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Sleep Training & the Generation Gap

Feb10

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Hi Amy,

I am a first time mother of an incredibly sweet 3 month old boy. I don’t really have a problem that I need help solving , just a question about sleep training. My son has been sleeping 10-12 hours thru the night since he was 6 weeks old. Around 6:30 at night he gets a bath and eats for the last time and is typically asleep by 7pm. He also takes about three 45min to 1hr long naps during the day.

For him to fall asleep I have to dance him around the living room for about 15 min before he drifts off and then I can put him in his crib and he stays asleep. Now here comes the question: Should I be trying to train him to fall asleep on his own? Both my mom and my grandmother have asked about his ability to put himself to sleep and have pressured me to start sleep training. But I’m worried that it will make him insecure and his days of sleeping thru the night will be over. I don’t want to ruin the good thing that we have going on.

I appreciate your help!

Oh, mothers and mothers-in-laws and grandmothers. They are SO GOOD at asking those sorts of questions, aren’t they? And making you worry you’ve let your baby fall behind on some great mystical calendar that THEIR BABIES all followed, and ALL BABIES have followed since the beginning of time, amen. Sleep-train from birth! Cereal at three months! Wean from the breast at six! Get them potty-trained at 12! He’s thirsty, get him a bottle of water. He’s crying, stop spoiling him. And why isn’t that baby wearing socks? It’s 70 degrees outside HE MUST BE FREEZING.

I’m sure your mom and grandma mean well, but seriously: Do yourself a favor and learn to start tuning them out, sometimes. If you and your baby are happy with things as they are, it’s highly, HIGHLY unlikely that you are doing something super-terribly WRONG. Even if it’s not the way THEY did things, or more accurately: The way they think they did things, through the haze of many decades. Because lord, I can’t even nail down what specific month my babies started doing A, B and C, or when I started trying X, Y and Z without consulting my stupid blog archives, and it was just a couple years ago. I hereby go on the record and promise any future daughters-in-law that I will pretty much always claim senility and keep my milestone-related assvice to myself.

(My mother-in-law insisted throughout Noah’s babyhood that her children were fully, independently potty-trained by their first birthday. Finally, it dawned on her — I think when she realized most babies are just taking their first steps around that age — that it was actually much later. Oops.)

That said, there’s nothing WRONG with the idea that a baby should learn to fall asleep on his own. I actually agree! And some sleep-training programs will say they can be started as early as three months. As in, that’s the absolute earliest you should even start thinking about it. As in, you are not behind the eight ball or doing anything wrong by letting your tiny little three month old fall asleep in your arms right now.

Personally — and I mean this 100% PERSONALLY, my own judgment call, your mileage may vary — I could not even fathom trying to sleep-train a three month old. Particularly a three month old who is sleeping SO WELL! Why go and invent problems? So he needs some rocking and pacing right now! Give it to him! At some point, if you notice he’s in that halfway-to-dreamland state where he isn’t totally asleep, you can try putting him down in his crib and see if he drifts off the rest of the way. Pat him or sing to him so he knows you’re there. If he freaks out — no biggie, you can try again another night.

Sleep training at three months is probably one of those old-school things — most of the stuff I’ve read (and agree with and find tolerable) suggest six months at the earliest. We flailed around with Ike until seven months. He was never the good sleeper your baby is, so we officially had sleep “problems.” He ABSOLUTELY needed to be taught how to fall asleep on his own and STAY asleep. It was just not happening on its own. Since there was already SO MUCH CRYING going on no matter what I did, I bought Ferber’s book and followed his method of loving routine, in bed sleepy but awake, gradual extinction with very short intervals of crying (three minutes, five minutes, eight minutes, etc.). I braced myself for a week of horror.

It took a freaking night and a HALF to fix the whole mess. A night and a half. Naps fell into place, Ike was clearly happier and less stressed about bedtime and I was no longer afraid of falling asleep behind the wheel while driving my kids to school in the morning. I have zero regrets and zero doubts that we did the right thing, but it was MY CHOICE and MY CALL, and not because anyone was hovering over my shoulder and clucking their tongues at Ike’s inability to self-soothe at seven months.

Point is: If we waited as long as we did to get serious about the self-soothing and it all worked out, I again urge you to not let those comments get under your skin and make you think you’re doing your son a disservice right now. Noah and Ezra never really required sleep training — they were naturally good sleepers, like your son probably is. They figured it out once I gave them the opportunity to try and put them in the crib slightly awake. I have no idea how old they were when it happened, but it was PRETTY LIKELY FOR SURE older than three months.

