If you've done any reading at all on the subject of baby care, you know that most experts advise against getting baby in the habit of being rocked, nursed, cuddled or otherwise induced into sleep. Break the rule and baby may end up forever demanding whatever crutch you've gotten him hooked on. Well, not forever, but it will feel like forever when you're pacing the floor at 2 a.m. with a 20-pound 10-month-old in your arms.
I understood the concept, and yet I fell into the trap all the same. Before I knew it, I had an 8-month-old who woke up every two hours to nurse and couldn't get back to sleep on his own to save his life. By then I'd had enough and I finally had to face the fact that my son would have to learn to get himself to sleep, which would involve some crying (and some sleeplessness — and heartache — for my husband and me). Although there are a host of different methods out there, my husband and I chose one that involved instituting a "no picking up" policy once we put him down for bed (we did go into his room every 10 to 15 minutes to quiet his crying with a pat on the back, but honestly that just seemed to enrage him). The first night he cried initially for an hour and then for 15 to 20 minutes the two or three times he woke up during the rest of the night. The second night he cried for about 20 minutes when I first put him down and then only for a few minutes when he woke up in the middle of the night. By the third night, he cried for just a few minutes at bedtime and woke up very infrequently the rest of the night. It was torture (on us probably more than on him) for the first two nights, but it worked. Well, sort of. Weeks later, he sleeps like an angel some nights and wakes up crying other nights. Even so, we are finally sleeping for longer than two hours at a time, which is heavenly.
As if getting baby off to sleep soundly isn't hard enough, once he's snoozing away new parents are confronted with a new problem: How to deal with the fear that something horrible will happen to him while he sleeps. For the first two months of my son's life, I spent far too many hours hovering over his cradle, straining to hear him breathe, watching to see his chest rise and fall, or his little fingers twitch — anything to reassure me that he was OK. While it's probably a very natural fear and one that most parents have to some degree, it can be stressful and can keep you awake during those precious minutes you should be catching up on much needed sleep.
Even though I worried, I was comforted by knowing that I wasn't breaking any of the rules for safe sleeping. Having baby sleep on his back, in his crib and without pillows, thick blankets or stuffed animals, at least gave me peace of mind that I was doing what I could to reduce any risk to my baby (as did reminding myself that the risk of something happening to my baby while he sleeps is small to begin with). New moms and dads, keep in mind that there will come a day when these sleeping fears will subside, only to be replaced by other fears. But at least you won't fear the worst, worrying that baby might not wake up from his sound slumber.