to bed a little later in the evening to avoid restlessness at bedtime. Just as the baby found his own eating schedule when he was tiny, so will he find his own sleeping schedule. His mother can help him establish his own schedule by watching the times at which he seems to be naturally sleepy and by taking advantage of these times to put him into his bed prepared for sleep.
Some babies sleep soundly through the night; others may waken and need a little patting or holding or even a bottle to help them go back to sleep. A baby should not be allowed to cry it out for long periods during the night. Again common sense must be used; the mother should wait a few minutes before going to the baby to be sure that he does not cry just a few times and then go back to sleep. A bottle should not be started again at night for the older baby until soothing him to sleep has been tried. If he does seem hungry when he wakes up, it is sometimes wiser to reintroduce a bottle at mother’s bedtime as a regular routine, rather than have to offer one in the middle of the night.
There can be no definite rules about sleep. Since each child is different, each parent must meet the condition of disturbed sleep if it arises. If the baby seems happy and well in the daytime, one can look first for the simple causes of disturbed sleep. Hunger has been mentioned. A baby may also waken if he is teething and having a little discomfort, or if he is catching a cold. Some babies become restless if they are chilly or too warmly covered. As they grow older some babies find it difficult to go to sleep because they have had an overexciting playtime with daddy or mother before going to bed.
If the baby is not happy and content in the daytime, but is often restless, cries, or is irritable, he may be wakeful and restless at night also. The first thing to do is to consult the doctor and see whether the baby is quite well and whether he is getting enough to eat. If he is well and is still irritable or fussy in the daytime and restless at night, it is wise to stop and think over the way he is being cared for. Perhaps the mother is a tense person, who hurries from one thing to another, and the tension is felt by the baby. Perhaps his parents are too strict with him and scold him or say too many “nos,” so that he is becoming anxious and bewildered about things. Perhaps they are trying to train him to use the toilet before he is really old enough to know what it is all about. When parents can find out why their baby is not happy in the daytime, they are likely to have found the cause of his restlessness at night.
If possible, a child should have his own sleeping room, even from early babyhood. If this is not possible, it is best to screen off a corner of the room in which he must sleep so that both the baby and his parents have some privacy. His bed should be large enough for him to turn over comfortably. A basket is all right for a tiny baby, but by the time he is three or four months old he needs a crib with a firm mattress. A baby should not be given a pillow. Nor should one be kept in the crib of a small baby, for he may get the pillow over his face. Covers should be light, but warm, and should tuck well in under the mattress. If a sleeping bag is used as the baby gets older, it should be designed to allow plenty of freedom of movement and so made that he cannot slip down inside it. Many children do not sleep comfortably in sleeping bags. If a baby does not like a bag and gets out from under his covers, it is best to put him to bed in a warm bathrobe or even a soft outdoor suit so that he will not chill, even though he sleeps on top of his blankets.
The house does not need to be completely quiet for a baby to go to sleep. He quickly gets used to ordinary household noises, but naturally the radio should not be turned on loud or a vacuum sweeper used close to his bed.
The way in which the baby is held and soothed before going to bed influences how relaxed he will be. If his mother is hurried and is trying to get him into bed quickly, he will often react to her tension by becoming tense himself. A baby should be carried gently to his bed. A bit of cuddling at bedtime is the right of all children.
Keeping up with baby
There have been such big changes in the baby during his first twelve months that it is no wonder it is hard for his parents to keep up with him. He started out completely helpless and dependent, but by the end of the year he is already on his way to independence as he crawls, stands, or walks, begins to feed himself, and often tries to say a word or two. While his parents have been learning about him, he has been learning about them. The way in which they have taken care of him and kept him comfortable, happy, and contented has been important in developing his feelings toward them and the rest of his family who make up his small world. During his next year he will begin to reach out beyond his mother’s arm to explore his environment. He will want to find out about things. It will be a busy year for his parents, for not only will they want to help him explore safely but they will also want to begin to teach him what he must learn about how to behave in his small world.