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Gentle Sleep Solutions

Michaelene Gerster Trocola
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 5, September-October 2005, p. 204

For parents wary of "cry it out" sleep methods, the LLLI Conference was a source of information on gentle ways to help babies and toddlers sleep. Two sessions designed with sleep deprived families in mind were "The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep through the Night," with Elizabeth Pantley, and "Sweet Dreams: A Pediatrician's Secrets for Your Child's Good Night's Sleep," with Dr. Paul Fleiss.

Pantley, author, parent educator, and mother of four, presented a 10-step program to shed light on sleep patterns. In combining personal anecdotes from her mothering journey with results obtained through research and test groups, she showed attendees how to create a plan that helps children welcome sleep. The goal, according to Pantley, is not to make a child sleep through the night, but rather to teach a child how to feel safe and comfortable about falling back to sleep.

Dr. Paul Fleiss, pediatrician, author, and member of the LLLI Professional Advisory Board, also discussed sleep patterns during his session. He explained factors that affect sleep by using examples from his 30 plus years in private practice and sharing his professional knowledge of the human body.

The focus of Pantley's session was planning and using logs to keep track of progress; Fleiss' session revolved around attachment parenting and cosleeping. Both speakers offered similar tips for preparing for a good night's sleep. Parents were encouraged to follow their instincts and remember that opinions from family, friends, and even pediatricians are just that—opinions. Pantley and Fleiss pointed out that few pediatricians even understand sleep. However, as shared during "Sweet Dreams," a study conducted at Brown University found that 50 percent of pediatricians prescribe drugs to get children to sleep. This practice, along with the use of over-the-counter drugs, said Fleiss, is "unacceptable."

How can a sleep-deprived parent solve nighttime problems? Quick solutions (i.e., over-the-counter drugs) and popular "cry it out" methods should be avoided. Instead, plan for the night throughout the day. Eating a healthy diet, getting exercise, exposure to natural light, and a comfortable atmosphere will affect how well a child sleeps. If problems persist, investigate other possible causes. Is your child eating something that he is allergic to? Are his naptimes too short? Too long?

Both speakers also explained the importance of nighttime rituals (warm bath, stories, singing, rocking), but Pantley's session included a detailed discussion of how actions become cues for children. With consistency, children will be able to recognize that certain cues signal bedtime.

In regard to human biology and sleep, Fleiss was more focused on the attachment of mother and baby. As he explained, newborns have a continuous need for feeding and holding. A strong advocate of cosleeping, Fleiss emphasized that optimal sleep is when a baby is in close contact with his mother. When a baby cosleeps, naps in mother's arms, or is carried in a sling, mother is in tune with him and able to anticipate his needs before fussiness sets in.

Both Fleiss and Pantley cautioned against having "unrealistic expectations." Infants should not be expected to sleep for long periods of time, and older babies or toddlers will not sleep like adults. Bottom line: there isn't a definitive answer to end sleep problems, but parents who have patience, use gentle solutions, and follow their instincts will learn what works best for their family.

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