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Overly harsh and rigid sleep regimen - (some good advice)
am 23. Juli 2000
In this book, Dr. Weissbluth explains in detail the importance of sleep (nighttime and daytime) to a child's well being. He indicates the key mistakes parents make (primarily, keeping irregular schedules with overly long periods of wakefullness). I bought this book along with Richard Ferber's "Solving Your Child's Sleep Problems".
Dr. Weissbluth gives very detailed instructions on getting your infant on a sleep schedule from a young age (3-4 months; possibly earlier in some babies). In some ways it simplifies things to have someone give such specific criteria to follow. However, there are some aspects of the book which particularly bothered me:
1) It does not take into account individual differences between babies -- To me, it doesn't seem logical that all babies are going to need exactly the same pattern of sleep.
2) Parents are instructed to let babies cry as long as it takes for them to fall asleep without intervention at night -- I agree it's important that babies learn to soothe themselves, but I MUCH prefer Dr. Ferber's program with periodic reassurance from parents (and for parents) that all is well. To let a baby cry alone for 2, 3 hours at night even if it gets the desired result of learning to sleep through the night seems cruel and selfish. In fact, Dr. Weissbluth comments on Dr. Ferber's approach saying that he is sure it could work but that it puts too much of a burden on parents to have to keep going in at periodic intervals. I think that when a baby is faced with an important but difficult lesson, parents should not feel burdened to help them through it.
3) Dr. Weissbluth frequently comments on the "magic window" of putting a baby down for a nap, when he is tired, but not overly tired, and how parents need to adapt their schedules to their baby's needs -- I think it's absolutely correct to emphasize the importance of respecting a baby's needs, but this seems easier with an only child. We have an older daughter who has to be driven to and from school, and other classes, pets to take to the vet, doctors' appointments that need to be kept... It's not always possible to fit all of these commitments at precisely the right moments when a baby is well rested, and a nap is not being compromised. Dr. Weissbluth frowns upon naps taken in car seats, strollers, carriers etc. as not being as restful as a nap in a crib. I agree but I think reality sometimes means a nap takes place in less than ideal circumstances.
Overall, I think the book does a good job emphasizing the importance of sleep and in outlining general patterns of sleep for children of different ages. I do not feel comfortable, however, with the methods used. I would urge anyone who would like to give their baby the opportunity to learn to soothe himself at night, to consider reading Dr. Ferber's book and at least trying his method. If teaching your baby to sleep through the night works within a framework of the parents periodically reassuring the baby (for us it worked beautifully with our older daughter, and we plan on using the same method with our baby son), surely that is preferable to success that comes with a baby crying by himself, for as long as it takes.