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Health & Baby

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Soothing Baby to Sleep

WebMD Health News

April 1, 2002 -- Getting an infant to sleep through the night can seem like the holy grail of early parenthood. But a new study shows even babies that don't rouse their parents during the night often wake up and use some sort of sleep aid to help themselves fall back to sleep.

Researchers found infants use a variety of sleep aids -- anything from sucking their thumbs to hugging a soft object -- and use them often throughout the first year of life. But contrary to the favorite blankie theory, babies don't seem to prefer one particular sleep aid, and they tend to vary the use of these objects as they get older.

For example, more 3-month-olds used their thumbs, fingers, or hands to comfort themselves, but 6-month-olds are more likely to use a soft object like a stuffed animal, blanket, pillow, or a combination of these. The study also found that 6-month-olds were also the most likely to try out a new sleep aid, a T-shirt that smelled like mom.

Researchers tracked the sleeping behavior of four groups of infants, ranging in age from 3 to 12 months, over a period of 3 months. They found 6-month-olds used sleep aids much more than the 12-month-olds, and users outnumbered non-users at every age.

"It is striking how few infants do not use objects to self-soothe during the night," write the authors in their study, published in the journal Pediatrics. In fact, only 9% of the babies studied didn't use a sleep aid at any time during the study.

In addition, the authors say it's interesting that infants who were put in their cribs awake were more likely to use a sleep aid during the night than were infants placed in the crib already asleep.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that soft objects, including pillows, comforters, and stuffed toys, be kept out of a child's crib in order to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The biggest risk of SIDS seems to occur when a child is placed on top of a soft sleeping surface such as a pillow or sheepskin. The study authors say potential sleep aids should be chosen with those recommendations in mind.

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