When it comes to getting your baby to sleep, everyone has an opinion. Your mom, your mother-in-law, the newest member of your play group, friends with no kids, your pediatrician -- heck, even strangers claim to know what's right for you and your baby. It can be confusing and overwhelming, to say the least. What worked for well-meaning advice givers may just not work for your family -- as evidenced by the bags under your eyes.
There isn't a right or wrong way to get a baby to sleep, and there's no one sleeping arrangement that's best for every family. What is important, however, is that you do whatever method works for you as consistently as possible and that you have a plan. To help, we offer a (ahem) crib sheet to what the experts who literally wrote books on the subject have to say. Since every new mom (and dad) has her (and his) own point of view, we organized it by personality. Pick the sleep strategy that's best for you, or pull tips from all of them and make your own plan.
Approach #1. Have Nerves of Steel
The Expert: Richard Ferber, M.D.
The Book: Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems
Why He's an Expert: An associate professor of neurology at the Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children's Hospital Boston, Ferber's name is so associated with his sleep methods that it's become a verb (to Ferberize).
His Philosophy: Called the Progressive-Waiting Approach, Ferber's method involves finding out what the cause of the problem is and then trying to correct it in a manner that meets the child's needs and the parents' child-rearing philosophy. That can include such approaches as schedule adjustment, decreasing nighttime feedings, support for anxieties, reward systems, and eliminating inappropriate and unhelpful patterns associated with the process of falling asleep.
His Method: Some parents confuse this with letting a child "cry out," but before you reach for the earplugs, first establish a quiet 10- to 30-minute bedtime routine with your child, whether it be reading a story or playing with toys that don't make a lot of clatter. Whatever you choose, be sure this time is spent in the room where the baby is going to sleep. This helps ensure the baby will have happy and safe associations with the room.
Babies often connect specific actions, like being rocked or nursing, with sleep. And while these may not always interfere with his or her ability to sleep long and deep, problems may arise when he wakes up during the night and isn't able to settle back without the action in question.
In order to train your baby to sleep without his associations, you'll need to block out three to seven nights. The key is to put your baby in the crib while he's still awake and under the same circumstances as when he would wake up in the middle of the night. Should he cry, either at bedtime or in the middle of the night, check on him briefly, allowing for increasing intervals of time between your visits (three minutes the first time, five the next, then 10, for example). Don't spend more than a minute or two at a time with him -- reassure him, but don't try to make him stop crying. The goal is to help him learn to soothe himself. If he wakes up more than three times, wait the same amount of time as the third time to go in (about 10 minutes). Continue to increase the intervals between check-ins the next night. By the third or fourth night, most babies will be sleeping well. If he wakes again during the night, start the process over from the smallest interval and increase until he settles back down for good.