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Gentle ways to get your baby to sleep

Published on: October 01, 2009

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.

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