by Anna Steese Richardson Babies’ Bureau, Woman’s Home Companion
The healthy baby is a sleepy baby. When a baby does not want to sleep, when it is restless and wakeful, one of two conditions exists — either it has been spoiled and actually trained to be wakeful by a thoughtless mother, or it is in need of medical care.
A baby comes into the world sleepy. If well and left to his own devices, he sleeps twenty-two hours out of every twenty-four during the first few weeks of his life. The mother who interrupts his slumber to cuddle him or show him off is endangering his health, and her future peace of mind.
Take a lesson from puppies and kittens. They sleep day and night. The wise mother-dogs and cats do not disturb them. The wise house mother tells her children not to touch or disturb the newborn pets, and yet she will permit family and friends to break in upon the slumber of the newborn baby of the household.
Directly a baby has been ushered into the world washed, dressed and fed, it goes to sleep. Unless roused for feeding, it is apt to sleep many hours. This is Nature’s warning to mothers that newborn babies need just three things — warmth, food, sleep. And for the future good of the household, the greatest of these is sleep, and the habit of sleeping.
When a newborn baby is permitted to sleep, and trained to sleep, the family and household routine is not disturbed.
The healthy baby starts life by sleeping three hours, and then wailing to be fed. If the quality of the breast milk or bottle milk fed him is sustaining and satisfying, the three-hour interval is correct. If the milk is not quite heavy enough, he may wake at intervals of two hours and a half, but no baby should be fed oftener than once in two hours. If he does not sleep in stretches of two hours, there is something wrong with his general health or the quality of the milk he takes.
For two or three months, the baby varies this monotony of eating and sleeping only by an enforced daily bath and an occasional crying spell. Some babies drop right off to sleep after being fed. Others cry a little.
Moderate crying does not hurt a baby nor indicate a serious condition. It is about the only form of exercise he has, and, in moderation, is good for his lungs. But if his sleep is badly broken and his crying is shrill and prolonged, his digestion is probably at fault.
If the baby wakes up inside of two hours, and there is no evidence of ill health or discomfort, the mother should let him wait, even if he cries, until the two-hour limit is up. This period she can gradually increase to two hours and a half and then to three hours. The healthy baby is easily trained.
Of course, a dimpled, rosy baby is a great temptation to the mother, especially while she is lying restfully in bed, with a nurse in attendance. It is so delightful to snuggle the baby against her to cuddle his tiny fists, to smooth his soft cheek, his silky hair. But just the same, every time Baby’s sleep is interrupted by these maternal pettings, Mother is laying foundations for future trouble.
When she is up and about, with no nurse to relieve her and household duties to perform, she will wish that she had trained baby to sleep to the limit of his desires and inclinations.
In the third month, the baby begins to take notice of what goes on around him and will lie awake a little longer between naps if undisturbed, however, he will soon drop off asleep of his own sweet will.
At six months, he sleeps from six o’clock to six, straight through the night, with just one feeding at 9 pm. This 9 pm feeding should be given quietly and the baby immediately returned to his bed or crib. He should also be having two naps a day, from 9 to 11 in the morning and from 1 to 3 in the afternoon. If he sleeps too late in the afternoon, he will be wakeful at 6, the hour set for going to sleep for the night.
After his first birthday, Baby has only one daily nap, in early afternoon, but the twelve-hour sleep at night is essential to his health until he has passed his sixth birthday. It is nonsense to say that a young child does not want to sleep — nature cries out for sleep.
Parents interfere with nature by starting the baby off wrong and teaching it not to want to sleep. The best argument is that the baby who is kept up to romp with Papa in the evening, at the age of two, three, or four years, is a late sleeper in the morning. Irritable and heavy.
The baby should not be rocked to sleep, nor should he be tucked into a carriage and then trundled to sleep. In clear whether he may be snuggled up in his carriage and set out of doors in a corner screened, from draught or direct rays of the sun, for both his morning and afternoon naps. At 6 o’clock, he should be undressed, made perfectly comfortable, fed and then laid down on a firm hair mattress without a pillow, to go to sleep without further attention.
Do not form the habit of singing a baby to sleep or holding his tiny hand till he drops off. There will come evenings when you are too tired to sing, or there will be other work for your busy hands to do, and Baby, not understanding, will raise his voice in protest.
From birth, the baby should sleep alone, in a dark room well-ventilated. Baby knows no fear and needs no light. Neither does he need the warmth of an adult body. There have been sad tragedies of babies smothered by tired mothers, too heavy with sleep to know they had rolled over on the tiny, helpless form. There have been other cases where babies permitted to sleep with adults, afflicted with chronic disease, have contracted the ailment and died.
Ventilation is important. Occasionally we read of unusual cases where parents boast that they have raised eight, nine, or ten healthy children in unventilated bedrooms. These children have been constitutionally strong enough to survive such doses of vitiated air.
The modern mother does not take the chance. She supplies fresh air to her baby from birth. The little crib should not stand in a draught, but the window should be dropped from the top and raised from the bottom to create a current of fresh, pure air. The crib, with it little sleeper, may be protected by screens.
Above all things, do not start your baby’s sleeping habits with the warning “Hush!” Have the room in which he sleeps as free from noise as your household habits will permit and do not permit other members of the family to disturb him unnecessarily. But when he is asleep on the second floor, do not demand that everybody tiptoe and speak in whispers on the ground floor.
Remember: a healthy baby is not a nervous invalid whose “nerves” must be saved in every possible way. Take it for granted that he was sent into the world with sound nerves and a normal appetite for sleep as well as food.