Can babies have insomnia?
November 2, 2010 10:18 AM   Subscribe

My 12-month-old baby refuses to go to sleep unless he's holding my hand. Does anyone have any tips or tricks for getting him over this or transferring his attachment to something a little less attached to me?

Since he was born, my baby has fought sleep. Hard. For the past couple months, the only way I can get him to sleep is by laying him in his crib and letting him hold my fingers through the rails. After anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, he'll finally be asleep enough for me to leave the room. But whenever he wakes up in the middle of the night, I need to go back in there and repeat the process all over again.

If I'm not around, someone else's fingers will due. If I just put him in his crib and leave the room or even just sit next to him, he'll be bouncing around and babbling away for a long time. You'd think that he'd eventually tire himself out, but I have yet to see that happen. If anything, he just gets a little crazier the longer he goes, even though he is obviously exhausted. Holding my hand seems to be the only thing that will help him relax enough to lay down and finally sleep.

At the very least, I'd like for him to associate sleep with a small stuffed animal or something--anything!--besides my fingers, so that I'm not spending hours every night crouched by his crib. But any attempt to introduce a stuffed animal into our (very consistent and relaxing!) bedtime routine just ends with the toy being unceremoniously dumped over the side of the crib.

It's been over 12 months of struggling to help my child sleep. I'm running out of patience but I'm not really sure what I can do. Does anyone have any suggestions for dealing with this?

(Sorry if this is a little disjointed... three hours of sleep! Help!)
posted by logic vs love to Human Relations (40 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My son is a little older, but one thing that helped (he wasn't doing the hand-holding thing, just generally resistant to sleep) was to put the stuffed animal(s) in the crib one at a time, with rocking, a song, etc, while he watched, before I put him down.

But we also combined that with letting him cry for a while when needed.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:27 AM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Have you tried putting a well-worn shirt of yours (or lovey you've worn next to you for a while) into the crib with him? Smelling you might help. For something that can attach to the crib, I've seen the Sleep Sheep. I haven't used it but it might fit the bill. You can also make a big show of letting him be the one to tuck his sleep friends in and coo about how important it is that they stay in bed because no body likes to sleep on the floor, etc. Basically enlist his help in the "parent" role with crib friends.

However, I think at his age it would be better to start teaching him that if he throws a sleep friend out of the crib, it's gone for the night. This will be upsetting the first few nights, but he'll get it. You've basically trained him to go to sleep a very particular way already (for good reason--you need to do whatever works in the beginning so you can get your own sleep) but he's old enough that you can start teaching him to self soothe. I always recommend Jodi Mindell's book Sleeping Through the Night for baby sleep issues. She talks about self-soothing strategies a lot.
posted by cocoagirl at 10:36 AM on November 2, 2010

I am not a parent, but can you hold the stuffed animal with your hand while he holds your fingers? That way he's not holding (and throwing) the animal to begin with, but might hopefully start to associate the animal with always being in your hand. It may look more like you resting your hand on the animal instead of actually "holding" it (so it's easier on you).

Just a thought!
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:37 AM on November 2, 2010

IMHO, you're gonna have to let him cry. You have trained him to fall asleep with a crutch. Now you have to train him to fall asleep on his own when he is in his crib. Keep a solid, soothing pre-bedtime routine and let him fall asleep on his own. He can do it. He will cry. Maybe for an hour or more at first. It will be horrible for you. But he can learn to do it.
posted by gnutron at 10:38 AM on November 2, 2010 [11 favorites]

When he gets tired enough he'll sleep, hand or no hand. I totally agree with the advice upthread that it's important to teach him self-soothing and that once it's gone, it's just gone. You may have a few difficult nights until this sinks in, but this is only the first of many, many battles in which you will have to let him be sad instead of giving him whatever he wants to make the tears stop.
posted by hermitosis at 10:41 AM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I myself (like many adults, I understand) feel more comfortable sleeping with my hand touching something, such as the bed's backboard (or the wall behind). So try directing his hand to any vertical structure behind his bed or crib, or even to the hand or leg of one of his stuffed animals.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:43 AM on November 2, 2010

