If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial. I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length. This is a reference book. Read only the topic of interest to you.
Can parents help young babies sleep better? Yes! Is it safe? Yes! (Blog Posts 24).
When home from the hospital, teach self-soothing (Blog Post 10)
Drowsy but awake, be emotionally available at bedtime, practice consistent bedtime routines frequently, and leave the room after putting your child down.
At 6 weeks of age, early bedtimes.
At 3-4 months of age, protect and respect nap rhythms.
With the birth of our second child, a girl, Lily, we were busy with Hayden, now a toddler, and were quite the experts on all the “signs” babies give out. We had a rule: If she was sleepy and not crying (even at a few days old), she was to be put in her bassinet. We still played with her and enjoyed her, but we were not walking around the house with her twenty-four hours a day. We also provided Lily with the same nighttime routine we give Hayden: dim the lights and give a massage, bath, bottle, book, and bed. This prompted Lily to develop a quicker sleep schedule, and we found by 2.5 months she was sleeping through the late-night feedings. By 3 months she was going to bed at 5:00 to 5:30 p.m. and sleeping until 6:30 a.m. Also at 3 months we began putting her down for her midmorning nap two hours after she woke up, and that began her nap schedule. Now Lily, almost one, wakes up at 6:30 a.m., takes her first nap at 8:15 a.m., takes her second nap at 12:30 p.m., and is in the bathtub by 5:00 p.m. and asleep by 5:30 p.m.
We are vigilant about not letting either child nap in the car, strollers, or for that matter miss naps or have delayed naps. Once our children are in their cribs for the night, we don’t hear from them until the morning . . . no night waking or games! We greet them each morning with a smile on their faces. We are committed to having well-rested children and will defend our decisions with any naysayer suggesting we don’t get to be with our children at night or we are too strict with the daytime schedule. We find too often it is the parent who is putting the child on their schedule instead of vice versa. Babies yearn for routines and respond unbelievably to them. Again, we feel that we have two of the happiest, sweetest children, and knowing that teaching them good sleep habits and, more important, the ability to fall asleep unassisted is the best gift you can ever give!
My baby was deemed colicky at 3 weeks old. I wasn’t happy with that answer, and that is when I got the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. This book changed my life. I really don’t believe my child was colicky. I think she was just way overtired and completely strung out. She has always been a spirited baby and would never just fall asleep like typical babies. Ever since I started implementing Dr. Weissbluth’s advice, she has become a totally different baby. Sometimes I wonder if a lack of sleep can cause colic or colic-like symptoms. I truly believe there are colicky babies, but sometimes I wonder if some are misdiagnosed.
In retrospect, I think that my baby was colicky. He was terribly sensitive to light/noise—couldn’t sleep anywhere but his quiet room by himself at 6 weeks, and would scream and scream to fall asleep even if I held him. Thankfully, my aunt had a colicky baby, and she recommended letting him cry. Starting at 4 weeks, I would just put him down in his room when he was tired [that is, drowsy but awake]. He would cry for five to ten minutes, and then sleep a full nap. If I had tried holding or rocking him, he would have screamed for a long, long time without sleeping. If it weren’t for the fact that he got so much sleep (because I was willing to let him cry), he would have been full-blown colicky. As it was, he slept a lot! I am so grateful that I experimented with letting him cry to fall asleep. I can’t even imagine how much screaming he would have done if I had insisted on holding him when he cried.
I asked a group of new parents in my practice how they soothed their babies when fussy or soothed them to a drowsy state before sleep. Some mothers in the group started teaching self-soothing when their babies were only a week old, after hearing from other moms how they had also started early. One mother described how, after feeling comfortable with some successes, she decided that she would let her baby cry at night to learn some self-soothing for night sleep. Her baby cried quietly one night only for twenty minutes and then slept well at night and has slept well since. She did this at age 4 weeks, and her baby was now 5–6 months. There were no gasps or astonished looks but simply smiles and nods from the more experienced mothers.
My maternity leave had ended, and I went back to work for the first full day. My 12-week-old daughter had “colic” (screamed for three to five hours every day) for the first 10 weeks, which I felt was 100 percent her being overtired. I did graduated extinction at 6 weeks to get her solid naps during the day, which helped her daytime crying/screaming immensely, but these naps were attained through use of a dark room, swaddle, and some quiet soothing.
