6 Little Secrets of a Sleeping Baby

So, here we are, six posts and two months after my declaration that I would get to the bottom of this little issue of infant sleep. It shouldn’t have surprised me that it has taken me this long to begin to understand this topic. After all, it is a field with decades of research and thousands of published papers. If I was only interested in finding support for one side of the issue, I could have dug up a few papers in an hour or two and whipped something out, but I needed a more complete understanding – for myself, if for nobody else. My experience was quite beautifully summed up by a reader’s comment on my last post:

“…wide reviews of research (rather than simply focusing on the work of one or even a few researchers or studies) tend to show that dogmatism on many parenting issues is rarely justified.” ~Becky

I couldn’t have said it better myself. My conclusion: do what works for your family.

I want to wrap up this project by sharing some of the major lessons on infant sleep that I learned along the way, both from the science and in reflecting on my own experiences.

These first 3 are things we can do from the very start:

1.    Know that crying is normal. It is how we respond that matters.

When I was pregnant with BabyC, I knew that for the first few months of her life, she would wake often during the night, but I envisioned sweet nights with her – a dim light, a comfortable rocking chair, nursing her until she faded back to sleep. And in my imagination, these scenes of maternal bliss were always quiet. So I was not prepared for the nights during those early weeks when BabyC would wake at 2 AM and I would do everything I knew to do – nurse her, burp her, change her, hold her, rock her, try nursing again – and she would only cry. There were nights when she would wail, eyes squeezed shut, for hours, while I tried everything to soothe her. Looking back, I realize that in my mind, I believed that my success as a mother was tied to my ability to stop my baby’s cries, as quickly as possible. If she cried, I felt that I was failing.

With this mindset, when Husband and I discovered that bouncing BabyC stopped her crying, we latched on to that as our life vest for parenting. Bouncing became the way that we put BabyC to sleep every single time. We thought we had discovered a genius secret for curing babies’ cries. Every parent needs one of these exercise balls, we told our friends.

Of course, it was no wonder that BabyC couldn’t sleep well when every time she transitioned from one sleep cycle to the next, she needed to be bounced up and down, for longer and longer periods of time. Bouncing may have stopped her crying for a while, but by using this technique, we were completely overriding whatever self-soothing abilities BabyC might have had if given the chance to use them. And as her parents, we were missing valuable opportunities to really listen to her cries, learn to understand them, and develop appropriate responses.

There is a significant body of research that shows that infants will learn to self-soothe if given the chance. As a new mother, I wish that I had paused to listen before jumping to stop BabyC’s cries and, in doing so, perhaps given her a chance to develop her own ways of soothing. I wish that I had thought carefully about what my soothing techniques were teaching her about sleep. And I wish that, at least occasionally, I had given her the chance to try to fall asleep without my intervention. After all, she might have surprised me. It would have been easier for me to think clearly about these things if I had thought of my job as being to support my baby in learning how to sleep rather than being to stop the crying.    

Since those desperate days of early motherhood, I have learned a great deal about respecting and listening to babies from the writing of Magda Gerber. She wrote,

“[Crying] is the way a baby expresses her feelings and she should be allowed to do so. Rather than trying to stop your child from crying by distracting her, try to figure out why she is crying so that you are able to help her.”

BabyC cried because she was tired. I responded by distracting her with bounces until she was lulled to sleep. I now realize that what she needed was to be heard, not hushed. I am not suggesting that we should ignore babies’ cries – not at all – but simply that we be thoughtful about responding in a non-intrusive way that is consistent with how we want the baby to eventually learn to sleep. In reality, this may be just a small shift in our actions, but it is a huge shift in our intention, and it actually requires greater attention to our babies. I believe that this simple shift in thinking may have prevented the sleep problems we found down the road.

2. Develop predictable routines for both the day and night.

Exposure to light during the day and darkness at night helps new babies to develop circadian rhythms and sleep more at night. Getting fresh air and sunshine during the day is good for parents and babies alike. A study of 6- to 12-week-old infants found that those that slept well at night were exposed to more light during the early afternoon [1]. In addition, following a consistent bedtime routine improved sleep in a large randomized controlled trial of infants and toddlers identified as having sleep problems [2]. In this study, babies that received a bath, massage, and snuggles each night were quicker to fall asleep, woke less in the night, slept for an average of 36 more minutes per night, and were in a better mood in the morning! It is never too early to develop these routines.

3. Be emotionally available at bedtime.

In a study of babies aged 1-24 months, the more emotionally available mom was at bedtime, the easier it was for baby to settle to sleep and sleep well during the night [3]. Other factors such as where the baby slept and whether nursing was part of the bedtime routine were found to have little effect on sleep in this study. The authors described emotionally available moms as:

  • Sensitive – “affectively attuned to their infants, demonstrated a clear awareness of infant cues, interpreted them accurately, and responded contingently and appropriately.”
  • Structuring –  “prepared their infants for bed using positive, quiet, soothing bedtime routines that gently guided the infant toward sleep.”
  • Nonintrusive - “showed recognition of their infants’ need to sleep by not initiating new interactions with the infant and avoiding high-volume, intrusive talk.”
  • Nonhostile – “showed no overt or covert irritability or anger toward the infant at any point during bedtime.”

An emotionally available parent makes the baby feel safe at bedtime, even when saying goodnight is difficult. 

If your current sleep situation is not working and it is affecting the health of your family, you may wish to lovingly and respectfully make some changes to your baby’s sleep habits. Encouraging your baby to self-soothe will make it easier for her to transition from one sleep cycle to the next during the night without your help. Change is always hard for babies, and this is especially true around bedtime. Here are some things you can do to ease your baby through this transition:

4. Consider your baby’s stage of development.

Young babies (<3-4 months) need our help with regulating stress and should not be left to handle it on their own for prolonged periods. In addition, there are developmental stages that are particularly difficult times to make changes to sleep routines. For example, between 4 and 6 months, babies are experimenting with their new-found power to elicit a response from a caregiver (I smile at you and you smile back!). Between 8 and 11 months, most babies go through a period of separation anxiety. Decreasing parental involvement at bedtime during these developmental stages can be confusing and distressing for babies [4]. Unfortunately, these same stages often bring some natural struggles with sleep, but it is best to ride these periods out and wait until your baby is in a more stable place. Be mindful of other transitions in your baby’s life as well. If she is going through changes in childcare or working on a new skill such as crawling, wait until these have passed before attempting changes in her sleep. And be aware that some children, particularly if they are fearful or anxious, may just need closeness at bedtime for a while. For an in-depth understanding of child development as it relates to sleep changes, I highly recommend the book Bedtiming by developmental psychologists Isabela Granic and Marc Lewis. Other sleep advice books and sleep researchers largely ignore these ideas, and I’m convinced that appropriate timing is a critical factor in both the stress and success of attempting sleep changes.

5. Talk with your baby about the upcoming changes.

Babies almost always understand more language than we realize. Do not underestimate the value of helping your baby prepare for a transition. In one study of babies entering daycare for the first time, when mothers spent more days preparing their babies for the transition by attending daycare with them, they were more likely to maintain secure attachment during this change [5].

6.  Be present and supportive for your baby during bedtime changes.

If you are encouraging your baby to self-sooth and learn to sleep on her own, you eventually need to decrease your presence and soothing at bedtime. Several studies have measured cortisol in rhesus monkey infants separated from their mothers. They found that when infants were separated to a different cage but were still able to see and hear their mothers, they cried more but had little to no cortisol response compared to babies that were totally isolated from their moms [6, 7]. Staying close to your baby during this transition may mean that she protests more, but your presence is still helping her cope with the change and regulate her stress. That may mean staying in the room at first and gradually withdrawing your presence, or it may mean returning to reassure your baby periodically. Either way, you are telling your baby, “I know this is hard for you, but I’m still here.”

