View All Articles

The best newborn sleep advice I've ever received: Part 2

October 14, 2013

In , I shared some of the best advice I received when my daughter was an infant about getting a newborn to sleep. Of course, every family and every baby is different, but here are a few more things I learned that might be helpful to you if you’re struggling to sort out your baby’s sleep problems:

Cry it out at increasing intervals

You may have heard of the “cry-it-out” method. To be honest, I don’t know much about the official method that Dr. Richard Ferber developed. I’ve never read his book because that approach to parenting never appealed to me. Even the name “cry-it-out” just sounds kind of scary. The thought of leaving my baby screaming helplessly and miserably for what seems like an eternity just didn’t feel like the right approach. And, I was frightened by all of the people who told me that I would emotionally scar my baby if I didn’t comfort her immediately.

After months of multiple awakenings throughout the night, though, it was clear that what I was doing wasn’t working very well for me or my baby. My pediatrician suggested that when she awoke in the night to let her cry for just a couple of minutes, then go into the room and comfort her (without picking her up). Leave again for a slightly longer interval and repeat. If she is still crying after the third attempt, then pick her up and comfort her. He assured me that with consistency, she would learn to soothe herself and go back to sleep on her own.

I suspect that this advice is not very different from Dr. Ferber’s method, as I believe there have been a lot of misconceptions about the cry-it-out method. Either way, though, this advice seemed a lot more palatable to me. I wasn’t leaving my baby all alone to scream endlessly in agony. I was still there comforting her, but instead of teaching her to rely solely on me for comfort I was giving her the opportunity to learn to comfort herself with my loving guidance.

If you’re going to try this with your baby, make sure you time the intervals with a watch or timer. You wouldn’t believe how long even two minutes can feel when your baby is screaming. And, if you’re worried about the irreparable damage of emotional scarring like I was, don’t. There isn’t any credible evidence to suggest that this approach is in any way harmful to children, yet the effects of poor sleep habits bring well-documented health concerns for a child and can last far beyond the infant stage.

Baby swings can be your best friend

This is one piece of advice that I ran across recently, and although I haven’t yet tried it out, I’m determined to give it a fair shot when Baby Number Two comes along. I found it here, on a wonderful blog that offers a lot of helpful advice about infant sleep.

In those first weeks and months after baby is born, you are helping your baby make the transition from the womb to the world. Simulating the experience baby had in the womb makes the transition smoother.

That means, they need swaddling since they’re used to being securely snuggled into a small space, white noise to remind them of the noisy life inside their mother, and they prefer the soothing motion they felt as they were carried inside the womb. Problem is, it is difficult to satisfy their preference for motion in a safe and convenient way.

If you find that your baby (under 6 months of age) sleeps better or longer when you’re holding them, pushing them in a stroller or riding in a carseat, trying out an infant swing may be a better option. I’m going to give it a try. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Change takes time and consistency is key

As I struggled through sleep issues with my daughter, one thing I learned is that trying something once just isn’t enough to know whether it works for your child. Just as we don’t expect to teach a 5-year-old to read overnight, we shouldn’t expect to teach our newborn to sleep well overnight.

My pediatrician uses a phrase that has stuck with me through many aspects of parenting. He encourages “patient persistence,” and it’s become a sort of motto for our family. It means that I, the parent, will choose the path going in the direction that’s right for our family, and then we will slowly but surely make our way down that path. I held onto this idea of patient persistence many nights as I let my daughter cry for a few minutes to teach her to self-soothe. Rather than haphazardly abandoning the strategy in frustration for what would comfort her (and me) in that moment, I patiently persisted in what I thought would bring better long-term results for both of us.

In the end, I’m glad I did. I only wish I had understood the importance of patient persistence earlier. This time around, I hope that in the sleep-deprived fog of midnight feedings I’ll be able to remember these hard-won lessons.

What was the best advice you received about newborn sleep? What advice would you share with new moms and dads?