I Read All The Baby Sleep Books So You Don’t Have To


I was at a girls’ weekend a few months back. My friends and I were swapping Amazon passwords so we could download each other’s Kindle libraries (shhh…).

But. No one wanted my library.

That’s because the only e-books I own are baby sleep books. (Pour one out for the fun, well-rounded person I was once.) I’ve got Jodi Mindell, Richard Ferber, Harvey Karp, Moms on Call, Marc Weissbluth, The Informed Parent, Baby 411, William Sears, Zero to Five, and Bringing up Bebe. And I’ve read them all cover-to-cover.

I did this because sleep is my spirit animal. And I was terrified of losing it when I had my daughter, Winnie. Ultimately, our winning combination was putting her to sleep in a baby box next to the bed, drowsy but awake, with a tiny dash of sleep training at her 4-month sleep regression. But, that’s my experience. All babies are different and that’s why there are 45 million(ish) baby sleep books.

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The great news is that because I’ve read all of these books, you don’t have to.*

*Note: If you’re facing a specific sleep or health issue – like night terrors or sleep apnea – it’s worth talking to your doctor and reading the books yourself.

 

Here’s what I’ve learned from baby sleep books:

 

Babies wake up… a lot. Every 45-60 minutes, in fact. All of us go through sleep cycles. Adults wake every 90 minutes or so to flip over their pillows or elbow their partners. Babies’ nervous systems are immature so they wake every 45-60 minutes. They also tend to cry at these times. Super.

My experience: Yep. They sure do wake up a lot. No one is surprised by this.

 

Help baby learn to put him or herself back to sleep. Since babies wake up a lot, it’s helpful for them to learn how to go back to sleep without you. Otherwise you get to wake up every 45-60 minutes, too. Pass.

 

Here’s how:

At bedtime, put baby to sleep drowsy, but awake. Your little one feels disconcerted when she falls asleep in your arms but then wakes up an hour later in a different place. So rock, walk, sing, whatever until your sweetie is oh-so-close to asleep, but put her in her bed before her little eyes are shut tight.

My experience: I got obsessed with the definition of “drowsy.” I mean, what does “drowsy” even look like in a baby that passes out while nursing? It turns out finding the perfect amount of “drowsy” doesn’t matter at all and I was just being crazy. My best strategy was to rub W’s back a little as I put her down. Her eyelids would flutter. “Great,” I thought, “that was .05 seconds of awake, right?” Over time, W was more alert and I would put her down when her blinks started to get very heavy and slow.

Pause for a few seconds before going to your baby at night. When your sweet pea inevitably wakes up in the night, take a few breaths before rushing to his or her side. Start with just one breath and build up to a longer pause over time – 2 or 3 minutes if you can. This gives your little darling a chance to go back to sleep without you.

My experience: The baby box next to the bed really helped here. I could, without moving, glance over and see that W was ok without her realizing I was watching. It helped me stay calm while giving her a chance to put herself back to sleep. I imagine a bassinet or something would work the same way. Then one night, when I was doing a ~45 second pause, a miracle occurred – W put herself back to sleep before I picked her up. I cried. #hormones

Consider “sleep training.” Sometimes called “cry it out,” most experts agree that this isn’t appropriate until baby is at least 4 months old. They also agree that the longer you wait after 4 months, the more difficult it is. For those that worry about damaging their children (me) by letting them cry – new research shows that babies who are sleep trained grow up to be just as secure and attached as babies who weren’t. So, sleep training doesn’t hurt your kid. That being said, it’s not for everybody and there’s no judgment here. Do what works for your family. If you want to try, read below for a common structure.

My experience: We did this at Winnie’s 4-month sleep regression. I “left to get takeout” on the first night and my husband took the first few rounds of check and console (more on that later). When I finally walked in the door, 45 minutes later, the baby was asleep and hubby was drinking a beer. I still don’t know what happened during that 45 minutes, but I also don’t care.

