Book Review: The Happy Sleeper

I finally hit the wall and decided to sleep train RJ. For six months I slept in the same room as her (usually with her in the crib and me in a bed). But finally I felt too exhausted to continue waking and feeding her every two to three hours. I had also read that the best time to sleep train was before 8 months because that’s when separation anxiety starts. And I also know people who didn’t sleep train and have 2 year olds who don’t sleep through the night. I realized I was not cut out for this.

I found this book at the library after I had already ordered Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West on a recommendation from my Nurse Practitioner. Since I got my hands on The Happy Sleeper first, it became my go-to sleep training method. Good Night, Sleep Tight is gathering dust somewhere after I briefly flipped through it after it arrived in the mail.

The Happy Sleeper though, I flip through it almost every second day.

Here’s how the Happy Sleeper training method works (spoiler alert!): you have a consistent bedtime/naptime routine, put the baby in her crib, leave the room, and let her cry for 5 minutes. After 5 solid minutes of crying, you go in and recite a verbal reassurance script, then leave the room. The key to this method is consistency. The theory is that the baby will detect your pattern and know that you are close by. If you break the pattern (e.g. by breaking down and picking the baby up out of the crib to cuddle her) you will just be providing “intermittent reinforcement”. This is the same principle that makes gambling so addictive…

Full disclosure: this is a Cry-It-Out (CIO) method. It differs from Ferberizing because in the Ferber method the time interval between room checks changes. Good Night, Sleep Tight is also a modified CIO method that involves sitting in a chair next to the crib during the crying and then progressively moving the chair out of the room in stages.

The Happy Sleeper book contains much more information than just this method. It contains a lot of information based on sleep research about sleep cycles and how to create positive sleep associations and encourage self-soothing. The authors argue that children’s sleep problems are caused by over-parenting. By continuing to feed/rock/etc. your baby to sleep once they are able to learn how to self-soothe (around 5 months), you are preventing your baby from developing the skills that will help them (and you) get some quality shut-eye.

The CIO method in this book is sort of a last resort for people like me who didn’t know all the content in the other chapters about how to develop good baby sleep habits starting at birth. This book has separate chapters on sleep for 0-4 months, 5 months-2 years, and 2 years and up.

Having to resort to a CIO sleep training method is painful as a parent. This book did a good job at presenting research that helped give me the confidence to be consistent in this method. There was even a sidebar in the book with mantras to repeat to yourself when the baby is crying. For example,

I want my baby to go to bed feeling confident in her ability to get comfortable and fall asleep on her own.

Now, close to two weeks into this method, I feel that this has been happening for awhile already. This book has improved my life a lot. RJ seems to be just as happy and fond of me as she was before we did sleep training, if not more so. Being less sleep deprived and having some free time in the evening has noticably improved my mood, thus improving my relationships with my spouse AND with RJ.

I plan to buy a copy of this book and hope that if I have another baby I can use the sleep principles in this book to help that baby be a happy sleeper too.

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Review: The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook

Baby-led weaning seems to be a trendy thing in the mom-o-sphere right now, so I took this book out of the library. It isn’t hugely different than the booklet I was given about starting solids that is produced by the provincial health authority (see link for .pdf access). The main difference food is never puréed in baby-led weaning (BLW) and the baby feeds themselves with their hands (so the parent never spoon-feeds the child).

It sounds intriguing, but it also sounds messy. The authors admit that it is, and suggest laying a plastic sheet over the floor under the highchair. A more serious concern I have about this method is that I’ve been told that at 6 months a breastfed baby has depleted iron stores and needs iron-rich foods. Hence the advice to start feeding a baby meat and iron-fortified baby cereals first and then move on to other foods.

My perceived problem with BLW is that the book suggests that the first few months of solids is for exploring foods and that the baby may mainly play with the food, perhaps chew it and spit it out, not actually consuming very much of it. So how would I know if RJ is getting enough iron for her growing body?

This book does have some tasty-looking recipes for the whole family (because another principle of BLW is that the entire family eats the same thing) and useful advice about how to cut foods into shapes that are easily handled by a baby.

After flipping through this book I decided to give RJ a chunk of solid mango. I was nervous that she might choke, but as this book points out, a baby’s gag reflex is closer to the front of their mouths and babies will frequently gag when eating new foods: it’s very protective for them. RJ gummed the mango and swallowed some impressively big chunks. And things looked pretty well processed when they came out the other end. So it was an interesting experiment.

Ultimately though, I’m planning to continue feeding her iron-fortified baby cereal. She’s also had some jarred baby food, mashed tofu, banana, mashed avocado, and minced chicken so far. I am hesitant to feed her table food because of the recommendation that babies avoid cow’s milk until they are 8-9 months old, and many of our adult foods contain dairy products. Also, I tried giving her scrambled eggs a few weeks ago (as both the provincial booklet and the BLW book recommend) and she developed hives. So I don’t want to feed her anything with eggs in it for awhile. I hope she grows out of her egg sensitivity because eggs are great. On the other hand, I was a vegan pre-pregnancy so I am confident that I could run an egg-free household pretty easily if I needed to.

RJ's hives
RJ’s hives