The Importance of Sleep (for EVERYone)

Whenever I see a new mom and have a moment to speak to her, I always try to ask: “how’s it going?” Those first weeks can be such a blur and often mommies (and daddies) are hanging on by just a thread. People tell you so many things before (and right after) baby is born:

  • Sleep when the baby sleeps!
  • Take her out whenever you can! She won’t be portable for long!
  • Don’t let him cry… respond to his needs quickly
  • Just wait! Your life will never be your own again.

I’ve simply stopped giving new parents advice before baby is born. Or rather, I’ve stopped trying to clue them in to what life will be like. Because truly, until you’re doing it, you can’t understand. I don’t say this to sound rude towards those who haven’t been blessed with children, or irritate new parents by sounding all high-and-mighty, it’s simply the truth.

I do tell them to get two things: a copy of the Happiest Baby on the Block and a copy of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.

I truly had NO CLUE how much sleep habits and schedules would surround my world before I had a baby. But I quickly learned how important it was to ensure that my baby had good sleep.


Cuddling with H when he was only a few weeks old

The first two months or so after birth, baby pretty much sleeps whenever he wants. What I didn’t know was how hard it would be go get him to go to sleep (and stay asleep!) It took about two days after coming home to discover this. I would nurse, swaddle, and rock him until he was asleep. Then, in trying to follow the incessant instructions I was given to “sleep when the baby sleeps!” I would immediately put him into his crib and hop into bed myself. Less than ten minutes later, he’d be fussing again. “Don’t let baby cry!” I would jump up and try to help him. What was wrong? Was he still hungry? Did he need a diaper change? No, none of these.

This is where The Happiest Baby on the Block was my savior. I learned quickly that swaddling, swinging and white noise was the key to my little boy sleeping well. He needed a simulation of what it was like in the womb in order to sleep. Dark, still and quiet was strange and unknown. H slept exclusively in his swing for the first 2+ months, swaddled tight and surrounded by the whoosh of white noise.

But once our little man reached about 2 1/2 months, it became clear to us that he had his days and nights mixed up. Despite our best efforts to keep him on a good routine and create a nighttime ritual, he was frequently wide-awake from 2-4 AM. Not cool, kid.

The funny thing was, when I spoke to a lot of other people about this, I seemed to get the impression that they thought I was simply concerned that I wasn’t getting enough sleep (which was not untrue) but the reality was: I was concerned about H getting the sleep he needed!

Good Sleep is Healthy

Humans needs sleep… just as much as they need food. I think as parents of an infant we forget this… especially in the early newborn days of a child’s life. They sleep pretty easy and we’re instructed to wake them to eat if they don’t wake themselves. We’re told how much they need to consume each feeding, each day, each week… and while sleep is discussed, it (at least in my own experience) isn’t given any proportional weight to feeding. But babies NEED to sleep. And if you’re not a co-sleeping parent like myself, your baby has to learn how to sleep on his own (which he will need to learn at *some* point, even if you do co-sleep).

A rare moment of sleep that Christmas

A rare moment of sleep that Christmas

It wasn’t until I was at a Christmas party for my church that a dear friend of three darling girls noticed how exhausted I looked and how cranky H was. She asked point blank: “Have you let him cry to sleep yet?”

I was surprised, relieved, and confused all at once. I said, “I didn’t think you could do that at this age!” She told me that with her first, they let her cry at 15 weeks, and had done so earlier and earlier with the two others. While I dreaded the idea of listening to my little man cry, I was so happy to hear that it was possible. Two days later, it was Christmas Eve morning and we managed to squeeze in to see our pediatrician to discuss options. His advice got us through that Christmas:

  • At 12 pounds, our son weighed enough that he didn’t need to eat during the night, so we needn’t worry about him sleeping for too long.
  • If he did wake at night, we were told to feed as little as possible to get him to go back to sleep
  • We could let him cry for as long as was comfortable for us
  • We needed to make sure that during the day he was getting the calories he needed so he didn’t try to get them at night (a good rule of thumb: 2-3 times as many ounces as number of pounds baby weighs — so our 12 pound baby needed to consume 24-36 ounces each day).

