Baby Sleep Tactics
How do you unlock the mystery of good childhood sleep habits and teach your baby how to fall asleep and stay asleep? Here's what the bestsellers say about how to put Baby to bed and get him to sleep through the night.
The Five S's
The Expert: Endorsed by the Surgeon General as well as the La Leche League, Lamaze, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Karp has been teaching his specialized calming techniques for over 25 years. His Five S’s are simple and easy to employ, and each “S” triggers natural calming reflexes to soothe your baby.
His Approach: The Five S’s include:
Swaddling: “It extends an hour to two hours a night the sleep of babies, I like to tell my parents,” Dr. Karp says.
Side and stomach positioning: These mimic your baby’s posture in the uterus—and also switch off Baby’s Moro (falling) reflex, which may startle and wake him.
Shushing: Reminiscent of the womb, shushing creates white noise, which is especially helpful for soothing newborns.
Swinging: Gentle motion mimics life in the womb for Baby and, as Dr. Karp writes, “[it] turns on ‘motion sensors’ in [your baby's] ears, which then activate the calming reflex.”
Sucking: A reflex baby apparent at birth, sucking soothes Baby, even if he’s not feeding.
Progressive Waiting Approach
The Expert: Dr. Ferber is director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital in Boston. His technique, sometimes called “Ferberizing,” is centered on putting your child to bed awake so he can learn how to fall asleep on his own. (Dr. Ferber is also often credited with the “cry it out” method.)
His Approach: Often misunderstood as a cold and insensitive parenting style, many completely miss Dr. Ferber’s progressive approach to helping a child fall and stay asleep: He recommends establishing a soothing pre-bedtime ritual and then putting Baby into the crib while she is still awake.
Parents are then encouraged to tuck Baby in, kiss her goodnight, and leave. If (or when!) she cries, parents wait a predetermined amount of time (usually five minutes to start) before going in to check on her. After five minutes, parents should speak to Baby, comfort her, but not pick her up. They then increase their wait time—now 10 minutes—before going in to talk to Baby again. (Read the full step-by-step approach here.)
Sleep-Tactic Tip: According to Dr. Ferber, it should only take about one week for Baby to adjust to falling—and staying—asleep more regularly. And because it’s going to be some week, it’s recommended to warn neighbors first!
Nighttime Parenting, Attachment Style
The Experts: William and Martha Sears have practiced pediatrics for over 30 years—in addition to raising eight of their own children. Many parents are attracted to the attachment parenting style the Searses condone. This affectionate, intuitive parenting style focuses on learning how to read your baby’s cues—an important aspect in deciphering any young child’s sleep problems. (Test your know-how with our attachment parenting quiz.)
Their Approach: “Babies need to be parented to sleep, not just put to sleep,” says the couple in The Baby Book. Infants enter sleep through an initially very light stage that lasts up to twenty minutes. If parents try to rush a child to sleep during this early stage, he will usually wake up. The Sears couple encourages parents to closely watch their infants and observe their sleep stages (when an infant’s limbs are limp when lifted, he has entered deep sleep).
Sleep-Tactic Tip: To condition your baby to sleep, the Searses recommend first incorporating a relaxing practice into the bedtime ritual—such as infant massage or warm bath. After your baby shows signs of getting sleepy, the Searses then suggest nursing, snuggling in a parent’s arms, rocking, or climbing into bed with your baby to help parent him to sleep.
Delayed Gratification Approach
The Expert: Dr. Brazelton is a well-known child development expert and author of many parenting books. His “Delayed Gratification Approach” recommends parents develop bedtime rituals for Baby that are conducive to sleep (reading a story, listening to soothing music, taking a warm bath).
His Approach: Thought he does not recommend
letting babies cry it out, he does suggest parents not jump at their baby’s first cry or whimper, as doing so doesn’t give the baby time to develop his or her own settling strategies. He says instead of being the solution, parents who respond too quickly can actually become part of the problem.
Sleep-Tactic Tip: “As I see it,” says Dr. Brazelton, “the task for parents is to develop a supportive bedtime ritual and to learn not to jump at the first whimper. And to help the baby discover his own style of settling himself back down into sleep.”
His Approach: Ezzo advocates putting newborns on a strict, every three- to four-hour feeding schedule, which he and Baby Wise proponents refer to as “parent-directed feeding” (PDF). From that, says Ezzo, will come babies that rarely cry, sleep through the night at eight weeks, and grow to be responsible, respectful members of the community.
Sleep-Tactic Tip: Ezzo says parents shouldn’t respond immediately to a baby’s cries at night but should instead check on the baby every 15 minutes. “Any crying will be temporary,” he writes, “lasting from five to 45 minutes.” According to Ezzo, this will not be an issue beyond 8 weeks of age. (But oh, what a first two months those will be!)
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