When you get right down to it, there are really only three ways to get a baby to sleep. Controlled crying, responsive settling or co-sleeping. Working out which approach works best for you as the parent and as a family is the first step to getting a better night’s sleep.
The first thing to understand about choosing a sleep strategy
While parenting has become a spectator sport, what you choose to do within your own four walls (provided it is safe and loving) has nothing to do with anyone else.
You'll have many passionate, professional and caring people tell you that the way you choose to settle your child is not the “right” way. Friends will tell you that you are creating a rod for your back.
I don’t believe there is a 'right' way. Babies are all different, and so are their parents.
Before you decide to employ someone (eg a sleep consultant) or implement a certain strategy, it’s important to understand the different ways you can get a baby to sleep – and the impact each of these methods will have on you and your family.
1. Controlled crying
Controlled crying has a bad reputation. In the old days it meant shutting the door on a baby and letting babies cry until they fell asleep. I don’t know any professional sleep consultant who would advocate this approach today. Sleep consultants now use a more evolved method, but it still involves letting your child cry for a time before you go in to settle them.
Listen to The Promise of Sleep:
These days it might be called 'self-settling'.
Before you employ this strategy the key question is: how do you feel about letting your baby cry for a while without you going in to settle them? Do you have other children in the family who will be woken by the crying baby? Perhaps you have paper-thin walls and you don’t want to disturb your neighbours. If none of this phases you, then controlled crying might be an option for you.
If the sound of your baby crying brings you to tears yourself, I wouldn’t recommend this approach.
Some parents who once found the thought of their baby crying without comfort unbearable are driven to controlled crying after time by their own need for sleep. It’s possible that you will try different methods in your time as a parent, but start from understanding how you feel right now – and adjust it if you need to.
2. Responsive settling
Responsive settling is pretty self-explanatory. The idea is that you respond to your baby’s cry.
Within this process you become more accustomed to what different cries mean. Is it a grizzle, that you can leave and they will fall back asleep, or is it a cry that needs comfort and cuddles?
Parents are encouraged to put their baby into the cot while they’re awake, and gradually removing themselves from the room.
It’s a much gentler approach than controlled crying, and another option if controlled crying is not for you.
Being more gentle means the process can take more time, so depending on your current level of sleep deprivation, the question here is– do you have the staying power?
Red Nose Australia estimate that 90 percent of parents co-sleep with their babies in the first six months. It’s something that many of us resort to after many sleepless nights. When you’re a breastfeeding mum, co-sleeping with your baby can be the easiest way to get sleep.
The most important thing if you choose to co-sleep with your baby is to do it safely.
When it comes to this method of getting more sleep you need to work out the impact it will have on your relationship. Will having a baby in your bed interrupt your intimacy (or can you 'get intimate' in other places)? Is your partner on board with the strategy, and prepared to sleep elsewhere if under the influence of alcohol or drugs? Will you be happy co-sleeping with your baby until they’re ready to have their own space? (As getting them to sleep in a cot after sleeping with you will have its own challenges).
What I learnt from my own sleepless nights
Ultimately, desperation lead me to try controlled crying. I didn’t know what I know now, that is, how to listen to my own instinct.
Had I taken a step back and looked at who I am as a person, and how I parent normally – it would have been obvious that controlled crying was not the right option for me.
After our failed experiment with controlled crying we ended up co-sleeping with my daughter for a long time. All the while I was told I was creating a rod for my back. I was asked how I stayed close with my partner. I was told it was unsafe. All of these things made me worry that I was doing the wrong thing.
Every sleep strategy has its down side. None are perfect. For us it has meant that our children still get in to bed with us at night. But you know what? I don’t care. I like feeling their little bodies curl up beside me.
You may not feel the same way. Your bed might be the only place you get to yourself, and that’s your choice.
I just wish I had understood that there is no 'right' way to settle your baby.
There’s just safety, love and understanding of what works for you.
Beyond that, it’s nobody’s business but your own.
The Promise of Sleep: A lifesaving podcast for every parent chasing more z's
A saviour for the sleep-deprived!
Babies aren't broken: Parents must change how they look at sleep
Why parents need to reframe the way we look at sleep.
Cosy up to all-new episodes of Bedtime Explorers
Kids a bit fussy at bedtime? This podcast will help.
6 bedtime routine ideas that will help your kids fall asleep
They'll be sleeping sound in no time!
From co-sleeping to solo sleeping: Expert tips for transitioning beds
Because once kids are in your bed, it can be hard to get them out.
10 sleep truths I learnt after 30 years as a Mothercraft nurse
Kinderling Kids Radio's Mothercraft nurse Chris Minogue shares her secrets.
Why skipping a day sleep once won’t break your baby
Desperate to get out of the house? Mothercraft nurse Chris Minogue shows you how.
Are you interrupting your baby’s sleep pattern?
Struggling with patchy day naps? Try this surprising advice from Mothercraft nurse Chris Minogue.