Here are more details about the hybrid approach that worked for my children. (Also see the previous chapter My Hybrid Approach [a case study] for an overview).
Remember that you don’t have to choose either extreme…
Letting Them Cry? – Or – Rocking Them to Sleep? Hmmmm…
Letting them cry all night to get them to sleep can create a baby who doesn’t feel safe and has trouble sleeping.
On the other hand, holding and rocking your baby all night to get them to sleep isn’t good for your sleep needs and they don’t learn how to fall asleep on their own. It can instill a fear of sleep in them which surfaces later when they don’t have you to rock them to sleep.
My target was to instill a healthy sleep attitude in my children and to insure everyone in our family got a restful night’s sleep.
Here’s an example of a routine I used to help my babies fall asleep:
I would hold them and sing the same 3 songs to them quietly to help guide them toward sleep.
I’d try to put them to bed drowsy, but awake. It helped my children associate their bed with falling asleep.
If they feel asleep in my arms before I finished my routine, then I’d put them gently into their bed.
I didn’t want to make them dependent on me to fall asleep by always having them fall asleep in my arms.
Ideally, you get them started down the sleepy path and then they learn how to fall asleep themselves in their crib – without you holding, rocking, singing to them throughout the night to get them to sleep. I would still hold and sing and rock them as part of the routine.
Those bonding moments gave my children clues that it was time for sleep. The purpose of holding and rocking and singing was to guide my babies down the path toward sleep – not to make them fall asleep in my arms. That’s a key point.
This approach enabled them to more easily adjust to different sleeping scenarios as they grew and developed because at the core – they always had what they needed to fall asleep – themselves.
Once I got them into a peaceful state – ready to sleep. I put them down into their crib – awake if they were still awake after those 3 songs – or – asleep if they fell asleep. If they were still awake I’d slowly drift out of the room softly singing a song, singing more and more quietly to enhance the feeling I was drifting farther and farther away peacefully, close the door and continue to fade off as I walked down the hall.
Usually, that was enough to have them drift off to sleep.
If they woke up later and started crying I’d return, check as quietly as I could to see if they had a soiled diaper. If so, I’d change them as gently as I could – trying not to stimulate them more.
If they didn’t need changing and their cry was not a cry of physical pain but more a call for attention and holding, I’d say, “Shhhhhhhhh…Go to sleep…Good…Night…” as I gave them a firm and gentle rub down the back and then I’d drift away repeating “Good…Night…” and I’d close the door as quietly as I could.
Note that I didn’t pick them up. I spoke quietly and soothingly to them and gently rubbed them as they laid in their crib – to let them know everything was OK and that I was around.
If they cried out for attention again I’d open the door enough to poke my head in and say, “Shhhhhhhhh…Go to sleep…Good…Night…” so softly. Then I’d close the door as quietly as I could.
The next time they cried for me I wouldn’t open the door I’d simply say, “Shhhhhhhhh…Go to sleep…” gently right outside their room.
From here on out – if they continued to cry – I’d wait longer and longer before saying “Shhhhhhhhh…Go to sleep…” gently right outside their room.
- I’d wait 30 seconds.
- The next time I’d wait a minute.
- Then 2 minutes.
- Then 4 minutes.
- Then 8 minutes.
And so on, doubling the amount of time I’d wait before I’d say, “Shhhhhhhhh…Go to sleep…” outside their door while they cried in between my “Shhhhhhh…” intervals.
Finding the intervals that work for you and your baby is part of the process.
This can be hard on you because you will need to listen to them cry for these limited intervals.
- It may seem like forever, and the interval before you comfort them will get longer and longer.
- But each day we did this they cried less and less.
- They learned that we were always there for them and they were safe and it all worked out each time they fell asleep themselves in their bed.
- They learned that at bedtime there was no use in crying just to be held because it was a time to sleep.
This is a key point that may sound crazy and obvious but think about it as a baby for a minute.
If no one teaches you that bedtime is a time for sleep – then you have no idea. You’ll just do whatever you feel at any given moment. There is less structure in your world. You don’t know what to expect.
Lovingly teaching a baby there is a pattern of being awake and being asleep (using the above tips) – makes them feel safe because they begin to know what to expect and what happens during the day time and the night time.
So, you see, you are letting them cry – but you’re not just letting them cry it out endlessly without any guidance and love from you.
They get the best of both approaches – the security of you putting them to bed and the wonderful life skill of putting themselves to sleep – feeling safe and knowing what to expect at bedtime.
They learn to be secure knowing that you’re there to comfort them with a gentle “Shhhhhhhhh…Go to sleep…”.
When I’d go in to comfort them – I didn’t pick them up.
I spoke quietly and soothingly to them and gently rubbed them as they laid in their crib – to let them know everything was OK and that I was around.
In this way, they learned that they were safe and loved.
They learned I was there for them and that they were able to put themselves back to sleep when they woke up.
It’s a big investment of time and energy on a parents part when their baby is learning – but once they learn – nighttime is so much easier, healthier and happier for you and your baby.
Using a baby monitor is beneficial because you will be able to hear them begin to cry and you can position yourself quietly right outside their door, ready to respond before they reach a stressful panic cry. (See my Additional Resources Page for a link that will take you to an independent site that has some good insights on selecting baby monitors)
If you are able to consistently respond quickly to their cries for you, they will feel safer because they don’t need to get terribly worked up before someone responds to them.
The key is not to respond to every little sound they make. That will only teach them to wake up more.
Wait until they are crying out for you before going in. Sometimes they may let out a little half asleep cry and fall right back to sleep. That’s good. They don’t need you at those times. Let them sleep.
The more you observe and consider their behavior, the better you’ll get to know your baby (their various cries) and the easier it will be to know when to respond and when to just let them fall back to sleep on their own.
Another thing that gave my kids more sleep flexibility was I wouldn’t always be the person who put them to sleep. Trade off with your partner (who will probably have their own style ritual) and your baby will not become dependent on a single person to guide them toward sleep.
With my son and daughter, as they grew older, I found that if I was in their room when they fell asleep in their crib/bed (I’d be sitting in a rocking chair gently singing a song or two), then they tended to sleep through the night more often. Should they wake up in the in the middle of the night – they were usually able to fall back asleep with minimal guidance.