Developing good sleep habits

Drooping eyelids, rubbing the eyes and fussiness are the usual signs that a baby is tired. Many babies cry when they're put down for sleep, but if left alone for a few minutes, most will eventually quiet themselves.

If your baby is not wet, hungry or ill, try to be patient with the crying and encourage self-settling. If you leave the room for a while, your baby will probably stop crying after a short time. If not, try comforting him or her and allow the baby to settle again.

In the first few months, it's common for a pattern to evolve in which a baby is fed and falls asleep in a parent's arms. Many parents enjoy the closeness and snuggling of this time. But eventually this may be the only way the baby is able to fall asleep. When the baby wakes up in the middle of the night, he or she can't fall asleep again without being fed and held.

To avoid these associations, put your baby in bed while he or she is drowsy but still awake. If babies fall asleep in bed without assistance when they're first laid down, it's more likely that they'll fall asleep easily after waking in the middle of the night.

Babies who stir during the night aren't necessarily distressed. Infants typically cry and move about when they enter different sleep cycles. Parents sometimes mistake these signs for waking up and begin an unnecessary feeding. Instead, wait a few minutes to see if your baby falls back to sleep.

Try these tips to feed a sleepy baby:

• Watch for and take advantage of your baby's alert stages. Feed during these times.

• A sleeping baby may squirm and root around or gently fuss when hungry. If your baby naps for more than three hours, watch closely for these subtle signs. If your baby is partially awake, sit him or her up and gently encourage eating.

• Partially undress your baby. Because the baby's skin is sensitive to temperature changes, the coolness may wake up the baby long enough to eat.

• Rock your baby into a sitting position. The baby's eyes often open when he or she is positioned upright.

• Give your baby a massage by walking your fingers up his or her spine.

• Stroke a circle around your baby's lips with a fingertip a few times.

Call your baby's health care provider about sleeping and eating if:

• Your baby is unusually difficult to rouse from sleep, sleeps through feedings or seems uninterested in eating.

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