Ferber is the classic method and it worked beautifully for my non-sleeper. It is controversial, as you may know, but in our case, at least, it resulted in a child who was more happy and relaxed both at bedtime and upon awakening.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:45 AM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Link above doesn't function; here's the right one.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:47 AM on November 2, 2010

I recently read this really helpful explanation of why a soothing mechanism like the one you're implementing actually messes up babies' sleep cycles: Dr. Ferber (of the much-maligned and misunderstood Ferber Method) makes this really excellent point about why babies wake up in the middle of the night if they're not used to being put in their cribs and staying in their cribs after they see you walk away. Say, for instance, you lay down with your baby in your bed until he falls asleep and then, once he's konked out, you gently move him to his crib. Great! Until he wakes up, which he inevitably will do in the middle of the night, and whoa, he's not in your bed anymore! Of course he'll start crying, because the environment in which he fell asleep is the from the the one he woke up in. He's confused and alarmed, so he starts wailing. You'd do the same thing if you fell asleep in your bed and woke up in another bed - you'd sit up immediately and want to know WTF just happened.

Right now, you're teaching your baby to trust the idea that every time he falls asleep, he can hold on to your finger. When (not if, because nearly every human wakes up for a second or two in the middle of the night during blips in their sleep cycles, but adults are better sleep-trained to simply roll over and go back to sleep without fully waking up) he wakes up, your fingers aren't there, and he freaks out. You obviously see the consequences of this, because he's waking you up, too.

Since he's over a year old you can try stuffed animals that only show up when it's bedtime or naptime, that he can only interact with in his crib and nowhere else, so they signify sleepytimes and not play time. There might be a tough night or two where he'll cry for your attention. Your reaction to this is totally up to you, but I'm of the school of thought that babies over a year need to learn how to self-soothe without much aide of their parents (mainly for the sanity of the parents, honestly - he's simply old enough to not need an hour's worth of soothing from you just to get to sleep!), and since your baby is used to knowing you're there when he falls asleep, he'll put up a fight so you'll come back and hold his hand. This is especially true of fussy sleepers, because sleep-deprived parents will bend over backwards to get their babies to fall asleep, thus creating sleep dependencies and curbing the development of self-soothing techniques.

If you're interested in Ferber, he recommends picking up the baby, holding him while standing directly over the crib, soothing him for a minute or two, and putting him back in the crib. Do this after 10 minutes of crying, then 20 minutes of crying, then 30, and so forth. Always take a minute or two to soothe the baby while never walking away from the crib, and then back inside he goes. No crying til he pukes, no ignoring the baby; he knows you're there for him, but since you're not taking him away from the crib he also knows that crying will only get him a minute of hugs and kisses rather than full-blown mommy/daddy attention. Eventually, according to the premise, he'll opt to sleep rather than partake in a quick minute of soothing.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:52 AM on November 2, 2010 [15 favorites]

If I just put him in his crib and leave the room or even just sit next to him, he'll be bouncing around and babbling away for a long time.

Are you saying he cries or just that he hangs out? What's a long time?

Our little llama does that sometimes and often does at naptime. We don't interfere unless she's upset. She's two, yesterday I put her down for a nap and heard her in there for two freaking hours acting out cheerful dramas with her stuffed animals before she fell asleep.

The other thing that has really helped us is rigid adherence to ritual at night: bath, bottles, three books (Shapes and Opposites, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Good Night Moon) then bed. She's two and half and we've done this now hundreds of nights.

We shut down the living room so it's dark when we transition her from the room where she's read to to her own crib, and in her own room is a white noise generator. I think all of these little cues have helped her feel that there is logic in bedtime and made her feel secure in the process.

We never did cry it out, but we're not that kind of parents and she wasn't that kind of baby (i.e., we were never pushed that hard by her.) So, for us, at naptime, we don't worry about it, at night time, we do a highly ritualized thing (and if we hear her babbling in there at night we don't go in. As I said, we would if she were distressed but she seems to be enjoying herself. On the rare occasion when she gets upset at naptime, we go get her.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:18 AM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. I must say that my resolve to never, ever, no matter what! let him 'cry it out' has been wavering lately, but 1) we live in an apartment and have neighbors surrounding us who would not appreciate endless hours of crying, and 2) I really do feel like it would be endless hours of crying. Even in situations where we've had to let him cry for some time, he has never come close to crying himself to sleep. He just gets more and more worked up and sad and then it takes way longer for us to help soothe him to sleep. But...maybe.

