Help! My son is seven months old and he doesn't know how to put himself to sleep. (I either nurse him or rock him for naps and bedtime.) This is a problem because he wakes up in the night--an average of two times--and I'm tired of getting up with him when the problem isn't hunger. I've tried letting him cry it out, but he just works himself into a frenzy and after an hour I give up. Plus I'm just a softie and his crying KILLS me. He won't take a pacifier (unless you count me as one). How do you teach a child to go to sleep on his own?
So, this is the hardest thing ever - in my opinion. Some very lucky people bring babies home who sleep through the night day one and two (not fair at all). Other people try the cry it out thing and it works like a charm (although if you haven't tried this and do want to try the Ferber-cry-it-out I would alter it slightly and let your baby cry for three minutes, go in and soothe them without getting them out, go in after six minutes, go in and soothe, and continue adding by three minute increments). But, a lot of babies will cry and cry and cry and work themselves up into hysteria.
Everyone always says 6 months is the time to get babies to sleep through the night. I personally think 8 months is better. They are just older and have more body control.
If a baby is getting up twice it probably means he is getting up right in between his sleep cycles (every three or four hours). Which means he just hasn't learned how to sleep through it yet and he does get a bit hungry just by routine - aka, its going to be a bit of a struggle. There is no magic fix.
But here are some other suggestions; the end result hopefully being a baby who can self soothe...
1. Change his last feeding time. Do it a little earlier than usual and help him to go to sleep an hour after he eats. This will not only help his stomach and sleep cycles be on different timing, but will help him with the process of going to sleep in the first place.
2. Give him a warm bath right before bed - not even necessarily to clean him, but to relax his muscles and body. I always feel a bit sleepier after a warm bath.
3. Post bath, lotion their body - a baby massage to also calm the muscles.
4. Now try to put him in his crib here are random ideas that could work (just try one at a time): wrap his legs in a blanket (tight like you would an infant - but don't do the arms, this age will fight arm wrappings but sometimes a leg wrapping helps them relax their body); play quiet music or soothing sounds (some kids will really focus on the sound and fall asleep); turn on a mobile.
5. Those are the quick fixes. If that doesn't work. You may have to rock him to sleep or hold him; just while he is learning to sleep without you as the pacifier. Once you decide, just don't go back, I swear they know when we are wavering. Anyhow, back to the rocking. If they aren't a thumb or paci kid then help them find something that will soothe. So, while you rock them, take a silky or chenille or any soft blanket and gently rub it on their cheek and and down over their eye lids. If you do this enough, it will teach them how to do it. And eventually, if they wake up in the night and see their blanket - they will reach for it and rub their own cheek with it. In other words, give your baby a tool. A sock to suck on; a pacifier to hold (yes, my little one liked to hold one); a chocolate soufle from Roy's (woops, that's what I like to help soothe) - the point is help them learn to soothe themselves by the way you soothe them.
6. Ok, now back to the crib. When your baby that can now fall asleep without you as a pacifier goes in the crib. You may have to sit beside the bed in the darkness. They may fall asleep - but want you there while they are doing it. Every night move farther away. Even sit outside the door and show them that you are there, just out of sight. Eventually, they will learn. Its slow and slow, but if you don't like the crying, its a choice.
I hope that all doesn't sound too crazy...
Painting: Le berceau (The Cradle) by Berthe Morisot in the Musee d'Orsay, Paris