This last point highlights another shift in my thinking about infant crying. Once we realized that we had saddled BabyC with an association between bouncing and sleeping and that this was interfering with her sleep, I started trying to let her fall asleep in my arms without movement. She cried and cried and cried, pleading with me to stop being silly and start bouncing her. In my desperate new mama mind, I thought, “This isn’t working. She won’t stop crying. I’m clearly not helping her.” Again, I was tying my success as a mother to my baby’s cries, and I felt that I was failing. I finally set her down in her bed and left the room, returning every few minutes to reassure her. Ultimately, I think that this method can be an acceptable way of supporting babies through this transition, but I wish that I had tried letting her fall asleep in her bed while I sat close to her. I wish that I had known that her crying didn’t mean that my presence was meaningless to her, that me being there as she learned to sleep may have reduced her stress through the transition.

Many sleep experts advise that extinction – letting babies cry-it-out without any reassurances – is the fastest way to good sleep and results in less crying in the long run. They’re probably right, but again, I think we need to stop measuring our success by minutes of crying. A more gradual approach may take longer and require more patience, but it is likely less stressful to the baby. A crying baby may be protesting, struggling to fall asleep in a new way, or frustrated by the change, but she is not necessarily in distress or despair. When we let our babies know that we hear them and acknowledge their emotions, they’ll probably keep telling us how they feel for a while, and that’s OK. Every baby is different, but I now believe that most babies benefit from a gradual approach with more parental support. 

——————————————————————————————————

I know the topic of infant sleep is controversial. Studying it has been overwhelming. Discussing it with you has been humbling. Thinking about it has made me dig deeper to define my own parenting philosophy. Writing about it has left me feeling extremely vulnerable.

I’m ready to move on, but I’m doing so with a new mantra:

Parent with love. Parent with respect. Parent with knowledge. Parent without fear.

Check out other posts from my infant sleep series:

 

REFERENCES

1.  Harrison, Y. The relationship between daytime exposure to light and night-time sleep in 6-12-week-old infants. J Sleep Res. 13(4): p. 345-52. 2004.

2.  Mindell, J.A., L.S. Telofski, B. Wiegand, and E.S. Kurtz. A nightly bedtime routine: impact on sleep in young children and maternal mood. Sleep. 32(5): p. 599-606. 2009.

3.  Teti, D.M., B.R. Kim, G. Mayer, and M. Countermine. Maternal emotional availability at bedtime predicts infant sleep quality. J Fam Psychol. 24(3): p. 307-15. 2010.

4.  Lewis, M.D. and I. Granic. Bedtiming New York, NY: The Experiment. 244 2010.

5.  Ahnert, L., M.R. Gunnar, M.E. Lamb, and M. Barthel. Transition to child care: associations with infant-mother attachment, infant negative emotion, and cortisol elevations. Child Dev. 75(3): p. 639-50. 2004.

6.  Levine, S., D.F. Johnson, and C.A. Gonzalez. Behavioral and hormonal responses to separation in infant rhesus monkeys and mothers. Behav Neurosci. 99(3): p. 399-410. 1985.

7.  Bayart, F., K.T. Hayashi, K.F. Faull, J.D. Barchas, and S. Levine. Influence of maternal proximity on behavioral and physiological responses to separation in infant rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). Behav Neurosci. 104(1): p. 98-107. 1990.

 

 

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153 thoughts on “6 Little Secrets of a Sleeping Baby

  1. So, let me see… according to #4, babies shouldn’t be left to cry (i.e. “decreased parental involvement”) if they’re younger than 4 months, or between 4-6 months, or between 9-12 months. So perhaps there’s a window between 6-9 months where crying is ok, unless your baby develops slightly slower or faster than the norm…

    Can’t we just look at all of that and state simply that baby’s crying should be attended to by the caregiver — and not responded to with decreased parental involvement — up to the age of 12 months or so?

    • When I went back to look more closely at the developmental periods in Bedtiming, I realized that I should have said 8-11 months rather than 9-12 months for the period of separation anxiety, so I just corrected that. But to respond to your comment – let’s say that parents of a 5-month-old are feeling at the end of the rope with a baby that has a hard time going to sleep and wakes every couple of hours during the night. Telling them to wait another 6 months – to muddle through sleep deprivation, which has well documented risks associated with it – when they are approaching a period between 6 and 8 months which is actually a really good time to work on these issues, that seems cruel. To quote from Granic and Lewis, who also have a very broad definition of sleep training, on the 6-8 months window: “Babies are engaged with the world of objects around them (more than they are with people) and show almost no signs of separation distress. This combination creates one of the best times for sleep training. Sleep train any earlier and your baby is less stable. Sleep train any later and your baby will feel the pangs of separation distress to at least some degree.” They also write that these developmental windows are remarkably consistent from child-to-child. This seem like really important information to know if you are considering changes to sleep and want to do it mindfully with as little stress as possible while still giving your child an opportunity to learn to self-soothe. And for what it is worth, the book outlines times for changes that are better than others through age 4. They also warn that periods between 17 and 21 months, 28 months to 3 years, and 3.5-4 years are difficult times to make changes. I highly recommend the book. It is written by a husband and wife, parents of twins, who are both developmental psychologists. They are familiar with the struggles of sleep deprivation and understand the need to for something like sleep training, but they are the only experts I have found who actually think very carefully about how babies think and feel about change and separation at different developmental stages.

    • What magically happens at 12 months that you should suddenly ignore your child’s cries? Are they suddenly less needful of emotional support? A child’s emotional needs should be attended to until well …. forever in one way or another. i don’t get why we soothe the 9 month old to sleep, but suddenly at 12 or 18 or 24, or whatever the magical number is, they are out of luck.

      • Thanks for your thoughts on this. You know, I don’t think there are ever really any magic ages for anything we do in parenting. Every child is obviously different, and so is every parent. As with much of parenting, I like to think of this as a delicate dance of holding close and letting go. We always provide emotional support to our children, but there are different ways of doing that. We can let them know that we are here for them but also give them a chance to try something on their own. For many children, this little bit of letting go on mama’s part allows the baby to learn a new skill and get a better night of sleep. That’s worth a lot, for everyone involved! I think that the developmental windows are really helpful to understand – even for making other changes in life, like a change in child care or a family trip. It isn’t magic, but it is good information to have as a parent.

  2. Love it! This article, and the others previous, eloquently sums up the importance of sleep and the parents role in helping little ones achieve this skill. I am a Gentle Sleep Coach and this information is the most important info that I share with my clients – then they pick the method that best suits their family and the baby’s temperament.
    Thank-you

  3. I have very much enjoyed reading your blog and have shared it with my birth club – many of us becoming First Time Mum’s in July 2012. Thank you for providing a rational, scientific approach to such an inflammatory topic. Much appreciated.

