Here’s an overview of a hybrid approach that worked for my kids.
The big question is:
Cry it out? – or – Hold them until they fall asleep?
Both extremes hold hardships and pitfalls for both baby and parent.
Cry It Out?
I agree that just letting a baby “cry it out” can undermine the trust between parent and child. They can learn that sleep is a fearful time – where they are abandoned.
Rock To Sleep?
I also agree that holding and rocking and soothing a baby to sleep continuously throughout the night is not healthy for your baby because separation anxiety can develop.
They become so dependent on the soothing parent that they don’t learn how to sleep alone and soothe themselves back to sleep if they are not held.
Also, it’s not healthy for parents who can become too sleep deprived constantly holding and rocking their baby throughout the night.
On nights when you’re not able to continuously soothe them throughout the night, they become distressed and fearful. Sleep becomes an anxious time – again where they are abandoned.
A little cry it out + a little rock to sleep works
So, if both extremes are unhealthy – then how can you teach your baby the gift of healthy sleep habits?
Combining the best of the “Cry it out” approach and the “Soothe them to sleep” approach worked for my 2 kids.
An advantage to having your baby be able to fall asleep in their bed and sometimes in your arms – is that they will not be terrified when they wake up in the middle of the night and you’re not there.
If they always fall asleep in your arms, then your arms become their perceived bed, and their actual bed becomes frighteningly strange.
You can imagine how you’d feel if you woke up in the middle of the night on the kitchen table instead of in your bed. That is what it must feel like to a baby who is only able to fall asleep in a parent’s arms and then wakes up in the middle of the night in their bed instead of in your arms. Where did those arms go? They feel something must be wrong. Whaaaaaaaaa!
(In the next chapter I give an example – step by step – of what I’d do).
In a nutshell…
- I worked with my kids to be able to fall sleep in my arms as well as by themselves in their crib.
- A consistent daily rhythm was at the core of this approach. Consistent is important.
- When they would cry out, I used a combination of soothing them and letting them cry.
- Crying is healthy and a baby’s way of communicating. The key is to let them know they are safe and that you’re there for them when they cry out and then to guide them to learn to fall back asleep on their own.
- Each time they’d cry out I’d increase the time before I went in to soothe them. Eventually, both of my kids learned to fall back to sleep on their own.
- They began to cry out less and less.
- Then they began sleeping in longer and longer stretches without crying out.
- Until finally, they could sleep through the night.
- They learned to feel safe, loved and be able to fall asleep from a drowsy state on their own. If they woke up in the night, they were able to fall back asleep with no more than a gentle check in from Mom or Dad.
More details about this approach as well as other tips cam be found throughout this site.