When our daughter Jaden was born, we were anxious to start off on the right foot with her sleep habits. We immediately focused on no more than two hours of wakefulness with a bedtime around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m., which was very easy to accomplish. After a few weeks, though, we still weren’t really seeing very long nighttime stretches. When Jaden was 8 weeks old, we visited Dr. Weissbluth to discuss her sleeping pattern. Dr. Weissbluth told us that at 6 weeks, we should have incorporated an early bedtime in addition to keeping shorter periods of wakefulness. We left wondering whether an early bedtime would really work for someone so young. We really expected that Jaden would be up within an hour or two after we put her down. We started off with a 7:00 p.m. bedtime. She still woke up in the late evening to eat, but we put her promptly back to bed. There were a few bumps in the road for the first couple of nights—sometimes she would wake up a few times and cry—but we kept at it. After a few days, Jaden went from sleeping a four-to-five-hour stretch in the evening, to seven, then eight, then nine or ten hours a night. In fact, she seemed happy to be sleeping so much! If she woke up to nurse, she would eat and immediately fall back asleep as soon as we put her back in her crib. We couldn’t believe how easy it was. The earlier we got her to bed, the better she slept. Her daytime naps even seemed longer and more restful. She is now 7 months old. We now try to get her down between 6:00 and 6:30 each night, and she is extremely happy about it. (So are we!)
We did extinction around 8 weeks for my first two children. The first was colicky, and I was at my wit’s end. The second was one of those kids whose sleep was worsening. After she got out of the “sleep around the clock” phase, around 6 weeks, she started sleeping less and less at night—up for hours at midnight or 2:00 a.m. I was depressed, and my husband was the hero, sleeping with her in the living room so it didn’t disturb me. Oh, and we had an 18-month-old at the time, too! By the third night, both babies were falling asleep, on their own, at a good time, and sleeping all night (with a couple of feeds). While I sometimes feel guilty about doing it so early, and wonder if I could have just stuck it out, I don’t really regret it. We did do full-on extinction. My first, the colicky one, was much worse off when we tried checking and leaving. With my second, we just saw how well it had worked with the first and did it. I went in on the first night after she had cried for two hours, nursed, and she went to sleep, but it didn’t hurt progress at all.
Keep a log or diary to see if any trend or improvement occurs. Here’s an account from Allyson’s mother, who helped her baby make a dramatic—and permanent—improvement in her sleep habits at about 8 weeks of age:
Day 56: Allyson woke up from an afternoon nap, and I thought she was ill—she was so calm! No jerky movements or agitated behavior, which I guess I’d assumed was just “normal” for her. About this time, though, she still cried a lot when not nursing, and she still had trouble falling asleep.
Day 59, the mother decided to ignore some of the fussing/crying.
Day 59 (first day of extinction with a one-hour cap): Let her fuss 1 hour—and she went to sleep for 3.25 hours (5:45 to 9:00 p.m.).
Day 60 (second day of extinction with a cap): Allyson fussed all morning and wouldn’t sleep, but I kept her in her crib from 10:15 a.m. to noon, staying with her most of the time. Got her up to nurse at noon. That night she woke up at 2:30 a.m.—for the first time in several weeks. I nursed her until 3:00 and then put her down. She fussed off and on until 4:00, when she went to sleep.
Day 63 (fifth day): Breakthrough! She went to sleep for forty-five minutes in the morning and took a really long nap in the afternoon (12:45 to 5:00). But she woke in the middle of the night again (3:20 a.m.). She went back to sleep at 4:30 and slept until 8:30. She was happy in her crib—no screaming as I changed her diaper, which was new behavior.
Review of this mother’s records showed that up to day 59, the total sleep duration per twenty-four hours was about six to twelve hours. After day 63, the total sleep duration was longer—twelve to seventeen hours. The five-day training really helped her child sleep longer.
Day 64 (sixth day): Two wonderful things happened. First, Allyson took a midmorning nap (10:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.), and when I put her down for the night, with her eyes wide open, she did not fuss at all. I quickly left the room and heard no crying. She slept from 8:35 p.m. to 5:05 a.m.
Days 87–96: Allyson is just about perfect. If she starts to fuss, I know she is hungry, wet, or tired. If she’s tired, I simply put her in her crib and within two minutes she is asleep. It’s a miracle!