  4. I really enjoyed your work and discussions on baby sleep. I love your last comments and your mantra. I feel as you do that blogging and discussions on parenting are humbling and do make you vulnerable to criticism when you discuss your own views even if they are solidly based on current factual beliefs.
    Thanks for sharing. :)

  5. Pingback: Self-soothing issue « my time with you

  6. Pingback: Who’ll stop the rain? « newfoundlandtraveller

  7. Hi there!
    I’m a new Facebook liker from Geelong, Australia. As a former Science teacher, former Maths Publisher and now stay and work from home mum, I wanted to say thank you for this and all of your well-researched and eloquently written articles. I particularly like your parenting mantra, and your comment about dogma not being helpful and that parents should choose what works best for your family. Sleep is such a HUGE issue and I too felt pressure to do what others said I should. In the end, we used a double-pat technique (one hand on his upper back, one on his bottom) for “an amount of time”, whispered “love you night night” and left. We would re-enter every few minutes for as long as it took. I read and spoke with so many people about this issue (perhaps too many!) but in the end, we realised that we needed to find what worked for us. While it has worked for now (my 19mo son says love you and leaps out of our arms into bed!) but I also think people naturally search for “the answer”, especially in those early, sleep-deprived months. If only we all had the confidence to trust ourselves, trust our children, and a touch of the benefit of hindsight!
    Thanks again,
    Kirstie

  8. Love this! Great post. Thank you for writing this. :)

    I have great sleepers at home and people are always telling me how lucky I am. Which is… nice. But I’ve also always wanted to tell them that it’s more than just ‘luck’, kwim? I didn’t really have the words though. I tried writing/talking about it but my words always sound clumsy and unsubstantiated. You put into words what I could not. I’ve reblogged this partly because I think more mothers should be so ‘lucky’ and should have e knowledge/skills/tools to help their babies get a good night’s sleep. I also hope that my peeps realise that I’m not just ‘lucky'; that I did something right by my children with regards to my decision on how I handle their sleep in those oh, so very early days (that whole debate about letting babies cry it out/self-sooth, you know?). And that at the end of the day, we all just have to do what works for us, and agree to disagree. :)

    • Same here. I never could articulate my “secret” but my babies (three) all transitioned well with regard to sleep during their infancy. I was a stay at home mom at the time so didn’t have the day care issue. But I did a lot of volunteer work and my babies were all in tow. When evening came, there were routines and a mother’s instinct. I had very little time to read the latest advice. But…I was present and sensitive. Evening was hallowed. Phones and television off. Bath, massage, soft humming, and snuggles were in abundance. And yes, there were times of just “crying it out”. But I would go back in the room and repeat the snuggles love, and humming and try again. Then leave.
      There is just no simple formula but if any mother is present, sensitive, and reassures total love and commitment, it carries not only through infancy but throughout life. The continual struggle of letting go and giving your children wings begins in their earliest years. Learn to do it well.

    • I did all this and above and much much much more. My 5 month old is a bad sleeper. So what exactly are you saying? I’m a bad parent? I’m doing something wrong? Sometimes there is luck, my older son slept great, didn’t have to put half the effort I am currently putting in.

  9. Thank you for this. I only wish you could have written it before I had DS 21 months ago. :) Now it fits with our experience that we fumbled through when he was 7 months old and your ideas of removing yourself slowly will be replicated with DD who is 1 month old today! I look forward to reading more of your blog!

  10. I really appreciate you writing this series. I’m catching up on your posts as my 5 month old snoozes peacefully on me. I fell into the same bouncy ball trap with my first child, so I wish I had read something like this 3 yrs ago. I’m adopting your mantra and sharing this with all my friends who are new moms to be.

  11. A very interesting article, I’m very pro ‘what works best for your family’ I think there is too much emphasis on new young mothers to have their baby fit the ‘norm’ from day one and build the ‘usual’ routines. No wonder their stressed out!

  12. Thanks a lot for this post, I find your tone very reassuring and non-judgemental, which is very refreshing since the discussion on baby sleep is so heated and opinions vary so hugely, that it’s difficult to make sense of it all.
    The obsession for sleeping advice can drive the sleep-deprived parents slightly more irrational. My baby is 5 months and a week, and I’ve slept terribly for months and never really let him cry. He wakes up more and more frequently (every 1-2 hours, sometimes 30 minutes!) now -for no obvious reasons, teeth are out, is not hungry- and it has become unmanageable.
    I’ve been suggested to do controlled crying asap. I’m torn about it, as the ideal mum I envisioned when pregnant would have never done that. But 5 months of very bad sleep are eroding my patience during night and day and my mood is suffering. So I might have to give controlled crying a go.

    • Are you feeding your baby solids already? Feeding him more during the day (milk and solid food) may help him sleep longer at night, if not the entire night. The World Health Organization recommends starting solid food at 6 months, but you can start earlier (after 4 months old) if your son is showing signs of dissatisfaction after drinking milk, already has teeth, and/or keeps looking at people eating. You can also add rice cereal to his milk before night sleep, whether it is breastmilk or formula. The swinging cradle also helped my baby sleep a lot, for daytime naps and even for nighttime. I don’t swing the cradle all the time, only when she slightly awakens as she transitions to the next sleep cycle; and I just swing the cradle gently.

      I hope this helps.

      • Thanks for sharing your experience, but I would like to say that both the WHO and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend waiting until 6 months to start solid foods for a breastfed baby. If you are already feeding formula, I recommend following the signs of readiness, and you can consider starting a little earlier, but there is really no good reason not to wait until 6 months. See my post on this:

        http://scienceofmom.com/2012/02/27/10-tips-for-starting-your-baby-on-solid-food/

        Adding rice cereal to a bottle is not recommended and will not help with sleep. If there are sleep problems, I recommend working on the cause – helping baby to learn to self-soothe. Best of luck!

  13. I had a remarkably easy time with sleep and I attributed it much to the same attitude you have – accumulate knowledge but not be dogmatic about it. When dealing with Sophia I was armed with all the ideas that experienced nannies, books, research, the internet, well-meaning relative and friends offered and at the end of the day it was a combination from all the sources coupled with my own mother’s instincts that “worked”. So I always found it hard to answer the “how did you do it?” question. Perhaps next time I’ll point them to your article!

  14. I am sitting here right now with my four-day-old completely dumbfounded by this new challenge of getting her to rest. Thank you so much for sharing this well written and thoughtful research. It really gives me some perspective and great ideas about what’s going on.

  15. I love your sentiment of parenting without fear. I’m the mom of two and i believe that sleep training our first born in those early days really set a precidence of how we would offer discipline in the future. Discipline, as in providing loving guidance and support through difficult times, not in the providing consequences sense of the word. Though the consequences of trusting him and learning from his cues have been wonderful. We gained perspective and an ability to trust ourselves to be good parents. That confidence goes a long way as they get older! And it is very important for new parents to remember this is just the first of many many milestones.

    Great post! It is refreshing to hear someone lay out the “why’s” and allow parents to figure out their own “how’s”. Excellently done.

  16. It’s been decades since I dealt with a sleeping (or not) infant. All of this is so much easier to think about and actually carry out when the parents are well rested and therefore sane. Unfortunately, well rested new parents ………..hmmm…………When does that happen? :)

  17. I also hope that my peeps realise that I’m not just ‘lucky’; that I did something right by my children with regards to my decision on how I handle their sleep in those oh, so very early days (that whole debate about letting babies cry it out/self-sooth, you know?). And that at the end of the day, we all just have to do what works for us, and agree to disagree.

  18. Great post! You’re so thorough. These posts could definitely be in a Science of Mom book someday! And congrats of getting FP… it’s awesome that you can share all of your research on sleeping (and everything else) with the tons of people who will now be clicking through your blog!! I just might have to give you a shout out on my blog, considering I reblogged one or two of your sleep posts. Cheers =)

  19. My 11 1/2-month-old son has been getting up on average once a night for a bottle for the last couple of months. We keep Jaydon up till 9 or 10 pm. If he goes down earlier than that Jaydon will get up at 4 or 5 in the morning and stay up for hours.
    Thanks for the post. It was very informative.

