Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Thoughts on Infant Sleep


Eventually, I would like to write a review of the top 5 or so sleep strategies for infants, the theory behind them, and the possible pros and cons to each. I apologize that I can't do it at this time. For now, some of my thoughts on infant sleeping will have to do.

The first thing to understand is that every child is different. They each come with their own temperament, so some are really easy going while others are easily overstimulated. Thus, it is important to understand your child and act accordingly.

Infants (and toddlers for that matter) thrive on routines. It is important for you to establish a good routine for your infant, which will help her to adjust to life "outside the womb" (let's call it). At first your infant will most likely have her days and nights reversed, and all you can do is try your very best to slowly establish what you feel to be the better routine (i.e. sleeping at night, awake during the day--Sounds better, right?). You'll want to do your best to establish a feeding, napping, and bedtime routine. From personal experience, I have learned that the better my daughter naps the easier she goes down at night and the better she sleeps at night too!

Now, there are a lot of theories and ideas out there on how to get your baby to sleep through the night. I believe it is very important to respond appropriately and warmly to your new infant and letting a new infant (i.e. 0-4 months) cry it out is just inappropriate. Your new infant will not understand what you are doing to her at this age. Therefore, I am a firm believer in "easing" your infant into sleep, which could help her understand that you are still there and that you love and care about her needs.

In the very beginning, you may put your baby to sleep by rocking, nursing, or giving a bottle. For some infants, it helps to have a bath every night as well. Whatever you do, establish a routine (have I said this enough already?). Although this will obviously produce habits and patterns of your baby needing your assistance to go to sleep, I personally feel that there is nothing wrong with this in the beginning.

 Image property of Brandon McDaniel, copyright 2010

As your infant grows a little older (maybe around 3 to 6 months), you will want to begin "easing" her into falling asleep on her own. In other words, she will need to learn how to do this, which can be a difficult process for someone who has never really done it before. Like I said before, I am not a fan of the "cry it out" method, where you tell your baby you love her and then walk away leaving her in her crib, where she then cries for an extended period of time before wearing down and falling asleep. I would suggest a more gradual approach where you get your infant ready for bed like normal...gently rock her, etc...but then when she becomes drowsy, lay her down in her crib, soothingly telling her you love her and that it is time to go to sleep. Clearly, she won't understand, but a soothing voice can only help (Note: You may find that your infant actually does better if you don't say anything at all; i.e. your talking actually wakes her up instead of helping her sleep). Then, you will walk out and listen...she may cry or not. It actually depends on the infant (like I said, some are just more easy going).

If she does cry, I would wait for about 5 minutes and then go back in and soothe her in some way. Generally, I would suggest soothing words or a touch (I wouldn't pick her up though). Then, I would leave again. I might increase the time I let her cry to 6 or 7 minutes, and so on and so forth. It is really up to you and your "parenting intuition." You know your child best!

Also, it is very important to understand that these are only my feelings and in an ideal world this strategy would work out perfectly for everyone. This sadly is not the case. Again, let me stress the fact that you know your child best, and some babies might not react very fondly to this method. Sometimes, it is trial and error being a new parent, but you will figure it out, and as long as you are responsive and warm to your infant, she will feel loved and the attachment will be there.

Just so you know...I went through 3 months of an infant with gastrointestinal problems, so I know what it is like to have a baby who doesn't fit the norm and who only slept for about 4 hours a day total (yes, a day, not for naps; I mean, total). But she is ok now and we survived (see her picture above). You can do it. Bless my wife's heart!

Feel free to ask me questions as comments to this post, or you can email me at Brandon@parentsareimportant.com.

I know that some of you will have other suggestions as well. What helped your babies to sleep on their own? What routines have you established?

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