It’s common knowledge that new mothers rarely get enough sleep during their child’s first few months. Babies follow a certain sleep cycle, crying out every one and a half to two hours, and according to ScienceDaily.com, this is normal until approximately six months. However, as children go past the half-year mark, some parents wonder if it’s still okay to comfort them back to sleep, or to just let them “cry it out” until they slip back to dream land.

In order to answer this question, Temple psychology professor Marsha Weinraub and her team measured sleep patterns of 1,200 infants and observed nighttime awakenings at six, 15, 24, and 36 months. The results showed that by six months, 66 percent of babies rarely woke up in the middle of the night, or if they did, it only happened once a week. Called “sleepers,” these children “followed a flat trajectory as they grew” until awakenings eventually ceased.

On the other hand, 33 percent continued to wake up every night. These “transitional sleepers” were mostly boys, and they took longer to develop their self-soothing skills. The transitional sleepers only showed signs of dropping the nightly habit at 15 to 24 months.

Weinraub says that past six months, it’s important to let babies learn how to fall asleep on their own. "When mothers tune in to these night time awakenings and/or if a baby is in the habit of falling asleep during breastfeeding, then he or she may not be learning to how to self-soothe, something that is critical for regular sleep,” she says.

Early sleeping problems may also be symptoms of difficult temperament and the result of maternal depression during pregnancy, but more research is needed to prove links.

"The best advice is to put infants to bed at a regular time every night, allow them to fall asleep on their own, and resist the urge to respond right away to awakenings," Weinraub advises.

(Photo by Beth via Flickr Creative Commons)

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