Do You Have a Baby Sleep Problem?

by Guest blogger on October 24, 2012

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We have all had questions about baby sleep habits at some point. Is this normal? Is this healthy? Should my baby be doing what her baby is doing? Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution and seven other parenting books, shares her expertise on what “sleep problem” really means. 

Do You Have a Baby Sleep Problem?

by Elizabeth Pantley

I’m sure it’s happened to you. Once, twice, or more likely, a hundred times. You’re introducing someone to your new baby and inevitablly they have to ask, “Is he sleeping through the night?”

How on earth do you answer this question? If you say yes, you’re given a pat on the back and bestowed a smile that says, “Congratulations, you’ve done it right.” But if you are honest, and say no, you open the door to a barrage of unwanted advice, which most certainly includes step-by-step instructions on how to put your baby in a crib and let him cry until he falls asleep, so that you can win the My Baby Sleeps Through the Night Award.

If your baby is not sleeping through the night, you may eventually get the feeling that something is definitely wrong. Some of this onslaught of advice starts seeping into your psyche and poking you with the feeling that you do, indeed a problem, and you should definitely fix it.

If you find yourself in this place, the first and most important question to correctly answer is this: Do I truly have a problem?

Let’s first identify what is NOT a baby sleep problem:

~ WHERE your baby sleeps.
Crib, cradle, swing, sling, or your bed. As long as the situation is safe for your baby, there are no absolute rules about where a baby must sleep.

~ HOW often baby wakes up.
Actually, all human beings wake up between their sleep cycles. We wake up as many as six times every night, as we shift through the stages of sleep. Babies do this too – but they have shorter sleep cycles, and more cycles than adults do. So, in reality – it’s impossible for your baby to sleep all night without waking up!

~ WHAT relatives, neighbors, or anyone else thinks.
Unless the person lives in your home and is involved in your baby’s daily care, their opinions about parenting are just that – their opinions.

None of these issues identify sleep problems . . . IF . . . (and this is a very big IF) mommy, daddy & Baby are all happy and sleeping well. If everyone in your home is happy and getting enough sleep, then the only problem is the stream of unwanted advice. And if that’s the case, it’s time to memorize this response: “Thank you for sharing your ideas. We have this one covered.” And if the other person continues to press their beliefs on you, then it’s fine to let them know, “Thanks for caring. But we’re fine. This may not be the right way for you, but it’s the right way for me.”

Now, let’s identify what really IS a sleep problem that needs to be fixed.

~ BABY is not sleeping well.
For the first two years of life children need 13 to 16 hours of sleep every day, including one to four daily naps. Adequate sleep is a biological necessity to stabilize mood and support the miraculous growth and development that occurs in early life.

~ The adults in the house are suffering, sleep deprived, or miserable.
Being a parent – raising a human being – is the most important job of your life. If your lack of sleep is affecting your ability to be present for your baby, or robbing you of the joy of this special time in your life, it’s imperative that you find a solution.

~ What used to work is no longer working.
You may have been perfectly happy to nurse your newborn every hour or two all night long. You may have relished that precious time like no other. But when you’re baby is still needing all-night attention and you’re busy planning his first birthday party – you may be desperate for change. And change may be necessary for the good of your entire family.

So, to summarize, be sure you aren’t creating problems in your own mind based on what someone else believes is your problem. Address only those issues that are important to your baby’s health, or your family’s happiness. That said, if you are struggling, it is perfectly okay to put together a plan to change your baby’s sleep habits. It’s hard to be a great parent if your nighttime baby care rituals are not working for you. Just know that you never have to leave your baby to cry to sleep – there are a wide variety of gentle, thoughtful ideas that you can use to lovingly and respectfully make those changes.

You know your baby better than anyone else in the world. Trust your instincts, and follow your heart. And enjoy every day of this magical, priceless time in your life.

