Dear Dr. Debbie,
Compared to my friends with babies near the same age, I think we have it pretty easy. Our 4-month-old, who is our first, sleeps a good 10 to 12 hours at night. He usually nurses about 15 minutes before bed and that seems to hold him. He has a stuffed animal that plays water sounds which we turn on for the last five minutes or so of nursing and for about 10 minutes after we put him down. We use his pacifier to get him quickly back to sleep if he starts to whimper, which can happen up to five times a night or not at all. This works well since his bassinet is kept on our bed.
We’re contemplating moving him to his crib soon which is down the hall. We are wondering if there are suggestions to make this a smooth transition so we don’t ruin a good thing.
Don’t miss last week’s column Keeping levelheaded during a child’s tantrum — Good Parenting
Dear Well Rested,
Yes, a bassinet in his parents’ bed is perfect for a newborn — easy to reach for middle of the night nursing but with secure walls around his tiny body. Between four to six months is a good time to switch him to his own crib, before he sits up and topples over the sides of his little nest. His body size, too, will soon outgrow the confines of a bassinet, and so will the strength of his resistance to change.
Gentle transition is the key to this move. Babies and young children thrive on routine so it’s best to introduce only one change at a time.
What’s a Crib?
If he has never slept in the crib, start using it for naps. Keep some consistency with his nighttime experience with a t-shirt that holds the scent of you, a clock with a familiar tick or that recording of water sounds, and your reassuring back pats as he settles in. If you have had a song associated with his going to sleep, include that too. The feel of his mattress and its expanse will be very different from what he’s used to, so you might even start out with a few days of putting the bassinet right in the crib.
Where Are My Parents?
Since he still relies on you for his pacifier retrieval, consider bunking in his room for several nights or weeks until he no longer wants to suck himself back to sleep, or until he can successfully manage the pacifier on his own. If there isn’t a bed in his room, you might add at least his future mattress for one of you to sleep on, otherwise you can “camp out” with a sleeping bag and pillow. The sound of your breathing is a rhythmic reminder that all is well.
What Time is It?
Bath time makes a great starting activity for a bed time routine through the elementary school years. Bedtime stories are another long held childhood tradition that can be started in infancy with sharing a board book together or your lilting rendition of The Three Bears. One advantage to your retelling a tale from memory is that this can be done in dim lighting which helps to signal the brain that the day is over. Soft music, whether a recording or a parent’s beloved voice, can also be added to your baby’s evening ritual so that as he loses the sounds, sights, smells and feel of his former sleeping place, he gradually gains a predictable sequence of calming activities that he can associate with drifting off to dreamland.
There will be many developmental transitions for your family in the years to come. Good parenting enjoys each passing stage with an eye toward preparing for what’s ahead.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She has a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long-time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy[at]jecoannapolis.com.