Q&A: rocking baby to sleep

Eric writes:

"I have been pouring over various entries in your blog for a while now and decided to ask you a few questions.  Based on different books (Ferber, Weissbluth, etc.) and doctor recommendations, my wife and I tried CIO and it was miserable...for us and our son.  It didn't feel right and we were reassured when we read your thoughts on babies who increase tension by crying.

We have found some success by rocking our son to sleep though it often seems to take ages for him to fall asleep.  This might seem ridiculous, but one question is about how to get our son into the crib without waking him once he does happen to fall asleep.  On several occasions, he has fallen asleep in our arms by rocking him to sleep but awakens as soon as we set him down in his crib.  Do you know of a successful way to put him in the crib without waking him up?  Also, what is your stance on rocking him to sleep?  I know that you suggest rocking as a way of calming a baby who increases tension through crying, but should we be letting him fully fall asleep in our arms?  The problem is that if we don't let him fall asleep in our arms and we attempt to soothe him while he is lying in the crib, it takes a much longer time and he seems to be more restless. 

We are experiencing other sleeping problems (night wakenings), but would really like to try to first tackle the issue of getting him to fall asleep without the nightly battle that it always has been.  I am not sure if his age would vary your response, but he is approximately 4.5 months old right now.  He was born approximately 3 weeks early due to my wife's development of HELLP Syndrome. 

Exhausted and eagerly awaiting your response,
Eric"

Ooh. Three things I hate combined into one post:

1) HELLP Syndrome. For those of you who don't know it, it's like turbo-ultra-mega preeclampsia, and is very serious. If the baby doesn't come out, the mother can seize and then her organs shut down and she dies. I'm glad Eric's wife and the baby came out of it healthy. We should all keep a close watch on our blodd pressure and the protein in our urine while pregnant.

2) The 4-month sleep regression. It just sucks. There's no way around it. 4.5 months minus 3 weeks puts Eric's baby smack in the middle of it. It's so so hard for babies to sleep at this age.

3) The cultural expectation that a baby that young should be able to go down awake and that if the baby can't it's something the parents are doing wrong.

Yeah, there are things you could be doing to screw up your kid's sleep. Some of them are obvious, like playing loud music at 10 pm in the same room your baby's in, or snorting coke while you're breastfeeding. Some of them are not so obvious, like drinking coffee in the morning while nursing(caffeine has a half-life of 96 hours in a baby's system--go figure--but it doesn't seem to affect some babies at all) or putting a kid in pajamas that make him/her too hot and sweaty all night.

But aside from a really small group of things, there's not much you can do to change the way your baby sleeps. It's largely a function of personality and age. If Eric's baby needs to be rocked to sleep, that's the way the kid is. It doesn't mean that he'll be like that forever, or even a month from now. Just that it's what's working now. By Any Means Necessary to get everyone as much sleep as possible.

So I think rocking your kid to sleep is fine, as is putting your baby in the swing, or nursing to sleep, or using a pacifier, or having the baby go to sleep with a comfort object or white noise machine or anything else people use. (If you use a comfort object, make sure you have a spare in case something happens to the primary one, or you're screwed.) You child will not need that thing forever, and you'll probably have a good instinct about when you can switch that thing out of the routine. At the very least, you'll do better making sleep changes in your child if you have some sleep under your belt, so think of it as strategic pacing.

But. If it takes forever to rock to sleep, I'd look and see if there's something else that might work better. Eric and his wife tried CIO so they know that doesn't work for their son. (In contrast, my second son didn't want to nurse or rock down, so I tried letting him cry and he fell right to sleep after a few minutes. Stunned me, since my first son would escalate if I let him cry for more than half a minute.) Maybe swaddling would work, or something else. I wouldn't be afraid to try other things, because they just might stumble onto something that will work faster than the rocking. Or maybe not, and the rocking is as good as it gets at this stage.

It's just awful staring down the barrel of a long, long bedtime routine (those of us in the 3-year-old sleep regression can sympathize). You're finally at the end of the day, and you know you're still facing an hour of getting the kid to sleep. No way around it but through it, but it still just makes you want to cry, and ask for your money back.

How many of us have suffered through the problem of getting the kid to sleep but then not being able to put the baby down into the crib?! It's the bloody hangnail of the first year of parenting. I've head suggestions of putting a heating pad/hot water bottle in the crib to leave it warm, then moving it right before you put the baby down, but I didn't have enough hands to do that. You can let the baby sleep for 20 minutes to get deep into the sleep cycle before putting him down (and then let all the blood rush back into your arms) and that might help. I've also heard that in Australia they don't have this problem because they all put their babies down to sleep on sheepskins, and the sheepskin magically keeps them asleep. Honeslty, I can't remember if I came up with anything good at that age because I was so sleep deprived that not much stuck from that phase.

So, can anyone solve the problem of putting the baby down into the crib and keeping the baby asleep? If you can patent it, you'll make mountains of money.

And if anyone else wants to sympathize or complain, please feel free.