Sleep like a bébé.


In all the reading I've been doing about French parenting, there is one thing it seems I may have actually done right: teaching our babies to sleep. (Or as the French call it, to do their nights.)

I get asked frequently (usually by exhausted parents of eight-month- to two-year-olds) how I got Riley to sleep through the night at six weeks old. I've mentioned before that my husband and I tried the Babywise method with both boys after witnessing so many of our friends have success with it. I'll casually answer to inquiring parents that Babywise was helpful, but here are some specific things we did to help "nudge" both our boys into full nighttime sleep:

1. Establish a routine. We are not rabid clock watchers, but I was a stickler for consistent feeding intervals to regulate our babies' hunger patterns. Liam ate every three hours from birth, so with Riley, we started out feeding every three hours, until from observation I noticed he needed to eat every two-and-a-half. So we adapted until he was ready to stretch longer. This step is about responding to baby's cues (always feed a hungry baby; don't always assume they are hungry just because they cry), but also creating a routine that helps baby feel secure. I did wake my babies up to eat to keep them eating at about the same times every day, and I did not feed them any sooner than two hours from their last feeding. (This also helped with their reflux, as feeding too soon would upset their digestion.)

2. Eat-wake-sleep. This is crucial. I'd feed our baby, keep him up a little while, and then put him to sleep when he's sleepy but still awake. This way, I'm not nursing or bottle-feeding him to sleep, he eats better because he's well rested, his food has time to digest before he lays down, and his waketime is more pleasant because he's well rested and not hungry. At first, I had to work VERY hard to keep both boys awake while they ate. But it's important, and better for the whole family, that they get full feedings at regular intervals throughout the day, rather than snack all day long. And, with this cycle, babies don't learn to rely on milk to go to sleep.

3. Baby sleeps anywhere but with Mommy. I'm not a fan of co-sleeping. Not only is it dangerous, but I also tried not to start habits we'd have to break later. Liam slept in his bed every night from the time he got home from the hospital. Riley slept in a pack-and-play in our room for the first two months (so he wouldn't wake up Liam); then we transferred him to his room.

4. Don't wake them up at night. While I would wake both boys during the day to keep them from sleeping through their feeding times, I let them wake naturally at night. Even though I was breastfeeding, I would only feed them when they woke up. I kept nighttime feedings as brief as possible, meaning I would only change them if they really needed it, I used as little light as possible, and I didn't talk or make a lot of noise.

5. Utilize the "pause." This is a widely used French method, but Babywise encourages it, too. I wouldn't rush in to my baby the moment he made a sound (and still don't, with Riley). I let him cry for a few moments and analyze the cry. Babies are noisy sleepers. They move about, flutter their eyelids or sometimes open their eyes, grunt and even cry while they are moving from one sleep cycle to the next. Are they just getting resettled? I won't know if I respond immediately, and I might even wake them up. Pausing to assess the situation before rushing in encourages my baby to put himself back to sleep.

6. Create bedtime rituals. At our boys' bedtime feedings, we'd bathe them (not every night), put lotion on them, read the same book and pray over them, and then put them to bed. Having a ritual signals to them that it's bedtime. We also simply explained to them that it was bedtime, time for the family to go to sleep. The French believe that babies absorb information more than we think they do, and that it's important to talk to them like they can understand it, even from birth. I believe that, too.


Some parents (especially in America) feel you should feed your baby on-demand, pick them up every time they cry, sleep with them in your bed, and carry them around all day so they will feel secure. I believe having parents who are loving, in charge, and confident, and having predictable, consistent routines, helps build a lifelong relationship of trust. It's working for us, and it's worked for many of our friends. And of course, it's working for the French.

Let me know if any of these tips work for you!