Q: I have a 4-month-old. I’m against making the baby cry himself to sleep and my husband agreed he was too. But today I fed the baby, went to run some errands and when I got back four hours later my baby was crying in the crib, my boobs started leaking everywhere and my husband said she’d been crying for an hour. She fell asleep but I still feel like I want to throw up, I am so mad at him. Will this damage my baby? Please tell me how to deal with this.”
I feel your pain, really — I remember coming home from a similar grocery-store trip. Please, pump a bottle and relax. Now think: what exactly would you have wanted your husband to do? Give her formula? Pumped milk? Walk the baby all over the neighborhood? For how long? Write it down, and before you leave the baby with your husband (or another caregiver again) and talk about your expectations. If you want him to try specific soothing methods, or feeding her pumped milk, or if it’s okay to give her formula, tell him so (a guide on how much to leave is here).
But if your partner isn’t endangering the baby– and putting down a healthy, clean and fed crying baby to go to sleep will not damage her— give him the benefit of the doubt that he was doing his best. In fact, if either of you are to the point of feeling overwhelmed and like you might get rough with her while you handle her, putting her somewhere safe and walking away is exactly the right thing to do.
Most babies go through a phase starting at about four weeks where their sleep hormones are adjusting. They will tend to get these horrible crying jags in the afternoon that gradually ramp up staring at birth and typically peaking at about six weeks. While three-week-olds cry an average of 1.7 hours per day, 6-week-olds cry 2.2 hours per day. The “six week crying peak” seems to coincide with the baby transitioning to the 60-120-minute sleep cycles of the third trimester and newborn stages to a more adult-like day/night sleep cycle.
Before all of this crying is over, you yourself will probably get overwhelmed yourself at least once before your child leaves for college, if not next week, and you will want him to be understanding. And at a certain point you have to trust him and give him space to find his find his own style for caring for your baby, or you will never ever get a break.
If your baby’s been crying for a solid 20 minutes or more, she’s fed, diaper’s clean, she doesn’t have a fever, you’ve walked, talked and sang and tried all of your other tricks, then putting her down in a safe sleeping place and walking away is a better idea than driving yourself into exhaustion. As every experienced parent knows, sometimes babies get overtired, overstimulated, and need some time to settle themselves, and if that’s the case, putting them down and walking away is the best thing you can do for both of you. If you do this, have a snack, drink some water, stay away from the sound for 30-60 minutes. Give her a real chance to settle and calm herself into sleep before you intervene.
It’s also good to know that babies will have a phase of sleep from about 15 minutes after they close their eyes before they’re really in deep sleep. So if you opt to rock or nurse the baby to sleep, you’ll need to hold her for about 15-20 minutes after her eyes close and/or she stops nursing before you try to put her down, or she’ll start squalling again. A good test of how asleep she is is if her arm flops down if you pick it up and let go. If you make a mistake and put her down too soon and she starts crying in the crib, let her settle there instead of re-stimulating her by picking her up for another nursing/feeding singing/pacifier routine. Odds are she will be asleep in her crib in 30-60 minutes and wake up happy with no damage done.
Like this article? Check out the Great Expectations Guide to Baby Sleep!