Scouring the web at 2am for a better baby sleep solution? You are
in the right place, mama. Whether your baby requires constant rocking to fall
asleep or still insists on those midnight feedings (mostly to play peek-a-boo), we
understand the exhaustion. We understand the guilt. Fortunately, we recently
had a tête-à-tête with Janet Kennedy, the author of the new (and lifesaving)
book, The Good Sleeper. After sharing a
few of her amazing insights on scoring more rest for baby (and you), it is clear to us why she has been featured on Dr. Oz and CBS This Morning and has been quoted in Elle, Parents Magazine, NY Press, Redbook, Real Simple and the Encyclopedia Britannica website. We would
call her philosophy eye-opening, but eye-closing may be more accurate. Sleep tight!
We love the fact that
you take an honest and research-based approach to addressing more “aggressive”
sleep methods, such as cry-it-out. What can you say to our mothers who are
looking for the courage to try such a method when it is necessary, at the risk
of feeling guilty or ashamed?
I always remind
parents that, by letting their child cry to learn how to sleep, they are doing
something for their baby and not to her.
There is no shame in taking good care of your child. And there is no shame in
taking good care of yourself so that you can be a good parent to your child.
Overly tired babies are unhappy and overly tired parents are unhappier still.
Being a good parent means
making some difficult choices for your child, ones that sometimes don’t feel
great. But by teaching your baby to sleep, you will be giving her a tremendous
lifelong gift. You might be
able to soothe your baby to sleep now, but those days are limited. Eventually,
your baby will be stimulated by your soothing and will fight sleep to be with you.
There comes a time—around 3 or 4 months—when they need to
learn to put themselves to sleep because you will be less and less able to do
it for them.
Babies do not inherently know how to sleep. They have to learn.
I also remind parents
that it is perfectly fine and, in fact, expected that they will be upset during
this process. It is very, very hard to listen to your baby cry and inhibit your
impulse to “help.” But it is crucial that you separate your own feelings from
your job as a parent. Remember that you are actually helping your baby by not
rushing in to stop her from crying. She needs your help to learn how to get the
sleep that she needs.
Have you ever been in a situation with your own
child when you have found it difficult to follow your own advice offered
in The Good Sleeper? How did you overcome it?
When my daughter was
about 18-months old, she contracted Coxsackie virus. She had a mouth full of
awful sores and was very confused and uncomfortable. She was also hungry
because it was difficult to eat and she couldn’t use her pacifier because of
the sores. The first night, she was up for hours. I carried her around, took
her outside, and did anything I could to soothe her. But she didn’t sleep. The
second night, the same thing happened—nothing would soothe her. This time,
though, my husband—who has generally left the sleep realm to me—looked at me
and said: “You can’t do this again. She needs to sleep.” He took her out of my
arms and put her in the crib. She cried for about 30 minutes and then she slept
all night. Those 30 minutes of crying at first seemed cruel because she was
sick and truly uncomfortable. But she was able to get hours more sleep that
night because we let her do it.
That was a powerful
lesson for me. I was so stuck in the misery of the situation that I couldn’t
step back and apply what I know to be true about sleep. Fortunately, my husband
was there to set me straight.
Can you offer our readers a few insights in
regard to co-sleeping and bed sharing? Do you believe these sleep solutions can
be effective in providing high-quality sleep for parents and children over a
long-term period of months or years?
Frankly, I just don’t
recommend bed sharing. I don’t find that it results in more or better sleep for
the child or the parents. And it can create a lot of problems. I truly believe
that babies can and should learn to fall asleep in the crib, alone. I’m sure
that there are plenty of happy bed sharers out there, but they don’t come to me
for help. I see the very unhappy bed sharers who are exhausted, can’t get the
baby or child out of their bed, and whose marriages are under tremendous
stress. The best and easiest time to teach babies to sleep alone is when they
are young. We also can’t ignore the increase in risk of SIDS that occurs with
bed sharing in children under one year.
In your mind, what is the most important thing
parents can do to start good sleeping habits early in a child’s life, so more
drastic methods are less likely to be needed later in infancy or toddlerhood?
When parents learn how
to follow drowsiness cues and avoid “overfatigue,” they have a great shot at
easing into good sleep patterns naturally. When babies are well-rested, they
can learn how to self-soothe more easily and they don’t always have to cry for
long stretches to do it. However, some babies just don’t get it on their own,
even when their parents do everything “right.”
It’s no comment on your efforts if your baby needs to cry to learn how to sleep. If your baby doesn’t ease into independent sleep, I believe it’s just his way of telling you that he needs you to let him work it out.
It is also important
to learn to listen to the baby fuss—and even cry—before intervening. When a
parent rushes in at the first peep, the child never has the opportunity to
self-soothe. If the parent waits a few minutes to see whether the baby is truly
awake, the baby learns to self-soothe more gradually. Parents often interpret
every noise from the baby as a call to action, a signal that something needs
fixing. But parents who can tolerate a little more noise from the baby before
intervening often find that the baby begins self-soothing more reliably without
having to cry for long periods.