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Sleep is as personal and complex as any aspect of parenting, but there are basic steps you can take to improve sleep habits right from the start. Here are some tips for better baby sleep that help many parents:

1.     Early, consistent bedtime: By four months or so, a 7:00 p.m. bedtime works for most babies. Keeping them up much beyond this point can make babies overtired (adding to the “witching hour” effect), and resistant to falling and staying asleep. An early bedtime is the best way to help your little one get the 11 or so hours of nighttime slumber she needs (including night wakings).  Babies are highly attuned to morning light – it tells their circadian rhythms to get the day started – so although it's painful for many parents, 6:00 a.m. becomes a normal and healthy wake up time.

2.     Drowsy, but awake: A veteran parent might have nudged you in this direction already. Laying your baby down when she's sleepy but her eyes are open is one of the best habits you can start with your newborn. If you get in the routine of doing it, you might be able to nix the excessive rocking and bouncing predicament that many find themselves in with older babies.

3.     Discern your baby’s night-noises: Remember that babies are noisy at night (think about how many sounds they make during the day!). Don’t assume that grunting, feet kicking, and other squawks mean your baby needs you. If you give your baby a little space, she might go back to sleep on her own – that’s a valuable life skill to learn. Of course, unless you’re following a well thought-out sleep plan, if your baby really cries, go to her.

4.     Save the big guns: When baby wakes, try soothing by the least invasive method first (assuming your baby doesn’t need to eat). Maybe that means putting the pacifier in, rubbing her back, or rocking a bit. Keep the lights off, and use as little stimulation as possible.

5.     Time your naps well: Babies nap best when you follow their natural biological rhythms. As a guide, newborns can be awake for about 90 minutes; 4-6 months olds about 2 hours in the morning and 2.5 to 3 hours before bed; 6-9 month olds about 2.5 hours in the morning and 3-4 hours before bed; and 9-12 month olds 2.5 hours in the morning and up to 4 hours before bed. These are ballparks, but if you keep them in mind, you’ll avoid letting baby get overtired.