A Terrible Llama- He usually just hangs out for a while (ten minutes? forty minutes? depends on how tired he is), and then starts whimpering and whining for a while, and then eventually starts really crying. My problem with just letting him hang out is that is really, really sleepy. And he needs more sleep. And I just want him to sleep. Half the time, he can barely keep his eyes open, but he refuses to lay down anyway. Our bedtime routine is exactly the same as yours actually (except different books!), and since we became super strict about it, he's been better about falling asleep quickly. But he still needs the hands and he still wakes up several times through out the night.
posted by logic vs love at 11:40 AM on November 2, 2010

Apparently when I was a baby I neeeever would let my parents put me to sleep. I refused to take naps, I refused to go down at any particular hour, and I refused to be put in my crib. So I just didn't have a bedtime. My parents would let me play myself to sleep on the couch or living room floor or wherever they happened to be. And I'd generally fall asleep sitting up with toys in my lap. And then they'd put me to bed. And I'm totally *twitch* normal.

I've also babysat for a family who did this with their children, except they'd put him in his room with his toys and some music on at "bedtime" and let him play himself to sleep on his own in his room. He was a perfectly happy and content little kid.

If your kid refuses to lie down or be put to bed without a fuss, why not try just letting him do what he wants? He will eventually zonk out, and maybe the solo play time will help wean him off his dependency on your/your fingers.
posted by phunniemee at 11:51 AM on November 2, 2010

In answer to your header question: no, your 12-month-old doesn't have insomnia. You've just trained him to fall asleep under certain conditions, and then you remove those conditions so that he can't fall back asleep when he wakes periodically during the night. The one addition I'd make to zoomorphic's excellent summary is that a 12-month-old has far shorter sleep cycles than an adult -- a full cycle in 45 minutes or so instead of 4 hours or so, I think? -- so a child that age will come into a lighter sleep quite often. If conditions have changed, they'll wake fully and cry for you to put things back the way they were!

Even if you don't ever want to let your baby cry, it's worth reading Ferber in order to have a better understanding of sleep patterns in children. He's great also for being understanding when babies do something weird like take a 5-minute nap in the car and then refuse to take their usual 2-hour nap a little while later: he calls this the distinction between sleep deprivation and sleep drive, and explains that the baby isn't being stubborn, he just can't sleep b/c his sleep drive was killed by the 5-min snooze, so skip the tears and just forget about nap for today! Do read the whole thing, rather than just following someone else's summary of the method, as it's important to follow it closely, and every layer of interpretation makes it harder to do that.
posted by palliser at 11:55 AM on November 2, 2010

Before my daughter, I thought cry-it-out was the epitome of cruel. As an infant she was never a fan of sleep so I went quite a while on disjointed rations until I decided to try cry-it-out. First night was two hours of me going in every 10 minutes, rubbing her back without eye contact, and leaving again. Second night was 40 minutes. Third night was 5, and she's been good about going to sleep (and back to sleep) since. (at least until she decided the crib was out)

As others have mentioned, a solid bedtime routine is essential. It lets her know playtime is finished and nighttime has begun, and she's very confident when she knows what's coming next.

If you are worried about your neighbors not appreciating the crying, a warning with a couple days' lead time might help.

Good luck!
posted by tigerjade at 11:55 AM on November 2, 2010

I know nothing about getting kids to sleep as I don't have one but it sounds like you guys need a method and the one outlined above doesn't sound like a "cry and cry for hours" type of method so maybe check that book out from the library (or a few) and see what works.

Also, in regards to the neighbors, get out in front of it. Go over with a bottle of wine and several sets of earplugs. Let them know that you are going to try to do some sleep training around 7pm every night and that you are so, so, sorry if baby cries. But, you hope it will be temporary and that they forgive you. They will probably all laugh about it and be good-natured. Then get on with it! Sounds like everyone is ready.

