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4 Baby Sleep Strategies That Work

By 4 months, most babies are ready to sleep four or five hours straight. But teaching yours how to do it can be tricky. Should you let her cry it out? Indulge her every whim? See which method is best for both of you.

Self-Soothing

The gist A consistent schedule plus verbal and physical reassurance help your baby learn to fall asleep (and fall back asleep) on his own.

Why it's right for you
  • Your baby eventually manages to settle down without much intervention from you.
• You want the flexibility to soothe if you choose.
• Your baby seems to like consistency.

How to pull it off Starting the same time every night, use a 20- to 30-minute bedtime routine -- a warm bath, a comforting story, dimmed lights, soft music -- to signal that it's time to settle down and go to sleep. When it's time for bed, put your baby in his crib while he's drowsy, and then leave him to fall asleep on his own. You can look in on him and soothe him with your voice if he's crying, but avoid picking him up. This will condition him to drift off on his own so that he'll eventually learn to fall back asleep when he awakens during the night. Until then, feel free to respond to his cries as you normally would at night (nursing, rocking, etc.).

"It can take up to a week for your baby to get it," says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., associate director of the Sleep Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and author of Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night's Sleep. "But within two weeks of a baby's falling asleep easily at bedtime, he's likely to start sleeping through the night." After he's able to fall asleep on his own at bedtime and sleep through the night, you can start working on naps in the same way.

The Long Goodbye

The gist Gradually sitting farther and farther from your baby at bedtime slowly breaks her dependence on you.

Why it's right for you
• Your baby takes awhile to adjust to change or tends to get more hysterical the longer she cries.
• You can't bear to hear her crying.
• You're ready for some time to yourself.

How to pull it off Put your baby in her crib while she's sleepy but still awake, and then sit in a chair next to her. If she fusses, gently pat her back or head, or offer verbal reassurance, such as "It's okay, Mommy's here."

"Respond to her cry, but pick her up only if she gets hysterical," says Kim West, author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight. Once she's calm but before she drifts off, put her down again and sit back in your chair. Leave the room only after she's asleep, and repeat these steps if she wakes up during the night. Perform this method consistently -- with your chair next to the baby's crib -- for the next three days at bedtime and during the night, as well as at naptime. On the fourth night, move your chair about halfway across your baby's room, and on the seventh night, sit in the doorway. Do this for three nights, and then sit in view in the hallway for three nights. In about 10 days, your baby may be sleeping through the night on her own.

Ferberizing

The gist Sticking to a schedule, you let your baby cry in his crib for increasing lengths of time before you reassure him verbally.

Why it's right for you
• Your baby sometimes stops crying on his own.
• He doesn't become more upset the longer he cries.
• You're comfortable putting up with a few difficult nights for the desired result.

How to pull it off Start with a nighttime routine that helps calm your baby and signals bedtime, such as a bath, a story, and cuddle time. Next, put him in his crib at the same time every night, whether he seems drowsy or not, and leave the room. Now comes the hard part of this method, popularized by Richard Ferber, M.D., author of Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems: When your child cries, wait before checking on him. On the first night, let your baby cry for five minutes. Then let him hear your calming voice, but don't pick him up. Stay for two to three minutes each time you go in to soothe him -- you're there for reassurance, not necessarily to get him to stop crying. The next time he cries, wait 10 minutes; then, 15. If he's still crying after 15 minutes, continue to wait 15 minutes before going in each time for the remainder of the night. (If five minutes seems like too long to wait the first time, start with two minutes, then increase to four, six, eight and so on.) Each night, lengthen the time you let your baby fuss before going in until it's no longer necessary. This process shouldn't take longer than a few days, says Ferber. The same steps can be used for daytime naps.

The No-Cry Method

The gist You comfort your baby whenever she wants you, gradually cutting back on the amount of time and level of attention you give her.

Why it's right for you
• You don't want to let your baby cry at night.
• You don't mind waking up throughout the night for now if it means less stress for both of you.
• You crave lots of physical closeness with her.

How to pull it off This method can be demanding, but it's also simple. You'll need to maintain consistent naptimes and bedtimes and use a calming routine (such as bathing, nursing, or rocking) to let your baby know bedtime is near. Keep your baby within earshot all night, either by sharing a room or using a baby monitor. When she awakens, listen first to see if she falls back asleep on her own. If not, soothe her however you choose, but gradually reduce how long you spend on it so she learns to put herself back to sleep. Be sure to remove your breast or the bottle from her mouth when she's sleepy but not asleep. "Otherwise, she'll expect to nurse every time she wakes up," says Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution and The No-Cry Nap Solution. And remember: The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against bed sharing with babies. 

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