You’re frustrated that your six-month-old baby is not sleeping through the night, and hasn’t yet learnt to fall asleep on her own.
You probably contributed to the problem by introducing some bad sleep habits, such as rocking and butt-patting, when she was a newborn.
It’s not too late to help her “unlearn” these pre-sleep needs. It happened to my second daughter.
She resisted sleep at all costs. Before we knew it, we spent night after night rocking her, cuddling her, singing to her – in fact, trying anything to soothe her to sleep.
After five months, we were exhausted. In desperation, we decided to leave her to cry one night, no matter what. Suddenly, after about five or 10 minutes of bitter sobbing and screaming, there was silence. Not a sound.
We panicked and sped to her bedroom, only to find that she was fast asleep! She slept well most nights after that, rarely needing to be soothed by us again.
Learn to wait
So as you’ve discovered, your baby has learnt that crying is an effective way to grab your attention.
That’s why you should do your best to avoid picking her up from the cot the moment she cries for you. If you do, you’ll just perpetuate those sleepless nights.
Instead of rushing to her when she wails, wait at least a few minutes.
If you feel you don’t want to leave her to cry in her cot any longer, gently go back into her darkened bedroom to check that there is nothing wrong with her – for instance, that she hasn’t wriggled into an uncomfortable position.
If she appears fine, make up your mind that you won’t pick her up to rock her in your arms or butt-pat her until she falls asleep. Instead, reassure her in a gentle, quiet voice and then leave her room.
At first, she might start to cry again because she is annoyed you haven’t picked her up. Stick to your guns, though, and be prepared to repeat this process several times during the night until she dozes off.
Have a consistent bedtime routine
It’s just as important to establish a pre-sleep routine, if you don’t already have one.
This could begin with, for example, undressing her in preparation for a warm bath, followed by letting her play in the water with bath toys, changing her into nightclothes, lying her in her cot while you read her a story, and finally giving a goodnight kiss.
It’s having a consistent routine that matters, not the specific components. A routine like this prepares your baby for sleep long before you actually put her into her cot. It gets her thinking about bedtime from the moment the familiar rituals begin.
Within weeks, you’ll find that when you start to undress her in preparation for her bath, she starts to relax because she knows what’s coming next. And she is likely to be genuinely sleepy when you give her that goodnight kiss.
Of course, having a pre-sleep routine like that doesn’t always mean she will be ready to nod off the moment her head rests on the mattress, but it certainly helps.
Changing your baby’s snooze patterns is not an easy task, but it can be done.
Dr Richard C. Woolfson is a British child psychologist.