Getting Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night: Part 1 of 2

I was pregnant with our now 7-year-old daughter when we moved from New York to Singapore for our jobs. At the time, I thought we were crazy to move around the world while expecting our first child. I was petrified of going to a foreign country where we barely knew anyone. As it turns out, it was one of the best experiences of my life. I plan to write more in future posts about parenting and education in South East Asia because it truly excited me. For now, though, I’ll just say that were it not for living in Singapore, I probably wouldn’t have heard of The New Contented Little Baby Book.

Written by Gina Ford, a U.K. based author, nurse and parenting educator, The New Contented Little Baby gives a step-by-step playbook for getting your infant to sleep. Her books, which advocate a strict schedule of eating and sleeping, are wildly popular (and massively controversial) in Europe and Australia. I credit this book with making parenting less stressful and more enjoyable for me. It truly changed my life and I’m sharing it here in case it helps other parents in the same way.

Finding The Contented Little Baby by Gina Ford

Our babies weren’t born “good” sleepers. At 12 weeks old, our daughter was breastfeeding constantly and sleeping only sporadically. My husband traveled internationally most of the time, so during the week, I was largely on my own. I was tired and cranky. One day, an Australian friend mentioned a book called The Contented Little Baby. I had read a ton of baby books already and never heard of it, but at that point, I was so desperate I would have tried just about anything.

Thinking back, the way my friend mentioned the book was in a slightly derisive way, as in “those crazy mums that stick to a Gina Ford routine”. But this sleep-deprived mama loves a schedule, so I pushed my daughter in her stroller straight to the bookstore.

The premise of The Contented Little Baby is like a lot of other baby books. Be consistent. A calming bedtime routine helps. Babies work well in a cycle of eat, activity, sleep. What was so different about this book is that Gina Ford outlines exactly when, how and for how long babies should eat, play and sleep. I loved the prescriptiveness and started implementing the routines immediately.

Implementing the Routine

Within a couple weeks of starting the Gina Ford method our daughter was taking regular naps during the day. She was also waking less often at night. When she’d wake during the night, it was only briefly to feed and she settled back to sleep quickly. During the day, she seemed calmer and happier too. This was a good start!

Six weeks after starting the Gina Ford routine (at about 5 months old) our daughter was sleeping through the night (from 7pm to 7am). I was finally sleeping more too! We traveled a lot during this time and still stuck with the routines. In fact, our daughter could go from Singapore to Detroit or Hong Kong to Australia with minimal jetlag or disruption to her sleep. I can’t say the same for myself.

We also started to understand her cries. I don’t mean this in a hokey baby-whispering kind of way, but we could look at the clock and tell you why she was crying. If it was 10:15am and she hadn’t had her milk yet, chances were it was a hunger cry.  Nine times out of ten, we could figure out the issue on the first try. This parenting thing was starting to feel a little more manageable.

Why and I So Obsessed with My Kids’ Sleep?

I’m pretty passionate that my kids a) get enough sleep and b) sleep at predictable hours. My reasons are three-fold:

  1. It’s the right thing for their brain and body development. There is so much research demonstrating the benefits of sleep (and the detrimental of lack of sleep). Sleep helps regulate brain function, attention span and maintain a regular body weight. It also has protective benefits against many diseases and health conditions. Like teaching good eating habits, I believe it’s my responsibility to teach good sleeping habits.
  2. We need this time for our marriage. Life with kids is busy and hard. Often, I feel that my husband gets the short end of the stick when it comes to my time and energy. Since our kids go to bed early (and stay sleeping), we can usually find a little time most evenings to be together.
  3. It gives me time to myself at the beginning and end of every day. I use this time to work out, invest in personal projects, catch up on paperwork, or mostly, just to veg in front of the TV or read a book. When our oldest was a baby, I used the time to complete my master’s degree.

Seven Years Later

Today, my kids, ages 7 and 2, are in bed (their own beds) from 7pm to 7am. We’re stretching our daughter’s bedtime a bit later as she gets older, but we still try to get her in bed close to seven and let her read for a while longer. In the mornings, our toddler wakes at 7am, but waits patiently in his crib, talking or singing to his stuffed animals, until one of us gets him up. Gina Ford works, ya’ll!

The Downsides of a Gina Ford-Type Sleep Routine 

To be fair, there are some drawbacks of such a strict routine. For starters, getting the routine down takes some hard work and discipline, or at least it did for me. Second, there was definitely some crying-it-out, but it was in a gentle, safe way. I can share more on that, but I assure you, there weren’t hours of red-faced crying. Third, this is pretty structured approach that’s not for everyone. I have friends who don’t own a watch and hate having a plan for the day – Gina Ford would drive them insane. Finally, there were days when I doubted the process and myself, but we kept with it.

Clearly, the Gina Ford method isn’t the only one for raising a good sleeper. And I can’t swear it’s even the best one. It’s just the one that worked for us.

A Dad’s View

The biggest challenge, though, was getting my husband on board with the idea of following the routines. It wasn’t that he doubted the book, but rather that he didn’t always “get” the method. In the early days, he’d rush in at our daughter’s first whimper or want to play when she was supposed to be sleeping. I just kept repeating a mantra that teaching our kids how to sleep well on their own was the best thing for them and us. Thankfully, things eventually clicked and we had a good sleeper on our hands!

Now, when new dads ask for advice, my husband says two things: 1) read the Gina Ford book and 2) have a lactation consultant on standby. As he says, people invest a lot of time thinking about strollers and baby swings, which is all well and fine, but lack of sleep and problems breastfeeding can be really rough, especially for a new mom. Get professional help.

That’s on teaching good sleep habits and my love of the Gina Ford method. Check out this related post for Part 2: 10 Tips for Getting Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night.

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