Some babies are born easygoing and able to self-soothe. But others -- usually active ones -- may put up more of a fight at night, says Lynne Bail, a sleep consultant for the Jewish Family & Children's Service of Greater Boston. When figuring out the best way to get your baby to sleep -- whether it's one of the most common strategies or your own blend of them -- your baby's personality is a key factor.
Take Mary Kay Waugh of Bowie, Maryland, whose 15-month-old daughter is a kid who doesn't give up easily -- even during the day. Waugh tried for two months to put Sophie in her crib while she was still awake at bedtime, but she screamed, jumped up and down, and often got so worked up that she'd actually throw up. "I found myself asking 'What's wrong with me?' when my daughter wasn't doing what the cry-it-out books said she should," says Waugh.
And even though Waugh rocks Sophie to sleep -- and her nighttime wakings keep bringing Waugh to her crib to sit with her until she's down again -- it feels right. "I wonder if she'd be a better sleeper if I'd have let her cry it out," Waugh says. "But Sophie winds herself up so much that we all end up awake and upset. I've decided to go with my gut, and if rocking works, so be it."
Hollace Schmidt is a mom of three in Bainbridge, Ohio.
2. How much sleep your baby's gettingSleep experts say that 6-month-olds should doze 12 to 13 hours a day, including naps. Not only do their brains and bodies grow when they're asleep, but well-rested children are better learners. How your baby acts when she's awake is a good indicator of whether she's getting adequate rest. Tired babies may be clingy, short-fused, and uninterested in exploring or playing independently. Or they may go into overdrive and have a harder time nodding off.
If you recognize these signs, it may be time to rethink whatever bedtime approach you've taken. While your baby may love your middle-of-the-night strolls around the house, too much stimulation could be keeping her from getting the shut-eye she needs. Would letting her try to soothe herself work instead?
On the flip side, some babies wail in their cribs because they just aren't tired or calm enough to sleep, so you might ask: What can you do (aside from skipping naps, which isn't a good idea) to make her sleepier at night? Or would rocking her to sleep help?
3. How much sleep you're getting
Parents lose more than 200 hours of sleep in their baby's first year, according to the National Sleep Foundation. That's no surprise: When your infant is still eating around the clock, there's little chance of getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night. If your baby is no longer a newborn, though, and you're a total zombie from rocking and feeding all night long, some moms would say it's time for a change.
Angela Glazer of Tampa remembers the day she broke down after three sleepless months with her twin daughters. "I started laughing and crying at the same time," Glazer says. "It was a moment of misery and bliss, because I loved these babies so much but I thought I would die of exhaustion. I would have done anything to get some sleep."
She found a sleep coach, Shari Mezrah, and, with her pediatrician's okay, stopped giving the babies bottles to get them to sleep. "They cried a lot, and that was really hard for me," she says. "But I was at the end of my rope. The crying was less painful than the agony of getting up."
4. Your personalityThinking about your own needs when deciding on a sleep strategy for your baby doesn't make you selfish. In fact, it can help you choose a plan you'll actually be able to stick to. If you're schedule-oriented, you may function best when you know your baby is going to fall asleep at a certain time. More laid-back? You might not mind following his lead. But remember, whatever your ideal routine, life with a child can throw it for a loop.
Hilary Locker Fussteig of New York City always used to stick to a tight schedule. But when she brought her son, Jake, home from the hospital, she realized his up-every-few-hours sleep pattern was going to put an end to her well-planned evenings. Now 15 months old, Jake sleeps through the night and follows a somewhat regular routine of dinner at 6:00, bathtime at 7:00, and bedtime at 8:00. But, of course, evenings don't always go so smoothly.
"Sometimes, bedtime doesn't come until 9 or 10 p.m. -- and I find myself watching the clock and thinking, 'There goes that e-mail I have to send or those bills I need to pay,'" she says. "But I'm so much more relaxed than I used to be. Now I roll with the punches -- and I think that's really helped Jake."
5. Your history
Issues from your past will also shape your views on getting your baby to sleep, says Sarah Swales, a sleep consultant in Oakland. A mom who feels she didn't get enough attention from her own parents as a child may feel strongly about comforting her baby when he cries at night. Moms who had fertility issues, difficult pregnancies, or preterm babies also may not want to let their infants cry, says Swales. Others may react to their own chaotic upbringing by making sure their children have a predictable sleep schedule early on.
Of course, many new moms have positive memories about their childhood or pregnancy, so these sorts of concerns don't play as much of a role. As long as feelings about your past don't keep you from creating a sleep environment that works for your baby now, go with what feels best.
6. How much help you have
While you and your partner may not totally agree on how to get your baby to sleep, you'll need each other's support -- whether it's another set of arms when yours ache or a reassuring hand to squeeze when your child's wailing at night. But if you're worried that your current sleep methods are pulling you further apart instead of bringing you together, it's time to regroup.
Claire Lyle of Canton, Georgia, spent most evenings of her daughter's first year nursing and rocking her back to sleep. "Sometimes I'd have time to eat dinner and that was it," Lyle says. "There were nights when I wouldn't even see my husband. It put a strain on our relationship."
After months of his urging, she started putting Mia in her crib at bedtime while she was still awake. During the second night of listening to her wail, Lyle frantically flipped through one of her baby books, rereading a chapter that argued against letting babies cry it out. "I just broke down and said, 'I can't do it anymore,'" she says. Her husband persuaded her to try again a couple of nights later, and although Lyle was so worried that she barely slept, Mia was crying less and less.
"Now she's asleep in five minutes," Lyle says. "Mia's better off -- and so are we."
What most moms have learned is this: There is no right way to get a baby to sleep. What works for one may not for the next, just as what feels comfortable to one parent feels all wrong to another. The key is figuring out which methods best suit you and your baby. And that's something, sleep-deprived as you may feel, that you can do. Sweet dreams.