Good luck!
posted by amanda at 11:56 AM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Well, This search didn't go as I planned.

What about exploring the world of a character he likes (Elmo? One of the Backyardigans?) and getting him a reasonably large stuffed animal with good, detailed hands?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:07 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

He just gets more and more worked up and sad and then it takes way longer for us to help soothe him to sleep. But...maybe.

There's a big, big range of options in between letting a baby scream for hours and having to hold his hand (literally!) until he falls asleep. When he starts crying, do your parental Thing that makes him happy (singing, bouncing, back rubbing, etc) for a solid minute and then leave. Keep going in, but stretch the amount of time out longer. Never let him leave the crib area (even if you're holding him) and always leave quickly. It might be a long night, but I promise you that his will power for summoning you into his room will vanish when he realizes you'll keep giving him hugs and then putting him back in the crib to fall asleep on his own. This is how Ferber is different from CIO: the Ferber method still secures the baby-parent bond while teaching the baby to independently go back to sleep rather than drifting off in mom's arms or holding on to her hand.

The point is not to have a baby who never wakes up at night. Babies, like all people, wake up in the middle of the night to switch positions, burrow under covers, kick off a blanket, whatever. The point is to have a baby who is able to wake up for a second or two and then drift back to sleep without requiring the assistance of your finger.
posted by zoomorphic at 12:11 PM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Is he down to one nap a day? do you try to do that nap at the same time each day? What time does he go to sleep for the night?

Our daughter was a two-napper way past one year, but recently we've figured out that one long nap (12-3) works best for her (yes, we're lucky, she love naps). But the transition was rough because I kept trying to put her to bed at her normal 7:30. She isn't tired then and it was a lot of drama. We waited until 8:30, she goes to sleep no problem when she's tired.

So, run him ragged during the day one day - something big and exciting - trip to the zoo, gymboree, whatever. Wait until he's showing obvious signs of exhaustion - eye rubbing, ywaning, crying or laughter over nothing. Nighttime routine. Put him in bed, give him a kiss, and (this is key), go take a long hot shower.

If he's still screaming after your shower, go in, pat him, give him a blanket to hold that smells like you. Leave. Take another shower. Or have a glass of wine. Repeat.

In our experience, you won't have to do this for more than a week. Taking a shower was the only way I could force myself not to go in and get her.

Hang in there!
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:22 PM on November 2, 2010

Let baby cry. It is a hard lesson to learn as a parent and the ten minutes of screaming can feel like an absolute eternity, but you need to do it for both of you.

My baby (17 months now) has always slept fairly well (thank god) but it's due in large part to my wife. She decided we should we put him on a schedule, so that he would be going to bed at around the same time each night, and based on her research from parenting resources we also resolved to let him cry it out when he wouldn't go down on his own or would wake up at night. It has worked out really well so far.

Start with your usual bedtime routine, whatever that is: Bath, brush teeth, read and rock for a little while. Then, put baby in the crib, where he will be safe (he can't get out on his own, can he?). Give him whatever comfort item he likes best (blanket, stuffed toy, etc.) and (most important) say "goodnight" and leave the room. Shut the door. Prepare for the longest ten to fifteen minutes of your life. DO NOT go back into the room, because that will just start the cycle over again.

You will not have success on the first try. Your baby will scream bloody murder and you will feel like the most awful parent in the world. But you are teaching your son how to go to sleep on his own, and that is something he NEEDS to learn, so that when he wakes up at night he doesn't immediately start screaming for you to come in and help him sleep again.

But wait, you ask. What if he is hurt and NEEDS me? How can I be sure unless I check on him when he cries? Put it this way: You can tell when baby is actually in need of help, can't you? The "I want attention" cry is very different than the "I just hurt myself and need help" cry. You can tell the difference.

For us, most days are OK. He usually goes to sleep after a book or three, and we can place him in bed and leave. Some nights are worse, and we need to put him in bed and leave him to cry for a bit. Most of the time, he does not wake up after falling asleep, but occasionally he does, and we sit quietly for a few minutes while he puts himself back to sleep. In the morning, he remembers none of this - he just knows that he is awake, ready to start his day, and Mom and Dad are there to hug him and feed him breakfast. Even after a rotten night with several wake-up rounds he is generally happy in the morning, because he has slept better than he would if we were constantly rescuing him - and WE sleep better, too.

