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).
I used extinction for my first two children at around 2 months. Both were still being swaddled at the time, and we kept them swaddled through extinction. They did not use pacifiers and did not suck fingers or thumb (though both started around 5 months). So it is entirely possible to do extinction with a swaddled baby (we started unswaddling them around 4 or 5 months with no problem at all). But if you know your son likes to suck on his fingers or thumb, then you can unswaddle him, too. A lot of parents decide to just do it all at once.
When Ron and I interviewed and selected our pediatrician before David was born, we left his office comfortable with the care we felt our child would receive. Although we knew the doctor had a special interest in sleep disorders, we never dreamed we would be faced with a baby whose internal clock thought day was night and night was day. Oh, it didn’t happen right away. In fact, the first few weeks were spent nursing and changing diapers in between. At the same time, I was beginning to relax and feel, yes, everything is going along normally. David became more alert; Ron and I knew it was a great step in his development. We looked forward to his periods of wakefulness as a time to interact with him. But a pattern began to develop: David didn’t want to go to bed at night. The doctor listened to what we were going through and assured us that, first of all, this was normal for some babies. David was really too young to go through baby sleep training at 6 weeks. So Ron and I resigned ourselves to some more of the same. When David was 2 months old I began to panic. My maternity leave would soon be over. I could barely stand up most of the time, I was so tired. I also wanted to continue to nurse David whenever I was home. I knew we had to do something before I went back to work. So we called Dr. Weissbluth and made an appointment to see him.
First, the doctor checked David’s physical condition. He was in perfect health. Then we talked. Dr. Weissbluth explained that we would have to make some changes in the way we handled David’s sleep periods. David was to have a quiet, darkened room when sleeping. No more night-light, music, et cetera. Naps should last at least forty-five minutes to an hour. If David got up sooner, we were to leave him there until he got the rest he needed. Instead of letting David stay up late, we were told to put him to bed between 7:00 and 9:00 p.m. No rides in cars, strollers, or swings, where sleep occurred for a short time. We decided to start that next Monday, since Sunday was Mother’s Day. I nursed David at 9:00 p.m., and by 9:30 p.m. he was asleep in my arms. I tiptoed him into bed and crept back to the living room and turned on the intercom. It was quiet until 9:45, when I heard David sucking his fingers. I thought, Okay, he’ll get back to sleep soon, but by 10:00 the crying began. David cried until 12:30—two and a half hours. For every cry I heard I shared his frustration, anger, and seeming pain. And I was angry—at David, the doctor, Ron, and myself. Finally, David fell asleep and he slept until 6:45 the next morning, when I woke him to nurse. The morning wake-up was planned and agreed to with Dr. Weissbluth. The idea was to get David to wake before I left for work so that I could nurse him. David seemed fine. I was exhausted. Tuesday I let David wake himself up. That day he took naps ranging between two and three and a half hours, but his schedule was rather loose. At 8:30 that night, when he woke up, I fed, bathed, and played with him until he had one last nursing and I put him to bed at 10:50 p.m.—this was later than Dr. Weissbluth had recommended. This time he cried from 10:50 until 11:15. Only twenty-five minutes? Could it be this easy? I was very encouraged. Weeks of David’s inability to get to sleep at night seemed to be at an end. Once again he slept through the night. At the end of our third week of sleep training, David, Ron, and I really had our acts together. Ron and I could tell when David was ready to call it a day, and we didn’t push him to stay up any later than he wanted.