Let me tell you, if this is your first baby, letting her cry it out will be the hardest thing you will do (so far). Yes, in some ways, harder than giving birth. But it gets easier. And my son’s wonderful sleep habits are worth every tear he (and I) cried.

H didn’t sleep “through the night” (12 hours) until he was 6 months old. It took several weeks of letting him cry it out before he didn’t cry (or cried very little) before going to sleep. However, my charge, C, has been sleeping through the night for a few weeks now and she is doing great! She naps better than H ever did at that age too.

I believe that we should have used (louder) white noise through the night from the beginning. It wasn’t until about 5 months that I read Dr. Karp’s Happiest Baby’s Guide to Great Sleep that I discovered his recommendation of using white noise as loud as a shower and all through the night until age one. I think H would have slept through the night much sooner if we’d done that.


H’s favorite sleep position: folded in half!

My Personal Recommendations:

  • Start early. Once baby weighs 12 pounds, he/she shouldn’t need to eat at night. Of course, check with your pediatrician first.
  • When you decide to try crying it out, make sure both spouses can be home as much as possible for the first week or so. If your spouse can’t be there, consider asking a friend to come over and hang out with you. This is to ensure that you don’t go to your baby unless absolutely necessary.
  • Be aware of whether your baby recently pooped before you put her down. I had many a night where I would let my son cry for a long time and when I finally went in, would discover he had a poopie diaper. No fun!
  • Make sure you’re getting her on a good nap schedule! This is where Healthy Sleep Habits comes in as a great resource. He gives clear information on how long your baby should be up between sleep times and how long they should sleep based on the child’s age.
  • How you choose to let baby cry is up to you. Some people use “extinction” which means you don’t go in to baby at all no matter how long they cry. Others usual “gradual extinction,” meaning you go in every so often and increase the time each time. Others use their own method. We did every 15 minutes and gradually increased to 20, 25, 30 mins, etc.
  • If your child is older (5 months or more), expect the process to take much longer and be harder. Once babies hit about six months, object permanance sets in which means when you leave the room, they know you still exist and they’ll wonder where you went. Younger than this, babies function as “out of sight is out of mind” so when they are crying, they’re not thinking you abandoned them… they don’t even remember you. But they instead are simply distraught at not understanding their current situation, which is were sleep aids come in (next item).
  • I highly recommend: (1) white noise playing ALL night (2) darkening your child’s room as much as possible (3) swaddling until your baby can roll from back to front and back again (they’ll likely prefer to sleep on their belly at that point)… you can still swaddle without their arms pinned after this to help them feel cozy (3) Vigorous jiggling or rocking before putting them down to soothe them (see Happiest Baby on the Block for details)
  • Make sure that whatever you’re using, use it for all sleep times. If your child has a nanny or is in daycare, make sure they are doing the same things you are. Consistency is important.

h_sleep_backWe did the 15 minute rule. If he was still crying (hard) after 15 minutes, we would go in and comfort him. If he fell asleep and slept for 30 minutes or more and then woke again, we’d go in again. After many weeks of only partial success, we learned to only go in when he was REALLY upset or if it had been several hours and he probably really was hungry.

Next time around, I think I’d rather do extinction, though I might leave the house in my hubby’s capable hands for the first few evenings so I don’t have to hear the cries. Although, listening to a baby cry really does get easier as time goes on. Listening to my charges cry at nap time is much easier than listening to H was. I’d say this is because they aren’t my children… but I don’t think that’s it. I think you just learn to understand that babies do cry… and no baby ever died from crying.

Still Struggling?

If you’re still struggling to get your baby to sleep or if you’re personally having a hard time listening to him cry, talk to your pediatrician or feel free to email me with questions! I will do my best to respond promptly.

I will also be writing full reviews soon of the two books recommended in this post.

Here’s to better sleep for everyone!

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Hi, I'm Lauren. Mommy to two, nanny to two, wife, teacher, homemaker, Catholic, artist, writer, friend, sister, daughter. Here you'll find everything from updates about our family, info and advice about parenting and homemaking, or pretty much anything else I feel like writing. Welcome!