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But Really, How Can I Get My Baby to Sleep at Night?

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Dr. Meg Meeker

All new parents want to know one thing from their pediatrician: How to get their baby to sleep, and stay asleep. There are many opinions out there on baby sleep issues, so it’s important to know where and whom you’re getting your information from.

Dr. Bill Sears is the author of over 30 parenting books including The Baby Sleep Book: The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Rest for the Whole Family. I call him the “sleep guru” because he has been studying sleep and babies for decades and is known and respected in the medical field for his knowledge on the topic.

His advice and wisdom will bring any parent hope who doesn’t remember the last time she got a full night’s sleep.

M: There is much debate about where a baby should sleep. What are your thoughts on that?

S: Wherever all of you get the best sleep, and that may change from month to month as babies’ sleep cycles change and their needs change. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that every baby should sleep in the parents’ room for the first six months to a year. I find in my practice most parents sleep the best, and babies sleep the best, in a bedside co-sleeper—a crib-like bassinet that attaches securely and safely to your bed. The baby and the mother have their separate spaces, so they don’t wake each other up, but they’re within arm’s reach of one another for easier feeding.

Baby wakes up and mommy wakes up because they have the same sleep cycles. And mommy can get the baby back to sleep before either one completely awakes. If you have your baby in another room or far away from you, by the time you run down the hall or by the time you get to baby, baby is wide awake and upset. You’re wide awake and upset. So the closer you two can be together the better.

M: How long should parents let their baby cry in the middle of the night?

S: I don’t answer that because I’m not a mother. We should not be giving parents time limits. We don’t now because we don’t have the mommy brain.

Moms often forget that when you grow a baby in your womb, you grow a center in your brain that tells you, “My baby needs me…or, she’s just a little fussy; I don’t have to rush and comfort her.” That comes by listening to your baby.

The simplest piece of advice I give all new parents is get behind the eyes of your baby. When your baby wakes up, the first thing that comes into your mind [should be], “If I were my baby, how would I want my mother to respond?” Follow that instinct, and you’ll always get it right.

M: What can parents do about the dreaded “witching hour”? Those early evening hours when a baby can get really fussy?

S: We call that “happy hour.” Have the baby take a nap a couple of hours before happy hour. Then go to a window [for warmth and comfort] and follow that by a walk. Put the baby in a carrier and go on a walk together out in nature, weather permitting. By the time five o’clock comes along, baby’s had a nap and a walk outside. So what you’ve done is rewire the brain: “I don’t have to fuss. Life is good.” Prepare for happy hour. That almost always works, and it does become happy hour.

M: What about colic? What causes that and what can parents do about it?

S: The number one cause of colic is reflux. The second cause of colic is an allergy. [They’re] allergic to a food in mom’s diet, usually wheat or dairy.

The third cause of colic is the baby is just deregulated. Those are the babies who need a consistent routine. They need lots of holding. Lots of motion. They need a pre-programming. They already know, “I hate when five o’clock comes. I’m going to be upset.” However if from three to five they get a nap, a nestle next to a person, a walk in the park, more nestling, [they will feel like] life is good.

For more baby sleep advice and resources on babies and sleep, visit Dr. Sears’ website at AskDrSears.com.

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