The Right Sleep Strategy for Your Baby

by Stephanie Wood

The Right Sleep Strategy for Your Baby

During your pregnancy, you:
A) read every babycare bible in sight and came up with a parenting plan that would keep your baby feeling secure and you in control
B) read every babycare bible in sight, felt confused, and went back to reading People magazine
C) knew instinctively that caring for your baby was going to be as simple as just loving him and being there for him as much as possible
D) felt a little nervous at the thought of caring for your baby and called your mother/big sister/ best girlfriends often to get their advice on what to expect
E) figured you would pretty much handle it as best you could — after all, most infants do survive in spite of their parents’ inexperience

The best way to describe your baby’s personality is:
A) Happy-go-lucky and easygoing
B) Happy as long as she’s got her Binky, blankie, or you nearby
C) Kind of high-maintenance; she may have been colicky or demanding early on, and now you’re never sure if she’s going to wake up smiling or scowling
D) A bit on the shy side; likes to warm up to new situations
E) A real firecracker: busy, fearless, and defiant

Since your baby was born, you’ve collected contact information for the following resources:
A) A gourmet take-out restaurant that delivers, a cleaning service, and a weekly mommy-and-me group
B) None; you don’t have time to talk to anyone yet
C) The La Leche League and
D) An acquaintance from college whom you never really liked that much until you heard she had twins under her belt, a collection of moms from your church’s parenting group, and the woman down the block with three teenagers
E) The American Academy of Pediatrics, Gymboree, and two moms from your childbirth education class with whom you hit it off

Your first instinct about where your baby should sleep was:
A) In his crib in his own lovingly decorated nursery
B) Wherever he seemed to fall asleep easily, including his bouncy seat or stroller or swaddled across your chest in a sling
C) In a co-sleeper next to your bed or right on the mattress with you so you could breastfeed easily at night
D) In a bassinet on wheels so you could keep him nearby as much as possible
E) In a bassinet or crib in your bedroom for now, then moving into his own nursery in the near future when night feedings become less frequent

When you leave your baby with a sitter, how does she react?
A) She barely notices you’re gone
B) No idea; even if you found a sitter, you don’t have the energy to get dolled up for a night out
C) Why leave her with a sitter? You two have just as much fun with her tagging along
D) Since you only leave her with Grandma, it’s never been an issue
E) She cries when you say goodbye but is playing happily when you call the sitter from your cell phone en route to the restaurant

Your baby’s daily routine consists of:
A) Four feedings, two naps, then whatever you or your baby’s caregiver has on the agenda
B) Routine? What routine? The only place your baby ever naps is in the car
C) Lots of long leisurely nursing sessions and cuddling in the front carrier; both of you really relish life in the slow lane
D)It varies every week or two, and depends on what seems to be working at the moment
E) Four feedings, two naps, a morning run in the jogging stroller, floor time with Baby Einstein in the background, and an afternoon playdate

See page 2 to find your baby’s sleep style…

Stephanie Wood is a Babytalk contributing editor and the mother of two boys and a girl.

What’s your baby’s sleep style?

Mostly “A” Answers:
The independent-baby approach
Both you and your baby are take-charge types who prefer order and predictability. Chances are your gold-star girl or guy immediately knew how to latch on and smiled at exactly 6 weeks. With these “easy” babies, bedtime may be effortless compared to what other moms go through.

How it works: Establish a routine — including a bath or massage, for example — that lets your baby know bedtime is near. “All babies have an internal timing system, and if you synchronize your soothing efforts with it, you may never have to let your baby cry,” says Marc Weissbluth, M.D., author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Spend the early weeks doing all the soothing you want to help initiate sleep, he says, and then get into the habit of putting your baby down while he’s drowsy but still awake. By 6 weeks of age, a longer sleep period (about four hours) will emerge at night. At 3 months, many babies will wake around 6 or 7 a.m., and then take a consistent morning nap at about 9 a.m. Typically by 4 or 5 months, most babies will nap again in the afternoon and be ready to turn in for the night at 6 or 7 p.m. It’s okay if your baby wakes for a nighttime feeding, as long he goes right back to bed.

