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Goodnight, Baby!

Try Crying It Out

Many babies don't seem to be able to go to sleep on their own  -- at bedtime or when they wake in the middle of the night. If yours falls into that category, you'll have to decide whether to "sleep train" her (also known as letting her cry it out) or to resolve to keep her company each night  -- in her room or yours  -- until she nods off.

Some parents fear that ignoring a baby's wails at night may make her feel abandoned. And some just can't stand to hear their baby sob. But most child-development specialists believe that letting an infant cry so she learns to fall asleep on her own is healthier in the long run. "Maintaining your marriage and getting enough rest so that you're a better parent during the day outweighs three or four nights of crying," says Mindell. Experts suggest holding off on sleep training until your baby is at least 3 months old, when she'll be better able to soothe herself.

Discuss strategy.
Sit down with your spouse and decide together whether you should let your child cry it out; if you're not both committed to the process, it won't work. Figure out the logistics  -- how long to let the baby cry, who'll go in to reassure him  -- before you begin.

Start off slowly.
Follow your baby's normal bedtime routine. When she's drowsy, put her in her crib and leave the room. She'll probably protest. The length of time you let her cry before comforting her is up to you. Mindell suggests that you begin with 5 minutes, but if you can only stomach 30 seconds, start there.

After the allotted time is up, go in and calm her without picking her up, then leave the room again. Each time, stay away a little bit longer  -- from 5 minutes to, say, 8 the next. She may cry for as much as 45 minutes (with stops and starts) before she finally drifts off.

Give yourself a break.
You're bound to feel tense when your baby wails  -- it's an instinctual response. Some parents have gone to another part of the house or shut the door of their room to minimize the noise. Others sit in the bathroom with the water running or listen to music.

If your baby wakes up three hours later that night, you don't have to start all over again when you're tired and your resolve is weakened. Picking it up the following evening at bedtime will still do the trick.

Follow up consistently.
Repeat the process for the next few days, each time waiting a little longer to go into the baby's room to soothe him. By the fourth or fifth night, he'll probably be falling asleep on his own, though it takes some infants a week or longer.