Antonio was born two weeks early and without difficulty. I remember thinking several hours after his birth that he was going to be a very easy boy, since my pregnancy and delivery were both routine and relatively easy. Three days after we brought him home, however, I realized that my expectations might have been a little off. Over the next three weeks we started to notice a pattern of crying that started at about 5:00 p.m. and usually lasted for about six hours. In addition to that, Antonio awakened every two hours to be fed during the night and didn’t take daytime naps! During these early weeks, the only way Antonio would sleep, night or day, was if either my husband or I held him. My husband thought we must be doing something wrong, and I was afraid he might be right, although I didn’t admit it at the time. When Antonio was about 3 weeks old, I brought him to see Dr. Weissbluth. We discussed his sleep patterns (or lack thereof), and he advised me that Antonio’s evening fussiness would get worse until he was 6 weeks old, and then it would start to improve slowly and hopefully end at about 12 weeks. I was quite dismayed to also learn that since Antonio was born two weeks early, I had to count Antonio’s age from his original due date, not his birth date. So instead of having only three more rough weeks, we would probably have at least five! That’s an eternity when you’re sleep-deprived! I really didn’t know how we were going to make it through that rough period! I think the biggest worry we had was that Antonio’s fussiness would never end. We knew in our minds that he had to get better, but the big question was when. Then, at about 6 weeks after Antonio’s original due date, I couldn’t believe it, but I actually started to notice that his evening fussiness was decreasing! In addition, at the same time, his nighttime sleep started becoming a little longer, and he started falling asleep in his crib instead of having to sleep with me! The improvements were small, but at that point I was just ecstatic to have four solid hours of sleep at night! At about 10 weeks I called the doctor and received encouraging advice. He suggested that I start putting Antonio to bed earlier at night, as this might help him feel less tired and make him fall asleep more easily. At the time, Antonio was going to bed between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m. So I moved his bedtime to around 8:00 p.m. for a few nights, and I could not believe how well this worked! I then started putting him in his crib even earlier, as I noticed that he actually became tired at around 6:30 p.m. Antonio is now almost 5 months old, and he has been sleeping from 6:30 p.m. through the night to about 7:00 a.m. He has been doing this since he was 12 weeks old. He does wake up occasionally at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. if he’s hungry, but for the most part he sleeps extremely well at night, and is even starting to form regular daytime naps! Antonio is such a joy to be with, I actually might want to have a second baby. Yikes!
I started sleep training my first at 10 weeks and my second at 12 weeks. My oldest was an extremely fussy baby who was insanely sleep-deprived, and waiting until he was 16 weeks old to sleep train him seemed impossible! While I was ready for him to sleep, I wasn’t nearly as ready as I thought I was to hear all of the crying while training him! Regardless, he was ready, even if he didn’t know it, because he needed sleep! We went from co-sleeping to putting him in his crib, so it was a significant difference for him. While he did cry, after the first couple of nights he fell asleep very quickly on his own in his crib. Soon thereafter, he began going to sleep at 5:00 p.m. to make up for all of his lost sleep, and waking up at 7:00 a.m. He did wake to eat, but would go back to sleep on his own. Our second, who is much easier than our first, already could soothe himself to sleep pretty well. After the first two nights of sleep training, he made immense leaps and bounds. I found that it was more me who was not ready to sleep train, less the kids, but once I sucked it up (and had my husband hold me back from going in to check on them when they cry) they became happier kids, and I became a happier, less tense mom. You need to keep reminding yourself about the big picture, and one day you’ll thank yourself for doing what seemed impossible and heart-wrenching.
I am a frequenter of the new parent group at Dr. Weissbluth’s office and have had tremendous success with letting my now 11-week-old daughter cry it out. I let her do it the first time for twenty minutes at 4 weeks of age and had success pretty immediately. After about four nights the crying was either extremely limited or nonexistent. Some people might think it’s crazy or terrible, but I feel as though I was able to help my daughter sleep and feel better. I limit her to short periods of wakefulness (thirty to forty-five minutes usually), put her to bed early (5:30–6:30 p.m.), and let her cry it out when she needs to. She is now 11 weeks, sleeps twelve to fourteen hours each night, naps really well, and is just the happiest little girl. In addition, I am well rested, happy, and am able to give her my best self. I think you need to be comfortable and do what you believe is the right thing. But no, I don’t think it’s too early to let her cry it out. My opinion is to put her to bed in a dark, quiet room well fed with a clean diaper and close the door. Turn the baby monitor off and the TV up for twenty to thirty minutes and see what happens.
My son, who was 11 weeks at the time, was extremely colicky. Having experienced colic in the past with my daughter (different type of colic, with more constant fussing and less crying), I felt that there might be the possibility of sleep training now rather than waiting until he was post-colic, around 4 months old. Not only was it for his sake, but in all honesty it was for us as a family also. We are so worn out and my poor little guy is so sleep-deprived. We started putting him down at 5:30 p.m. and did complete extinction. Within four or so days he started doing much longer stretches at night and better, not great, but definitely better sleep during the day as well. He still has days that seem more colicky than others, but our bedtime routine and early bedtime have made a world of difference for him.