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How to Teach Your Baby to Sleep on His Own - The 2-minute Drill
One of the greatest challenges faced by every new parent, and probably many experienced ones, is teaching new baby to learn how to go to put themselves to sleep. My wife and I struggled with this for a long time, and with our daughter, we failed miserably. But when our son came along, we found the right approach, and he was sleeping on his own in no time!
When my daughter was born, we pretty much knew what to expect. We had heard all about it from friends, books, and nurses. She would need to nurse every 3 to 5 hours, even at night. So, that meant we would be getting up several times during the night, and sleep would be hard to come by. After she was born, nursing didn’t come so easy, so the pediatrician was concerned about her weight and advised us to actually wake her up every 3 hours at night so she could nurse! Afterwards, we would need to put her back to sleep, which was fine (in the short term).
A Bad Habit
But unfortunately, this was the beginning of a pattern. Over time, she grew to depend on us to fall asleep, and breaking that habit was extremely difficult. The problem was, as soon as we would try to put her down, she would cry.
On top of that, just getting her to sleep wasn’t the end of it. Once she had fallen asleep while being held, we still had to put her down into her crib. If she wasn’t asleep enough, then she would wake up just from being put down, or from a creek in the floor, or from the squeek in the door hinge, and then we’d take the proverbial two steps back.
Of course, this is the sort of topic that is discussed with other parents. Friends of ours had had similar issues with their kids, and after hearing about others’ strategies, we were newly inspired.
So, when our second baby came along, we were determined to have the same sleep issues with him as we did with our daughter.
Let Them "Cry It Out"
This approach has been around for a long time, and is still used by a lot of parents. But it has fallen out of favor, and it was not recommended by any of the doctors or nurses we spoke with. The problem is that it can make the situation even more stressful than it already is. The crying will be more intense, it will last longer, parents will be (or at least should be) more distressed by the fact that their child is so upset, there may be disagreements about how long it should go on, and so on...
We tried this a couple of times with our daughter, but it would always result in such hysterical fits of crying, that she would end up throwing up in her crib! This was not good for her, we would get angry, clean everybody up, then start all over again. It was quite stressful.
On top of that, the baby is put under much more emotional stress, because he is being left alone, and could even develop a fear of being abandoned.
My wife’s motherly instinct literally would not allow her to listen to the crying for long enough for them to “cry it out”. And the one and only time I let our son cry it out, he screamed bloody murder for a full 15 minutes straight until he was so exhausted he went to sleep. I was kind of upset after that. It just wasn’t worth it.
The truth is, this is a brute force way to get your baby used to going to sleep on his own. Your baby needs to know that you’ll be there when he needs you, and all you’re really doing is forcing them to fall asleep from exhaustion. But at the same time, you all need to get some sleep!
Do You Believe in letting them "cry it out"?
The Modern Approach
The typical approach recommended by nurses and doctors these days is:
- Say goodnight to your baby and put them in their crib before they are asleep
- When they cry, go to him, but do NOT pick him up
- comfort him, lay him down, rub his back, talk to him
Well, this is good in theory, because you aren’t “abandoning” him, and eventually he will get used to the routine and agree to go to sleep.
This did not work for us. Oh, we tried it! Many times. But all that ever happened was everyone stayed awake for hours, through dozens of iterations through the process. It was just not a workable solution.
When it came to our kids,
- the only way to really get them to settle down and start going to sleep again was to hold them and let them snuggle in (which can be nice, sometimes),
- if we held them for too long, they would fall asleep and we’d be encouraging a bad habit
- if we let them cry for too long, they’d become so hysterical that they would throw up on themselves, and they would NOT go to sleep
What Really Worked: The 2-Minute Drill
In the end, the solution was an approach tailored for us. It was the 2-minute drill:
- Hold them while you read a story
- Hold them and let them snuggle in until they are nice an sleepy
- Say goodnight, and put them in their crib
- Leave for 2 minutes
- If they are still crying, go in, pick them up and let them calm down and snuggle in again
- Leave again after 2 more minutes, or if they start to nod off, whichever comes first
- Go to step 4
Yes, there is still crying, but it doesn’t get to the point of hysterics, and we don’t have to feel guilty for letting it go on and on. Best of all, it works. The first few times, it took 20 to 30 minutes to finally go to sleep. But it quickly shortened to 10 minutes, and even less on a good day. He eventually needed very little help to go to sleep, after the standard nighttime story and bedtime routine.
Hopefully, this technique can help someone else out there. :)