When Baby Won't Sleep
Wouldn't it be great if infants transitioned from sleeping in short stretches to sleeping through the night on their own? Hey, it could happen. There is always that lucky mom at the playground or at work who just shrugs her shoulders and says, "We didn't do anything; she just started sleeping through the night on her own at six weeks!"
Most parents, however, aren't so lucky. An infant's sleep cycle is short. It has to be, since they need to eat every two to four hours to sustain rapid growth and development. Even though it seems to last forever, the first few sleep-deprived months will pass quickly.
Though babies are not developmentally ready to sleep on any schedule but their own before they’re five or six months old, some things will help set the stage for success when the time does come to help your baby learn that sleep is a solo activity. In just two to three months, and sometimes less, an infant's sleeping and eating patterns will become regular. This is a good time to introduce a routine before your baby goes to sleep at night. Your baby will begin to associate this bedtime routine with sleep. It's also good to begin putting your baby to bed while they are tired, but not yet asleep. This allows them to get used to their sleeping environment while awake.
But just because your four-month-old falls asleep in her crib when you lay her down awake doesn't mean that she will continue to be a star sleeper. "By five or six months of age, kids start to have a sense of separation anxiety, meaning if you are not there, they notice." says Dr. Faith Wilt, a pediatrician at JDC Pediatrics in Mechanicsburg.
It would seem counter-intuitive, but developmentally this is actually a good time to begin sleep training, says Wilt. As infants start to grasp the abstract concept of you not being there, it can cause anxiety. This is an ideal opportunity to help them understand that this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Getting to Sleep
The first step is to teach your infant how to get to sleep on his or her own. "Teaching them to fall asleep on their own at the beginning of the night will help them fall back asleep in the middle of the night when they wake up and wonder where you are," says Wilt.
If you haven't already done so, establish a bedtime routine. When it is time to go to sleep, put your baby in the crib, sleepy but not sleeping, transition them from arms to crib with soothing touches and words and leave the room. If they fuss or cry, give them a few minutes to calm down. If this doesn't happen, go back in and comfort them with words and gentle touches, but don't pick them up, and leave again. If in 10 minutes, your baby is still crying, says Wilt, go in again to console them. Wait 15 minutes before going in again, and every time thereafter, until your baby is able to fall asleep.
Of course, you know your baby best." If the cries escalate and turn into hysterics, you may have to pick up your infant to get them to settle down," says Wilt. Once the baby has calmed down and is sleepy (not sleeping), lay them down and start over.
By six months, many infants are starting to give up overnight feedings, though they still may be waking up. If they are just passively sucking at the nipple or eating very little, they are ready to be weaned from middle-of-the-night snacks; however, if they are still eating heartily, it's OK to continue to feed them. Just don't let them fall asleep while eating and put them back to bed while they are still awake.
Everyone wakes up in the middle of the night, but babies have trouble getting back to sleep. When Middle-of-the-night wakeups happen, wait five minutes to give the baby an opportunity to settle and fall back asleep. If they are still awake and crying, go in to soothe them, again without picking them up, and leave. Increase the time from 10 to 15 minutes, but not beyond 15 minutes, with each visit to their room.
Early in your endeavors, there may be a time or five that you have to pick up the baby to calm him or her down. Start the process over by laying the baby down before they fall asleep. Don't throw in the towel, warns Wilt, "If you make headway, don't give in, or you will erase the work that you've done."
Remember consistency and staying the course is the most important element of success when sleep training.
Anne Burkley is a freelance writer from Harrisburg.
Books That Can Help
There is not a single solution that solves the problem of how to help your baby sleep better. Not every method works for every baby or fits every mom and dad's parenting style. Here are four of the most commonly referred to sources to help your baby get the rest that they need.
Ferber Method: Created by Richard Ferber, director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children's Hospital Boston. This is the method outlined in the article and suggested by many pediatricians. Book: Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber
The Baby Whisperer: In her book, the late Tracy Hogg promotes tuning in to babies’ cues to help understand their needs. Her technique to teach babies to sleep independently is flexible and involves picking up a crying baby who can't fall asleep or get back to sleep, comforting them until they are calm, and putting them back down as many times as needed until the baby falls asleep.
Book: Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate With Your Baby by Tracy Hogg and Melinda Blau
The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Elizabeth Pantley, author and parent educator, offers advice and solutions to help babies sleep better without leaving them alone to cry. Instead, she offers an approach that slowly guides you and your baby (or child) toward the goal. Her techniques can be used by co-sleepers as well. Book: The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley
Nighttime Parenting: Dr. William Sears, a well-known pediatrician, advocates nurturing a baby to sleep. The premise is that babies should be parented to sleep by a variety of soothing activities such as rocking, snuggling, co-sleeping, nursing or baby wearing. While the book offers no sleep solution per se, it offers many tips and techniques to help babies get to sleep and stay asleep, which will create positive sleep associations that will help babies develop healthy sleep attitudes.
Book: The Baby Sleep Book by William Sears and Martha Sears