A Midwife’s Tips for Sane (and Safe) Sleep
If you’re a parent, you know how important sleep is for both you and your child. And if you’re a first-time parent, you’ll soon understand that as your baby grows and develops, their sleep patterns will go through different phases. In turn, so will yours.
In our house, I always felt like as soon as we had a system that was working for an extended period of time, my husband and I would high-five each other and say, “Have you noticed? The baby hasn’t woken up at 2AM in months!” And without fail, the baby would wake up that night screaming his ever-loving head off at 2AM on the dot.
Sleep, like many other aspects of parenting, has its ups and downs and at times can feel completely unpredictable and unreasonable.
You will get a ton of opinions on the best place for your baby to sleep, the best time to put them down, what they should wear, how dark the room should be, and whether or not to pick them up at 2AM when they decide to scream that cute little head off.
I will tell you, if you can recognize that the advice you are getting varies from person to person, it is a good indicator that it is not a perfect system and what works for one family may very well not work for another. And guess what? That’s okay.
There are people who have very firm beliefs regarding sleep training methods, and there are some who are simply just trying to do their best night by night. Both ways of parenting are completely fine, and it is in my personal and professional opinion that one should not judge the other, because we are all just trying to do the right thing for our children and ourselves.
As midwives, we give a few simple recommendations based on maintaining both safety and sanity. You may find them helpful, and you may tailor them to fit your family’s needs a bit differently.
Tips for Safe and Sane Sleep:
- Parents and baby should sleep in the same room for at least the first few months. This will help you get used to your baby’s patterns, tend to their needs quicker, bond more, and reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). It is recommended to keep baby on a firm mattress in his or her own crib—not in the bed with you. If it works better for you to have your baby in their own room that is perfectly fine—just monitor your infant closely.
- Put your baby on his or her back to sleep. Baby should be in a sleep sack or swaddle, and remove all other objects and accessories from the crib. This will also reduce the risk of SIDS.
- Develop a routine from the start. Do your best to work on a routine that works for your family. This may include a nightly bath, a couple of books, a feeding, a sound machine, dim lights, or no lights at all. Try it all and see what you like and more importantly, what seems to work for you child.
Now when all that seems to be working really well, but then your adorable yet extremely loud and persistent baby starts their 2AM screamfest, you will find yourself at a crossroads: To pick the baby up, or not?
You may hear the terms self-soothing, “cry it out”, or Ferberizing. There are some differences within each technique, but the main concept is that at some point in early infancy (after four months) you allow your baby to cry for a period without attending to him, with the goal that your baby will learn to soothe himself and go back to sleep.
Parents typically feel very strongly one way or the other about these methods. Some find success utilizing these techniques. Before you begin, it’s important to make sure your baby’s basic needs are met. Do they need to be fed? Did you just change their diaper? Did the cat jump in their crib again?
Spending those first few months in the same room will help you understand these patterns and you may feel very confident that baby is safe, clean and fed. If it works for you and your baby, you may consider “cry it out” methods and experiment with them to see if they are helpful for your family. Some parents cannot stand the sound of their baby crying and they need to pick them up. Others may be on their way to losing their minds if they don’t try to teach their baby how to self soothe and sleep at night. We are all different.
Show your baby love, continue to be open-minded, and adapt to your child’s evolving needs.
Try not to worry too much, because when you’re an adult, nobody cares how or when you learned to sleep through the night. We all get there one way or another. Good luck!
For specific questions regarding infant sleep practices, please refer to your midwife, OB/GYN, or child’s pediatrician.