Don’t Worry, They’ll Stop Crying One Day
Published January 05, 2005
“So how is the baby sleeping now?” As the parents of a 4-month-old, we get asked this question a lot.
We obsess over this because households containing little ones tend to be a little chaotic. In fact, the word “chaos” comes from the Latin word meaning “I have small children.” So we pray for moments of calm and order, and it would be nice if they happened in the middle of the night. Babies, unfortunately, are born without the knowledge that nighttime is when one is supposed to sleep. So we parents long for our infants to reach that nirvana that is known as “Sleeping Through the Night.”
Generally you’ll get one of two responses when you share the fact that sleeping at night is not a priority for your baby. One is “Oh, our little angel was sleeping through the night when she was just a week old. We sure got lucky!” The other one is “Our child is almost 19 and hasn’t slept through the night yet!”
Neither is very encouraging.
Our own sweet Jenna, who has ocean-blue eyes, pink cherub cheeks (on both ends) and a smile that completely melts our hearts, had us pulling out our hair for the first three months. Then it happened! She started sleeping seven or so hours in a row. We had made it! But I’m afraid she has regressed. We’re back to getting up with her at least once a night. Maybe she’s insecure. Maybe she just enjoys our company. I don’t know. I’m too tired to figure it out.
But I would like to offer what expertise I have gained in a handy guide I’ll call “Sleep and Your Infant” or “You Know It’s Bad When Both You and Your Baby Are Crying at 2 a.m.”
First, you could try learning to live without sleep. But be warned: You will start doing things like looking around the house for your child’s pacifier for 20 minutes before realizing it’s been in your hand the whole time. Not a good way to function.
So you may have to resort to something all parents dread. It’s called “Letting Them Cry it Out,” and it’s not for the faint of heart.
Here’s how it works: When your baby wakes up and starts crying, don’t do anything. The idea is to let her learn how to get back to sleep independently. Think happy thoughts. Try not to watch the clock. When it’s been so long that you think your child’s lungs are going to rupture, burst out of bed and run into her room. Discover that her diaper is quite toxic. Get her cleaned up, fed and back into bed. She will resume crying immediately.
Go back to bed, feeling awful that your child was crying for a legitimate reason and you forced her to lie in her own excrement for a ridiculous amount of time. Get used to being consumed by guilt. As a parent, it’s your lot in life.
After a while, your baby will get quiet. She has either fallen asleep or climbed out the window to go live with another family. I like to check to make sure it isn’t the latter. Now you can go to sleep. And hang in there — that’s the most important thing. As my mother always says (and this also applies if your child should ever swallow something weird like a quarter or some cat food), “This, too, shall pass.”
Deana Nall’s column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.