3 Strategies for Better Baby Sleep

Baby-Centered Approach Success

For Shannon and Duncan MacLeod, of Seattle, the co-sleeping approach worked well for their first daughter, Evie, 3. Now they're using it again with baby number two. Three-month-old Piper is breastfed on demand and sleeps in a bassinet attached to their bed. Since Mom and Dad tend to turn in around 9 p.m., this has evolved into Piper's natural time to fall asleep. On nights when her parents head to bed later than 9, Piper either willingly goes down first (in her bassinet) or sleeps in her mom's arms until Shannon is ready to retire.

Like many babies her age, Piper does not stay asleep all night. Every few hours "she'll fuss, and I'll do a side-lying feeding," says Shannon. "And then we'll both fall right back to sleep." She doesn't expect this pattern to end any time soon, nor is she anxious about it. "We aren't even considering [sleeping through the night] as a milestone," she says. (Big sister Evie began sleeping through on her own around the 1-year mark, and after two years transitioned to a toddler bed.)

The MacLeods' laid-back approach applies to daytime napping too. Wherever Shannon is, Piper simply dozes near her -- either in the co-sleeping bassinet, her bouncy seat, or Mom's arms. This way, Shannon doesn't feel they're restricted to a certain room at certain times of the day. "We're just not into rigid schedules," she says.

Shannon hasn't struggled over sleep issues with either baby. But she admits that she's not sure exactly why. "We don't know which came first," she says. "Was it our mellow parenting or our mellow babies?"

If you ask Bev and Todd Lacy, of New York City, it's mellow parenting that makes the difference. Left alone in his crib, their colicky newborn, Daniel, would cry continually. "He would only sleep if he was next to me," says Bev. Although they hadn't planned on it, theirs became a "family bed."

The Benefits of Co-Sleeping

Now Bev extols the benefits of co-sleeping, especially after getting affirmation from The Baby Book (Little, Brown & Company) by William and Martha Sears. "Nighttime was hard for Daniel," Bev says. "The Searses' approach makes sense to me: If you build a trust when your child is really little, he'll be more likely to become independent later on." So Bev provided her anxious infant with the extra comfort of having Mom close at night. He has slept in bed with his parents ever since.

Like Shannon, Bev breastfed her baby whenever he awoke -- usually every few hours. He continued to wake up throughout the night for feedings until he was 5 or 6 months old. Now, at 17 months, Daniel still wakes up once a night, around 4 a.m., to breastfeed. "Some days I don't mind," she says. "And some days I think, 'Darn it, do you really need to eat right now?'"

But she points out an added benefit of their shared bed. "Because our sleep cycles got matched up, I wake up just before he makes a sound and feed him," she says. "Unlike mothers who have to get their babies in the next room, I've never had to deal with crying for 20 minutes to settle the baby down."

And that's not to mention the sweetest perk. "Every morning when Daniel wakes up, he looks at me and says, 'Hi.' Then he says, 'Hi, Daddy!' Then he looks for the cat. It's like he's doing a roll call. It's so cute," she says.

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