It’s hard to trust your instincts when it’s your first baby ever and you feel like you should defer to “experts” who did it before. But you HAVE instincts and they should trump outside any advice that just doesn’t “feel” right to you.  (You should see the handout on sleep training my pediatrician’s office gave me. 45 solid minutes of crying at bedtime! An hour, if need be! No loveys or music or mobiles! Don’t even go in the room for middle-of-the-night wakings! ARE YOU KIDDING ME NO.) Your son sounds like an angel straight from heaven who will probably not let anything get in his way of a good night’s sleep, and will figure it out on his own if you give him the chance. But there’s no need to rush. Those 15 minutes of living room dancing with your newborn curled against your chest will be minutes you’ll treasure forever and talk about wistfully someday, because oh, they were over far, far too soon.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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21 Responses to “Sleep Training & the Generation Gap”

  1. Tara Feb 10 at 2:02 pm Reply Reply

    Yes to everything Amy said. I found at a certain point – maybe around four or five months – the rocking/bouncing stopped working for us and just sort of made our kid squirmy and irritable. It took a few days for me to be like, “Oh! You just want to be put down! I get it now…” So I say stick with it if it’s working and change it when baby lets you know it’s time to switch things up.

    But also? Beware the four month sleep regression. My pretty good sleeper became a disaster at that point and I really wish I had known about it before we were a week and a half into it wondering what the hell we were doing wrong. (Although I really hope it doesn’t happen to you and your wonderful sleeper continues on sleeping through the night!)

  2. Jadzia@Toddlerisms Feb 10 at 2:07 pm Reply Reply

    As the mother of an incredibly sweet 3-month-old girl (who has 4 older siblings), I am amazed at what a good sleeper your baby sounds like already!  My baby *will not let me put her down.*  Ever.  I would do anything for just THREE hours of sleep in a row.  So I think you’re doing great and so is your baby!  15 minutes is nothing in the grand scheme of things and Amy is right–the memories will be priceless.

  3. Erin Feb 10 at 2:14 pm Reply Reply

    Oh my gosh, dear woman. If you are only spending 15 minutes putting your baby to sleep and he’s sleeping through the night already? You are in SLEEP HEAVEN. It ain’t broke; don’t try to fix it.

  4. Christine Feb 10 at 2:19 pm Reply Reply

    So, back in the day (6 years ago) when I was in my pediatrics residency, my program director said something that I’ve really been thinking back on as I now raise my 12 month old.

    When it comes to behavioral advice (such as sleep), there really is no right answer other than what works for the family and child. There are things that pediatricians are taught works for a lot of people, and those are the things you’ll have spewed at you in the office.  There are things you’ll find in books, on-line and advice from your elders.  But, the only right answer is what works for you and your baby.

    And honestly, to me it sounds like what you are doing is currently working.

  5. danielle Feb 10 at 2:22 pm Reply Reply

    I have an 8 week old and I envy the OP :)!! I also have a 3.5 year old so I know it gets better. Don’t change a thing. You will know when he is ready.

  6. IrishCream Feb 10 at 2:37 pm Reply Reply

    It sounds like you’re doing great! Congratulations on your beautiful and happy baby. One phrase that always works with my MIL is “It’s sweet of you to worry, but we’re getting along just fine, thanks!”

    My daughter (now 18 months) was not a great sleeper until around nine months, when we got serious about sleep training. Even so, she nursed to sleep until she was…I dunno, 14 months, ish? She could still put herself back to sleep just fine. For some babies, including yours so far, sleeping through the night isn’t necessarily connected to putting themselves to sleep at the beginning of the night. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

  7. Olivia Feb 10 at 3:36 pm Reply Reply

    Wow, 15 min of walking and rocking to get the baby to sleep? So not a big deal. Right now it takes at least that long of laying with my nearly 3 yr old and reading 2 or 3 books to get her to sleep. Which, I’m fine with, so it’s not a “problem” for us. Whatever works for you go with it, and the next time someone asks how baby is sleeping just say, “Perfectly, like a baby should.”

