A baby’s cry
is a baby’s language,
designed for the survival of the baby
and for the development of the mother.
It is the only way babies have
of communicating their needs.
The key is to learn how to listen.
~ Dr. Johnson
[developmental psychologist and friend of Dr. Sears]
by Dr. Linda Folden Palmer
Please help! I feel so alone! Everyone keeps telling me to use some version of the cry-it-out routine to teach our three-month-old to sleep. It just feels so wrong and insensitive! We have been cosleeping since he was born. He seemed to be sleeping just fine until he was about two-and-a-half-months-old. Now he awakens much more frequently, and it seems to take longer and longer to put him down for naps and for the night. Now he’s screeching and screaming for up to an hour each time we try to put him to sleep. We rock him until he’s asleep which is physically quite tiresome for us now! I can’t help but think we’re doing something very wrong, but I don’t want to believe that cry-it-out is the answer! I should also mention that we live in a studio apartment, so cry-it-out would be almost impossible. Are there methods of sleep training I can use that don’t involve leaving him alone? Or is it true—against my instinct—that it’s necessary for him to cry and self-soothe?
Self-soothe sounds so peaceful. Or is it falling asleep from sheer exhaustion and eventually learning that your parents are not always there for you? How frustrating that must be when one is helpless themselves, and this learned attitude can backfire when they are teenagers?a time when you want them to trust and confide in you.
Babies are designed to nurse to sleep, and nurse back to sleep during night feedings snuggled up next to mom. (Babies can be nursed with a bottle, too.) It sounds as though this isn’t working? Or has someone convinced you not to do this? Don’t worry, this fussy waking is common and it will pass.
Do make sure you aren’t having unrealistic expectations about how early baby should fall asleep or how many hours a day he needs. When we hear these reports of babies sleeping for 14 total hours a day, it usually means they’re in their crib for that long, whether crying, sleeping, or staring at the ceiling.
Desiring rocking is also a deeply embedded instinct. It sounds as though your baby really needs this. Yes, it can get very tiring. In the absence of aunts and light-sleeping grandparents conveniently accessible around the village, some of us learn to cheat, and I think it’s OK as long as baby and parents are both getting what they need, like some sleep. Electric swings, vibrating chairs, and well-timed car rides can all be effective for many babies.
Make sure that baby is not fussing out of discomfort. Is he gassy? Rashes? Watery or mucousy stools? He could simply be intolerant to some foods in your diet. If you’re sure this is not the case, then know that this is just a phase and do what you can to find the time and energy to help him sleep. They are tiny for such a very short time. You will be missing these days much more and much sooner than you think. Please follow your instincts and your heart. They’re there for a reason.