 

Elizabeth Pantley is mother of four and the author of the now-classic baby sleep book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution, as well as the series of seven other No-Cry Solution parenting books on topics such as discipline, separation anxiety and potty training. Visit her at nocrysolution.com.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Teresa Pitman October 24, 2012 at 11:53 am

I think you make some great points in this article but I would just like to point out that there are wide variations in the amount of sleep babies need. My second baby never slept in the daytime after she was 10 months old. Just was not tired. I’d lie down and nurse her, and she’d happily nurse, but she’d be playing with my hair, letting go to babble, etc. Not sleepy. She only slept about 10 or at most 11 hours at night (with, of course, several wakings to nurse again). That was all she needed. Today she’s an adult, and still sleeps less than most (about 6 hours a night). Her grandfather is the same way, so I think there are genetic factors. I would have been worried if my doctor had not been so supportive – my baby was healthy, bright, active – just not tired.

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Amy October 25, 2012 at 6:31 am

Great article! Now, what to do when you have a sleep problem? 14 month old still waking up 2-3 times a night to nurse!

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Elizabeth Pantley October 25, 2012 at 8:23 am

Hi Amy – You can BOTH get better sleep! — The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers & Preschoolers! … Chapters on those EXACT issues. Excerpts on my website — or email me and I’ll send you some appropriate sections – elizabeth@pantley.com

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Katie Ott October 25, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Thanks for the article! My twins don’t sleep that long and they are under 2. But I think they are getting enough sleep. They wake happy :) But they do wake throughout the night and have all their lives. I just decided that I can’t nurse them all night anymore, I’m so tired! So I just snuggle and cuddle, rub their backs and speak softly to them until they fall back to sleep (they are in bed with me). But they are crying when they wake and get no milk. I feel bad, but I’m so tired! And trying to run a business, working all week. It can be frustrating sometimes, they are almost 21 months old now. Any extra ideas to sooth them back to sleep without milk until they finally get used to it would be appreciated!

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Kim McCabe October 25, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Yes, yes, yes – so much of what society defines as a sleep problem is not. So good to read your clarity about what does actually constitute a sleep problem. Such a shame that so much is expected of mothers of young children that they are unable to rest during the day when nights are bad.
I believe that settling in the evening and getting a good night’s sleep is one of those important life skills. For this reason I would like to equip each of my children with the self-knowledge to sleep easily and well, most nights anyway.
Good bed-time is not just for babies and toddlers! I need it, you need it, and so do our teenagers.
I wonder what others find soothes them, and theirs, into a good night’s sleep.

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Valerie @ Momma in Progress October 26, 2012 at 6:33 am

Agree mostly, but the estimate of 13-16 hours and 1-4 naps a day for the first 2 years . . . really? I think some folks are going to read this and think that is what their child SHOULD be doing. Sounds like very unrealistic expectations, and to combine this info with words like “biological necessity” and “stabilize mood” is just going to compound that. Really disappointed in the way this is presented here.

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Jessy December 11, 2012 at 12:03 am

I have to nurse my 20 month old to sleep at naptimes and bedtime. She wakes up shortly after I sneak away and I get sore and tired from staying in a sleep position in bed so that I won’t wake her. I won’t do the cry it out thing and know it wouldn’t work, as my high need persistent child will concure over my passive insecure side. I’ starting to worry that I’m not getting something I should. Should I keep up with this routine or change something? She is so hot in our bed and I’m cold from trying not to cover her too much. Not to mention my husband has been sleeping on the edge of his side of the bed. Please tell me this is normal and what I can do.. Thankyou for your help.

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eunshiru December 28, 2012 at 1:20 am

I’m a dad and having 2 cute little girls. Me and my wife had a problem with our youngest daughter. Everyday she is so very energetic, that’s why during night time she always cry at the middle of the night. Maybe because of too much exhausted during daytime. What we did is lets her play during morning 1:30pm then make here sleep on the afternoon. Then after 1 month of routine we found out that she’s having a very quite sleep at night. We also made some research in (http://howtosleeponyourback.com/sleep-disorders-in-toddlers/) internet for some advice. Hope this comment can help some future parents especially dads.:D

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Younglee February 13, 2013 at 5:05 pm

I’m a stay at home father of a 1yr old son and 3yr old daughter.
Sleep issues seem to be very up and down I’ve wrote a short post about recent problems here http://dadwithtwokids.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/sleeping-problems/

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