How to Get Your Baby to Sleep
A Kinder Alternative to the Ferber Method
By Julie Rosso
You're exhausted from childbirth and recovery, you finally get the baby to sleep and lie down yourself, when all of a sudden, "WAAAAAAAAAH!" The baby wakes up yet again! How do you get your baby to sleep? The Ferber method advocates letting a baby cry it out, but this can break her will and cause her to feel abandoned. It's also hard on her parents! I suggest a more nurturing method which has worked well for me with my two children.
There are generally two things that keep a newborn from sleeping through the night: she has her days and nights mixed up from her days in the womb, and she is used to being right next to Mommy's warmth and heartbeat. Put her in a strange bassinet alone, and it's no wonder she howls.
The trick is to solve these two problems ONE AT A TIME.
First, get her sleeping when you want her to sleep. Play with her and keep her awake during the day, then force her to sleep when you want her to, during nap times and nighttime.
Force a child to sleep? How? Use whatever works...put her in a swing, or lay down with her and let her sleep with you (make sure she is safe: on her back or side on a firm surface with no pillows; make sure she can't roll off; avoid waterbeds or fluffy bedding; avoid adults who could roll over on her, such as someone who has been drinking or who sleeps soundly).
The baby is used to sleeping within your womb; by sleeping beside her you are recreating her familiar environment. She will sleep much better than she would in a bassinet or crib alone, and you will get more sleep too. If you are breastfeeding, feedings are more convenient as well.
After you have adjusted your baby's sleeping schedule to a more civilized one (should take only a few weeks at the most), it's time to gradually move her to her own bed. Start by putting her in her bed when she's sound asleep. If she stays awake, great; if not, take her back to your bed for a while.
To speed up the process, use something to help her sleep, such as a crib light/music box which comes on automatically if she cries, or my personal favorite, a contraption which attaches to the crib and vibrates it. In the winter, you can warm her bed with a heating pad (remove heating pad before putting her in bed).
You may get her to sleep for a half hour or so in her bed, or even a few hours. After she awakens, if you can't get her to sleep, take her back into your bed. You may find she will take one step forward and two steps back sometimes, and that's normal. Keep trying. The point is to associate the crib with comfort and sleep, not with crying and being upset.
With this method, I have gotten my kids totally into their own beds within about two months without ignoring their cries, feeling guilty, or losing a lot of sleep.
After you have gotten the baby into her crib and she's old enough to take more time between nighttime feedings (2-3 months), you can start working on getting her to sleep for longer stretches at a time.
When she awakens, she is conditioned to ask for food by crying, even if she's not that hungry. Instead of feeding her immediately, see if you can comfort her back to sleep. I sometimes took the kids into my bed again and gave them a pacifier. If they didn't go back to sleep after about 5 or 10 minutes, I assumed they were very hungry and I went ahead and fed them. If they're not that hungry, they will go back to sleep for a while. Comforting her to sleep will gradually stretch the amount of time between night feedings without causing anyone to lose too much sleep or the baby to get too hungry.
By about three months, you should see a dramatic improvement in your baby's sleeping and feeding habits without spending miserable hours listening to your baby sob herself to sleep or feeling guilty for ignoring her cries. You will have a baby who can sleep independently, yet has had her needs met, which makes her feel more secure. You will have spent some enjoyable closeness with your child, which may ease your own transition from pregnancy to non-pregnancy. And best of all, you definitely will have gotten more sleep!
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