Sleep is the number one obsession and topic of discussion among new parents. When you have a baby, you long for periods of uninterrupted sleep and reminisce about the sleep-filled days of your pre-baby youth. So this article is a good idea about why you should do a sleep plan, for both you and your baby.
Although you will likely never again experience the joy of sleeping-in late on a Sunday morning, there comes a time during your baby’s first year where you can see the possibility of sleeping at night again. And that is the time to begin to make a sleep plan that is appropriate for you and your family.
Sleep education of your baby
I work with many new parents who are confused about the conflicting sleep advice given by various “experts” in the field. Should you let your baby “cry it out” in an effort to teach the baby to self-sooth, or should you respond to each cry by your baby in an effort to form a strong attachment?
Should a baby be placed in a crib to reduce the risk of SIDS and give parents time to be together, or is co-sleeping and a family bed the answer?
Here’s what I say: there is no one right answer. Each family’s plan around sleep will be unique, but most importantly, you need a well thought out plan.
Without a concrete plan in place, you will operate from a place of internal confusion, which invariably leads to inconsistency and struggles down the road.
In order to construct a family sleep plan, I encourage you to come together with your partner and review the pros and cons of various sleep strategies.
You need to think about the short and long-term consequences of the plan before moving forward. Once the decision is made, implement the plan as consistently as possible in order to ensure optimal results.
Constructing the Plan:
1. Be honest with yourself and your partner.
Give sincere thought to how you want your nights to be for the next month, year, and couple of years, and then discuss your feelings with your partner. Do you both want a family bed, or are you trying it because you want to subscribe to the wave of “attachment parenting”?
Are you going to employ the “cry-it-out” method because you believe it works, or are you doing it to satisfy the recommendation of your pediatrician? Are you and your partner on the same page, or is one of you going along with a sleep strategy in an effort to pacify the other?
An open and honest conversation with your partner will lead to a plan that you both can embrace and will implement effectively. This recommendation holds for parents who are separated or divorced. A sleep plan works best when it is consistently applied across households, so try to be on the same page as each other to the extent it is possible.
2. Be realistic about the timeframe and select a date that works for both of you
Implementing a comprehensive sleep plan can be time consuming and demanding. Whenever you undergo transitions with your baby, there are bound to be struggles, and it can be exhausting for everyone involved.
Look at your calendar and choose a week that is free of excessive work, family and social demands. Begin implementing your new sleep plan at that time. However, remember you may need to be flexible about the implementation date.
Be willing to hold off if you or your baby is ill, or if you are experiencing emotional challenges that will impact your ability to follow through with your new plan. In those cases, choose another date and try again.
3. Think carefully about the long-term consequences of your plan
Implementing a new sleep plan with a baby is hard. Implementing a new sleep plan with a toddler or preschool aged child is exponentially more difficult. This is where the honest discussion with your co-parent comes into play.
If you are considering co-sleeping and/or having a family bed, think about what this will look like in another year or two. It works wonderfully for some families who continue to share their bed until children are ready for their own room, while other families are frustrated with the challenge of getting a three-year-old out of their room.
Try your best to make a decision that will work well for you now, as well as down the road. It may save you a lot of frustration later.
4. Research various options
There are numerous books with strategies for helping your baby sleep through the night. Check out a few of these books from your local library. Browse through them to find a plan that fits best with your personality and values. Most of the plans involve some degree of weaning night feedings and allowing your baby to cry, but the amount of time it takes to implement the plan and the amount of time you allow your baby to cry will differ.
Keep in mind that the more aggressive the plan sounds, generally the quicker the results. That being said, it is important to find one that fits you best so that you are more likely to implement it in its entirety.
Some books that parents have used with success include The Sleepeasy Solution by Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack, The No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Marc Weissbluth, M.D.. There are, of course, many others too.
It can also be helpful to talk with parents who have implemented various sleep plans and learn of their successes and failures. Just keep in mind that every family is different, and there is no one right strategy for helping your baby to sleep.
Try your best to listen to the advice with a critical ear, and don’t allow yourself to feel judged by other parents, or by the authors of the books. Whatever plan you choose will be the best one for your family.
5. Be gentle with yourself and allow for flexibility
Implementing a sleep plan can be physically and emotionally taxing for a family. Being gentle with yourself involves working to not judge you or your partner’s struggles in this endeavor.
While you should try your best to implement the plan in a comprehensive and consistent manner, it is okay if you make mistakes and have to start the plan again. It is also okay if you start a plan and determine that it does not work for you and you will need to make a new one.
Being gentle and kind to yourself when it comes to parenting will allow you to persevere and reach your ultimate goal, in this case, sleep.