Sleep Training: A Dad’s Job?

How do you get a baby to sleep?

How do you get a baby to sleep?

Earlier this week, I reviewed an awesome new book, Spousonomics. Turns out they have a blog, too! And on it, Jenny posts about using economic theory to make a tough parenting choice: sleep training her 4-month-old daughter.

She uses a technique called a “commitment device” to follow through on what every parent knows is a tough task: letting her baby cry it out so everyone can get a full night’s sleep. Jenny’s commitment device is simple and infallable. She’s leaving.

For a night (or, if this is really going to work, probably a few nights), she’s going to pack her bags and have a slumber party at a friend’s place. Her husband can handle the rough night (or couple of rough nights, I’m guessing) with a crying baby, and then Jenny can come home to a house full of peaceful sleepers.

Jenny is a veteran sleep trainer. She mentions in her Spousonomics blog post that she sleep trained her older child at 6 months. She believes in the virtue of sleep training. She just can’t hack listening to her baby cry all night.

I so feel her pain on this one. I was a wholesale consumer of the cosleeping ideology. My babies slept with me, nursed at night, and generally kept anyone in the house from getting a good night’s sleep for years. I finally have both girls sleeping through the night, a feat I accomplished a few months after the smallest one’s 3rd birthday.

My commitment to the ideology of cosleeping and nighttime parenting died a painful death a few years back, but I could never tolerate listening to the little ones cry. I especially couldn’t take it at 3 a.m. when I’d wake up groggy and desperate to get back to sleep. Any resolution I’d made about saying no to nighttime demands would fade away in the fog of sleepiness, and I’d take the shortest path back to bed, which totally meant giving the kid whatever she wanted.

I finally did hand the nighttime parenting tasks off to my husband, using a “commitment device” similar to Jenny’s.  I didn’t leave, but I did refuse to get out of bed. Not wanting to hear our kids cry is one place where my husband and I overlap perfectly, though, so for a year he just got out of bed several times a night instead of me. No one got any more sleep than we’d been getting before.

I think if you’re a breastfeeding parent and you have another adult available to help parent your baby at night, this is absolutely one of those jobs you hand off to dad, or other mom, or grandma, or whoever is willing to get up and soothe Ms. Fussypants at 3 a.m. If she’s going to go the sleep training route, Jenny is making absolutely the right call getting her husband to do it while she rocks a slumber party.

It’s not that I think sleep training is “right”, or cosleeping is for suckers. Cosleeping is awesome, if it works. It’s just that I think sleep is valuable. If your family can sleep together, great! If your baby is waking you up at all hours and you’re unable to function during the day, you may need to rethink your approach. That doesn’t necessarily mean letting baby cry-it-out; there are plenty of  “no-cry” approaches to sleep training, and a lot of them work with a lot of families. After six years of sleep dep, though, I’m no longer willing to sit in judgment on any parent who’s willing and able to let their baby cry if that’s what it takes to get a good night’s sleep.

How did you handle the baby sleep issue at your house? Did you use a “commitment device” to make sure everyone got some rest?

Photo: surlygirl

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