By now, you've probably heard a dozen different ways to put your baby to bed: Rock her, don't rock her; let her cry, don't let her cry; put her in your bed, don't put her in your bed. Yet you're still desperately seeking sleep. Congratulations -- you've learned the first, most golden rule of parenting: There's no one right way to do anything. (Of course, if you could get some sleep, that would be a lot easier to see.) Hitting upon the right bedtime style for you and your child is one part instinct, two parts personality (yours and your baby's), and four parts practice. We've put together five options, all of which can be tweaked to suit your situation. If you discover that the two of you don't fit neatly into any single category at the moment, go for a mix-and-match approach. Read on, and soon you'll both be dreamin' on.
The Drowsy Tuck-In approach
Is your baby the classic "easy" kind, who immediately knew how to latch on, burp, and pass gas comfortably? Do you prefer order and predictability in your life? Then you're both good candidates for what the experts consider the ideal approach to bedtime: the drowsy tuck-in.
How it works: As soon as you can see your way through the newborn haze, try to establish a routine that lets your baby know bedtime is drawing near: Give her a bath or massage, feed her until she's drowsy, then tuck her into her crib. If you're lucky, she'll nod off in a few minutes or so. "All babies have an internal timing system, and if you synchronize your soothing efforts, you may never have to let your baby cry," says Chicago pediatrician and sleep researcher Marc Weissbluth, M.D., author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. "Newborns can't tolerate more than one or two hours of being awake, so be respectful of that as soon as you bring your baby home from the hospital."
Dr. Weissbluth suggests spending the early weeks doing all the soothing you want to help initiate sleep and keeping visitors to a minimum to avoid overstimulation. By 6 weeks of age you should see a longer sleep period emerge at night -- about four hours. At 3 months, many babies will go to sleep as early as 6 or 7 p.m. and rise for the day (so to speak) around 6 or 7 a.m. Some may be "sleeping through the night" (defined as a five-hour stretch), but others will continue to wake every three or four hours for feedings. During the day you'll probably notice a consistent morning nap at about 9 a.m., and your baby may be ready to nap again every two hours or so. As awake periods gradually stretch out to about three hours at a time, a consistent afternoon nap will emerge as well. Most babies then stick with the two naps-morning and afternoon -- for quite a long time; some even squeeze in a third short nap between the afternoon and bedtime (in which case they'll go to bed a bit later).
Stephanie Wood is a Babytalk contributing editor.