“I was up for the day today at 3:00 am”, “my baby is teething – he woke up every hour on the hour like clockwork this week”, “she was very colicky last night and only slept a couple of hours here and there”, “I feel like a zombie”. Do these sound familiar? If you have a baby at home, they most certainly do. But lack of sleep and a chronic feeling of generalized numbness are not a necessary requirement to be a good parent. Although there is no magic potion or incantation to ensure that your child will go to bed easily and get a solid 12 hours of sleep a night, I will describe a method that may work for you. It is based on a little book called Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old: A Step-by-Step Plan for Baby Sleep Success by Suzy Giordano. Of course, every child is different, so this sleep-training method may not work for them all, but if you’re tired of a face with fatigue lines, it’s worth a trial run of Suzy’s plan.
Suzy’s book gives a detailed rundown of how the sleep-training schedule works, but here’s a general outline:
Step 1: When your baby is at least nine to ten pounds and/or six weeks old, space feeding out to a four-hour schedule. This can take some time. It’s best to increase by 15-minute increments until the baby is able to wait four hours. Expect the baby to eat no more or nurse longer because he’s hungrier by each feeding. Distract your baby to keep him content between feedings, but don’t force it. A frantic baby may eat less because he’s too worked up.
Step 2: As you’re establishing a consistent feeding pattern, you simultaneously want to implement a napping/bedtime schedule. It’s easiest if you break up your child’s day into three blocks of time: 7:00 am – 11:00 am, 11:00 am – 3:00 pm, 3:00 pm – 7:00 pm (if your child rises at 6:00 am, you can adjust the timetable accordingly). During block one, your baby should take a two-hour nap. Block two: Your baby should take a one-hour nap (but not longer, according to Suzy). Block three: avoid a nap altogether. For both naps, put your baby down awake but drowsy.
If your goal bedtime is 7:00 pm, then at 6:15 pm, or so, bathe your baby, get her into pajamas, and avoid riling her up or getting her excited. For older babies, encourage quiet time, like book reading or soft music. Begin the last feed at 6:45 pm. Put the baby down awake but drowsy, in a darkened and quiet room. In a house with only one child, this is pretty straightforward. But in a full, busy house, a “darkened, quiet room” may be easier said than done. It is important to find a system that works for you.
If there’s excessive crying when you put your baby to bed (or back to sleep), you will follow what Suzy calls the “limited crying solution”. It is basically a nice middle ground between no crying at all and the cry-it-out method. You settle your baby into bed when she’s awake, say goodnight, and leave the room. If your baby is happy to go to sleep, great! You’re done! Enjoy your evening! If, however, your baby starts to cry, wait three to five minutes (and absolutely no longer) before going in to check on the baby. Every time your baby stops crying on her own and then restarts, you need to restart the clock.
When you do check on the baby, keep your voice at a whisper; don’t play or even maintain eye contact. You can provide comfort by speaking in soothing tones, rubbing the baby’s back, or giving her a bottle or a pacifier (if you’re using one) to self-soothe. But avoid picking the baby up as much as possible. Follow these guidelines each and every time your child rises during the 12 hour night period, whether it’s 0:00 pm or 5:00 am.
Step 3: Cut out nighttime feeds, which includes any nursing or bottle-feeding from 7:00 pm to 7: 00 am (or 6:00 pm to 6:00 am, etc.). You may find that once the day schedule is implemented, your baby will naturally drop one or two feedings. For the feedings that remain, tackle one at a time. You want to decrease by one ounce of milk every three days or decrease nursing by three minutes every three days. Do this as long as it takes to eliminate the feeding.
Good luck with your efforts to get a good night sleep. Please, tell us about your experience in the Comments section below!