Sharing in a bedtime ritual is the fun part of getting your baby to sleep. Putting him down and getting him to go to sleep is the hard part. After rocking, cuddling, nursing, feeding, reading, singing, telling stories, sitting with, leaving, punishing, and every other trick in the book, you may understandably throw up your arms in surrender. For many parents, the only solution seems to involve the torture, as bad or worse for parents than for the babies, of letting the baby "cry himself to sleep."
Letting your baby cry himself to sleep makes no sense in the early months of his life. When a young baby cries, he needs something. By six months, however, your baby cries not only when he needs you, but when he wants you as well. Although it's nice to fulfill your baby's desires whenever you can, you need not gratify his wants as much as you need to satisfy his needs.
Your baby wants you to stay with him until he's asleep. He wants you to rock him, to sing to him, to suckle and soothe him. But no matter how entrenched these habits have become, he does not need them in order to get to sleep. Your baby does need to learn how to go to sleep by himself, however. The sooner he learns, the easier it will be for him. The longer you allow him to fall asleep in your arms, the harder it will be to break this habit.
You may think it selfish to put your needs for sleep and serenity above your child's. But it's also selfish to prolong your baby's exclusive dependence on you and to spare yourself from enduring your baby's cries as he learns how to go to sleep without you. Ultimately, getting your baby to sleep on his own serves not only your own selfish interests, but your baby's well-being as well.
If you haven't yet done so, start putting your baby in his crib before he falls asleep. To get started, you need to time it just right. If your baby's wide awake, he will pop right up and start screaming his head off. On the other hand, if you wait too long, your baby will fall asleep before you get him in the crib, and you will have missed your opportunity. So try to put your baby down when he's drowsy but still awake. Oh, your baby won't like it at first. He'll probably react with mournful and sometimes desperate crying. How you respond to those cries will make all the difference.
Crying It Out
If your baby won't calm down no matter what, or if the cries continue for hours and don't seem any shorter the next night, you might want to check with your baby's doctor. If your baby has an ear infection or other illness, now might not be the best time to teach her to sleep on her own.
One response, the Spock method, involves sweating out the crying. Steel yourself, go through your bedtime routine, and then after saying good night, don't go back in, no matter how much your baby cries. Your baby's cries may become more and more desperate as time drags on, but if you can bear it, she will eventually wear herself out or give up and fall asleep.
A warning is in order, however: On the first night, the crying is likely to last at least 20 to 30 minutes and perhaps more than an hour. (You may find it necessary to take refuge from your baby's cries by using a white-noise machine of your own: ear plugs, stereo headphones, or a TV or radio program.)
This method may seem unbearably cruel to you. When parents remain resolute, however, this strategy usually works. The amount of crying gradually subsides over the course of several nights until it's down to five minutes or less. Believe it or not, in less than a week, your baby will learn how to go to sleep on her own.