Decision: Sleep Train vs. Soothe to Snooze
For the first four months, respond to your baby's cries right away and help him feel comfortable in his new world by rocking, feeding, singing, or swaddling him to sleep. "Newborns need help settling down," says Dr. Greene. But somewhere between 4 and 6 months, your child's nervous system unravels from its tangled newborn mass and organizes itself and he may be ready to soothe himself to sleep. The problem is, your little guy now refuses to go down unless he's had a seemingly endless amount of your pre-sleep, soothing attention. And that's when many exhausted parents decide to sleep train. Popularized by Richard Ferber, M.D., author of Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems (who now believes his progressive-waiting technique was over- and misused), sleep training has many different forms. But the basic idea is this: Put your baby down drowsy but awake. If he cries, talk softly and rub his back to console him. Leave for a few minutes and then return to soothe him if he's still upset. Repeat until he falls asleep. Each night, lengthen the time you let him fuss by a few minutes, until it's no longer necessary. Though no one likes to hear her infant cry, proponents believe that a few tough nights are worth it if your child can get more uninterrupted snooze time.
William Sears, M.D., the father of the "attachment parenting" movement, however, believes that babies need, first and foremost, physical contact and affection. He posits that infants left to cry it out alone may not learn to trust their caregivers. Plus, you might enjoy those evening feeding or rocking sessions (this stage won't last forever, after all).
Bottom line: Do what works best for you. If bedtime battles leave both you and your baby stressed, you may want to consider sleep training. Just rule out other causes of night waking (fever, a dirty diaper, etc.) before letting your tyke cry for any period of time.