  8. Zoë Feb 10 at 4:26 pm Reply Reply

    It sounds like you have a keeper there! If it’s not a problem for you, and YOU want to keep dancing your teeny tiny 3 mth old to sleep, then keep on doing it. My eldest two always fell asleep during their last bottle (kind of like nursing to sleep I suppose), and I don’t remember when I could put them to bed awake, but it had to have happened some time (they are now 7 and 4). My youngest though never fell completely asleep during this same bottle, so I would cuddle her until she was out and then put her down. Then when she was 7 mths old, I realized it was taking her longer and longer to fall asleep, and she seemed, well, uncomfortable. So I decided to put her in bed while awake and it worked! She was defintely a lot younger than her big brother and sister. Now she is 17 mths old, and has never had trouble falling asleep (the 9 mth sleep regression only lasted 8/10 nights, so I don’t count that). Your baby is doing great! Enjoy the dancing while it lasts – I would love it if my toddler took a cuddle nap or fell asleep on my arms from time to time, but she won’t have it.

  9. Corie Feb 10 at 4:49 pm Reply Reply

    I’m in the “if it isn’t a problem for you, it isn’t a problem” camp. We rocked our son to sleep until he was 4ish months old, when he started waking up again when we laid him down. When our former 15-30 minutes of rocking and snuggling turned into an hour or more of rocking, trying to lay him down, him waking up and screaming his head off, us rocking him again, etc. we decided it was time for a change. It took us about a week, but then he was able to fall asleep on his own with no problems. We didn’t tackle MOTN wakings until he was about 9 months, because I just couldn’t function at work any more as a zombie. (And while I love the idea of the Ferber method, we had to use the extinction method [aka just letting him cry it out with no comforting] in the MOTN because when we went in to comfort him that first night, he just got more agitated every time we walked into his room and didn’t give him the milk he wanted and he refused to calm down. I think that’s why he cried for so long the first night, because he calmed down waaaaay sooner the second night.)

  10. Jimmy Feb 10 at 5:27 pm Reply Reply

    Ditto all those who say this is a solution looking for a problem.  In return for 15 min of rocking you get sleep through the night at three months old.  Plus naps?  

    And I think Amy is right when she talks about grandparent amnesia.  When we were dealing with our son’s sleep regression (which lasted from when he was about 4 months to 9 months old – and it was awful), we came to the conclusion that anyone who had not dealt with an infant within the last three years (and that’s stretching it) was no longer a trusted source of sleep advice.  After a certain amount of time you just forget.  Maybe not everything, but definitely the infant timeline.  The difference of 3 and 6 months is a lot for an infant, but not for an adult.  Over time, it all blends together.  

    I’m convinced this is evolutionary.  If people didn’t quickly forget what it was like to live with a sleepless infant, the human race would not have lasted as long as it has – because no one would have more than one child.  Plain and simple.  

    They love you, they mean well, but they really don’t remember well enough to be of use in this department.  According to my completely unofficial research, your child sleeps better than 99% of babies, including those of your parents and in-laws.  I promise.

  11. Mary Feb 10 at 6:46 pm Reply Reply

    My husband and I have only one child. We loved rocking him to sleep at night. I kept thinking I’d sleep train him at 3 months…at 6 months…at 9 months, etc. I stressed about it..but we LOVED the night time rocking (we would fight over who got to do it), Then, one of my friends told me that she rocked her kids to sleep as long as they would let her (until around 7 years old). Her kids are fine (teenagers) and sleep very well. After hearing that from my friend, I just let it all go and kept rocking my son to sleep. As he got bigger, it was just staying with him until he fell asleep (he became too big for us both to comfortably fit in the rocking chair for nodding off). It lasted until he was around 5, when he began to phase it out at his request. He’s now 8. He stopped having us stay with him until sleep for good at least a year ago. He sleeps very well. The moral of the story…do what works for you. You will not ruin him for life. Think of it this way – what 13 year-old wants his mommy to rock him to sleep?

  12. Meg Feb 10 at 8:51 pm Reply Reply

    My almost-16-month-old still hasn’t slept for six consecutive hours, and only THIS WEEK did here bedtime ritual stop taking an hour to execute. I’m jealous, and while that 15 minutes may someday be a problem, remember: a thing is really only a problem if it’s somehow detrimental.

  13. roo Feb 11 at 12:46 am Reply Reply

    “Those 15 minutes of living room dancing with your newborn curled against your chest will be minutes you’ll treasure forever and talk about wistfully someday, because oh, they were over far, far too soon.”

