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Take Back the Night

July 17th, 2015     By Boys Town Contributor, Mother of one year-old son

Bedtime, Infant, Sleep

Teachable moments can come from a wide variety of sources, including other parents. From time to time parents write blogs for us that we think you will find interesting, useful, or entertaining. Please enjoy this post from a fellow parent.

It was at the six-month well-baby check for our son that our pediatrician uttered four life-changing words. Like any other routine appointment she asked about his sleep patterns and like any other tired parent I completely unloaded about all of the sleep struggles we’d been experiencing in our home.

At six months, our baby was waking at least once, sometimes two and three times a night and the only thing we could find to soothe him was a bottle. In addition to the feedings, he’d also wake several times a night looking for his pacifier and so my husband and I wore a path in the carpet (sometimes as often as every 45 minutes) to replace the missing binkie.

I’ll pause here for anyone who thinks I was complaining to our pediatrician solely for selfish reasons. Yes, my husband and I were really, really tired. But so was our son. He never, ever woke up happy. We knew he needed better, more restful sleep, we just didn’t know how to get it to him. While I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want a little more shut-eye for myself, what I really wanted was a happy baby.

“Take back the night.”

“Huh?”

“Your son is perfectly healthy and while he may have trained himself to think he needs to eat in the middle of the night, he’s perfectly fine to go all night without a meal. It’s time for you to take back the night.”

What she offered to us was such seemingly simple advice: Instead of running in to the nursery immediately when we heard him start to fuss, she encouraged us to wait at least 10 minutes. If after 10 minutes he was still upset, we could go in for a few minutes – without picking him up – to comfort him and let him know that we’d loved him and everything was just fine.

Cry, wait, comfort, repeat.

Maybe this sounds simple to you, maybe not. But I assure you that teaching babies to self soothe is not for the faint of heart. When our son would start to fuss, I’d set a timer and many times cry right along with him because I wanted so badly to go and hold him. I had to find ways to distract myself; all the while reminding myself that eventually this strategy would pay off in the form of a baby who could self-soothe and who would be well-rested and much happier.

Sleep training, cry-it-out, whatever you call it, shouldn’t be taken lightly and isn’t right for all babies. If you find yourself at the end of your rope, talk to your pediatrician and develop a strategy that will work best for your family. What I’ve described here is a high-level picture of the method we used. There are lots of details involved and you want to make sure and tailor a plan that is specific to your child.

I’m happy to report that our son did really well with this method of training. It only took a few nights before he started sleeping in much longer stretches and waking up so much happier in the morning. (Not to mention mom and dad were feeling great from the added hours of sleep!) Fast-forward six months and we have a one-year-old who is a great sleeper. He is able to put himself to sleep in the evening, and when he wakes during the night, he is able to self-soothe and get right back to sleep.

To any moms or dads who might find themselves in the desperate, sleep deprived state I know oh-so-well, let me offer you this encouragement… It might be time for you, too, to take back the night.

For more information on sleep hygiene, check out these great articles from the experts at Boys Town:
http://www.boystown.org/parenting/article/solving-sleep-problems-with-infants
http://www.boystown.org/parenting/article/i-love-you-now-go-to-sleep
http://www.boystown.org/parenting/article/sleep-101
http://www.boystown.org/parenting/article/when-bedtime-is-a-nightmare
http://www.boystown.org/parenting/article/getting-kids-to-sleep-using-a-bedtime-routine
http://www.boystown.org/parenting/article/sleepless-in-parentville

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