by Double Duty Mama
My babies didn’t sleep through the night until they were around 1-year-old. Meanwhile, some of my friends’ babies easily slept 10 to 12-hour stretches beginning around 10 weeks. This infuriated me. As a full-time working mother who needed her brain most the day, I felt desperate and sad. And tired. Oh, so tired.
I pressed my friends for every detail of their nights, hoping to find the secret, magic cure that would get me some much-needed shut eye. Did they sing before bed? What song? What book did you read? Are the window shades open or closed? When did the baby last eat? How much? Soon, every playdate turned into a Q&A.
While child development experts and pediatricians disagree about the various measures designed to get your kid to sleep, with some being more drastic than others, my husband and I opted to listen to the one voice we trusted: Our pediatrician. What she proposed seemed harsh, considering that, up until then, we responded every time the baby cried. But when my first child was four months old, she gave us a plan. And we stuck to that plan, never wavering despite the screams and the cries because WE JUST NEEDED SOME SLEEP.
Our pediatrician gave us sleep training guidelines that pulled bits and pieces from some of the popular, controversial methods we had seen, like those made into books by Dr. Richard Ferber and “Baby Whisperer” Tracy Hogg. Our doctor’s approach was simple:
• Establish a bedtime routine that involved a bottle or nursing, reading out loud, maybe some singing and, of course, cuddles.
• Put the baby to bed drowsy, but awake.
• Say good-night, and leave the room.
• When the crying starts, go in and check on the baby. Give him a pat, tell him he’s okay, but don’t pick him up. Leave the room.
• As the crying persists, stretch out the intervals you visit him. Wait five minutes, then 10, then 15…. Don’t spend more than a minute or so, and never pick him up.
The idea behind this, and all the sleep training methods, is that you’re teaching babies to soothe themselves to sleep. Once they know how to get themselves to sleep, they will, theoretically, continue doing so through the night.
How did it go?
Well, that first night, this went on for about 40 minutes. When I say “went on,” I mean my baby boy SCREAMED consistently and horribly during that time. I left the house, went behind the garage, put my hands over my ears and cried – leaving my husband to do all the dirty work. The next night, he was asleep in less than 20 minutes. On the third night, he cried for about five minutes. Soon, most bedtimes were met with a minute or two of whimpering before he was out. (Just so you know, we enthusiastically employed the same method with my second son with even quicker success).
Neither child miraculously slept through the night right away. Those first few months, we were lucky to eek five or six hours out of them. That was frustrating, but it was better than only two or three hours of sleep, and I loved how easy and enjoyable bedtime became.
As the years went on, my boys soon became champion sleepers. Meanwhile, some of my friends whose babies were little angels all night found themselves dealing with demon toddlers who defied bedtime or refused to stay in their rooms at night. While they were marching their preschoolers back to their own rooms 30 or 40 times a night, my family was tucked away nicely, in their own beds, sleeping 11 straight, uneventful hours. Our bedtime routine, too, is still with us. Every night, we read a couple books, sing some songs and snuggle together. It signals that the day is coming to an end, helps the kids relax and unwind and, we all agree, is one of the best times of the day.