    The Adventures of Jaydon and Daddy

    http://JaydonAndDaddy.com

  20. Whenever a friend of mine is expecting, I try to think of some of the most comforting and helpful things that I can tell them to help their parenting journey. The advice won’t always help all the time, but might come back at a particuarly troubling/trying time and soothe them a bit. My first piece of advice to new mothers is that it’s OK to become angry and frustrated, and that it will happen. The key is that you don’t take that frustration out on the child. I recommend putting the baby in a crib or other safe place and leaving the room for a few moments. Go into another room and yell or punch a pillow, then return to help your baby.

    I think that this is a new, wonderful piece of wisdom to provide new moms (and dads) with. If your baby cries, it does not mean you have failed. All crying is not despair.

    Thank you!

  21. The crying really unnerves a new mom and I too had to try and think logically as to why my baby could be crying. Luckily because I had read a lot of info prior to giving birth, I didn’t have as hard a time. Great information on your site!

  22. Great article, unfortunately for me, my kids werent aware of what the books said…so after all my reading & research and feeling “Prepared” and I had to throw it all out & “wing it”. Cngrats on te FP !

  23. First off, I have a 9- and 12-year-old, and I’m living proof that those of you going through this…will get through it! It sure doesn’t feel like it at the time…and so many of us can relate to that feeling…

    Second, I’m so glad this post dealt with the idea of your emotional state (and how that translates to the baby) as well as talking to the baby! Such important tips…

  24. Pingback: Let sleeping baby lie « The Adventures of Jaydon and Daddy

  25. Pingback: 6 Secrets of a Sleeping Baby, and 3 of a Not-Sleeping-Enough Mama to Be | railcitybaby

  26. I think I soothed my oldest too much as well. Actually she never had a chance to cry… she is now almost 5 and just learning how to soothe herself…whereas my youngest has been self-soothing siince she was born. I appreciate that original and open-minded angle with which you come about this topic.

    • I think sometimes we don’t give kids enough credit for being individuals, even as babies. I have friends with multiple kids who used the same kinds of techniques to help them to self-soothe, and what works for one often doesn’t work for the others! Some babies are very strong-willed, some are anxious, some are just snuggly and need a bit more presence at night…so some parents who smugly brag about their first baby being a good sleeper thanks to their expert parenting have to eat their words when baby #2 comes along! And vice versa: parents who blame themselves for their child’s sleep troubles should stop beating themselves up!

      • Absolutely, Christina, you make a wonderful point. I have heard that story – of baby #2 being totally different than #1 – over and over. Any smugness over parenting successes is an invitation for karma:)

  27. One thing I read, which I found to be helpful, especially for my peace of mind, is that when infants are very young, you actually WANT them to wake up every once in a while. It is true babies go through cycles of light and heavy sleep, and it has been postulated that babies waking every couple of hours is a sort of natural guard against SIDS.

    • Absolutely, night waking is completely normal and to be expected. Adults wake during the night as we transition from one sleep cycle to the next as well! However, babies don’t always need our help with that transition. If they are not hungry or wet or otherwise uncomfortable, they can usually learn to self-soothe back to sleep – leaving everyone with more consolidated sleep. Sometimes babies will make some little noises as they transition from one cycle to the next, and well-meaning parents will jump up to feed them or pat them, or whatever – but they are actually waking the baby fully and then creating a habit of needing more milk, soothing, etc during the night.

  28. I was lucky and blessed enough 13 years ago to meet a woman on a plane when my son was about 3 months old. She recommend a book called “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” by Marc Weissbluth. She is one of those people who briefly dipped her toes into my life and will never know how much she helped me. I also bought a dozen of those soft cloth diapers and used those for loveys/blankies which was great because I always had one clean and they all looked and felt the same. I would sometimes put one over my shoulder or under my shirt to get my (hopefully not stinky!:) mommy scent on it) which seemed to soothe my kids when they were babies.

    “The most important thing she’d learned over the years was that there was no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”–Jill Churchill, writer

    Namaste and many blessings***

    • I love the Jill Churchill quote:) I have also read Weissbluth’s book and found it very helpful in understanding sleep. I liked his advice for the first few months about reading baby’s sleepy cues and setting baby up to sleep before she gets really tired. He does advocate a complete extinction method (although he gives several options), and I now really feel like that method is too stressful for both parents and babies, even though it usually works really fast. That’s my conclusion after reading the research on stress in babies – it is part speculation, part philosophy, and part science, but that’s how i feel, for what it is worth.

      • Hmm, I guess I just remember the getting the baby on a sleep schedule and when things got really thrown off to be strict about it–so no late nights for an entire week in order to get the sleep schedule back on track. I also agree about the getting babies/kids (and adults) to bed before they are over tired because I have found once we miss that window to go to bed then everybody gets a second wind and it is much more challenging to get everyone to sleep. Good luck!

        • Yes! The timing is so key. Reading baby’s cues and natural rhythm and then settling into a routine together. Maybe you were able to set the foundation so that you didn’t run into trouble later. I agree that consistency is so key, and oh yeah, once they get overtired… everything is so much harder.

  29. If I knew then what I know now…With my first child, we rocked and rocked and rocked and tried to get him to sleep. We were so dumb. We had so much trouble with sleep for well over the first year of his life. My second child? We made her cry it out/self-soothe within several months. I learned that it may seem like she was crying for an hour, but in reality, it was only minutes. You will get through this. Babies just cry! But you have something to celebrate–FP, congrats!

    • Me, too, MuddledMom. We did LOTS wrong until we discovered the “magical” solution, which changed with each next baby. I think the key for a parent is trust instinct first while realizing that a baby’s cry is the only way they can communicate with us for many months. I don’t miss the sleepless nights that demand-nursing required, but oh…the memories of the things we DID do right. Blessed baby time. So very precious.

      This is the best, most informative, well-done FP post I have ever read in my months blogging. Well done, Science of Mom! You are going to do well raising your children.

  30. I was also a yoga ball-bouncer. Unfortunately I didn’t really give my baby a chance to fall asleep on his own; I assumed he always needed to be rocked or nursed to sleep. It wasn’t until I gave him the opportunity to sleep on his own that he finally did. He’s now two and is a great sleeper!

  31. I wish I had had access to this piece a few months ago when I felt as though I was at the end of my rope. Thank you for a well-written, documented, intelligent article. There are not as many of these in the blogosphere as there ought to be.

  32. Extremely informative and eloquently put!!! As others have stated, you have a very nonjudgemental tone, and have obviously done your research! I applaud your efforts and will be reblogging this post, and hope to use the information when I finally do have children! I’m working on developing my personal parenting philosophies, prior to my inevitable sleep deprivation as a new parent. It always hurts me inside when I see babies crying and their mothers are just ignoring them. I understand that that’s their way of communicating with us, so shouldn’t we listen? At least acknowledge them and respond appropriately? They’re OUR responsibility. If we don’t respond to them, then who will? I believe strongly that we’re supposed to be a calming, nurturing influence, and not a yelling drill sargent of “no” and “stop that!” At the same time we don’t want to be too “mothering” to the point that they can’t function without us. We need to help them learn to help themselves. I also enjoyed the comments from the mother that stated they used the “two handed” soothing bedtime approach. I just hope I can figure out what’s best for my children when they do come along. :)

    • Hi – thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comment. It is wonderful that you are thinking about all of these things now. I agree that it is absolutely our job to respond to baby’s cries, but what I have come to feel is that we first need to listen and observe and think about what the baby needs before we just work to hush the cry. It is certainly a delicate balance between soothing and giving small opportunities to self-soothe, but this can be done without ever ignoring the baby or disregarding what she is trying to communicate. I love Magda Gerber’s RIE philosophy and a couple of bloggers – Janet Lansbury and Lisa Sunbury – who write about it. It has helped me to think about this balance. Check out Janet’s post on crying: http://www.janetlansbury.com/2011/09/7-reasons-to-calm-down-about-babies-crying/
      Good luck!

