I’m going to get a little out of my comfort zone for this blog and do something I wouldn’t typically do.
I’m going to speculate. I’m going to hypothesize.
So in most parental relationships, as you probably know, there’s one parent who takes on the majority of the responsibilities when it comes to the kids. I’m not talking about the antiquated idea of, “Mom feeds, dresses, changes, teaches, nurtures, and raises the kids, and Dad goes to work and kisses them goodnight when he gets home in time.” But most of the families I’ve worked with have had one parent who takes on a little more of the baby-related responsibilities. It might be split 75/25 or 45/55, but there’s usually someone who has the role of primary caregiver.
And that parent, more often than not, is usually the one who handles two main things; feeding baby and putting baby to bed.
If this sounds like you and you’re one of the millions of families who are trying to teach your little one how to get to sleep independently and have them sleep through the night, I’d like to offer a suggestion…
I suggest you assign the bedtime responsibilities to the parent who doesn’t typically handle the feeds..
Here’s my reasoning, and once again, this is not based on any peer-reviewed studies or hard data. It’s just a theory that I’ve come to believe after witnessing its effectiveness.
Sleep struggles in babies over the age of six months are overwhelmingly caused by reliance on a “sleep prop,” as I call them. They’ve grown accustomed to being rocked to sleep for naps and bedtimes, or taken for car rides or stroller rides, or the big kahuna of the lot, they’re fed or nursed to sleep.
Getting your baby to sleep through the night relies heavily on breaking that dependence on their sleep prop, so that when they wake up after a sleep cycle (which we all do, even as adults, several times a night) they can get back to sleep on their own. They don’t need to call for a parent or caregiver to come and feed them so they can conk out again. They develop the skills to go from awake to asleep all on their own.
But like I say, that’s a skill, and skills take time to develop. So while they’re learning how to do this, you’re likely in for a few nights where the baby's going to be tired, but unable to get to sleep. They’re going to want that “prop” and they’re probably going to get frustrated that you won’t give it up.
It’s confusing, and understandably so. Personally, I need a glass of water by my bed and my favorite pillow in order to comfortably fall asleep. If someone took it away from me one night and didn’t explain why, I’d be pretty frustrated too.
So what we’re aiming to do is minimize that confusion. We won’t be able to alleviate it completely on night one, but we can take it down a peg or two. And if your baby is typically nursed or bottle fed to sleep, then I strongly suggest you put the parent who doesn’t handle the feeds in charge of bedtime.
Reason being, if baby’s looking to feed their way off to sleep, and the parent who usually feeds them is sitting right beside their crib, the level of confusion and frustration is going to be heightened. Having the parent who doesn’t handle the feeding in the room is likely to get a little more protest right off the bat, but since baby doesn’t associate that parent with feeding or nursing, they tend to stop protesting sooner.
So whether you’re about to start teaching your baby some independent sleep skills, or you’ve already started and things don’t seem to be going to plan, I’d nudge you to give this little strategy a try.
Now, this may seem a little unfair to the parent who’s got to take the lead. Teaching your baby to sleep independently isn’t your run-of-the-mill chore, like fixing dinner or taking out the trash. This can be challenging, stressful work. There’s probably going to be a few nights of protest, and whoever’s taking the reins here is almost certainly not going to be getting as much sleep as they need. It can be rough, I won’t kid you.
But the good news is, it’s temporary pain for major long-term gain. Once your baby learns this new skill, it can be absolutely life-changing, and I mean that literally. So many families I’ve worked with have told me that just the ability to leave their baby with a sitter meant they could spend some time together, reconnect, and see each other as romantic partners again instead of just parents.
Add in all of the physical and mental benefits that a good night’s sleep brings, it means that you, your partner, and your baby will all reap the benefits from the sleep-filled nights and long daytime naps. And really, who cares about what’s “fair” if it doesn’t get the job done, right?
So for now, focus on what’s effective and discuss how you can balance the scales once your baby is sleeping through the night.