The Rocker

Sleep Scenario #1

My baby is 5 months old. I’ve always rocked her to sleep, but I’d like to be able to lay her down and have her fall asleep on her own. How can I make this happen without a lot of trauma and tears for either of us?

In order for a baby to transition from falling asleep while rocking in your arms to falling asleep on her own, she has to master two smaller skills — the ability to fall asleep someplace other than in your arms, and the ability to fall asleep without being rocked, explains Ann Douglas, author of Sleep Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler (Wiley).

If you aren’t comfortable with making your baby learn to put herself to sleep “cold turkey,” you can try substituting what Harvey Karp, MD, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block (Bantam) and an American Baby advisor, calls a new sleep association. From being inside your body, babies are born accustomed to drifting off to sleep amid noise, tactile stimulation, and rocking. Gradually replace rocking with white noise (you can play a CD), Dr. Karp recommends. If you play the sounds while you’re rocking the baby to sleep for four or five consecutive nights, she will begin to create a new association with sleep, and her transition from falling asleep in your arms to falling asleep in the crib will be easier, Dr. Karp says. “The idea is to create other sleep associations that don’t require your presence to help the baby fall asleep,” he adds.

Be prepared for your baby to put up a big fuss the first few times you lay her down awake. Some sleep-training techniques instruct parents not to pick up a crying baby but to come into the room at set intervals (every five minutes, for example) and talk to her in a reassuring voice.

But that approach doesn’t work for all babies or parents. Christine George, of Lansing, Michigan, tried that method with her 6-month-old, Kayleigh, but the crying didn’t stop, even after 10 or 15 minutes. Instead, Kayleigh became more and more upset until she was screaming, red faced, and gagging. “After two nights of becoming almost as upset as my baby was,” George says, “I decided that technique just wasn’t going to work for me.”

What did work? “We’d walk around the room with her for a few minutes until she was drowsy, and when we laid her in the crib, we’d gently bounce the mattress with one hand while pressing her belly with the other hand and saying ‘Shhhh’ for a minute or two until she fell asleep,” George says. “After a while, we were able to do it without the hand on the belly, and then without the bounce, and finally we were able to lay her down awake and she’d fall asleep.” The process took two weeks.

Remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, advises Claire Lerner, LCSW, an American Baby advisor and the director of parenting resources at Zero to Three, the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families. “With some babies, you can pat them or just sit there so they can see you, but for a lot of babies that’s just confusing,” she says. But even if you choose to walk away from her bed, the crying isn’t likely to last more than a few nights. “The more consistent you are, the quicker she’ll learn,” Lerner says.

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