  33. That is really some great advice! Also, making certain routines before bedtime.. like turning off the lights and making things quiet!

  34. This is a great article to keep in mind when I start having kids. It also reminds me of Anne Lamott’s technique (as described in her new book, Some Assembly Required). She had a name for it, but I can’t remember. Nor can I remember what age she suggests it for but here it is:
    When the baby cries (and there’s no actual reason for tears) you go to the door, or crib and say something like, “Hello, babyname, I’m here for you” but you don’t pick the baby up. You sort of acknowledge that the world is a big scary place, but that you’ll be there, so they learn to self-soothe without being lonely. She says it works after about 48-72 hours. Definitely going to give it a try and use your very informative article as psychological backup!

    • Interesting, I’ll have to check out her book. This sounds like a good approach, but one of many ways to go about it. I will add that I think we have to consider that there is always a reason for baby’s tears. It is our job to figure it out – as best we can – but not necessarily try to fix it every time. When babies are very young, they need us to help them regulate stress, but even then they will sometimes just cry and we have no idea why. The best we can do is be supportive of them and let them know that we hear them – we don’t always have to bounce it out of them:)

  35. I am totally with you that even without realizing I laid my success as a new mom on my ability to pacify my baby whenever she cried, where I failed on more occasions than I would have liked.
    A well researched, wonderfully put article that is surely going to help me put my eight month old daughter to sleep more effectively :D
    Thank you for sharing this :)

  36. So many of my friends have just had babies – and it’s fascinating for me to read a) what they’ll be going through for the next year, and b) have a cool topic on baby sleeping to show them. You are a wonderful writer!

  37. Very good information. I think it will help a lot of mom’s and let mom’s know they are not a failure if their baby cries and they can respond differently and maybe in a more helpful way to their child.

  38. “I know the topic of infant sleep is controversial. Studying it has been overwhelming. Discussing it with you has been humbling. Thinking about it has made me dig deeper to define my own parenting philosophy. Writing about it has left me feeling extremely vulnerable.”

    thank you for being willing to be vulnerable. a great gift to us!

  39. This is a terrific evidenced based article on a challenging topic. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of allowing your child to learn to self soothe. I think that it is an important developmental milestone for infants to develop (and for parents to allow them to develop). It is so much easier to teach when a child is six months of age than age 3 or 4.

  40. Great post! Although I do not know anything about babies from experience, I do know about their linguistic abilities, and I think that point five (about talking to the baby) is a nice one, though it might surprise people.
    I don’t think when you tell your baby, “You’re going to the crèche tomorrow!” that they will understand what you are saying to them. I do, however, think that because babies learn to recognize their mothers voice even when they are still inside the womb, the secure attachment makes complete sense from an emotional point of view.
    I think babies are so used to their mother’s voice that it makes them feel better, safer, just to hear it. In my view it doesn’t matter what you say, as long as you say it.

    (Not that that will stop me from talking to my cat and even asking him questions as though he understands and can respond to every word I say.)

  41. I have a 9 month old who has had a difficult relationship with sleep – he has challenged me so much more than his older brother. He’s very adamant about what he wants when he wakes in the night, which is usually to nurse. Some nights he’ll go right back to sleep once he’s full, other nights he will complain if he even senses me getting closer to his bed. And then other nights, he won’t wake up at all until the morning!
    I have come to the point where I’ve decided to just accept that I should make myself available for his needs, always give him a chance to calm down on his own, but if it’s not working, know that I might have to intervene, and hope for a better night next time!
    The one thing that confuses me is the advice to wait it out while they’re going through transitional phases – like starting to crawl, teething, starting to walk, changing food routines, etc etc – it seems they are ALWAYS going through transitions/changes! :)

    Thanks for your post, it’s always helpful to read about babies and sleep and different people’s experiences.

  42. This is an extremely good piece. As a single mother to a (now) 15 month old, at first I found it really difficult to leave him alone. However, I realised the importance of setting him a routine and although life was extremely hectic for us, I always made sure that he had a good structure to rely on as I believe that it is what babies need to help set them up for school and later life. Despite our massive upheavels (we were offcially homeless when he was three weeks old) I managed to get my son sleeping through from the age of six weeks.

    The way I managed was to put in place some rules for both him and me. My son has always had his own room. I turn all the lights off (babies only have a fear of falling and being on their own. Therefore, lots of reassurance, I tell him absolutely everything. And then there’s timings. I knew that he would have a nap at certain times, I got used to these times and I would make sure that he went into his cot as soon as I noticed that he was tired.

    At first my son would cry and cry and cry. I forced myself to leave him alone for ten minutes, then twenty then half an hour. This worked for me. It doesn’t work for everyone. I would make sure that I took a bottle with me to bed as I knew he would wake up ten minutes after I went to bed. then it was a cuddle, a nappy and a bottle before going back into his bed.

    I didn’t have anyone else to rely on. I had to set him a routine. My son has a bath every other day as I believe that he needs to build a resistance to bacteria and germs. He hated massages. These days he sleeps from 19:00 to 07:00 which works for me. But the best advice I can offer any new Mum is to do what is right for you; try not to mollycoddle too much and stick to your timings. Wake baby up at a certain time, let them have their naps, try not to let them nap too much late afternoon, try to keep dinner to the same time, bath at the same time, bed at the same time. I found that it works and you can find this advice in any good baby book or the old-fashioned way: ask your parents and family. My Grandma used to be a midwife in the 1950s and her advice is second to none. I respect the way that she raised her 5 children and influenced the lives of many more and I take her advice every time.

  43. Good summary. Babies, like all people, can’t be pin-holed into a single parental response (stereotype) for what appears to be a single similar issue (aka: crying, screaming, etc.). Each case is unique and requires parental creativity — and lots of love and patience! :) Thanks for posting. :)

  44. Pingback: Phthursday Philosophy – Sleep Training | SquintMom.com

  45. Thank you and congratulation on being Freshly Pressed. I have tweeted your post to my sister today, as she is in struggle town with a 10 month old who just doesn’t sleep. I’m hoping your words will give her some hope and encouragement that she is doing every thing she can and to the best of her ability.

  46. I like your non-judgmental approach to this subject. As with many parenting issues, I have found that people can be quick to judge, which usually translates into more grief and frustration for the already overwhelmed parent. This is straightforward information from a mother who has been there, and I appreciate that kind of insight.

    I do have one question. Did you find anything in your research regarding sleep problems in premature babies? My younger daughter was born three months early, and while she was in the hospital, one of her nurses told us that preemies are generally fussier than those born at term. We have found this to be true in a number of areas including bedtime. My first child was full-term, and she adapted to a bedtime routine easily. However, my preemie has had a rough time with bedtime. I realize that some of this may be related to us taking a more frantic approach with her due to her prematurity. (In fact, I may have just answered my own question.) Looking back, I wish we had been more responsive than reactive. If we had been, perhaps she would not still be experiencing sleep problems at the age of two. If you have any further insights, I would love to hear them.

