Desperate, sleep-deprived parents will often try anything to get their little one to have a good night’s rest, especially when besieged for weeks by broken sleep.
It is one of life’s small mysteries as to why some babies catch on to sleeping through the night early on while others wake up once, twice or three times well into their toddler years.
Studies show that babies need 13 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, including naps, but many parents struggle to get their babies to these numbers, and with so many baby experts and books dishing out techniques and methods, parents can be hard-pressed to know which way to turn.
Just click on any parenting website or blog to find all-out mommy wars
on the best way to get baby to sleep – especially on hotly debated
methods such as “crying it out,” also called “extinction,” where babies
are left alone to cry themselves to sleep, and “controlled crying” such
as “The Ferber” method, which advocates that you let your baby cry, but
return to the room at progressively increasing intervals to comfort
(without picking up) until the baby is asleep.
Sleep expert Kim West’s method, “The Sleep Lady Shuffle,” is a gentle and effective technique popular with new parents. West’s method advocates sitting in a chair that moves progressively farther away from the crib every third night until you’re outside the room and out of view. However, it’s important to keep moving and not stay in one spot for more than a few days or your baby will grow accustom to your being there, hence creating a new “sleep crutch.”
Perhaps, one of the most scientific-based books on the market is by Dr. Mark Weissbluth. In “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child,” he stresses the importance of adhering to a child’s natural sleep cycle and rhythms and catching the “sleep window” for your baby’s age; sorting out solid naps first will also lead to better nighttime sleeping. He is also a supporter of crying it out, having developed the extinction method himself.
Most experts agree, however, that consistency is key as babies need routine. The bath, bottle, bed routine is the gold standard of bedtime rituals. Reading a book or two before bed is also a great way to set the stage for a quiet, relaxed atmosphere. Experts also agree that babies should be 3 or 4 months old at minimum before setting schedules for them. Before that, feeding and sleeping on demand is par for the course of being a parent of a newborn.
A sleep doula is a great option for sleep-deprived parents who are willing to spend a little money.
Toronto-based Tracey Ruiz is a certified birth and postpartum doula and trainer who has provided night support to hundreds of families in the last decade or so all over the world, mainly during the night.
Over the last seven years she has helped many Cayman-based families restore sleep in their house. Servicing an average of 30 families a year in Cayman alone, all of her clients here are word-of-mouth referrals, which speaks volumes about her success.
Ruiz customizes sleep plans based on a baby and parents’ current habits. Clients are required to fill out a long questionnaire before their consultation, listing sleeping, feeding and napping schedules, as well as other family dynamics that can come into play, such as work schedules. Then she offers three days of 24 hour support (via email, phone or Skype) once parents are ready to begin the crucial steps.
“When children switch to a bed from a crib, I may hear from a client again, but most stay consistent and on track after the first three-day session,” she says, adding, “I do get requests for help with each additional child as no two children have the same sleep habits or issues.”
The biggest obstacle she encounters with her sleep training methods are the parents themselves.
“Many parents try to control their child’s emotions instead of looking at how they are supporting the child and don’t always have realistic expectations. I always remind parents that nobody would be happy if they got kicked out of the Ritz-Carlton and got moved to a two- or three-star hotel, or if the buffet is open all night and then suddenly closes. I guarantee you, they won’t be happy. Many parents feel there is only one way to do sleep training, whereas there is a variety of options out there. We help families find the right option for them.
“To me, children do best when they receive support. To go from co-sleeping to extinction can be overwhelming for both parent and child. I like using support, be it physical support like the ‘Sleep Lady Shuffle,’ or verbal support, like the ‘Sleep Doula Shh,’ [which involves being out of sight with verbal support, decreasing the amount of verbal support you give each day].
“I even support families who may want to continue co-sleeping without needing to nurse all night. It is important to find a technique that you feel good about so you are able to follow through, as well as make sure you and your partner are on the same track together.”
Like many parenting experts, Ruiz believes that sleep training should not be done for babies under four months old. “We work with families of newborns to four months old, helping them survive those first few months, but for sleep training, the families we service can be between four months old and 10 years old. In terms of age, there is no cut-off, but there are more premium times.”
She also believes that before beginning, parents should speak with the child’s healthcare professional to make sure there are no medical issues that could be affecting the child’s sleep.
Claire Harris, mother of two, is a former Cayman resident who hired Ruiz when her younger daughter began waking up throughout the night. “I heard about Tracey through a couple of friends who had used her sleep training methods for their babies. I would say we saw results within the first week, and apart from a couple of relapses like teething, once we started the training we pretty much had a great sleeper from then on!
“We used the ‘Sleep Lady Shuffle’ initially, and started using a white noise machine which would run all night. Then as we got more confident in managing the training, we adapted some parts of the bedtime process to make it easier to fit into our routine with our older daughter.”
Kelly Johnson, owner of Baby Whisperers in Grand Cayman, is a registered nurse with expertise in neonatal intensive care, pediatrics, and maternity. She is also a lactation specialist and offers her services to new mothers in Cayman who are in need of help at home. She takes a broader view of sleep training that involves giving practical tips to new mothers.
“One of the major challenges I find from sleep training and/or the cry-it-out method is that no matter where you look, whether it be Internet, books, magazines, etc., is that everything is contradictory,” she says. “This is a common theme in all aspects of becoming a new parent. What Baby Whisperers tries to do is give moms practical tips that will work within their family, such as encourage breast-feeding, because studies have shown that breast-feeding moms get more rest than bottle-feeding moms; sleep or rest when baby is resting; have their partner help by giving the baby a feed of expressed breast milk; and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
And just remember, as many mothers before us can attest, the baby and toddler phase is short-lived in the grand scheme of parenting. So when all else fails, summon your inner philosopher and make “this, too, shall pass” your daily mantra, because it does and will get easier.