Friday, November 2, 2012

Help me sleep

How can I get my baby to sleep through the night?  If you have a baby this may be a very important question for you.  Especially if you are really tired.  Yesterday we talked about breastfed babies and what to expect regarding them sleeping through the night.  If you missed it you can check it out here.

I am a firm believer that every baby is different, and every family is different.  What works for me and my family may not work for you, your baby, or your family.  I personally have parented each of my children differently and parented individuals differently at different stages of development.  There are things I have done that I would likely do differently if I got a redo.

The first big sleeping decision parents have is related to co-sleeping or not.  I remember a friend of mine taking me aside when I was pregnant with my first.  She already had two children and she had breastfed them.  She told me, “I bring the baby into bed with me during the night to nurse.  I think everyone does it, but they don’t talk about it much”.  This led me to look into Dr. Sears and co-sleeping.  He advises parents to examine how everyone sleeps best.  And to make sure baby is safe.  Co-sleeping deserves a post in and of itself so the only thing more I will say on the subject today is that co-sleeping removes the need for the rest of the tips on getting baby to sleep by himself.  Until you don’t want to be co-sleeping anymore.  Keep in mind, it is usually easier to teach them to sleep by themselves before they are a year old.

Babies, like adults, have different states of alertness or sleep.  The states of alertness are quiet alert, active alert, crying, light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep.  Today we will talk about how these states can help us as parents get our babies to sleep.  

What we generally do as moms of a new baby is nurse baby, change baby, rock baby to sleep, as soon as baby is asleep set him in his crib, and then tuck blankets around him.  He may wake up immediately or wake up around 15 minutes later.  This is because we put him down before he moved into deep sleep. 

So, we can change the scenario to change baby, nurse baby, swaddle baby, rock to sleep, hold for 20 minutes until baby is in deep sleep, and then set him in his crib.  Then baby is much more likely to stay asleep in his bed for an hour or more.

Light sleep usually lasts 20-30 minutes.  In this phase baby’s eyes are closed, breathing is rapid and shallow and he may be pacifying on the breast or a pacifier, and his arms usually maintain their tone or position.  When the baby moves to deep sleep he quits sucking, his arms go limp, and breathing is slower.  Baby wakes up for a second between light and deep sleep.  So, if he has fallen asleep with you holding him and he wakes up to find that you are not there, he will often not progress from light to deep sleep.  This is where babies are different again.  Some babies are “good” or easy sleepers.  Some may transition from light to deep sleep easily without any problem.

Babies want to fall asleep the way they are used to falling asleep.  If you nurse them to sleep, then if they wake up, then they want you to nurse them back to sleep again.  If you put them in their bed drowsy and they fall asleep there, when they wake up they will likely fall back asleep.  Unless they lost their pacifier.  A third possibility is put baby to sleep different ways.  That will give you more options and teach baby that it is ok to fall asleep under different conditions.  This involves teaching baby to fall asleep.  I recommend teaching during the day and using old methods for the middle of the night.

I personally do not like to let my babies cry it out.  For reasons of development and establishing breastfeeding I wouldn’t recommend it before 4-6 months.  However, I do think it works when done correctly and a recent study shows no long term differences between babies whose parents let them cry it out and those who did not.  But don’t take my word for it, check out my disclaimer and talk to your baby’s medical provider if you are having trouble with your baby’s sleep.


  1. This is a great article. Very balanced. I had sleeping issues with both of my children...and cry-it-out was the only way I ended up getting them to sleep through the night (after trying several different methods). In the end, with #2, I even had to wean him - because he was 12 months old and was waking every 1-2 hours. He didn't nurse during the day - but through the night would use it as a prop...and in the end, even he didn't sleep that well. We were both overly tired. Once I weaned him he was sleeping through the night in just a matter of 2 days and was far more rested. Like you said, you have to figure out the needs of every individual child and go from there. Unfortunately, there isn't a formula. It would be easier if there were. haha! Hopping over from Christian Mommy Blogger. Blessings from Croatia: A Little R & R:

  2. Oh a formula would be nice. An individualized operation manual for each child would be so excellent. But it is kind of like that letter from God I keep asking for. You know the one with the plan for the rest of my life in it...Thanks for stopping by.