Helping Your Baby Get To Sleep
How can you teach your baby to go to sleep and stay asleep? Most new parents are shocked by the constant interruption of their
sleep that a newborn brings to the house. But there are ways to be there when
your baby needs you, and still get some rest.
There are basically three schools of thought on this issue.
The first, made popular by the book authored by pediatrician Richard Ferber,
advocates teaching babies over the age of three months to sleep through
the night in their own cribs, by letting them "cry it out" for increasingly longer periods of time. While most babies eventually give up and fall asleep, the process is often traumatic for
parents (and we can assume for the baby), and frequently needs to be
repeated following any disruption in routine. Critics point out that
Ferber has no psychology training and question whether letting babies
cry it out has permanent, harmful effects. More on Ferber.
The second school of thought, practiced by advocates of the Family Bed, says that infants are hard-wired to sleep with their mothers,
and nurse at night, for many months, probably until toddlerhood. They
point out that babies who sleep with their mothers are less likely to
die of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), and that the mothers get
much more sleep. My personal experience is that the family bed was heavenly. Critics of this method express concern that parents
might inadvertently roll on their babies in the night, and point out
that babies who sleep with their mothers and nurse on demand take much
longer to sleep through the night. They also wonder why any
self-respecting toddler who is accustomed to sleeping with his parents
will give that up for a new, lonely, "big-boy-bed." Dr. James McKenna is one of my favorite resources on safe cosleeping.
The third school, perhaps best represented by No Cry Sleep Solution author Elizabeth Pantley, understands that
parents may desperately need some sleep and agrees with Ferber that
babies need to learn to fall back asleep on their own, but argues that
this can be accomplished without the trauma of letting babies cry it
out. More on Pantley's No Cry Sleep Solution.
Fair disclosure: I attempted Ferbering once when my son was nine months old and failed, having given him an ear infection from crying (and having nearly given myself a nervous breakdown.) After that, we went back to the family bed, which we all loved. However, once nursing my toddlers no longer helped them fall back asleep for long, I found myself walking the floor with them and spending many long hours in the middle of the night helping them to fall back to sleep. After substantial research, and working with many parents, I've come to the conclusion that many little ones who are helped to sleep by parents (nursing or rocking), simply can't put themselves back to sleep when they re-awaken during the night. If they're nursing, they may well awaken to nurse, but then will need to nurse again every time they re-awaken a little at night. Eventually, if they don't figure out how to fall back asleep on their own when they awaken at night, they will need our loving help to learn how to fall asleep without rocking or nursing.
Is this a problem? Not necessarily. Some moms are able to nurse at night as long as their child wants. However, I often speak with moms who are ready to stop night-nursing their toddler, but find the prospect of night-weaning upsetting.
Does that mean we should always put babies down awake so they can learn to put themselves to sleep when tiny, so they won't develop bad habits? Since almost all newborns fall asleep at the breast (or bottle), that would be impossible. It is completely appropriate to nurse babies to sleep. Nursing to sleep is no more a "bad habit" than peeing in a diaper. As they get older, the time will come when they can easily learn to fall asleep themselves, just as they will eventually give up diapers.
Does that mean that a time will come when to teach our baby or toddler to fall asleep, we can leave him to cry? Never, in my view, if you want an emotionally healthy child.
But then how do kids learn to fall asleep on their own, without nursing back to sleep? They learn in the safe comfort of your arms, once they're old enough. For more on teaching your child to learn to fall asleep without nursing or rocking, click here.
Sleep is, of course, a very personal decision. I believe that there is a sleep solution
that fits every unique family, from co-sleeping to baby bunks that
attach to the parents' bed, to baby hammocks, to cribs.
course you want your children to know from the earliest age that they
can always ask for and get help. That said, we all need sleep to
function and be good parents. My recommendations are biased
in favor of keeping your baby close so you can get more sleep. But
this is a very individual choice. Read as much as you can, and then
lose the guilt. Do what works for you and your baby.
How can you get some sleep, when your baby’s still waking up to nurse?
1. Sleep whenever and wherever you can. Keep
your baby near you while he's still nursing at night, so you don't have
to get out of bed. Breastmilk is designed to be given every few hours.
It simply cannot hold a baby for much longer. Rats, on the other hand,
give their baby food much higher in fat, so that the mother rat can
leave the babies for eight hours while she’s off foraging. Baby humans
could not survive predators if they were left for long periods, so
nature has designed them to require their mother's presence fairly
constantly. That means your baby needs to be nursed at night, for a
minimum of six months and probably until she is a year old.
2. Afraid of rolling over on your baby? Unlikely,
since mothers are designed not to (unless her natural warning system
has been interfered with by drugs or alcohol). There is actually
evidence that babies who sleep with their mothers are less likely to
die of SIDS because the co-sleeping babies' sleep cycles are in sync
with their moms', and her presence stimulates him not to fall into such
a deep sleep. There are experts who say that a father could
suffocate a very young baby, especially if he's had a drink before bed, so most safe co-sleeping checklists say to position the baby between mom and the wall rather than between the parents. However, the fathers I hear from tell me they're very conscious of their baby, even while asleep. We know that Dads do have a hormonal response to becoming fathers, which includes a natural protectiveness toward the baby, so Paternal Instinct is as real as Maternal Instinct. I personally think that any Dad will be a better father if we honor his paternal instinct and give him the opportunity to sleep snuggled with his baby, but that's an individual decision. In any case, make sure you set up your bed for safe cosleeping, don't start without reading this detailed checklist for safe co-sleeping.
3. If you don't feel comfortable with your baby in bed with you, try a “Moses basket,” cradle or baby bunk within arm's reach. Some
moms are such light sleepers that they just can't get any sleep at all
if the baby is in their bed. There are wonderful baby bunks that can be
anchored to your bed, at the same level, and opened so that the baby
has his own space but you can roll him into your bed with you to nurse.
4. Learn to nurse lying down so you can sleep while he feeds. It
may take a week, while you get the hang of nursing, but learn to nurse
lying down, so you can doze, and you'll feel much more rested. Just
wedge pillows behind you and between your knees for support, and put a
folded blanket under Baby if necessary to raise him to the level of
your breast so neither of you is straining to reach. He should be on
his side, facing you.
5. Help your baby set her metabolic clock. She
doesn't know it's night and she should sleep. She'll learn, eventually,
but you can help your little night-owl adjust faster to the world
outside your womb by making sure she doesn't sleep all day. Take her
out in the sun. Go for walks. Let her feast her eyes and ears on the
wonders of the world. All humans really do sleep better at night when
they've been exposed to fresh air and sunshine during the day.
Also,you should know that babies who sleep with their moms end up
synchronizing their REM sleep cycles, which means she's more likely to
treat night as sleep time and day as waking time. And of course, keep
things dark and quiet at night. Nurse her when she wakes, and change
her if you must (not all babies are sensitive enough to require changes at
night), but don't make it into playtime.
6. Take a long maternity leave, so you can nap when your baby naps during the day. This is the golden rule. Forget the shower, who cares? Go for the nap.
6. If your partner can take the baby in the morning to let you sleep in for an hour, it can make all the difference in the world. Don't
feel guilty about it. Eight hours of sleep with interruptions to feed
your baby is not the same as the eight hours you used to get. You need lots
7. Go to bed early. When
you were pregnant you did it. Don't feel bad about it, this is not the
time to resume an active evening life. You have the rest of your life
to stay up late.