Q.Our son is 3½ months old and we really need him to go to sleep on his own.
Currently one of us will swaddle him at night and then rock him in our recliner until he falls asleep at about 11 or 11:30 p.m. Half of the time he will sleep until 7 in the morning but the rest of the time he wakes up in the middle of the night.
How can we get him to sleep through the night? Should we put him to bed earlier? Or should we stop rocking him to sleep and let him go to sleep on his own?
A.You can try to do what the parenting books tell you to do or you can try to treat your baby the way your friends treat their babies, but you’ll do best if you do what feels right to you. Different parents have different needs.
Some parents keep their baby in a crib in his own room because they deeply need to have some time and space for themselves while other parents put their baby in a crib or a bassinet in their room and if that’s not close enough, they put her in a sidecar next to their bed or even share their bed with her. This is mighty handy, particularly for a breastfeeding mom, but the American Academy of Pediatrics is against this practice because it might lead to sudden infant death syndrome.
This idea, however, is strongly challenged in La Leche League International’s new, well-researched book, “Sweet Sleep” by Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, Linda J. Smith and Teresa Pitman (Ballantine; $20) who insist that bedsharing is a lot safer than falling asleep with the baby on a sofa or a recliner as long as:
– the baby was in the womb for at least 37 weeks, is healthy, sleeps on his back, is lightly dressed and is four months old;
– the mother doesn’t smoke, drink alcohol or use pot or other drugs and she always curls her body around the baby when they share a bed and
– the bed has a firm mattress; there are no gaps between the mattress and the frame and the foam topper has been removed as well as any extra pillows, heavy covers, cords and pets.
Although the AAP emphasizes a baby’s need for safety and this book talks about his emotional needs, neither spends much time talking about a child’s need to be as independent as possible at every age and stage.
While most American parents still follow the bedtime advice that Dr. Spock gave us nearly 70 years ago, French parents have been listening to a doctor who has never even been translated into English. Her theories may explain why French children usually sleep through the night however, and Pamela Druckerman explains them quite well in “Bringing Up Bebe” (Penguin; $15). Sleeping infants, she says, stir every couple of hours but they seldom wake up in the night once their synapses become connected which happens in the first few months of life. That’s why French parents don’t pick their infants up even when they wake up, look around and maybe give a squawk or two. Instead they watch quietly and wait to see if their babies are really awake or if they’ll shut their eyes again and go back to sleep, which is what they usually do. And hallelujah, it sounds like your son is doing that too. If so, his synapses will continue to connect in the next few weeks and then he’ll start sleeping like a French baby: 10 hours a night, every night.
Whether your little boy sleeps through the night or not however, you should start putting him down around seven or eight o’clock. This will not only give you and your husband a little time together but it is easier to start this habit now rather than waiting until he’s older and it’s harder to organize his time and yours.
You should also make sure that your son has the same quiet, calm bedtime every night, because children need order and ritual at the end of their day. Begin by nursing your son and then showing him that wonderful wordless, two-sided board book, “Black and White” by Tana Hoban (Greenwillow; $8), which babies love because their eyes only respond to black and white in the early months. A soft lullaby or two comes next, then turn on the nightlight and put him to bed while he’s drowsy but still awake. This will let your little boy put himself to sleep: his first step towards independence and one of the most important.