Sleep, Baby, Sleep... But How?!

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The great sleep debate (i.e. what’s the best/healthiest/most loving/won’t scar your child for life way to get your child to sleep through the night) rages in the mommy universe. Since tensions run high in this arena, possibly due to the sleep deprivation of the participants, I rarely offer much advice to a new or expectant mother on how she should sleep train or not sleep train her baby, unless I am specifically asked exactly what I have done with my kids.

However, there is one tip that I do like to pass along from time to time because I am fairly certain that it can be extremely helpful (it has been for my four kids), could be used with just about any sleep theory (I’ve tried a few) and is unlikely to offend most moms (I say most because there’s always that one mom).

Before the birth of my first child, an experienced nanny friend shared her top tip for helping kids sleep: sing the same three songs to your child every time you put the child down to sleep. We’ve all heard that a good routine helps kids sleep well, and many of us sing to our kids. But, before she mentioned it, it had never occurred to me to use the same set of songs as a sleep trigger for my baby.

There are several advantages to this particular routine:

1) Kids are naturally inclined toward sleep by song. That’s why there’s a genre of music called lullabies.

2) Songs are portable. No matter where you are or what you pack in the diaper bag, you can sing your kid to sleep. My nanny friend described being stuck out with one of her charges at naptime, and by pacing with him in an alley while singing those songs she was able to get him to sleep. If he had required a bath or a particular book or any other nap accouterments she would have been out of luck.

3) Songs are replicable. Mom can do them. Dad can do them. Grandma, Grandpa and the babysitter can all sing the same set of songs to help a kid get to sleep.

4) Songs are a fairly painless routine. When my kids wake up during the night (even the best trained sleepers will wake up occasionally) I deal with whatever has awoken them, sing them the songs, and lay them right back down. No turning on the lights required.

I have been using this tip, along with my sleep training method of choice, for almost four years now. I use it with my 3.75 year old. I use it with my newborn. It works like a charm. Most nights as soon as I start singing to one of my children, the head goes right down on my shoulder; he/she then relaxes and is laid down easily. 

Here are my suggestions for making this tip work for you:

  • Pick three simple songs. This will make them easy to sing every night. This will also allow your mind to wander to the wine and pint of ice cream you will break into as soon as your kid is asleep while continuing the flow of words out of your mouth.
  • Pick familiar songs. In the eventuality that you would like a night out, or are hospitalized and unable to be present at the normal bedtime, you might need someone else to put your child to sleep. Should something in that vein occur, it helps if the songs are ones that other people know, too. My mother lives out of state and only sees the kids every few months. She is still able to put my kids to bed easily because she knows the three songs.
  • Pick songs you won’t hate. You will sing these songs A LOT. I estimate that between naptimes and bedtimes multiplied by four children over the course of four years I have sung my set of songs about 8,000 times. It's also a good idea to pick songs that your parenting partner won’t hate or be embarrassed to sing.

So, whether you co-sleep, attachment parent, cry it out, or just get by with whatever works at the moment, I hope this tip offends you not and brings you easy nights with sweet dreams!

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Since Catherine Pearl was quietly raised as the only child of well-established 30-something parents, she thought she would throw sanity to the wind by embracing four children under four in her twenties when the budget is small and the house is smaller. Baby #1 and the Twins were gestated and raised to toddlerhood while finishing her master’s degree (she had a full-ride so the Husband wouldn’t let her quit in a fit of morning sickness induced exhaustion). Currently Catherine spends her days enjoying a ridiculously easy Baby #4 (thank goodness!), taking kids 1-3 up to the bathroom 10,000x a day, and supporting a pretty great husband who’s got big aspirations with love and clean laundry.