    This made me  cry a little. :)

  14. Kim Feb 11 at 12:14 pm Reply Reply

    Seriously, with my first if I ever got her to sleep in fifteen minutes, I would have been singing on my knees singing hosannas. YOU ARE DOING GREAT. (And honestly, it’s not just the haze of decades that fogs the oldies memories. Don’t you think they were pretty sleep deprived themselves? and even if they raised umptyscump kids, well, I was more tired with my second that with my first, and somehow I don’t think that changes between the umpty and the scump.) Smile, thenk them for your advice, lie about following their advice if necessary. Then carry on doing what you’re doing.(15 minutes of a loving dance with your little, oh so so sweet.)

  15. Operation Pink Herring Feb 12 at 1:42 pm Reply Reply

    I could not agree with Amy’s advice any more. I had the go-to-sleep routine down to a science with my just-turned five month old. Swaddle her, turn on the fan for white noise, pop in the pacifier, and lay her up on my chest for some bouncing/patting. After 10 or 15 minutes she almost always went to sleep. It worked well, but I fretted that she would never learn to go to sleep on her own. And then one day I just put her in the bassinet, still awake, and BOOM. She just… went to sleep. On her own. I could not believe it. And now I feel strangely bereft, like I’ve been put out of a job as the putter-to-sleeper!

  16. Julia Feb 12 at 3:42 pm Reply Reply

    Do not mess with the sleep gods!! If he is sleeping fine, just let it be! (You may, however, have just jinxed it all by saying he sleeps through the night on the Internet ;) Good luck to you mama. Sounds like you are doing an excellent job. Don’t let others make you doubt yourself. A mother knows know her own baby.

  17. MR Feb 13 at 12:18 pm Reply Reply

    Your baby is sleeping 10-12 hours a night, plus naps, and all you have to do is spend 15 minutes rocking/cuddling him, and your mom and grandma think you should change this?! They are CRAZY!! Why would you risk messing this up??
    Totally second Amy’s advice about grandparent amnesia. The first time my mom saw me put my dd on the wall for timeout, she looked at me horrified and said “you aren’t going to make her stay there are you??” Um, yeah actually. I don’t think it is a very effective timeout if she doesn’t have to stay there. And my mother was the QUEEN of timeouts. But it is different when it is her grandchild. Grandparent amnesia is no joke, so take ANY advice from them on parenting with a HUGE grain of salt.

  18. Babs Feb 13 at 1:45 pm Reply Reply

    The advice will never stop, so follow only that which makes sense to you. I was advised to put black paint on my nipples to wean my 5 month old. Hope that makes you feel better.

  19. chitown Feb 14 at 11:19 am Reply Reply

    Yup, yup, and yup. There is no “right” way. And what you’ve got going sounds great. My hubby and I used to “bounce” our (now 16-month old) daughter to sleep. That is, we would hold her while sitting on an excercise ball and bounce until she fell asleep. Worked like a charm, but I, too, worried that she wouldn’t learn to fall asleep on her own. You know what? She did. Similar to the stories of other posters, eventaully we started noticing that it was taking longer and longer to get her to fall asleep and so, one day, out of frustration, I just put her in her crib while she was still awake, b/c I could take bouncing for one. more. minute. And you know what? She rolled over and went to sleep. So, we tried it again the next night. And, sure enough, she went to sleep without any fuss. Can’t remember how old she was…somewhere between 6 & 9 months, I’d say. So, yeah, it just happens. Good luck, mama! You are living the dream right now. :)

  20. Rachel Feb 14 at 1:33 pm Reply Reply

    You have won the baby sleeping lottery. Do not question your good fortune and do not mess with it.

  21. lindswing Feb 18 at 6:19 pm Reply Reply

    I just want to add that we never sleep trained my son who is now a super champ sleeper.  We rocked him to sleep every single night and nearly every single time he woke up for nearly two years.  Then, when he was about 18 months old, we could hear him sometimes start waking up and putting himself back to sleep in his crib at night.  Now, he’s almost two and a half and I sit next to his toddler bed for about 10 minutes holding his hand (so precious), then I leave and he falls asleep.  No crying, not ever, and he learned to soothe himself to sleep when he was older.  You are not gong to ruin his sleep for the rest of his life by not teaching him when he’s brand-new, tiny (and sleeping better than any child in the history of time).  Two year olds can learn, too!

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