    • Hi Zomelie, Your question about preemies is a great one. I didn’t research this specifically, but I did find in passing several references saying that sleep can be more difficult for preemies. It may take them more time to find their daily rhythms, and parents have to really be attentive to their babies since the developmental timeline is shifted. I will say that I think that all of this is harder when you are blessed with a fussy baby, which your preemie may have been (?). BabyC was pretty fussy, and I think that’s how I fell into that “whatever it takes to STOP the crying mindset” rather than the “observe and respond appropriately” mindset. On the flipside, she really needed sleep, and when she was able to rest, it really helped her fussiness. Maybe you deal with some of the same sort of issues with a preemie? I’m sorry I’m not more help. It’s a great question – maybe I’ll research it in the future. Thanks for your comment and for reading!

  47. I SO wish I had known this 33 years ago, and I also wish I could do it all over again. Sigh… Have you thought about publishing this in a book? There is a never-ending desire for information on getting your baby to sleep.

  48. Great post. I understand how much effort you have put in to write this post with references. My son as well has sleeping problem since 6 months and now he is seven years old. He is still with same problem but with red eye. Lack of sleep made him restless and loose his concentration in his studies. Its all started with non bothered cries. cries of the baby should be given priority….

  49. Thank you for a nonjudgmental approach to this difficult topic. I’m about to give birth to my second child – nearly four years after my first. Part of the reason we waited this long was the fear of going through all the sleep issues again! And everyone telling us which is the right “method” to follow. I really appreciate your balanced view on crying and sleep.

  50. There have been an equal number of people/studies saying self-soothing is a myth and that letting your child learn to self-soothe as an infant isn’t possible and even harmful for the child and the relationship.

    sure letting your child cry alone gradually leads to less and less crying, but probably not because they’ve learned to self-soothe, but because they have learned mom doesn’t care that she’s upset and she’s not going to come and comfort you.

    Conversely, these experts say that infants learn to self-soothe by being soothed by someone else first. http://www.ahaparenting.com/_blog/Parenting_Blog/post/How_to_Raise_Great_Kids/

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t teach your child to fall asleep to a number of sleep associations- sometimes rocking, sometimes nursing, sometimes cuddling next to mom.

    And yes for the first 3ish years, you may not get a lot of sleep. If you have to return to work, 3 months after you’ve had a baby you probably are going to have moments of losing your mind. Babies wake frequently, it’s a fact of life.

    This advice is cliche because it works, sleep when baby sleeps. I spent days where all I did was sleep when my children were newborns, because I wasn’t getting the sleep my body needed at night, but it was no longer about me and I was lucky because I live in a place where parents are given a year for maternity leave.

    Children in the US don’t need sleep training. They need a culture that is supportive of their needs. A culture where Mom doesn’t have to return to work, becuase her sleep is more important then money she makes. A culture where emotions are not last on the list of things to deal with. Sad many parents believe that a babies needs end with: hunger, dry diaper and pain medication.

    • I definitely agree with you that we need changes in our culture to be more supportive of moms and babies. And honestly, I think sleep training is an imperfect solution, but I don’t think it is harmful and think it can bring many many benefits to a sleepless family. I do believe that following the first 3 tips can help prevent sleep problems down the road for many babies. I’ll try them on my next baby, for sure!

      Night waking is normal in all of us, but babies don’t need to be soothed back to sleep at every waking. Research defines a self-soothing baby as one that can wake and go back to sleep without needing help. It certainly does happen. I often read the opinion that babies that self-soothe are in fact just not crying out because they feel that their cries will not be answered. I suspect that may be the case in extreme examples of neglect, but I think that the kind of supportive environment for helping babies learn to sleep that I am describing is a far cry from that sort of situation. My baby wakes several times during the night to babble or give a sleepy sigh, but she doesn’t cry out for me. If she does, I certainly come to her, but I think that she and I both benefit from the fact that she is not frightened by these wakings and can go back to sleep on her own.

      I definitely have to take issue with your last statement. In my family, we are very attentive to our baby’s emotions, at bedtime and all the time.

  51. I will share this information with my daughter. She actually bounces the baby to get him to calm down – and it works. But, as you say, when he wakes up during the night, he cannot get himself back to sleep.

  52. You have clearly provided both research and personal insight in your post and I only wish I had read this years ago when I was struggling with my crying baby. My (first) child would start to get wound-up as the sun went down and I was not prepared for the frustration and feeling of failure that I had in not being able to quiet her midnight cries. Even as teenagers, they need you to be emotionally available in the evening – so does the dog!

  53. I have been around sleepping babies all through my life and I feel there is much ado about nothing. They sleep when they are ready and if they sense we are stressed they get stressed and they won’t relax which means they won’t sleep. And I love to watch sleeping babies. But I agree with much of your post:
    1. routine is important
    2. age and stage is a definite consideration
    3. a little cry before they sleep is not a big deal
    4. emotional security is the best teddy bear

    Enjoy parenting–it goes like a blink…
    Blue Skies,
    CricketMuse

  54. Hi Alice! My daughter was born a month before your BabyC :) She began sleeping from 7pm to 7am from two months old, after we had moved her into her own room. I must admit that most of our routine I just got from one book, Gina Ford’s The New Contented Little Baby Book. As all babies are different, I didn’t follow the book to the letter but it was good to read just so I could have a guide. And what I find interesting right now is most of the things you wrote here were recommended by Ms. Ford (and it’s good to read about them in your post in detail, sort of the “science” behind her recommendations). The first thing I learned was to make my baby go back to sleep on her own. I wait for a few minutes and if her crying is, say, more than five minutes, usually something is wrong. It’s true that as parents we learn how to distinguish the cries of a child – if they’re tired, hungry or ill…

    Babies settle more quickly if they get the correct amount of sleep – and food – during the day (3 hours if I remember correctly, more if they’re much younger), so a tired baby will have more difficulty settling. I met mums who thought wearing babies out during the day would make them sleep early and continuously. From two months, my daughter began associating low voices, baby music and darkness (drawn curtains) to sleep. As soon as I see the first yawn, I quickly act or I might miss that moment!

    I would say that so far I’ve no problems with my little girl’s sleeping habits. But I would want to get tips from your blog about food! She’s become very picky lately, since we started giving her tastier food. I wish I could go back to those easier times of weaning when she would munch on carrots as if they’re the greatest food in the world.

    Many thanks from England xx

    • I said 7pm to 7am in my comment above, but I just remembered there was actually a 10.30 pm feed that I gradually removed by the time she started eating solids at six months. We wouldn’t want to have a starving baby!

    • I don’t know the book, but I’m glad that you found something that worked for you and your baby and that you are both getting some sleep! I’m planning to write more about nutrition now that I’m done with this sleep series. Thanks for reading!

  55. Thank you for a well researched post. As a mum myself, and working with new mums, sleep is such a controversial issue for mums and families, and I will definitely be following up on some of your sources. I totally agree with your philosophy that we have to find what works for each individual child and family.

  56. Thank you. From a mother who is currently struggling with sleep deprivation and a sleep deprived infant! My child is 11months and sleeps well apart from when she is teething. I am at the stage now where self settling is beginning to happen, but not very consistently! Last night and this evening have had me at the end of my tether, in tears and worrying about whether I can do this. Your post has come at a very useful time for me! thank you again.

  57. Pingback: Little secrets of a sleeping baby article « Daddy Duty

  58. My daughters are grown and on their own now; I wish I knew ‘all this’ when they were new born babies!

    Truth is…I had been told to let them cry it out, but I thought that meant I was slacking as a mom and just plain lazy. Little did I know, THAT is what they needed (and wanted) to do. I felt I always had to hush their crying.

