Looking For Lala Land
It sounds simple enough: Bathe, feed, cuddle, place in crib. Maybe you will even get one of those really good-natured guys or gals who fall effortlessly into a predictable eating, sleeping, and napping routine. Maybe you'll also win the lottery and never have to worry about the cost of college. But if you're like most of us, figuring out how to get your baby to fall asleep at the right time and in the right place will take you a good part of the first year of her life -- sometimes longer, but we won't go there just yet.
We at Babytalk have been saying for a while now that there is no one right way to put your baby to bed: What matters most is that you feel good about how you're handling your baby's nighttime routine. A strong sense of security is going to be a far better predictor of how your baby sleeps at night than how much he weighs, how much he eats, where he sleeps, and how many months he's logged here on Planet Earth -- or whatever else you heard at your last mommy group. That said, here are five baby bedtime strategies worth a try. It's up to you and your baby to figure out what it will ultimately take to ensure that everyone in your family is getting as much sleep as possible.
1. The Drowsy Tuck-In
Almost regardless of where you turn for sleep advice, you will discover the golden rule of baby bedtime: Tuck your baby in sleepy but not yet konked out, so he learns to self-soothe and nod off on his own. The benefits to this approach are many: For starters, your bedtime routine will be shorter and less stressful. For another, your baby will go back to sleep more easily after his nighttime feedings. Finally, after he reaches the blessed point that he no longer wakes for nighttime feedings, he will still wake intermittently (as we all do), but he'll be able to roll over and go back to sleep on his own. In short, you won't be his sleep crutch, which means more rest for both of you.
How to get to that heavenly place? The general wisdom is to begin to establish a routine -- including a bath or massage, for example -- that lets your baby know nighttime is near. Of course you can do some preliminary soothing -- you'll want to feed him, and maybe rock or sing or read -- but then lovingly deposit him into bed groggy but still awake and lying on his back to minimize the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Then whisper your good nights and good-byes and hightail it outta there.
2. Soothing Your Baby to Sleep
This is more a natural instinct than a method. Of course your early attempts at inducing sleep are going to include feeding, rocking, singing, and swaddling. And all babies do need a wind-down routine. The catch is that not all babies tolerate the drowsy tuck-in that's supposed to follow. Some resist loudly when unceremoniously plopped into the crib, and some moms feel like crap walking away from those wails. Or you may have a "high-need" or "challenging" baby (politically correct terms for colicky, fussy, difficult, or whatever else you really feel like calling her by now). This type of baby might want to be held constantly, fuss or cry often, and demand her dinner loudly. It's fine to rock a baby like this to sleep if that's what your instincts tell you to do. If she loves sucking, lay in a stash of pacifiers -- especially if you're nursing, so you don't become a human pacifier. Then once your baby is out cold, hold your breath, rise from your rocker ever so gently, tiptoe across the room, and lower her slowly, slowly, slowly into the crib. One of the biggest challenges of this approach is that babies often wake up the minute your arms are no longer around them--and you'd jump out the window yourself if there wasn't a window guard on it! Here's a good tip if you find yourself in this situation a little too often: Since a cold sheet can be a rude awakening for these sensitive babies, keep a blanket over the sheet until just before tuck-in, and the sheet will feel warm and cozy on her little body.