When we transitioned to a big boy bed in August we had a few hiccups. We worried he would fall out of bed (he does, now and again). He was scared because his room went from tiny crib to large area where he was free to wander. We started trying to help him get back to sleep, and it backfired. He didn't adjust until we remembered to let him cry. Now, he wakes up once in a while, bangs on his bedroom door and yells, but after a few minutes we hear him walk back to his bed (crying) and then gradually get quieter as he goes back to sleep. The only time we actually go into his room is to check on him if he has been awake earlier (to make sure he is covered by a blanket - it gets cold in Minnesota!) or to open the door and let him out in the morning when he wakes up.

Let the kid cry. It will hurt in the short term but in the long run you need to do it. You need sleep. He needs sleep. Letting him cry is the only way you are going to get this outcome. Start now, because the longer you facilitate his poor sleep habits the harder it will be to reverse the problem. It's a lot like pulling the pacifier - if you don't stop it when they are little, you will be dealing with it for years and it will be a bigger hassle for everyone involved.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:27 PM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

He just gets more and more worked up and sad and then it takes way longer for us to help soothe him to sleep. But...maybe.

(disclaimer: I've read Ferber, and while I do believe it works for some children I don't think its a one-size-fits-all solution. Also, I co-sleep with my four year old.)

There is a terrific parenting blog called Ask Moxie, and one of her "things" is that some kids release tension by crying (and so eventually fall asleep) but that other kids who increase tension by crying, and it sounds like your child might be one of the later (mine is too). The Moxie archives are full of good ideas from parents about sleep, including issues much like yours. You will likely find a bundle of useful suggestions in her archives.
posted by anastasiav at 12:30 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have four kids. Each additional kid became easier and easier to deal with at bedtime because we learned what worked and what didn't.

For a kid in your kid's age range, you should definitely let him cry it out. I know you won't like it. I know he won't like it. And I know that for a few nights, you'll go insane. But trust me - after a couple of nights he'll get used to it and he'll get settled in.

It's not mean to leave a toddler to cry. they need to learn to self-soothe (as others have pointed out).

I speak from lots of experience. :-)
posted by tacodave at 12:33 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Okay, I think this is my last best suggestion--laser light show.

Little llama used to love watching hers before she fell asleep. You have to find one that is adjustable so you don't wind up projecting exploding galaxies on the ceiling, but hers was a very slow movement of teensy red stars that she would marvel at until falling asleep. We used it very early on, but she seemed to like it and it gave her something peaceful to focus on passively.

Short of that, the idea someone had upthread of sending each of your neighbors a bottle of wine and apologetic note (along with maybe a week's heads up so you don't terrorize someone the night before an interview or something) and going for it is the civil thing to do if you try to let him cry.

I say this as a non-CIO/Ferber parent (mainly just luck--we didn't believe in it but she also didn't push us on it) it's an extremely popular solution and it's not like we're suddenly raising a nation of serial killers or adult pants-wetters, so however parents might feel about it philosophically odds are those children are just as okay as everyone else, so don't beat yourself up about it if you feel ambivalent. You have to do what you have to do and twelve months is too long to be suffering from a lack of sleep. There are human limits.

Or, again--severed hand. Think about it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:51 PM on November 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

I feel for you! My daughter also really depended on us for sleep. It took time for her to mature into deeper sleep patterns. Certainly at 12 months she was still waking up frequently during the night. It was hard for her to go back to sleep for different reasons, including teething pain and excitement over practising new skills. We still laugh about how she used to wake up in the middle of the night and shout out a new word that she had learned that day. She also never took to stuffed animals at that age at all.

We are also non-CIO types and we really wanted her to have a lovey (transitional object) to help soothe her, but again, she never took to those either. But do some reading about transitional objects - I'm sure there's good advice about how to use them.

This will all pass soon enough. If you're like us, you'll be alternately relieved and sentimental. You're doing fine.
posted by Knowyournuts at 2:21 PM on November 2, 2010

This will all pass soon enough.