    I could’ve made both our lives so much easier.

    They both finally started sleeping through night when I was just plain too exhausted to get up!

  59. I followed alot of my own instinct when it came to putting my babies to sleep – with the first one – she got the nuke for the first 5-8 months. She was the easiest baby though. Except that one time she wouldn’t quit crying and I put my fist thru the sheetrock and left a dent – oops! Had to tell my hubby about that when he came home.
    With my second child I had more flexibility and he slept with me alot till about one+ year. He never went to bed easily – and I pretty much fought with my children to get them to sleep/bed till they were into 5-8 years old. But I think this is pretty typical for a single mother.
    I think that reading a baby is essential to knowing when to comfort and when to step away. As I couldn’t STAND the sound of my children crying – I comforted more often than not. It’s a family trait that we can’t STAND the sound of a crying child.
    So I think that less reliance on other’s opinions and knowing your child(ren) what they need and what works for them and you.

  60. Our favorite book on sleep was BabyWise. We also got a TON of help from the Happiest Baby on the Block video – the 5 S’s made a world of difference and gave us several things to try if one stopped working.

  61. Just some thoughts on crying infants. Have you heard of Mary Ainsworth’s experiments on infant-caregiver relationships? How the caregiver responds when the infant is distressed will significantly impact their attatchment style as they grow (whether they’d be secure, anxious or avoidant). It’s a cool study, and I believe you’d be really interested in it as well! :)

  62. I am the mother of four adopted children. My three eldest had been conditioned (through being in an institution) to sleep right through till morning. Our youngest, however, joined us when she was just five days old, and would wake two or three times a night. I absolutely loved those moments when I picked her up to give her a feed. She stopped crying as soon as she felt me lean over the cot. I’d carry her to the sofa, and cuddle her as she drank her milk. Just the two of us alone in a silent house was bliss. I still feel nostalgic when I remember those very precious times, although they were16 years ago.

  63. Thank you for this thoughtful and well-written blog. I have two sisters about to have babies, a sister-in-law delivering this week and a nine month old nephew, who doesn’t like sleeping. So I can assure you I will be sharing your blog. Thanks again Vanessa

  64. I Love Love Love that you’ve had the time to read, research and REFERENCE with a tiny baby fighting sleep in your midst! I personally have a 4 year old new born (who moonlights as a teenager and bed-hops [nearly] every night) and a 2 year old new born who wakes up from a dead sleep to tantrum about the aircon not being on/it being nightime still/because, just because.
    I find cocktails take the edge off, if I’m awake long enough to drink them!

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  66. Nice to read a mum that going throw it and found what works for you. I can’t use any of these as my son has anxiety due to ASD but I know a friend who I printed this out for and she is now worshiping you as other bits don’t seem to walk or not as clear. Hope you turn this in to a book

  67. Where was this when my son was born? I really enjoyed reading this, the joys of a newborn and sleep….I am the mom who wants to hold the baby as long as I can. My husband tells me that I need to let our son cry it out, so afraid of doing this. But I may need to try it. Enough people seem to agree….might as well give it a go! http://flamelesslove.wordpress.com/

  68. Thank you for taking the time to research and share your wisdom!
    As an ECE, a mom of 3 and an experienced caregiver…(I ran a home daycare for 9 years), I really believe that self-soothing is a gift. I slowly and gently transitioned all of my own children and daycare babies into solid capable sleepers. My own children all started to fall asleep on their own at about 3 months. This did not involve crying, on the contrary, it typically happened by accident during the daytime. I would place them in their cribs with their mobiles wound up to free up my hands for house work. They happened to fall asleep, so I repeated the routine. During periods of growth and development they experienced times when sleep did not come as easily. As their mother, I helped them work through it….not by letting them scream, nor by hours of rocking, but by spending more time with them during our bedtime routine.

    Independance is a part of development at all stages of life. We need to foster this as early as possible, often starting when we nurse/feed our babies in response to cues and not a clock.

    Thanks again, I will send many tired moms your way!

  69. New Mom here with a 6 week old baby. So happy to have this for when we face sleepless nights at the 3 month mark…though I’m still hoping I get lucky and she eases in without a problem.

  70. Pingback: Jemmy decides to co-sleep « the Mummylogue

  71. Thanks for your post! It couldn’t have come at a better time! Our 3 month old is slowly getting better at sleeping. Recognizing his cues has made things easier. I will definitely be using some of your suggestions! Thanks again!

  72. Great post. Sleep issues are sooooooooo hard! I think hospitals should run a little course on baby sleep when you’re in there with your newborn. Sleep is something that nearly all moms struggle with (from those I’ve talked to anyway).

  73. Pingback: The Cry-It-Out Controversy and My Family’s Sleep Story | Science of Mom

  74. So this somewhat confuses me. When is a good time to sleep train? 7 months only? I thought four months was a good time but according to this there seems to almost be no ‘good’ time.

    • Hi Allyse,
      I understand your confusion, so thanks for asking for clarification. My point about choosing appropriate timing came from the book Bedtiming, described above. The authors, who are developmental psychologists and parents of twins, define optimal developmental windows for sleep training based on what they know about cognitive and emotional development of children. Here’s what they recommend:

      2.5-4 months – may be OK to do some gentle sleep “shaping” but don’t allow your baby to cry for extended periods of time. She needs your help to regulate stress. If she isn’t that stressed by changes, then it is OK.
      4-5.5 months – not a good time.
      5.5-7.5 months – and ideal time
      8-11 months – a horrible time (too much separation anxiety)
      12-16 months – a good time
      They continue to break down ideal and not-so-ideal periods until 4 years of age. I recommend the book if you want to read more.

      That being said, this idea of optimal developmental windows for sleep training hasn’t been tested empirically. Certainly plenty of children have been successfully sleep trained outside of these windows. You know your child, and if you feel like you are both ready for trying some changes in sleep, you are the best judge of that. I just think that development is important to consider because (A) you want to be sure your baby can handle these changes without causing much stress; and (B) you want the process to go smoothly. If your baby has a very hard time with sleep changes, perhaps she’s just not developmentally in a good place for it. Best of luck, and thanks for reading!

  75. Pingback: Helping Babies Cope With Stress and Learn to Sleep | Science of Mom

  76. Pingback: The Importance of Self-Soothing to Infant Sleep (and how to support it!) | Science of Mom

  77. Pingback: Why Sleep Matters to Babies and Parents | Science of Mom

  78. It seems like separation anxiety has already started for my son and he is only 6.5 months old. If this is the case, does that mean my ideal window is gone?

  79. Pingback: 6 Little Secrets of a Sleeping Baby | Today's Legacy

  80. I cannot express how grateful I am to have found this blog. I am at my wits end with our sleep issues. Mr Baby has never been a “good” sleeper and at a year old, I can’t do what we’ve been doing anymore. He hardly naps (I’m talking maybe a total of 2 hours a day his entire life and those usually need to be spent on me) when I finally do wrangle him to bed (we bedshare, as I have done with my older kids without these issues) he wakes up every hour until I come to bed. Needless to say, I have very little time with the other kids, my husband or for myself.
    Most days he’s so tired and miserable that neither one of us are happy. I feel as if I haven’t gotten a good night sleep since I was about 32 weeks pregnant; 14 months ago!
    I have always been so opposed to the idea of CIO and I guess that’s mainly because co-sleeping an bedsharing was so wonderful before. My firstborn slept with us from day one, nursed once throughout the night and was in her own bed the entire night by 1!! I was convinced that this way worked best so never needed to teach any if my babies how to sleep —- until Mr Baby. Being that he’s my last baby and already having 4, I think I felt (feel) expected to know how everything is done – like I shouldn’t have questions at this point. (This is also the reason we dealt with an un-diagnosed tongue tie at birth and made the early days if nursing a horrible, bloody, mess).