Pip and Grow Smitten baby box
Yay sleep!! (Her baby box is from Pip & Grow. It was a life saver.)

 

How to Sleep Train, if it’s your thing:

The general idea is to give your little one a chance to fall asleep without your help, but not leave them to cry endlessly. There are 85 million versions, but it basically boils down to:

  1. Put baby down to sleep drowsy but awake.
  2. If baby cries, allow baby to cry for 3 minutes.
  3. After 3 minutes, check on baby. Pat her back, tell her you love her. *Do not* pick her up. (This is called check and console.)
  4. Leave the room less than minute after entering.
  5. Baby will wail (it is helpful to have wine, chocolate, or loud music on hand).
  6. Set timer for 5 minutes.
  7. Keep checking and consoling after increasing lengths of time until baby falls asleep.
  8. Repeat the following night but start with a 5 minute timer and increase from there. Keep increasing on future nights until there’s little to no crying at bedtime.

You can choose to repeat this pattern for night wakings (Ferber) or just do it at bedtime (Mindell) until your baby figures out how to put him or herself to sleep.

Here’s a handy infographic if you want to pin it for later.

A step-by-step guide for sleep training your baby or toddler base on dozens of newborn sleep book methods.
My experience: We just did this at bedtime, not for night wakings. I didn’t have the brainpower for the middle of the night timer. Eventually, W used her going to bed skills to also put herself back to sleep at night. I would still nurse her twice/night – but she was only waking up to eat, then went straight back to sleep. We’ve had to occasionally re-train after W’s been sick or we’ve been traveling. But that’s like 5 minutes on one night. Yay sleep!

 

Variations

Choose a shorter time limit: Some of us (raises hand slowly) can’t stand to hear their baby cry. So, start your check & console timers at whatever time feels best. If it’s 10 seconds, it’s 10 seconds. The next night, start at 15 seconds. Do what feels right to you. What you don’t want is for your little darling to learn to cry for exactly 1 minute and 45 seconds until you come to get her. That’s why you increase the time as the evening (and week) progresses.

Turn off the monitor: Some parents choose to turn off the monitor and close the door at bedtime. They don’t go back in the kiddo’s room until the next morning. (This the Bringing Up Bebe method, for those that are keeping score at home.) I am entirely too high strung for a no-monitor night. However, friends that have done this have nothing but good things to say. Probably not for the high-anxiety moms (who me?).

 

A note on Natural (or Attachment) Parenting

For natural/attachment parents, sleep training isn’t really part of the plan. Instead, parents attend to baby whenever he cries to reinforce bonding and attachment. If this is your parenting style – thanks for reading past the Ferber stuff! – you can still use the “drowsy but awake” and “pause” methods to help your baby practice sleeping, if you choose.

 

The good news?

Kids figure it out. Every baby is different – some babies don’t sleep well, others love to sleep oh-so-much. As far as I can tell, nobody shows up to college crying for their mommies every 45 minutes. So, whatever method you choose (or no method at all), it works out in the end.

Amazing!! Skip reading the dozens of baby sleep books because this mom already read the routines, tips and training to get your baby sleeping through the night.

Our next recos:

Re-Thinking the Four Month Sleep Regression

Interview with a Sleep Consultant 

Baby Sleep Tips from Seasoned Parents

Tags:
Topics:Sleep
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20 Comments

  • Thank you! This was as close as I was likely to get to reading a baby sleep book, so I am grateful. I’m still waiting on my first to arrive, so I don’t really know what to expect. I appreciate the Cliff Notes immensely, as this kind of stuff bores me to tears, but I will probably need it!

