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Should You Let Your Baby Cry?

December 21st, 2010 | By: Elizabeth Pantley
How to cope when your baby won't sleep through the night
Should You Let Your Baby Cry?

Does it takes forever for your baby to fall asleep? Does she only fall asleep if you feed, rock, carry, swing, take a ride in the car, or perform other elaborate rituals? Does she wake frequently throughout the night? Here’s what you need to know.

Perspective is everything

You may have one – or many – people telling you that you should just let your baby cry to sleep. You are probably frustrated and confused. To gain that perspective, ask yourself these questions:

  • Where will I be five years from now?
  • How will I look back on this time?
  • Will I be proud of how I handled my baby’s sleep routines, or will I regret my actions?
  • How will the things I do with my baby today affect the person he will become in the future?

 Once you have some perspective about your baby’s current sleep issues, it's important to be realistic in determining your goals and to be honest in assessing the situation's effect on your life. Some people can handle two night wakings easily, while others find that the effect of even one night waking is just too much to handle. The key is to evaluate whether your baby’s sleep schedule is a problem in your eyes, or just in those of the people around you.

 So now ask yourself:

  • Am I content with the way things are, or am I becoming resentful, angry, or frustrated?
  • Is my baby’s nighttime routine negatively affecting my marriage, my job, or my relationships with my other children?
  • Is my baby happy, healthy, and seemingly well rested?
  • Am I happy, healthy, and well rested?
  • What is a reasonable expectation for my baby at her age?
  • What naptime and bedtime situation would I consider “acceptable”?
  • What naptime and bedtime situation would I consider “pure bliss”?
  • Why do I want to change my baby’s sleep patterns? Is it truly what’s best for me and my baby, or am I doing this to meet someone else’s expectations?
  • Am I willing to be patient and make a gradual, gentle change for my baby if that means no crying?

 Once you answer these questions, you will have a better understanding of not only what is happening with regard to your baby’s sleep, but what approach you will feel most comfortable using to help your baby sleep better.

 In the meantime, here are five things you can do to help her be a better sleeper:

1. Establish a consistent bedtime. Most children sleep better and longer when they go to bed early, ideally between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.

2. Dim the lights during the hour before bedtime to help set your child’s biological clock.

3. Daily naps are important. An energetic child can find it difficult to go through the day without a rest break. Also, the length and quality of naps affects night sleep–good naps equal a better night’s sleep.

4. Follow a soothing pre-bed routine that creates sleepiness, such as story time. A child who is listening to a parent read a book or tell a tale will tend to lie still and listen.

5. Encourage them to stay in bed. Just before your bedtime routine begins, explain why you want your child to stay in her bed by saying something like: "When you come in my room during the night, you wake me up and then I'm tired the next day." Communicate that you want her to stay in her bed all night long.

My children have taught me how quickly babyhood passes. I struggle now to remember the difficulties of those first years and I am proud that I didn’t cave in to the pressures of others to do what they felt was right; instead I followed my heart as I gently nurtured all of my babies. That time is long gone for us, but those memories remain. And now, all four of them sleep through the night. And so do I.

Meet our expert:

Elizabeth Pantley (www.pantley.com) is the author of eight parenting books, including: The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers & Preschoolers. She is also a contributing author to The Successful Child with Dr. William Sears. Based in Washington, Pantley is the president of Better Beginnings Inc. (a family resource and education company) and a parenting expert for a variety of publications including: Parents, Parenting, and Redbook.