    I’ve read the research that suggests that CIO can lead to elevated stress and then most if the support I get from my well meaning friends is “hang in there; this too shall pass” as their little ones peacefully sleep the night away. I’m very excited and hopeful to set up a toddler bed and start making changes. I am so tired if being tired and I think Mr baby would agree.

  81. Just wanted to stay a huge thanks for this series of posts, our little babe is four and a half months and we have spent the entire time coaxing him to sleep with swaddling, bouncing, nursing, rocking, patting, shushing, humming and any combination of the above, until nursing seemed the most efficient and least fraught. Except that he then started waking every 45 minutes and had to be nursed back to sleep because he knew no other way. I found your blog desperately googling info on sleep training. I swore blind I couldn’t let my baby cry without trying to comfort him, until I found myself too sleep deprived to trust my ability to drive and my poor child was so cranky because he wasn’t getting enough sleep. Long story short, after reading your blog I felt brave enough (on mine and baby’s behalf) to put him in his cot, after following our usual bedtime routine (include his last feed) awake. He cried for an hour and a half but we stayed with him the entire time, patting his back or stroking his tummy talking quietly to him, occasionally picking him up. We both had more sleep that night than we had in months and each night has been progressively easier (we’re on night 4).

    I’m a research kinda gal and like to know (insofar as possible) the long term implications of my decisions. Your blog gave me that without being judgmental or afraid to share.

    Thanks again!

  82. Pingback: Sleep Deprivation: The Dark Side of Parenting | Science of Mom

  83. Well researched.

    However, I just wanted to say though that some of the comments have disturbed me. Many imply letting baby cry at a very young age. One gave the impression of letting baby cry from birth (once fed, changed etc). I don’t like to judge but this does upset me.,

  84. Pingback: Applying science to Baby’s sleep | Don't wake the baby!

  85. Pingback: Crying to sleep :-( | Don't wake the baby!

  86. Great article. Thanks. I tried cry to sleep with my eldest and it suited her fine. She went from wailing for 30 min the first night to 1 min by the third. She’s been a dream sleeper ever since. I figured both my children would be the same but my youngest has the most desperate cries. Tried leaving her to cry it out a few times and her cries were dreadful and even when we picked her up she sobbed for an hour. Will have to commit to the “present” technique this time around I think. Reading this has confirmed it. Thanks!

  87. How did things turn out with your first baby? Did you get her to sleep on her own and how? I’m afraid I’ve done things wrong and do not want my baby to suffer. It feels like a very big deal right now!
    Thanks

  88. I’m afraid you might not know what you’re talking about. There is a science to comforting and newborn and getting them back to sleep. The 5 S’s.

  89. Do you have any details you can give us on how you recommend doing this? i.e. CIO with checks, patting saying it’s ok… Siting in their room… No checks, etc?

  90. Oh wow, thank you THANK YOU for your blog and this post especially. My son is 2 months old and we are in the exact situation as you were with BabyC. That damn exercise ball is the only way to get him to sleep. We bounce for longer and longer each day to get him down. I am confused about what to do because he is too young to leave on his floor bed to CIO. Yesterday and today I just held him in my arms when he was tired (had eaten, new diaper, all other needs met) and he screamed and cried for 20 minutes while I just held him and talked to him. Then he passed out on my chest. If he was laying on his bed it would likely be the same thing, perhaps longer crying, but I hold him because it’s awful and I want to comfort without the insane bouncing routine. My two questions are: is this awful, to let my 2 month old shriek like this? What can I do at this young age to help him self-soothe? He will cry if I do any form of soothing besides vigorous bouncing. So are the tears inevitable?

    • If I had it to do over again, I would try to wean off the bouncing sooner rather than later. It just isn’t a sustainable soothing method, and we found that it started to interfere with her sleep more and more as she got older. I would stick it out with holding him, maybe some gentle rocking if it seems to help, or lay him down but stay close to him to pat him, talk softly, etc. He’ll learn to fall asleep in this way, and you’re still there to offer your support. This isn’t entirely self-soothing, but you’re letting him work on calming himself a bit with your support. He’s crying because he’s frustrated and not sure how to go to sleep without the bouncing. Just try to stay calm and consistent so that he knows what to expect. Good luck!

      • Thank you so much for replying so quickly! I really appreciate it as I feel so very lost. The more I read about infant sleep, the more confused I become. I really love your blog because you actually use the research that is available, which is seriously lacking in many other resources! I love my little guy to the point that I feel like my heart will explode, and honestly if it only took a few minutes of bouncing to get him to nap I would gladly do it forever. But, just like you, the bouncing is spiraling out of control (sometimes it takes 30 minutes and he will wake up when if I stop!!! I’ve sat on that ball for for 3 hours straight on many occasions!) so I know I need to stop it NOW. I’ve tried other soothing methods: rocking chair, pacifier, swaddling, nursing, etc. At night I pretty much nurse him to sleep (though usually just to the point of sleepiness and I put him down still awake and he dozes off, so I feel okay about it – he seems to self soothe at night well) and he is an incredible sleeper at night. Last night he went 8:30-5 without a peep, nursed, then 5:30-8:30. It is mystifying to me that he can sleep so well, on his back, on his floor bed, at night yet during the day he is a completely different baby. He will so clearly be tired yet doesn’t want to nap. I try to catch him before he’s overtired (limiting his wakefulness to 1 hr 15 min or so) which might mean the bouncing will work faster but still, he needs the bounce and cannot be put down on his floor bed. Anyway, for this first morning nap I put him in the Moby wrap and just slightly rocked my body back and forth while talking to him and he screamed for nearly 30 minutes. I cried, too. Now he is finally out. This is day 3 of this technique (either holding him in my arms sitting in the rocking chair or having him in the Moby letting him cry) and the crying time doesn’t seem to be shortening. He seems to just be exhausting himself and crashing. Do you think this cry time will decrease if I stick with it? And based on your research, does a 2 month old crying like this cause permanent damage? All the anti-CIO stuff I read (which, of course, has no research backing it up) says that cortisol spikes when they cry and this causes aggression later on. I know he’s only 2 months old.. but 2 months olds with colic cry for hours a day and they don’t all end up aggressive? Oh, I saw this article online today and thought it might be of interest to you. I think it actually relates to teaching our children to sleep, though it doesn’t explicitly talk about infants: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2014/01/16/7-crippling-parenting-behaviors-that-keep-children-from-growing-into-leaders/

        Anyway, I really appreciate your thoughts. Thanks so much.

  91. It is 5am and my husband and I are on our 2nd day of sleep training our son who is just over 3 months old.
    I’m glad I found your post, and many others like it, to reassure me that I am doing the right thing FOR MY SON and OUR FAMILY.
    Staying with him to help him soothe works for us and reading his about how we probably shouldn’t be measuring success by Crying is a fantastic point.
    I think I’ll measure it by the fact it is taking him less time to calm and goto sleep (with us in the room beside him) each time and he is not screaming before he nods off – he is calm.
    Thanks for going through the research :)

  92. Pingback: The Subtleties of Baby Sleep (4 Important Things To Know) | Janet Lansbury

  93. Pingback: A Sleeping Baby | Nursery Family Connections

  94. Pingback: A Sleeping Baby | Nursery Family Connections

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