Mostly “B” Answers:
The he’ll-get-it-when-he’s-ready approach
You’re a very patient sort who always puts your baby first. You understand that the world is a demanding place and see no need to thrust her into any harsh reality before she’s ready. You’ve heard of babies who eat, sleep, and poop on schedule but know that yours isn’t one of them.

How it works: This approach is the polar opposite of the independent-baby approach. And it’s pretty much out of your hands. If your baby prefers rocking, you rock. If she prefers sucking, you nurse or rely on a stash of pacifiers.

Let’s be frank: Not many sleep experts will endorse this laissez-faire approach to bedtime. Yet many parents follow it. Some get lucky, while it takes others years to reclaim their nights. “Sometimes a baby will naturally let you know she’s done with rocking — or whatever crutch you’ve been using — but more often than not, the habit is really hard to break,” says Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D., president of Postpartum Support International. “Still, I tell my clients that whatever they feel they must do is fine. It’s ultimately going to be okay.” Dr. Weissbluth agrees: “Some parents prefer a long soothing routine; others can tolerate some crying. The choice is up to you. What matters is that you respect the individuality of the child.”

Mostly “C” Answers:
The all-together-now approach
Parenting for you is like one great big bear hug, with lots of holding, rocking, and breastfeeding. You value your baby’s emotional security above all else. Any type of baby would love this close connection, except perhaps for a very active child who might feel smothered.

How it works: A co-sleeper or bassinet next to your bed is safest, but many parents choose to go to sleep with the baby right on the same mattress. Co-sleeping can work beautifully as long as you remember that the baby’s bedtime is before yours, says Dr. Weissbluth, so don’t keep him up until you turn in. “Lie down with your baby to get him to sleep between 6 and 8 p.m., and then move him into a co-sleeper by your bed so he’s safe until you return,” he recommends. “Move him next to you when you go to bed if you want.” Keep him safe by putting him down on his back to prevent SIDS; keep him away from comforters and pillows; don’t sleep on a water bed; maintain a smoke-free environment; and never use alcohol, drugs, or any medication that might make you unaware of your baby’s presence.

Mostly “D” Answers:
The long-goodbye approach
You like to investigate all the options before deciding on what’s best for your baby. You listen to everyone, lean toward the tried-and-true, but ultimately follow your heart. You may also have found that your baby’s temperament isn’t the easiest: She may be shy and clingy, sensitive and easily overstimulated, or high-energy and intense.

How it works: You’re going to very slowly “decondition” your baby from requiring you as a sleep crutch. Begin by putting her to bed in her crib, while you sit on a chair next to her. If she fusses, use intermittent touch — patting her back or her head — to soothe her, says this method’s inventor, Kim West, author of the book Good Night, Sleep Tight. Leave the room only after she is asleep; repeat if she wakes during the night. Perform this consistently for the next three days at nap- and bedtime. Then, move your chair about halfway across the room. Every three days, move farther away until you’re in the hall. Typically by day 14, she’s fine on her own.

Mostly “E” Answers:
The get-with-the-program approach
You understand that your baby needs immediate gratification when it comes to hunger and discomfort. But you also recognize the importance of routine in his life.

How it works: This strategy — known as “Ferberizing” because it was popularized by Richard Ferber, M.D., in his book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems — is best used after 4 months (you should always respond quickly to newborns) and before 8 months, when babies haven’t fallen into hard-to-break habits. Begin by putting your baby down when he’s drowsy but still awake. If he cries, console him by talking softly and rubbing his back. Leave the room for a brief period — about five minutes at first — then return to console him if he is still upset. Don’t take him out of the crib, though, before you leave again. Repeat this pattern until your baby falls asleep on his own, and do so again if he wakes at night. Each consecutive night, lengthen the time you let him fuss by a few more minutes until it is no longer necessary. Depending on the temperament of your baby, this process can last a few days or a few weeks.