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Maggie Moore had a loving marriage, the perfect pregnancy, and an easy delivery. Motherhood, she assumed, would be a joyous and magical experience — the climax to a perfect story. And then her son was born, and he would not sleep. Like, ever. She and her husband would take turns rocking and swinging and bouncing and swaddling and driving desperately around town in an attempt to get their prodigal son to rest. After four months of this exhausting dance, both parents sleep-deprived and Maggie in the depths of postpartum depression, Maggie said it was enough.
“My husband and I had been sleeping in shifts. The lack of sleep was making my depression worse, and I knew I had to do something,” Maggie explains. She sought the help of a sleep consultant but came up empty-handed. There were none available in the Kentuckiana area. At 16 weeks, Maggie hired an international sleep consultant over the internet. And within three days following her sleep training protocol, her son was sleeping through the night. Soon, her depression became manageable, her marriage returned to normal, and she began to gain confidence in her ability to parent.
Maggie was so inspired by this life-changing experience that she decided to enroll in The Family Sleep Institute’s sleep consultant certification program to help other desperate families get their lives back. Her business, Moore Sleep, now offers sleep consultations via phone, internet, or in-person to families of new children or multiples.
“Sleep is important for good family dynamics,” Dr. Christina (Christy) Lane of Growing Kids Pediatrics, says. “When you are sleep deprived, you are practically drunk: you are forgetful, irritable, unhealthy, and make poor decisions. How do you expect to discipline or parent effectively in that state? We need to be thinking parents, not reactionary ones — and you can’t do that unless you are sleeping.”
Dr. Lane firmly believes in establishing healthy sleep hygiene in infancy so that the entire family can function properly. That means that your infant is in their own bed sleeping six to seven hours a night by 8 weeks old so that you can sleep, too. “Children are a healthy addition to the family, not the center of it,” Dr. Lane says.
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Maggie says that most parents fall into unhealthy “sleep crutches” like rocking or feeding (or swinging or driving or co-sleeping) their babies to sleep. Her advice for new mothers is to “sleep train” your infant by establishing strict schedules. First, stick to a bedtime ritual of soothing lights and sounds, a bath, or song. Then, choose a method to sleep training: cry-it-out, pick-up-put-down, or the chair method.
If you allow your child to cry-it-out, your child will learn to self-soothe and put themselves to sleep in about three to five nights.
If the stress of a wailing infant is intolerable, try more gentle methods like the “pick-up-put-down” or “chair” methods. In the first, parents stop, wait, and listen until their child is upset, then they pick up to soothe. Once the child is soothed but still awake, then they put down (and repeat). This method requires patience, but will eventually train the child to sleep on their own.
In the chair method, the parent pulls a chair into the child’s room and avoids eye-contact and too much touch while the child is learning to gain confidence to sleep alone. The idea is the child will learn to self-soothe but knows the parent is near. Every few nights, the parent pulls the chair further away from the crib until the chair is out of sight in the hallway. This method takes several weeks to establish a routine but is effective in sleep training older children that might have developed some attachment habits.
Maggie also recommends 12 hours of sleep for toddlers and to be clear about your expectations. “Toddlers are going to make, what I call, curtain calls: Can I have a drink of water; can I have another story; can I have another book? You have to anticipate their needs and state the expectations clearly —You will only get two books tonight and then you will have to go to sleep.
For children that climb out of the bed, simply walk them back without any engagement. Maggie recommends tying a bell to your door or purchasing a toddler monitor if they are stealthy.
“The most important component is to remain consistent. Each child is an individual, so if what you are doing is working, then keep doing it,” Maggie explains. She also stresses the importance of monitoring the wake periods (the time in between naps) and feeding schedules. When an infant is overtired, they have a harder time getting to sleep, so don’t forget to allow for multiple naps in infancy, and remember that it might not be necessary to feed your child every time you want them to sleep.
No matter your approach to bedtime, Maggie says it should remain positive. Bed should never be negative. After all, the patterns you establish with healthy sleep hygiene in infancy will have life-long effects. (And a house that can sleep is always a happier one.)
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