Daylight Savings Time is March 11, and with the longer daylight comes a maddening lost hour of zzz’s! We thought this the perfect time to ask Sally Tannen, Director of 92Y’s Parenting Center and new Grandparents Center, for her insights on sleep — that commodity more treasured by parents than gold!
Q: My baby is 6 months old. My partner and I can’t decide how to handle things when she wakes up crying during the night. What do you suggest?
First, in order to have a successful result, you and your partner need to agree on a plan. Consider how you want to help your baby sleep. When she wakes up crying, do you want to go into her room every five minutes to soothe her? Do you want to pick her up to soothe her? Do you want to just reassure her without picking her up? There are many different methods. You and your partner need choose one — not in the middle of the night, but over a glass of wine at a calm time — and you need to stick with it. Being consistent sends your baby a clear message as to what is expected. Parents often try a form of sleep training, but give up after the baby protests. It can be confusing for the child if you begin enforcing a practice, only to break from it. Whatever approach you choose, it’s important to remember that a baby’s protests don’t make the effort wrong, that babies are surprisingly resilient, and that you’re doing something positive for your child by helping her learn an important life skill.
The takeaway: There are many ways to sleep train. Agree on a plan with your partner, and follow it consistently.
Q: I prepared as much as I could for the early months of new parenthood, but nothing could have braced me for the way I’d be stumbling through the days with so little sleep. Any advice?
It’s essential for new parents to tag team. If you’re bottlefeeding, it should be easy for you and your partner to share nighttime feedings. For breastfeeding moms, a bottle of pumped milk can afford you two or three precious extra hours of sleep. And I encourage you to let a family member or friend care for the baby for a couple of hours so you can nap. New moms struggle so much with control and figuring things out, it can be hard to surrender responsibility for your new baby even for a few minutes. But once you trust yourself to do that, you’ll make a great leap forward. And give yourself permission to get help in other areas — let a family member or friend cook or do the laundry. Don’t worry if the house is a mess. And remember, the early months of new motherhood are exhausting, but they don’t go on forever! As your baby sleeps for longer stretches, you’ll begin to regain some normalcy in your own sleep.
The takeaway: Share the responsibilities, modify your expectations and welcome help.
Q: What are some strategies for instilling healthy sleep habits in our young daughter?
The most important thing you can do toward good sleep habits for your child is establish a regular bedtime routine and stick with it. Slow down the day, and create a calm and soothing environment in whatever manner feels best to you — it could be a bath and storytime, or a quiet goodnight call to grandma before snuggle time, or any wind-down routine you choose — the important thing is to make it a ritual your child can expect and depend on. Repetition and structure help a child feel safe and secure. Creating that environment for your daughter will set her up for a good night’s sleep — and so much more.
The takeaway: Good sleep habits require good prepare-for-sleep habits. Establish a bedtime ritual and be consistent with it.
Q: I keep hearing “sleep when the baby sleeps, nap when the baby naps,” yet that’s the only time I can manage to take a shower, or return phone calls or prepare some food so we can avoid another night of ordering in. I know I should be resting when the baby is, but I can’t figure out how to do that. Any advice?
“Sleep when the baby sleeps” is terrific advice — for some! Everyone’s needs are different. Instead of thinking of a baby’s naps as “rest time,” I urge people to think of them as “recharge time.” For some, that will certainly mean catching up on some sleep. But for others, it will be doing something that simply leaves them feeling recharged, which could be anything from taking that shower to doing a bit of yoga to having a conversation with a grown-up after a morning of baby talk. I would never say that sleep is overrated, but it isn’t the only thing that is sacrificed with a baby in the house. Use your baby’s nap time in the way(s) that will leave you feeling most nourished and renewed. Your time with your baby will be richer for it.
The takeaway: No one knows what you miss/crave/need more than you. Assess which tank is emptiest; add fuel!
Director of 92Y’s Parenting Center and new Grandparenting Center, Sally Tannen has been supporting early childhood parents, building community, and creating and offering activities and classes for babies, kids, parents and grandparents for thousands of NYC families for more than 25 years. A mother of four and grandmother of three, Sally’s personal experience continues to enrich and inform her work.
Note: Heather Turgeon, MFT and Julie Wright, MFT, authors of The Happy Sleeper will be speaking at 92Y on Wednesday, March 28 at 6:30 pm! For details, visit 92Y.ORG/PARENTING