Everyone knows just how precious sleep is–especially when you’re not getting any. This is especially true in the throes of the first several months after bringing home a newborn baby whose sleep-wake cycles have not yet synced with everyone else’s. We also see a lot of sleep issues when it comes to getting kids to either get to sleep in the first place or stay asleep. So I am hoping to lean on several of my colleagues to contribute to this topic in future blog posts (stay tuned).
I wanted to kick off this topic but starting at the beginning. If you have ever had a baby, you know how demanding and stressful it can be those early days after bringing the baby home–when you’re trying to learn just “how” to be a mother. How to feed/nurse the baby, how to diaper and bathe the baby, how to figure out the different cries the baby has and what they mean, how to swaddle and soothe the baby and most importantly, how to get baby to sleep. Those first few weeks can be a blur of diaper changes and feeding, which often means no showers and little restful sleep for the new momma.
After the baby is born, the pediatrician, family and friends will often ask whether the baby is sleeping through the night (yet) and how feedings are going. Once babies no longer need as many nighttime feedings, it important to think about how to support the family in establishing a more sustainable sleep pattern. Because, if baby doesn’t sleep, momma doesn’t either. Sleep training should not occur before 4-6 months of age, but will also depend on several factors such as whether the baby has started to establish regular sleep-wake patterns and if they have also dropped a majority of their night feedings.
However, when the time comes, I am usually asked, which approach is the “right” approach?
Unfortunately, given the abundance of sleep advice out there from books, popular media, family and friends, it can be quite overwhelming for new parents to decide which approach to take. And if you read several of the most popular titles, such as Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth, Solve your Child’s Sleep Problems: New, Revised and Expanded Edition by Dr. Richard Ferber, The Sleepeasy Solution: The Exhausted Parent’s Guide to Getting Your Child to Sleep from Birth to Age 5 by Jennifer Waldburger, LCSW and Jill Spivack, LCSW, The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp or the No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns by Elizabeth Pantley just to name just a few…the advice can be quite different. No wonder it can be quite confusing.
Over the years of coaching parents on parenting concerns, I have learned that my style to sleep and sleep training is no different. There are so many factors involved that I have concluded that there is not one single way of doing things the “right” way (see my related blog post, Parenting: There is no “right” way). I encounter parents who are sleep deprived and struggling for ANY sleep who also tried so many methods and strategies for short periods of time and then give up or that “just don’t work”.
The best advice I have for new parents is to have a discussion (ideally before the baby arrives) as to their own personal philosophies of childrearing and sleep training and see if parents/partners are on the same page. I think this is the key to being successful because in order to embark down the road of sleep training, one must find an approach that “feels right” and that each person can stick to and be consistent with. If I tell a mom to “ferberize” the baby but that mother identifies strongly with the philosophy of attachment parenting, this advice would serve only to cause anguish, guilt and frustration.
The key is exploring newborn sleep with new parents and helping them decide on how they want to approach sleep training so that they can be consistent, stick with it and back each other up.
Sound a little like I am waffling? Pediatricians ensure children are thriving and secure and that families feel supported within their own circles and their communities. A one-size-fits all approach never works. If parents or pediatricians-in-training come to me and ask for my opinion on the best approach, I share what I did but noting that it was the “right” approach for our family. And even though I am a behavioral pediatrician, I will be the first to confess that it didn’t make it any bit easier during those early days of sleep training…but we stuck it out and eventually both my children learned to self-soothe and developed healthy sleep habits.
The key was that we were there for each other during those few days of sleep training, often reading aloud the book passages that promised peaceful nights of slumber for everyone and chanting out loud why we were doing this so we could remind each other that ultimately we wanted to give our children their first lifelong skill of learning to self-soothe and sleep through the night.
RELATED: Getting your baby to sleep (HealthyChildren.org)
Pediatricians will ask how the process of establishing sleep is going during clinic visits and will offer ways to troubleshoot techniques if sleep seems to elude everyone. They can offer guidance on when it might be time to consider alternate approaches and supporting parents. This is no small matter, but it is very rewarding for all when successful because everyone gets a good night sleep.
RELATED: Sleeping through the Night (HealthyChildren.org)
Learning about basics of newborn sleep: Welcome to the World of Parenting (HealthyChildren.org)
I’d love to hear what approach worked for your family and why. Let’s continue to chat.