Sleep is a personal and charged topic. Who doesn’t need more sleep? You’d be hard pressed to find a new parent who *isn’t* tired. I’m here to tell you that it’s OK to want more sleep. While newborns are impossible to “sleep train,” at some point you’ll have an older baby, and you’ll realize that you *need* more sleep. Don’t feel guilty. Sleep is a basic, human need, for both you and your child. Without sleep, you can’t be the parent you need to be.
So why can’t we find consensus? Why isn’t there one simple answer? In my experience with only two children, not every method works for every child. Not every method is comfortable for every parent. So my rule #1 on sleep? Anyone who says that their method works for every child is suspect.
Child One: No Crying Alone
When my first child arrived, I “knew” in my heart that I couldn’t let him cry. Luckily, he was an excellent sleeper. As a newborn, I had to wake him to feed because of his low weight. It was therefore a huge relief when his pediatrician said that he could now sleep as much as he wanted. Despite my purchase of a bassinet and crib, he slept best with me. Hours. When he was still an infant, I nonetheless was tired and turned to the no cry books. Simple acts helped a ton. After feeding, I’d roll onto my side so that he faced my back, and he would wake less often to drink. When he was 9 months old, I night weaned his middle of the night feed by letting him cry while I was in the bed with him (facing the other way). The first night, he cried for 5 minutes while hitting my back. He never asked for a night feed again except when sick or in pain. Of the books below, he responded best to the methods in Sears, though I didn’t try the cry it out books.
On the other hand, my son never napped well unless in motion. He napped in his side-to-side swing until he was climbing (or diving) out of it. After that, I would start him in the car or stroller, and leave him in our semi-private garage to nap. I bought a video monitor so that I could monitor him in our apartment.
Child Two: No Cry Fail. CIO for Mom’s Survival.
When my second child arrived, I thought I knew it all about sleep. Smugly, I took out my Sears and Pantley. Zero help. Exhausted with two children, I put my newborn into the swing. She only slept in the swing, not next to me, not in her bassinet or crib. I tried all the no cry tricks — a heating pad to preheat the bassinet (removed before the baby went in) and more — but none worked.
At three months, I decided to wean her off the swing because I worried that she would get attached to it, given the end of the “fourth trimester”. In this, Pantley was extremely helpful. At naptime, I would rock her almost to sleep while breastfeeding and then gently put her down into her crib, with music playing. Slowly, I reduced the rocking until she went down easily after nursing. If she fell asleep, I kissed her gently to wake her before putting her down.
Night times were similar to naps, except she slept in the bassinet until 6 months, when I switched her to her crib in her brother’s room. I’d wait until her brother was asleep, and then put the baby down. My rationale? Her brother is a great sleeper, but he needs quiet to initially fall asleep. Even now, at 4.75 and 1.75 years old, if I put my daughter and son to bed at the same time, they will chatter together and stay up all hours.
Night weaning was much more difficult with my daughter. She has a strong personality, loves nursing and did not willingly drop her night feeds. I started with Sears, moved to Pantley, then Ferber. I read many sleep books. My lesson? Not all methods work on all people.
I tried to feed less and less each night, and it worked until we got to about 8 minutes, when she screamed if I stopped nursing. Finally, at nearly 12 months old, desperation led me to full on crying it out. The first time, I dropped the feed by holding her while she cried. It took a week of an hour of crying each night, and then another week to drop the cuddle. For the second and last feed, I let her cry alone because the cuddle was dragging out the process. The good news? From 15 months onward, she started sleeping 11 hours straight, bedtimes became easy, and when she does wake crying, it’s clear that something is wrong, like an ear infection or teething pain. I feel good about trying a gentler method first, but learned not to judge other parents.
- Richard Ferber’s book, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, is my favorite book about the science of sleep. Ferber is famous for the interval method of cry it out (CIO), but he doesn’t actually recommend this for every sleep issue. Ferber explores the causes of sleep issues at ages newborn through teens, and lists solutions for each. For instance, if your child is truly hungry at night feedings, he recommends slowly reducing the amount of night feeding so that your child replaces the nighttime feeds with daytime feeds and isn’t hungry. If you don’t believe in CIO, skip those sections and still read the rest. His book is well written and sorted so that it’s easy to pick and choose your chapters.
- For those who don’t believe in CIO, my favorite are Elizabeth Pantley’sThe No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night and The No-Cry Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers: Gentle Ways to Stop Bedtime Battles and Improve Your Child’s Sleep. Pantley’s book is well written and easy to follow. The sleep deprived parent will find immediate tips. The main differences between Pantley and Ferber: Pantley does not believe in crying, and her typical sleep needs table (hours of sleep by age of child) is a bit high, which could affect your expectations. She has separate books for different ages and for nighttime vs. naps.
- William Sears’ The Baby Sleep Book: The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Rest for the Whole Family is similar to Pantley but has some additional tips. As the father of nine, he also doesn’t believe in CIO but does believe that crying is OK, just not crying alone without a parent in the room.
- Among CIO fans, my friends recommend the Sleepeasy Solution: The Exhausted Parent’s Guide to Getting Your Child to Sleep from Birth to Age 5. The book follows Ferber’s philosophy with a step-by-step solution for interval CIO. You feed your child before the child typically wakes to feed, and then reduce that feed over a period of days. The book is well written but a bit formulaic.
- Marc Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child suggests extinguish CIO, letting your child cry until they fall asleep, without intervals. His theory that sleep begets sleep suggests you put your child to bed earlier to get him to wake later, whereas Ferber often suggests putting your child to bed later to get him to wake later. The book is dense and hard to read while tired, but the concepts are worth considering.