Worth remembering! Soon it will pass and be replaced by the public awkwardness of a casually masturbating toddler or a relentless refusal to wear winter boots.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:28 PM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

How about a fake hand instead of a stuffed animal? They should be on sale this time of year!
posted by ecsh at 2:33 PM on November 2, 2010

dpx.mfx: "give him a blanket to hold that smells like you."

I was just coming in here to suggest that when my mom had to go out of town overnight, she would lightly spritz a piece of fabric (all-fabric headband, blanket, whatever is age appropriate) with the perfume she wore every day. She said it helped according to my dad or whoever else was watching me.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:35 PM on November 2, 2010

I must say that my resolve to never, ever, no matter what! let him 'cry it out'

Hang on to that resolve; I know you are tired, but you had it for a reason.

There is some dreadful advice here; you do not "have to" leave the kid to scream. The history of pediatrics is littered with really risible and tragically bad advice to parents, and the current US fad for "CIO" will pass, too, and end up on the dust-heap with all the other junk advice from assholes out to make a buck peddling a book. Ferber stuff is not scientific stuff. You are not ignoring sound scientific research by ignoring these theories, no matter how persuasive the texts seem.

I wish you had better advice here; I don't really have any besides wanting to tell you to take him out of the bed and rock him or whatever it takes, because he will be wee just the one amazingly brief time and you absolutely cannot get that time back later. I just wanted to say that the ideas that you are required to leave them to cry, or that there is any benefit to be gained by doing so, are ridiculous.

I do also want to offer that after "12 months of struggling to help my child sleep" it might be worth re-visiting the whole crib idea. Lots of people will tell you that a whole lot of sobbing and screaming at night is normal and unavoidable; these people are using cribs. I co-slept and nighttime crying was, after the newborn period, only a rare, freak occurrence. They are not really designed to sleep alone, as is made clear by the crazy amount of crap on the market to convince them to do so -- mobiles and projection gizmos and heartbeat teddies and so on and on. You may find it easier and more pleasant for all concerned to chuck a mattress on the floor and sleep there with your tot.
posted by kmennie at 3:35 PM on November 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

Wrap your hand in a blanket and hold your baby's hand. After a while, try taking your hand out of the blanket and letting her just hold the blanket.
posted by KathrynT at 3:54 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm with kmennie. We still co-sleep with our toddler, and we get a lot more sleep than if he were in another room or even in his own bed. We also don't have a set bedtime. He goes down any time between 8:00 and 9:30 because we have learned if we put him down when he is not ready, he will not sleep. Even if he is exhausted beyond belief. So we let him work off his energy and then he reaches a point where he is ready to sleep and it is easy peasy from there.

I take the view that sleep training is like toilet training. If the kid isn't ready for it, you'll only end up training (and upsetting) yourself. Toddler Zizzle is also one of those kids where if we were to let him cry it out at all, the cries would only escalate and he would go from being sleepy and almost asleep to wide awake and thoroughly distressed. It just won't work for us.

One suggestion I have is if he is going to daycare, how does daycare put him down? Our daycare does pretty much we do. He's tired, but not ready to sleep, they put him in the play pen with some toys until he is ready to sleep and then he sleep. Your daycare may have a routine that will work for him at home.

Also, 12 months old is still very, very young. Look at some pictures of him as a newborn. I guarantee you when he is two and you're looking at pictures of him as a year old, you'll wonder the same thing you will now about him as a newborn: How could he ever have been that small?
posted by zizzle at 4:44 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Kids outgrow many of their habits, and yours may outgrow this one too.

When my little guy was littler (from 9 to 18 months) he would only fall asleep if we held him and rocked in the rocking chair until he fell asleep, which could take up to an hour. We were constantly worried that we were giving him bad habits, and that we would regret it later because he would never be able to fall asleep himself; meanwhile, we actually really enjoyed that time, because it was relaxing for us too. (Ask yourself: What else do you have to do that's so important instead of the time you are spending hold your baby's hand, anyways? Sure, it's frustrating at the time, but there are really few things that could be more important or enjoyable.)

