Bedtime Battles Part 1: Babies
Our baby seems like he is a night owl or already a teenager! He'd like to go sleep after midnight and seems to think bedtime is "party time." We are exhausted and have resorted to taking him to bed with us. Is that OK? It does help, though he's still up several times at night even in our bed. We need help getting our baby on a reasonable bedtime schedule and your advice about co-sleeping.
-- P. and M. in Martinez
Babies and sleep are in the news with “Attachment Parenting” (see my article on that topic). I have no quarrel with the claims of emotional benefits of co-sleeping (“Family Bed.”) to mother/fatehr and child. But:
1. I must note that the American Academy of Pediatricians maintains its recommendation against it due to concerns about infants being smothered.
2. I know from the hundreds of parents I have counseled that for many it just doesn’t work, especially if both parents go to work the next morning. Most parents cannot get the quality of sleep needed in order to function in the adult word with its myriad duties if they sleep with their child.
The following advice is those of you who would like your child to sleep in her own crib/bed.
Your baby is ready for gentle going-to-sleep training around 3 months. Two fundamental steps taken now will become the building blocks of consistent bedtime routines and, later, sleeping through the night.
Have your baby clutch “lovie” whenever she nurses or will likely fall asleep, be it in a stroller, a pack, or car seat. Give her love whenever she goes into the crib. Within two weeks you should observe a “conditioned response:” soothing/getting sleepy when love in her hand.
Some babies attach easily and intensely; others are lukewarm about it. Even if the latter, love is still very likely to help with falling asleep. You can help the bonding by sleeping with it at your chest for a week so it absorbs your body’s smell. If it’s the former- the relationship will become a deep love and abiding friendship. Decide now whether you want your child toting love everywhere for the next 5-25 years, helping him feel secure wherever he goes. If not, restrict love to crib/bed. There are arguments on both sides. Whichever way you go, do it with forethought and consistency.
2.Once your baby bonds with love, start putting him in his crib awake. Stop nursing/feeding two early, rousing him gently if he has drifted off . Add a “Going to Sleep Routine” between feeding and crib, e.g.: change his diaper, sing a lullaby (always the same one), kiss each cheek and say goodnight to the moon. Then swiftly into the crib where lovie awaits.
3.If your baby protests (many will, especially if entrenched in falling asleep in arms/on breast/in a swing), soothe her first with just words, then pat her tummy or jiggle her a bit. If these fail, pick her up and rock her. After she calms, start the routine over from the lullaby. There is much more to this, but no space here. Be creative, but whatever step you consider, ask yourself: “Am I up for doing this for the next 1001 nights?”
You can review this by watching my video: go to the "My Parenting Videos" section of this website.
With your “Going to sleep routine” set (a little fussing is OK), you are ready for “the Big One:” Sleeping through the night.” At 7 months and 15 lbs., most babies can go from bedtime (7-8 pm) to early morning without feeding. Every time your baby wakes repeat the “Going to sleep routine” instead of nursing/bottle.
This is easier said than done... It's one of the hardest things to pull off and stay sane. I strongly advise getting coaching and support.
Rachel Biale - Parenting Counseling