Some of the best advice I ever heard was from a neonatal nurse after the birth of one of my children. She said even tiny babies need to learn, and can learn that they are able to put themselves to sleep. If we always rocked the baby until she was sound asleep, then put her down, she wouldn’t learn this for herself. This nurse said to wrap the baby tightly, feed her, burp her, then just before she was completely out, put her in her bed.
This was good advice, but on the other hand, when they are tiny, you will do anything you can to get some rest yourself, including keeping them in your bed. At first, this feels good, especially with your first one. But when they get to be a year old and wiggle all night and sleep cross-wise on the bed, it’s not fun anymore.
New parents have said the biggest problem they faced was getting enough sleep. In a previous post I mentioned the wonderful book The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp. This book is most helpful for the first three months or when colic is a problem. After this time, an excellent book for later months is Sleeping Through the Night by Jodi A. Mindell, PhD. First, Dr. Mindell carefully explains normal sleep patterns and then some of the circumstances that cause problems, such as when parents and babies have to share the same room. She also explains that firstborns tend to have more problems than later children, and boys are more likely to have them than girls. She goes on to discuss ways to help children at different ages get to sleep using consistent rituals.When one of our daughters had her first child, she nursed him several times a night and bedtimes were awful. When he was a toddler, she read Sleeping Through the Night and was able to follow the steps to get her son to finally sleep through the whole night in his own bed. With her second son, she began the steps outlined in the book when he was two months old, and the whole process went much easier and faster. By the time he was three months old, he was going to bed easily, and sleeping a good nine or ten hours a night. She says that book saved her sanity and recommends it to everyone within earshot.
As far as letting your older babies and even young children sleep with the parents all the time, there are two schools of thought. It’s called “co-sleeping” and I’ve seen many articles and even books extolling this practice, and the parents who do it are zealous in their belief. In my own opinion, I don’t think it’s a good idea because nobody sleeps very well (see chart above). Also, there is always the possibility of crushing a baby while you’re sleeping. And what about later children?
The other problem I have with this practice is illustrated by a Dr. Phil show. He was talking with a woman who was about to marry for the second time, and her future husband was concerned that she always let her 3-year-old son sleep with her. Dr. Phil asked her, “When do you plan to wean him from this and how do you plan to do it?” She answered defiantly, “Why do I have to wean him? Why can’t we keep on doing it?” Dr. Phil said, “Uh huh. I can see it now. Your hulking 17-year-old son comes home, throws the car keys on the nightstand and says, “Move over, Mom.” The woman was shocked. She’d foolishly not thought beyond the current age.
When you begin to have children, sleep becomes a precious commodity. But I promise you, after the first couple of months, there are ways to ensure both you and the child get enough rest. Neither of you have to be cranky all the time from lack of sleep.
Next: Toddlers - zany and loveable!