  • So wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with the world. I was one of those mommas who sat on the floor in a crumpled mess crying my eyes out at the brink of a total mental breakdown. I HAD to sleep train but not for nights crazy enough. We always put babe down drowsy but awake and have never ever had issues with him falling asleep on his own at night. Always went to him when he needed anything and NEVER neglected him as one commenter suggested. But, since birth he never slept in the day. Not in a swing, baby carrier, sling, being rocked, being walked around, i tried everything.
    Be kind to one another, you never know how little sleep or patience the parent you are judging is running off of. Instead offer kind words and maybe some help? I know i could’ve used more support and still can going through this crazy baby rollercoaster

  • What about night wakings? Or weaning off night-time feeding? My baby boy does great falling asleep on his own and putting himself back to sleep except at 1 am and 4 am — he wants to eat and he won’t go back to sleep without nursing. If I skip the 4 am feeding or nurse him for a shorter period of time, he just wakes up every hour until I feed him, so I feel like that isn’t effective… I’m not sure. He’s 5 months old and weighs over 16 lbs, so I’m told he can begin weaning off night feedings. I really only want to eliminate the 4 am feeding and continue with the 1 am one for a little while. Any advice?

  • Great article! I have a question for you: At what age did you teach your LO to self soothe and was she previously in a swaddle? If so, how did you transition out of the swaddle? Also, did you start teaching self soothe while still in the bassinet or in the transition to the crib?

  • I love your blog! With all the information out there it is great to get a breakdown of the different methods and what worked for you as a Mama! Thanks for sharing!

  • I’m wondering what do we do for nap times then? Continue to sway/ rock to sleep whilst carrying out the below at bedtime?

  • One should add a very meaningful book from Susan Urban “How to Teach a Baby to Fall Asleep Alone”. I learned a lot from this ebook. It is available on Amazon at a good price.

  • I love the humour in this article!
    You mentioned that you would still nurse your baby twice a night. How then can we differentiate a cry for hunger vs a cry because baby can’t self soothe? Thank you.

    • Apologies for being late to answer this question! My daughter woke to nurse at approximately the same time each night (12am and 4am). So, if she was crying outside of those times, I was pretty confident she wasn’t hungry. That being said, once she got good at self-soothing (took about 3 nights), she would *only* cry when she was hungry or sick. After that training period, I would go in if she cried for more than a couple of minutes. I am not one of those magic-eared parents who can distinguish among all the different cries.

  • I TOTALLY DISAGREE!!! This emotional neglect at least, probably abuse!! Babies need reassurance that you are there!! Cry it out at 4 months???!!!! Y’all are insane!!! How would like to cry yourself to sleep?? How can you sit there listening to YOUR baby screaming, while eat pizza??? If you aren’t prepared to be a little sleep deprived, for the sake of your baby’s emotional health then get on the pill, and don’t get pregnant!! It’s really THAT EASY!!!!

    • I completely disagree with you. I was not a sleep training person but I absolutely respect parents that choose that route. A friend of mine ended up sleep training because she had a near breakdown from sleep deprivation – I honestly think it saved her life. Sleep training isn’t about letting your child scream while you eat pizza, it’s gently showing them how to self-soothe. It’s an oversimplification and truly unkind to suggest that parents are neglectful if they help their children understand how awesome and important sleep is.

    • What an ignorant comment! Did you even read the blog! This Mama never let her baby cry for extended periods and quite clearly is not neglectful, I mean she was still nursing twice in the night! Stop being such a judgemental nasty person and move on!

  • great article! I was wondering how this applies to daytime naps and the times he wakes up during the night?

  • I love this article 🙂
    I totally agree that parents can’t read 300 page books when sleep-deprived and spending time with a sleep-deprived baby. That’s why I think I’ve found something really special for parents who are tired like I was. It’s a very short guide (e-book) titled HOW TO TEACH A BABY TO FALL ASLEEP ALONE ( http://www.parental-love.com ) with step by step instructions on what and when to do since the day the baby is born. Awesome help! The method is pretty gentle without CIO and works very fast – it took me 3 days to teach my son to fall asleep on his own after 8 months of co-sleeping! I think that this guide deserves to be mentioned! I highly recommend!

    • I’ve followed the same guide as you Bridget and it has worked extremely well! I decided to get it after reading all these good comments about it in the internet. It was a good choice. I also recommend it!

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