So at about 18 months old, he would start to squirm while we were rocking him, and we would have to put him down awake and, lo and behold, he fell asleep on his own. In the span of a couple of days we went from rocking him daily to putting him down after 5 minutes. He outgrew it himself.

There are so many things like this that we realized we were worried about for nothing. Take the moments as they come, enjoy them, and let your baby tell you (in time) what he wants.
posted by Simon Barclay at 5:44 PM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

My advice was not dreadful; it was effective, my son and I sleep much better now. The benefits for us are clear. I have tried sleeping on a mattress on the floor with him; neither of us got any sleep that week. Not all kids or families are the same. My son was not designed, either.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:51 PM on November 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

Ferber is the classic method and it worked beautifully for my non-sleeper.

Ditto, this worked for my twins, and now they're five years old with fantastic sleeping habits. Remember, it's not that your child refuses to sleep; it's that your child refuses to sleep without doing something that you find unacceptable. The Ferber method may seem a bit harsh, but it's actually far harder on the parents (the first time we tried it, for the first five minutes, we had to hold each other down to keep from running in there. Within a few days, there was no drama.)
posted by davejay at 6:22 PM on November 2, 2010

Oh, and quick note: Ferber isn't "put 'em down, let 'em cry it out all night, and don't worry" -- that's madness to me, personally -- it's just about teaching your child that you will come back, so they don't have to cry to get your attention, and that crying and screaming (which is exhausting for them, make no mistake) is not going to get them anything more than not crying and not screaming will. It's good to learn how to help your kids learn.

You leave for a few minutes, come back, give 'em a quick rub so they know you're there and stop crying, leave. Repeat ad nauseum, each time waiting a bit longer before you come back.
posted by davejay at 6:27 PM on November 2, 2010

After your followup, I wanted to add that I think a lot of approaches can work fine for you and your baby as long as you're truly committed to them. I agree with kmennie that if your instinct leads you to reject letting your baby cry, you don't have to do it! I think the worst situation, actually, is when a parent feels pressured into trying to let the baby cry it out, but then doesn't really believe it's a good idea, and so after an hour or so gets the baby out, and then every few nights gets fed up again with the sleep interruptions and does the same thing. That can add up to a lot of crying, over a lot of nights, and just confusion and hurt for the baby. I can see that whole cycle becoming a habit of disturbed sleep, too, far worse than the attachment to a parent's touch to fall asleep.

I personally had the archetypal Ferber experience, with a hellish first night and a little bit of crying the second night and then smooth sailing thereafter (as in, a year and a half later, I now have a 2.5-year-old who loves going to her crib at night and has awakened in the night literally twice since that second night). I believe in it, and I think it can create a lot of benefit for the whole family, with relatively little pain, if you commit wholeheartedly to it and thus put the child through only one night of distress. But doing a half-hearted job of it, on-and-off, is the worst, in my opinion, because then you have many nights of the child crying alone in the crib.
posted by palliser at 6:30 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mod note: dear parents, we know you'd all like to be getting more sleep, but please keep answers constructive and don't call other people names, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:34 PM on November 2, 2010

Ferber stuff is not scientific stuff. You are not ignoring sound scientific research by ignoring these theories, no matter how persuasive the texts seem.

Dr. Richard Ferber is the director of The Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders, at Children's Hospital Boston. The first chapter of his book is a comprehensive survey of current thinking on pediatric sleep by, you know, pediatricians and sleep researchers.

Marc Weissbluth MD, the other big name in sleep training in the US, has been a pediatrician for more than 35 years. He founded the original Sleep Disorders Center at Children’s Memorial Hospital of Chicago in 1982 and is a Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.

Together they are the respected, canonical sources of modern sleep research among children in this country.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on parenting, and only you know what works best for you and your family. But claiming this "is not not scientific stuff" is misleading.
posted by werkzeuger at 7:21 PM on November 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on parenting, and only you know what works best for you and your family. But claiming this "is not not scientific stuff" is misleading.

Dr. Ferber is, I'm sure, a very good doctor, and a "scientist" in that respect.

But he is not an anthropologist. And anthropological research is legitimate science.

