One thing that’s true about infants is that they will sleep through the night when their parents let them. Roxanne Palmer tells us that means letting them cry:
A crying baby in the middle of the night is one of those sobering facts of parenthood, but parents might actually not need to rush to the crib if there’s a wail from the nursery. A new psychology study suggests most babies can be left alone to fall back asleep.
Palmer leaves it to the study’s author for advice:
Overall, Weinraub and her colleagues recommend a course of action that parents might find appealing: ignore the crying baby. By immediately rushing to calm a temperamental infant, the parents might be further weakening his or her ability to fall back asleep unaided.
Persistant sleep problems that last for more than 18 months may be a sign that parents need to talk to a pediatrician.
But in general, “the best advice is to put infants to bed at a regular time every night, allow them to fall asleep on their own and resist the urge to respond right away to awakenings,” Weinraub says.
For healthy, full-term infants, I would add:
- Put your baby to sleep on his back (to reduce the incidence of SIDS), in his crib (rather than a bassinet), and in his own room if possible. (Parents need to sleep, too. You won’t if he is sleeping in the same room as you). You’ve decorated a room or nursery for your baby. Use it! The first night home from the hospital is not too early!
- When your baby wakes up at night and cries (and she will), walk, don’t run, to her room. Wait for her to give you that cry where you know she won’t go back to sleep (at first, probably not more than a minute or two). That’s when you should sit up in bed, wiggle your toes, go to the bathroom, get yourself a drink of water, and then, slowly (and carefully) stroll on over to her room. Allowing her to cry while you get yourself together allows her to learn patience. It also gives her time to release some energy by crying. By the time you are ready to feed her, she will be awake and eager to feed. That middle-of-the-night feeding should go more quickly, with her eating more in less time. Because she expended energy crying while waiting for you, she’ll probably go back to sleep faster and even sleep longer until she awakens again.
- Don’t take your baby out of his room and into the kitchen while you prepare a nighttime bottle. He can wait in his room (crying) until you arrive with the feeding. (Message to dads: Don’t turn on the TV and watch the 2 a.m. installment of SportsCenter, either!).
- As your baby gets older, you can let her cry a little longer each night before going into her room. Eventually, the combination of crying longer and offering less (time on the breast or formula in the bottle) will result in her realizing it’s not worth all the crying and she will go back to sleep on her own.
- Remember, it’s often two steps forward and one step back when trying to get babies to sleep through the night. Be patient. Make sure you are getting enough sleep yourself.
- If you just can’t let your baby cry, then don’t! We’ll discuss it in the office at the regular check up and come up with a strategy that suits you better. Some people suggest letting your baby cry for 20 or 30 minutes (or more!) before offering them your comfort. I don’t know many parents that could (or should) do that. Just a few minutes for you to slowly get things together before picking up your baby should make a huge difference.
Read abstract from study in Developmental Psychology here.
Read Roxanne Palmer’s article in the International Business Times here.