Help! My baby won’t sleep!

As with so many parenting decisions, the issue of infant sleep weaves a rough and ragged patchwork of choices. You’ve got hardcore CIO (Cry It Out), co-sleeping for-flippin’-ever, Ferberizing, fading, no-cry, wake-and-sleep, etc. 

Every option is more likely than the next to give your wee one supreme strength and independence … or a high likelihood of addiction. It all depends which vaguely researched opinion ranks higher on Google on any given day. (Thank you, Internet.)

Listen. I first and foremost want to tell you that whatever you are doing is right. Wherever you are — that’s where I will meet you. I support your choices. 

One of the benefits of my years of postpartum care and research is the experience of seeing, firsthand, that there are so many beautiful ways to be a family. 

Inside, we all know this, right? We embrace this. Sleep should be no exception in this melting-pot view of our parenting community. 

If you’re sleep-training curious or sleeplessly READY for anything that will get you even five more minutes, here are my gentle guidelines:

  1. If everyone in the family is happy, healthy and sleeping, don’t worry about sleep training. You do not have to. Not today. When your gut tells you it’s time for a change, make the change. But if you’re content and coasting, enjoy it!
  2. Yes, you can change course. Is Cry It Out breaking your heart? Is wake-and-sleep bringing more wake than sleep? Has Baby suddenly developed reflux or has she become clingier during the day? Try another way. As with a tricky yoga pose, adjusting the sleep routine might be uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful.
  3. Observe your baby. How is she? Is she scared? Confused? Not the same? Or is she thriving? Happier? Healthier? Forcefully implementing any kind of “structure” is silly if the results are less than desired. Consider the effect, above all.
  4. Take the word “training” out of the narrative. This is not a puppy or a performing seal. This is a human. Try “sleep structuring.” You can continuously reinforce a structure to make it stronger. You can build an environment that will help your family evolve and grow. 
  5. Consider your own life as a sleep animal and allow it to better help you see your baby. Do you sometimes need a midnight snack? Does a nightmare inspire you to cuddle close to your partner? Does spicy food leave you tossing and turning? Does getting to bed too late ruin you? Does a nice routine of a bath and some lotion set the tone for better rest? You have your sleep ups and downs, and so will Baby. And also: She’s a baby. Let her be human.
  6. Never mind the neighbors. This is your house. Your child. Your measly five hours of shut-eye. Whatever latest trend or ancient tomb your casual acquaintances present as “The Path” is of little importance. You do you. Always, always, always. 
  7. Prepare to revisit this issue, a few times at least. New teeth, runny noses, growing pains, hotel rooms and, eventually, hormones are coming — so many ways to disrupt sleep, so many opportunities to give up, give in, adjust and restructure. That’s life. 

Jen Wittes is a marketing director, writer, certified postpartum doula and mom of two who lives in St. Paul.