Freud suffered from something of the same problem. Making declarations of what is "human nature" without any cross-cultural studies is inherently biased and definitely un-scientific.

Does Dr. Ferber suggest that gazillions of non-Western (as well us sub-cultural, non-standard Westerners) who do not ever use cribs, who co-sleep with their infants and children and would never put them in a separate room or any crib-like place to sleep, all have children with "sleep disorders"?? Does Dr. Ferber believe that early humans had a separate room in the cave or hut for the baby, and "taught" the baby to sleep by itself??

To the OP: before making the decision to let your baby "cry it out" in order to "teach" him to stay by himself in a crib in a room away from you, please at least consider that many, MANY people sleep either in the same bed with their infants/toddlers, or in some way close enough to them to allow the child to touch them/feel close to them, and it does the child absolutely no harm whatsoever, and helps them sleep through the night! I did this, and my son made a natural transition to sleeping by himself, in his own bed/own room, before he turned 3. He NEVER cried while sleeping with or near me; in fact, as I said in this thread, I found that taking him into bed with me improved BOTH our sleeps, and decided the crib was the problem. I ignored people who predicted he would be a "mama's boy" or would still be in bed with me when he was a teenager -- they sounded crazy to me. He's 23 now, and fine. Oh, BTW, I was a cultural anthropology minor in college. It really is a fascinating field.
posted by RRgal at 8:08 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

When my son was one, I was his lovey. More specifically, he wanted to hold on to my nipple to fall asleep. I agonized over it and tried to get him to adopt some inanimate lovey but he just wouldn't have it. Letting him cry it out was a very unlikely option.

I gave him time and a little gentle encouragement. When he stopped nursing (at +/- 20 mos.) he still wanted to have a hand in my shirt to go to sleep. I let him. (This made for some really funny/awkward moments with other women but most people have a sense of humour about such things.) As time went on, I would gently reposition his hand as he started falling asleep. Some nights his hand would shoot back down my shirt and I would gently put it back. If he kept fighting, I'd just let him keep his hand there. Before long, his hand could be on the outside of my shirt and he'd be content.

Then came the belly button phase, which we're just ending. He needed to have a finger in my navel to fall asleep. If he was super-tired and cranky, he would scream, "WHERE'S MY HOLE?!" But with time, this, too, has passed.

I have always chosen to take a gradual and natural approach to his sleep. Ask Moxie (referenced above) was a huge help for me, especially her posts about sleep regression. Sometimes they just go through phases; give it time and things will work themselves out. (In our case, sometimes he's had to sleep in our bed for a few weeks before going back to his own bed but he's always ended up going back to his own bed with little or no tears.)

I only have one child, so I can only speak to parenting a child of his temperament, but I have no regrets about the way we have chosen to do things. If it works for your family, do it.
posted by wallaby at 10:32 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, 12 months old is still very, very young. (Zizzle)

Ask yourself: What else do you have to do that's so important instead of the time you are spending hold your baby's hand, anyways? Sure, it's frustrating at the time, but there are really few things that could be more important or enjoyable. (Simon Barclay)

When my son was one, I was his lovey. More specifically, he wanted to hold on to my nipple to fall asleep. (Wallaby)

These all bear repeating! Enjoy your time with your baby while he's still a baby. Pretty soon, he'll sleep on his own. You and your son are normal. I know you are losing patience, I was in your shoes, too. I'm going to try some of the above tips with my next child.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:28 AM on November 3, 2010

Re-condition him to another stimulus.

Basically right now he's finger-->sleep

You want him to be routine-->finger-->sleep.

Then take the finger out of the equation so he's routine-->sleep. This should be a really regimented (but saner) routine.

If he cries the first time you do this, don't automatically give him your finger. Start the routine again. Then give him your finger.

You never want to give him your finger without the routine. Eventually you'll be able to phase it out with minimal crying.

That's basically what letting a baby cry it out is doing, they then have to stop associating sleep with you (or whatever) because they fall asleep without you.

Unfortunately, it can lead to them associating sleep with crying, and cause greater resistance to bedtime, so I'm not the hugest fan of it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:19 PM on November 3, 2010

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