By: Dr. Michelle MD
If you have to shake your baby’s crib or pat her on the back until she falls asleep then your baby has not yet learned the skill of “self-settling.” She has used you as a sleep aid all of her life. She will have to learn how to fall asleep. This is not easy, but it gets even harder the longer you wait. Although it might be stressful, you will have to get her used to not being patted or shaken at all. You could try giving her a transitional object like a soft toy or a blanket. It is best to have a bedtime routine like brushing her teeth or gums, holding her and reading to her a short time, and putting her in the crib with the toy or blanket. Obviously she will cry and demand her usual shaking or patting, but you should say goodnight and leave the room. You can call into her if you are worried she is afraid. “Mommy’s here, go to sleep.” There really is no harm in toughing this out for several nights.
She will get the idea that the rules have changed and you are not going to pat her. Once she figures out how to get herself to sleep she will use the same trick when she wakes up at night and she will not require your services. The book “Solve your Child’s Sleep Problems,” by Ferber gives good instructions on how to accomplish this process. The best way to avoid this problem in the first place is to start the sleep routine by about 9 months. Do not let the baby fall asleep drinking. Put her down awake and allow her to learn to self-settle.
Some people fear that they are harming the baby by enforcing this change. Don’t worry. Kids are much more flexible than we think. Children do not “break” from learning to adapt to change. Self-settling is a learned skill like walking. The learning process can cause discomfort, but it is well worth the effort. It is my feeling that what your baby needs most is a well-rested mother who is delighted to see her in the morning. In the long run, these few difficult nights will provide real rewards for everyone.