Sleep Training & the Generation Gap
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: ThinkstockPublished February 10, 2012. Last updated October 29, 2017.