If you have a child, or even just know a child, you have probably heard all of the advice for helping your child sleep. From Ferber to bed-sharing, there is a wide spectrum of philosophies. Your head is probably spinning from all of the information, so I’m going to break it down for you.
The crazy thing is, that contrary to the comment sections on blog posts, your children will be just fine no matter which of these methods you choose. It really comes down to your family and how everyone will get the best sleep.
You may have heard that having your child cry-it-out could be traumatizing for your children, but the reality is that all children cry and get upset. And as you can see in the info-graphic above, if you stop your child from nursing or sleeping with you (no matter where you fall on the spectrum), then you will illicit some tears. It should also be known that the statement about traumatizing children is based one study that was done with a small sample and in a sleep laboratory. There is another study that looks at children 5 years later whose parents used different cry-it-out techniques and who show “no lasting harm”. Until many, many studies that are longitudinal and have a large sample size have been done, you can rest assured that your child will be fine if you allow them to cry it out.
That doesn’t mean that you should, though. If if doesn’t work for you, then don’t do it.
You may have also heard that if you allow your children to nurse on demand and share a bed, then they might be smothered or they may continue nursing and bed-sharing until they are eleven years old. The SIDS fear has been blown out of proportion because many people mistake co-sleeping for bed-sharing and they are not the same. Very young infants are safer if they are in a bassinet or co-sleeper and not in the same bed. However, there are many studies that show the benefits of co-sleeping and bed-sharing as the infant gets older and as long as the parents follow safe guidelines. So if you are not drinking alcohol or smoking and you are enjoying the night nursing and toddler bed-sharing, then you by all means, co-sleep and breastfeed for as long as you want.
That doesn’t mean that you should, though. If it doesn’t work for you, then don’t do it.
The one thing that we know for sure is that sleep deprivation is a real thing and it isn’t OK. It can cause depression, memory loss, grumpiness, the breakdown of marriage, not taking care of your self or your children among other things. So if you are experiencing extreme sleep deprivation then you should do something!
Here are some tips that help no matter where you find yourself on the spectrum:
1. Mom needs at least 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep
This is where dad or another care giver comes in. If you are exclusively nursing, start introducing a bottle once nursing is established so that you can pump and dad can take care of feedings during those five hours. This means that mom goes to bed when baby goes to bed and for the next 5 hours, mom sleeps in another room and has earplugs in while dad feeds, rocks, carries, soothes baby. Once the 5 hours are up, dad has the rest of the night and mom takes over with the feedings.
Once the baby is 3-4 months old, a routine can start to take shape. Routines are really the cornerstone for good sleep habits. With a routine, many children don’t need any sleep help, they simply fall asleep on their own due to the consistency and comfort of knowing what’s going to happen next. Of course, many more infants, babies and toddlers need more help than just a routine.
3. The “French Pause”
This was made famous by Pamela Druckerman’s book, Bringing Up Bebe, where she talks about how the french culture always waits a minute or two before they rush to the baby’s side. This allows the parent to determine what kind of fuss they are experiencing and often allows the child to settle themselves.
4. Sleep associations
Newborns are always going to fall asleep nursing or drinking from the bottle so that is always everyone’s first sleep association. But you can start to build in other sleep associations that go alongside nursing if you eventually want more independent sleeping. White noise, music, essential oils, a special toy or lovey, or a certain kind of light are all good things to do while your child falls asleep so that you can remove one association and keep another to help them achieve independent sleep.
5. Make sure your child doesn’t get overtired
An overtired child is a child who will never go to sleep. They become hyperactive to keep themselves awake. They go and go and go until they crash. This is not a healthy situation for anyone. Keep a lookout for signs of tiredness and use them to your advantage. When you see yawns, droopy eyelids, decreased activity, or even some crankiness, it is time to put your child to sleep. If you can, start the process before this happens so that once they are showing signs, you are right on schedule.
6. Have an active day and get outside
Be sure to get your children outside at least once per day. It helps regulate their bodies and helps with night sleep. The more active children are during the day, the better they will sleep at night. This doesn’t necessarily mean keeping them from napping since sleep begets sleep, but it does mean to have a fun and active day!