Are your baby's sleep habits keeping you up at night? You're not alone. Here, we've gathered five common but baffling sleep scenarios, and we asked parents and sleep experts for their solutions.
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Are your baby's sleep habits keeping you up at night?  You're not alone. Sleep can be a loaded issue, particularly for parents of young children. You may wonder if you're somehow causing your baby to wake frequently or sleep fitfully. The key is to relax. All parents run into tricky situations with their babies, and as with any other parenting decision, there's more than one "right" way to address them. Here, we've gathered five common infant sleep problems and asked other parents and sleep experts for possible solutions.

The Rocker

My baby is 5-months-old. I've always rocked them to sleep, but I'd like to be able to lay them down and have them fall asleep on their own. How can I make this happen without a lot of trauma and tears for either of us?

In order for a baby to transition from falling asleep while rocking in your arms to falling asleep on their own, they have to master two smaller skills: the ability to fall asleep someplace other than your arms and the ability to fall asleep without being rocked, says Ann Douglas, author of Sleep Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler.

If you aren't comfortable with making your baby learn to put themselves to sleep "cold turkey," you can try substituting what Harvey Karp, M.D., author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, calls a new sleep association. From being inside your body, babies are born accustomed to drifting off to sleep amid noise, tactile stimulation, and rocking. Gradually replace rocking with white noise. Dr. Karp says. If you play the sounds while you're rocking the baby to sleep for four or five consecutive nights, they will begin to create a new association with sleep, and the transition from falling asleep in your arms to falling asleep in the crib will be easier, Dr. Karp says. "The idea is to create other sleep associations that don't require your presence to help the baby fall asleep," he adds.

Be prepared for your baby to put up a big fuss the first few times you lay them down awake. Some sleep-training techniques instruct parents not to pick up a crying baby but to come into the room at set intervals (every five minutes, for example) and talk to them in a reassuring voice. But also know that approach doesn't work for all babies or parents. Christine George, of Lansing, Michigan, tried that method with her 6-month-old, Kayleigh, but the crying didn't stop, even after 10 or 15 minutes. Instead, Kayleigh became more and more upset until she was screaming, red faced, and gagging.

"After two nights of becoming almost as upset as my baby was," George says, "I decided that technique just wasn't going to work for me." What did work? "We'd walk around the room with her for a few minutes until she was drowsy, and when we laid her in the crib, we'd gently bounce the mattress with one hand while pressing her belly with the other hand and saying 'Shhhh' for a minute or two until she fell asleep," George says. "After a while, we were able to do it without the hand on the belly, and then without the bounce, and finally we were able to lay her down awake and she'd fall asleep." The process took two weeks.

Remember that there's no one-size-fits-all approach, advises Claire Lerner, LCSW, an American Baby advisor and the director of parenting resources at Zero to Three, the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families. "With some babies, you can pat them or just sit there so they can see you, but for a lot of babies that's just confusing," she says. "Figure out what works best for you and your baby and know The more consistent you are, the quicker she'll learn."

The Anywhere-But-Home Sleeper

My 10-month-old falls asleep in their car seat when we run errands but won't remain asleep when I try to take them in the house. Then they won't fall asleep during their bed or naptime.

Since babies this age are very curious, if they are falling asleep on short car rides, it's likely that they're not getting enough sleep around the clock, advises Marc Weissbluth, M.D., pediatrician and author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Observe your child over a 24-hour cycle, and see if you're missing cues that they're sleepy: Are they rubbing their eyes, acting clingy or anxious, or whining? If you're reasonably sure that your baby's getting enough sleep overall, it's possible that you're just planning your outings too close to naptime so you may want to readjust your errand schedule to accommodate his naps. A 20-minute catnap in the car can spoil the two-hour rest you looked forward to all morning.

mom and baby sleeping
Credit: gpointstudio/shutterstock.com

The Speed Napper

My baby goes down easily for a nap, but they get up after 20 minutes. Within an hour, they're rubbing their eyes and looking tired. How can I help them nap longer?

The firs thing you should try to do is to get at the root cause. Is your baby objecting to something in their nap environment? Maybe it's too warm or too cool, too loud or too quiet. Or perhaps they just haven't mastered the skills that will allow them to soothe themselves back to sleep if they wake up.

If your baby is consistently waking up too early from their nap, work on establishing adequate nighttime sleep first. "Being overtired actually prevents babies from sleeping well," says Donald Goldmacher, M.D., co-creator of the video Helping Your Baby Sleep Through the Night.

If they do sleep well at night, make sure their naps are in a similar environment. Buy thick curtains to pull across the windows and create a pre-nap wind-down similar to your bedtime routine. Also, consider that you may be waiting too long to put baby down for their nap. Most babies, particularly newborns and young infants, should nap two hours after they've woken up in the morning.

The Nap Resister

My 11-month-old used to take two naps a day—one in the morning and then one in the afternoon. Now, they're suddenly resisting his morning nap. What can I do?

Eleven months old is on the young side to be dropping a nap, but it's not unheard of, says Dr. Weissbluth. He reports that 90 percent of all 12-month-olds take two naps a day, but by 15 months, 20 percent drop that morning nap.

How can you tell whether your baby is ready to give up their morning siesta? Keep an eye on them around 4 to 5 p.m., says Dr. Weissbluth. "If your baby is good-natured and happy, they are probably well rested. If they're rough around the edges, they probably needs that second nap." Why wait until late afternoon to monitor his mood? At the end of the day, says Dr. Weissbluth, many children run out of steam because they aren't sleeping well enough, but they may have a rebound of evening energy that can mask sleep deprivation.

The Routine Sleeper

My 7-month-old has a predictable bedtime routine, and they sleep great at home. But they're so used to the routine that any little change throws them off. We have a vacation coming up, and I'm afraid they won't go to sleep in the hotel. What can we do to make sure they go down?

Try to recreate your at-home bedtime routine as much as you can. Even if you aren't at home, you can probably give your baby a bath around the same time. Take an item from home, like a familiar sleeper, portable crib, and/or music that they're used to, and be sure to give them ample wind-down time, particularly if your trip includes contact with lots of new people, a whirlwind itinerary, or noisy or brightly lit environments.

Shannon Cate, of Illinois, says that her 10-month-old daughter, Nat, was a good sleeper at home but couldn't settle down if she could see her parents in the same room. "We learned that we needed a suite when we stayed in a hotel," Cate says. "That way, we could put Nat in a separate room at her usual bedtime, and we could order room service for dinner and watch a movie."

This option is expensive, though. "In a pinch, we've created partitions with furniture to block our daughter's view of us," Cate adds. "We also never leave home without her white-noise machine, to muffle the sounds of TV and talking."