Gentle ways to get your baby to sleep
Written by Hilary Benson
While pregnant, my vision of mothering a newborn went something like
this: I would sit in my glider rocker, happily nursing my beautiful
baby while in a white nightgown, a soft breeze rustling through the
room with all noises from my baby being perfect coos.
Reality for me, like for most new parents, was far different.
Enter Elizabeth Pantley, author and parent educator, who in the past four years has gained tremendous popularity with her tips for providing babies, and therefore their parents, with more sleep.
"It's a very specific group of parents who use my book," Pantley says. "It is for those who say, 'I am severely sleep deprived, I must get some sleep, I am desperate, but I absolutely refuse to put my baby in his crib and let him cry.'"
Like many new parents, Pantley feels the long-held belief that babies need to "cry it out" is downright cruel. But she also believes parents can do more than just "live with it," until children sleep through the night. The Kirkland author's The No-Cry Sleep Solution is on Amazon's list of top-selling parenting books, and some people consider it a long-overdue "third" option. In addition to scientific and field research, Pantley draws extensively on her experiences with her own children, ages 4 through 16.
Pantley's approach is a gentle one. While it focuses on encouraging babies into healthier sleep patterns, Pantley also asks parents to guard against their own expectations for sleep, which may be unrealistic. She defines a "full" night of sleep as five hours, less than some parents may desire, but an amount that is appropriate for their biological development.
The following are some of Elizabeth Pantley's tips for success:
Tips for Newborn Sleep (0-4 months)
Night feedings -- Though young babies need nighttime nourishment, learn to distinguish between when baby is truly awake and hungry and when she is making normal "sleeping sounds," including grunts and cries. Like adults, a baby's normal sleep includes frequent awakenings. Do not immediately pick up a noisy baby to feed until you make sure the baby is not returning to sleep on her own. If she is indeed hungry, respond quickly and she will likely fall back to sleep easily.
Help baby distinguish between day and night -- Newborns will sleep about 16-18 hours every day. To encourage her in the direction of sleep consolidation, keep the daytime sleep environment light and make nighttime sleep dark. Use "white noise" such as nature music or peaceful lullabies at night. A room that is too quiet feels unnatural to a baby used to being in the womb.
Pantley also recommends waking babies from naps that last longer than two or three hours. She says that when a baby is moving her arms or legs, she is in a lighter stage of sleep and will be easier to rouse. Parents can also help establish a nighttime routine, such a story time or bath time, to signal the transition from day to nighttime.
Watch for signs of tiredness -- If baby is yawning, fussing or looking "glazed," she is likely tired. At this point, put her down to sleep. A baby who is encouraged to stay awake when her body is craving sleep becomes sleep deprived over time. This complicates baby's developing sleep maturity.
Create a womblike environment -- In addition to using "white noise" to simulate the sounds of the womb, use the old-fashioned, well-tested technique of swaddling the baby tightly. An incorrect technique can be a safety hazard, but done correctly, the newborn feels snug and secure, even if not being held in loving arms. Movement, whether through rocking or a swing, can also comfort a newborn who is used to riding along in mother's belly.
Tips for Sleep (4-plus months)
Develop a bedtime routine -- Start at least an hour before bedtime and be as consistent as possible with your day-to-day routine. There will be occasional schedule complications, but a predictable set of events, such as a warm bath followed by reading books, soft music and then a feeding, will serve as a cue to baby that it is bedtime.
Establish an early bedtime -- Pantley found in her research that parents would put their babies to bed much too late, hoping that if the baby is "really tired" she will sleep better. This can backfire because the baby gets overtired. Most babies sleep better and longer with an earlier bedtime, often as early as 6:30 or 7 p.m.
Diminish the sucking to sleep association -- Instead of allowing your baby to fall asleep while sucking on the breast or bottle, let her feed until her sucking slows and she is relaxed (but still awake). Then break the seal with your finger and gently remove the nipple. Pantley says her "Gentle Removal Plan" may take a few tries, but once the baby learns to fall asleep without something in her mouth, she will have fewer awakenings.
In addition to The No-Cry Sleep Solution, Pantley has written other books that offers detailed advice for parents, and she also welcomes parents' questions. She can be reached at Elizabeth@pantley.com.
Hilary Benson lives in the Seattle area. Her work has appeared in ParentMap and Metropolitan Living magazine. She has also reported for KING-5 TV.
Originally published in the October, 2004 print edition of ParentMap.