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How Toddlers Sleep Differently than Infants

First steps, first words, first tooth, first time that first tooth bites your nipple, there are a whole boatload of magical experiences coming your way as your baby approaches that first birthday.

I can still hardly think back to each of my children’s early milestones without getting a little misty. It’s such an incredible journey as they really start to transform from those adorable little babbling cuties to walking, talking… ummm, well they’re still little babbling cuties at that point, but with personality.

But as wonderful a time as it is, it comes with a whole new set of challenges, which is a complete slap in the face, because it’s right around the time you start mastering the old ones. (This is a pattern that will continue through motherhood until your kids are somewhere in their mid 40s, I’m told.)

And although I can’t coach you through the entire gauntlet, I do have some great tips about how and why their sleep habits will change, and how you can effectively adjust.

One of the most obvious changes, and one that parents most look forward to, is the end of the night feeds. Typically, this can take place anywhere between four and nine months. “Sleeping through the night” when you’re talking about infants under four months, typically means that baby will sleep straight from one feeding to the next. A cruel and misleading bit of terminology, I agree, but the truth is, infant babies need those night feeds until their metabolism hits a point where they can take in enough sustenance during the day to see them through.

Provided that your baby is gaining weight and getting enough calories during the day, you can feel comfortable about baby sleeping through the night. (This is the “real” sleeping through the night at this point. The full-on 12 hour snooze that parents dream about.) Between four and six months, that’s around 500 to 700 calories a day. It’s never a bad idea to have a chat with your pediatrician before you decide to pull the night feed though, just to make sure.

As your infant grows into toddlerhood, he’ll start spending more of his day awake. While infants need somewhere between 16 and 20 hours of sleep per day, toddlers, on average, need about 10 or 11 hours at night, and a nice afternoon nap lasting between 1 and 3 hours. Again, these are ballpark estimates and are in no way intended to suggest that there’s anything abnormal about your child if he falls outside these figures. If he’s happy, healthy and growing, you’re rockin’ this motherhood thing.

As your baby grows into his toddler stage, he’ll also start developing motor skills. This is great, obviously, and super cute to behold, but it does come with its own set of challenges. Ask any mother about how their life changed when their baby learned to walk and you’ll get a similar story about how nothing, nothing that isn’t nailed down can be left within arms reach anymore.

This can also cause a little havoc with their sleep, because once they learn to roll over, sit up, pull their own hair, stand up, and so on, they’ll be eager to practice, and what better place than their crib. Unfortunately, they tend to get themselves into some pretty uncomfortable situations, so you can expect to be called on a little more frequently to return them to a proper sleeping position. Just don’t linger when you do. Place baby on his back, tell him it’s still sleepy time, or night-night, or whatever your key phrase is, and leave the room again. Otherwise he’ll figure out very quickly that crying brings Mom, and hey! I love Mom! Mom should be here right now! She’d love to see this!

Typically, this stage requires a lot of repetition, and I wish I could offer you a quick solution, but this is just one of those exercises that’s going to require patience, consistency, and a sense of humor.

As you’re either aware, or soon to be aware, the one-year mark is also when babies start to master the art of the tantrum. This is where I see a lot of people start to give up on teaching sleep skills to their babies, because obviously, the biggest issue parents have with sleep training is sticking with the process when their baby pitches a fit.

If there’s one piece of encouraging news I can give you when this happens, it’s this… the vast majority of my clients deal with this issue for two or three nights at the most, before they start seeing huge improvements in their baby’s sleep. This means both parent and baby are rested during the day. Subsequently, baby has fewer tantrums, and when he does, Mom and Dad are in a better state of mind to deal with it

This is undoubtedly an amazing time in your child’s life, for you and him alike. There are going to be some hurdles and lots of confusion (for both of you) but the amazing developments you’ll see along the way are so, so worth it. Setting your baby up with some mad sleep skills will go a long way to ensuring that you can both enjoy the adventure.

Baby Not Sleeping Through The Night?

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The Sleep Sense Philosophy

Cry-it-out? Coddle? Co-sleep? Attachment parenting? Ferberizing?
If you’re going to let me help you with something as precious as your child’s sleep, you probably want to know a little bit about who I am and exactly how I think...

Dana’s Sleep Blog

Straight talk about sleep, parenting,
babies, toddlers, relationships… and
just about anything else!
My blog is a great place to find opinions, advice, the occasional rant, and some great videos about sleep.

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