What Parents Say About Helping Babies Sleep
Parents of new babies find out pretty quickly that there are a plethora of different approaches to getting babies to sleep. People who write about, video about and otherwise promote their “foolproof, guaranteed” approach to sleep are quite certain that their ideas will work for you. As a new parent, you end up with a buffet-style of sleep-inspired options, but with so many to choose from, it’s easy to get a little confused figuring out which one is best!
For years we have been asking parents how they approach sleep. With permission, we videotaped our conversations with some amazing moms who have tried and adopted different strategies. Here’s what they said. These experiences are raw and real.
Three Basic Approaches for Putting Babies to Sleep
In our book, Baby S.O.S: Sleep Solutions Based on Your Baby’s Sensory Personality, we discuss 3 basic approaches for putting babies to sleep.
2. The Swaddle and Swing Method
3. The Shush and Pat Method
Each method has its own rationale and works beautifully when paired with certain baby/parent personality matches. If you are already aware of your baby’s sensory personality (sleepy, typical or sensitive), this will help guide your decision on choosing the best approach for your family. If not, scan through Parenting the Sensitive Baby and Helping Your Sleepy Baby Wake Up to see if either personality feels familiar. We also encourage you to hang tight for Part 4 of our Sleep and Babies Series, where we go over this in a little more detail.
Each video below highlights a different sleep approach and these amazing moms share their experiences and insight about each.
As the co-sleeping method goes, babies are fed and held until in a deep sleep and gently placed where they are going to sleep. (As a refresher from Part 2 of our series, deep sleep is when baby is limp and relaxed, has regular breathing and no eye movements are observed.) As this approach often includes co-sleeping, baby is tucked next to mom in bed and mom simply nurses baby back to sleep each time he wakes. This is a great approach for the sensitive baby who may be difficult to get back to sleep if moved into a crib. We found a particularly touching study that interviewed adults who had been co-sleepers as babies. The study found that these adults consistently reported a “feeling of satisfaction with life”.
The mom in this clip works during the day and finds co-sleeping a nice way to connect with her baby. Take a look.
Swaddle and swing
In the Swaddle and Swing method, baby is fed, wrapped in a swaddling blanket, held until sleepy and then placed in a motorized swing. This works well for the sensitive baby whose parents have difficulty co-sleeping with baby in the bed. This approach however, does needs to be adapted when baby outgrows the swing.
This mom of twins has tried a few different sleep approaches in the first year. Here’s what she has to say.
Shush and pat
The Shush and Pat method includes baby being fed, swaddled, held until sleepy and placed in the crib while still awake. Baby is patted and shushed for a few minutes and then parent leaves the room. The parent in charge of bedtime returns and repeats the shush and pat as many times as needed until baby settles into sleep. This approach works for the baby who is well organized and calm. This often will not work for the sensitive baby because this type of baby needs more help settling down into sleep.
This mom of three little boys has a thoughtful sleep approach that she is willing to share.
Triplet alert! This mom of triplets has worked hard to develop a sleep approach that works for her family.
Parents consistently shared that bedtime routines were essential in helping babies and children get ready to sleep. Common bedtime routine steps included:
Bath & PJs
Dimming the lights
Reading a story
Infant bedtimes included:
Giving baby a larger feeding before bedtime
White noise of a fan or soft music
What we know as therapists is that babies are all different. Parents have sensory needs and grew up with their own cultural approaches to sleep. Families need to balance what works best for both babies and parents. “…the traditional habit of labeling one sleeping arrangement as being superior to another without an awareness of family, social and ethnic context is not only wrong but possibly harmful” (McKenna & Dade, 2005). Learning and identifying the tools that your baby responds to best will provide a strong foundation for improved family sleep.
McKenna, J.J., McDade, T. (2005). Why babies should never sleep alone: A review of the co-sleeping controversy in relation to SIDS, bed sharing and breast feeding. Paediatric Respiratory Reviews, 6, 134–152.
Staples, A., Bates, J., Petersen, I. ( 2015). Bedtime routines in early childhood: Prevalence, consistency, and associations with nighttime sleep. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, vol. 80, issue 1, pp.141-159. March 2015.