Baby in the Bed
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Baby in the Bed

Parenting expert Jan Faull, MEd, helps a new mother learn how to get her baby to fall asleep on his own.

Breaking Habits

Q. "My 5-month-old son sleeps in our bed. It started because my husband works away from home for two weeks at a time. I would breastfeed my son in bed and we'd both fall asleep. Now the only place he will sleep is in our bed. Additionally, now he won't sleep unless someone is holding him. He will fall asleep, but he wakes up when put down and won't go back to sleep. As a result of this he has no schedule -- or rather, his sleeping schedule is based on his feeding schedule. What can I do to get him back on a regular sleeping schedule, in his crib?"

A. Your son associates sleeping with your presence as a result of his habit of nursing to fall asleep. This habit and association are common and can be a difficult cycle to break, but it's not impossible. At 5 months, your son can learn to calm himself in order to sleep. He simply needs the opportunity to learn how.

Teach Him to Self-Soothe

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, sleep habits are established by age 6 months. Since you wish to move him out of your bed, it's best to start working toward that goal now. It will be far easier for him to learn to put himself to sleep now than it will be when he's older. Be prepared for it to take about three weeks for your son to make the shift to the new sleeping routine and schedule. Instead of putting him in his crib and letting him cry it out, or just hoping that he'll voluntarily start sleeping on his own, you'll need to develop a plan. And in order for it to work, you must be consistent.

Change the Schedule

Start the process by not continuing to nurse your son until he falls asleep. You want to create a new routine, which means breaking out of the old one. Try singing a song to your son as you prepare him for bed -- the song will initiate the beginning of the bedtime routine. Bathe him, change his diaper, put on his pajamas, rock him, and nurse him. If he starts to fall asleep while you nurse, lay him down in his crib. He may wake and fuss. If he does, offer a kiss and a hug, then promptly lay him back down. Pat him gently on his back to soothe him and let him know that you are still present. Eventually your son will fall asleep -- fatigue will be working on your side.

Don't Give In to the Crying Game

After a few days of patting him to sleep, move to sitting in the room near his crib until he falls asleep without your patting him. Again, expect protest cries, but do not give in and pick him up. The next step will be to move completely out of the room. When he cries out, stand at the door and talk softly to him. Let him know you're there by saying something like, "Mommy's here, it's time to fall asleep." Keep your voice soft and monotone and check in on him every five minutes. Keep repeating the refrain, until you don't hear any more fussing from his side of the door.

Be Consistent

This new routine will be a challenge to you and your baby. He'll cry at first. That's to be expected. He'll be sad -- even mad -- because you're changing what has been familiar and comfortable. Let him protest, but steel yourself against his cries. It will be difficult for you both. However, if you really want him to sleep independently, you can't be wishy-washy about this process. For each step in the process, give yourself a least a week's time to help you both adjust to the changes. You may be surprised at how quickly your baby will adapt. However, it's important for you to be consistent. Keep reminding yourself that it's better to have him fuss and cry now than when he's older and more resistant to staying down or in his bed. Once your son is sleeping on his own, do not bring him back into your bed -- not unless you want to start the process over again.