If the sleep process is working like a dream in your family, there’s little reason to read on. And congratulations! But if you’re like many of us, easing your baby into dreamland isn’t always smooth sailing.
Here are three baby bedtime stories that may shed some light on your sleep issues and/or help you avoid difficulties in the future. One element they all have in common: a highly aware, attuned, open-minded parent willing to perceive her baby as a capable person.
I only discovered your website a few months ago, but your sleep advice is similar to what I did with my daughter when she was an infant (she’s 12 months now). It worked… for her and for me!
I was not comfortable using CIO techniques, nor was I willing to continually hold her while she napped in the day. I learned to interpret the messages of her various cries/grizzles and the difference between, “I’m having trouble but getting there!” and “Mama, I need you!!!” (or a third expression of hers that I have joyfully discovered: “I like to listen to myself before I fall asleep.”). Basically, I watched her, listened to her, and learned about her, and then I responded accordingly. I have to say, everything you write resonates with me both as inspirational and as an affirmation that I am on the right track as a parent.
Observe and listen
Learn to discern what your baby is communicating
I so appreciate Magda Gerber’s advice to “observe and wait.” I see it in action as I watch my young friend’s approach to sleep with her 10 week old baby. Sometimes she enjoys just holding him — her ability to tune into what he might need at any given moment, as well as what she might need is admirable! The times she decides to lay him down for sleep (she does so while he is still working on settling), she stands a few feet away and watches. He wiggles, sometimes calls out, looks around…and she waits and watches. About half the time he settles into sleep. The other half she can tell he needs more snuggle time and responds accordingly.
She has done this from four weeks of age on, and gradually his ability to settle himself has increased, as has the number of hours he sleeps. Sometimes “two steps forward, one back,” but always done with mama waiting and watching first. As a result, my friend has learned so much about her baby — really tuned into which wiggles and cries are calling her, which ones are not. His needs are being met in such a beautiful, calm way, and she does this with all his cries. If he begins to get worked up, she tells him what she sees: “It seems like you might be hungry,” then she waits and stays close…and lets him lead the way. It’s beautiful to watch!
Observe, listen, and wait
Learn to discern the difference between your needs and your baby’s
I only discovered RIE a few weeks ago after I heard you talk in Salt Lake City (which was fantastic, by the way), but I wanted to share a quick, enlightening success story.
I have a four month old daughter who has always been a terrific sleeper, but when she awakes in the night, she cries until I pick her up and rock her back to sleep. I’ve swaddled her since she was born, but over the last week or so I’ve gotten the feeling that she is done with that. Other “experts” would say to continue swaddling for many months, and honestly, I was dreading the transition knowing that perhaps many sleepless nights and tears might follow.
Last night at about 5 AM, I woke up to my baby freely and happily moving around her crib. She had busted out of her Velcro swaddling blanket! My first instinct (and what I would have done before my introduction to RIE) was to re-swaddle her and rock her back to sleep, knowing that would be the quickest way I could get back in bed. Instead, I took the swaddling blanket out of her crib, gave her a rub on the back, and left the room. Then I waited… And observed (on the video monitor)… And waited more.
To my complete surprise, she didn’t cry at all. I waited for nearly two hours (which felt like a century), watched her kick and flail her arms, until finally my baby girl rolled on her side, grabbed a bar of her crib with one hand, stuck the other hand in her mouth, and fell asleep. I was amazed. During that two hours I almost went in to “put” her to sleep numerous times, but I didn’t. And the pride I feel for her that she can now settle herself to sleep was worth the few hours of sleep I got last night.
Thank you for your continued inspiration. You make the parenting journey feel a little less scary!
Observe and wait
Try doing less and allowing your child to do more
Trust and believe in your baby
I share more about this respectful approach in
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting
RIE From the Start – 2 Simple Things You Can Do to Support Baby by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding BabyThe Rhythm of Sleep by Vanessa Kohlhaas, Deep Breath of Parenting
The Difference Between Toxic Stress and Normal Stress by Eileen Henry (and everything else on her wonderful website Compassionate Sleep Solutions)
Respectful Sleep Learning Part I,II and III by Tiffany Gough, Tongonto.com
How We Learned About Sleep – The RIE Way by Vanessa, Tongonto.com
Eileen Henry’s articles (and my own) in the sleep section on this site