Baby and Toddler Sleep Problems: ‘Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child’ by Dr Marc Weissbluth, the book that changed my life!

'Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child' by Dr Marc Weissbluth

‘Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child’ by Dr Marc Weissbluth

 

I shall start by saying that not only is every child different, but every parent has different views and convictions that a book is unlikely to change. Plus solving toddlers’ sleep problems is much harder than preventing them as it demands a very consistent approach that not all parents are willing/capable to implement. So will this book work for you? I hope so. It helped Disorientata and since she has kindly mentioned Dr Weissbluth and Whatsbestfor in her blog, I have written here a bit more about it.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr Marc Weissbluth was first recommended to me by two of my good girlfriends (Eva and Stephanie, I will be always very grateful!). After 12 weeks of ‘not sleeping’ I felt exhausted and unhappy. My first baby had been very colicky right from the day we came home from the hospital. I have always been a 7-8-hours-a-night person so, with an average night of about 3-4 hours of interrupted sleep, I was not in good shape. I became more and more determined to find a solution. I had heard of many children that don’t sleep till they are 5/6 years old and that idea really scared me. My friends said Dr Weissbluth’s philosophy worked even with colicky babies, so I tried. I have to say It worked for both of my children, even if they had very different issues.

Why This Book Is Different

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child was first published in 1999 and has been a bestseller for years in the USA. The author is the founder of the Sleep Disorders Centre at Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital, is a Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the Northwestern University School of Medicine, a pediatrician and sleep researcher with 30 years’ experience.
With hundreds of sleep books on the market, this is different because it is based on clinical research. The material presented is not ‘just an opinion’ but is accompanied by a long list of references and citations, which I find very reassuring. The book is divided into three parts. Part I is about why sleep is so important, what constitutes a healthy sleep pattern and typical sleep problems and solutions. Part II is about the sleep problems that may arise within different age ranges – this covers from age zero to adolescence. Part III deals with special sleeps problems (night terrors, nightmares, sleepwalking for example).

What He Says (but there is much more!)

1) Not addressing and fixing a baby’s sleeping problem can cause a number of serious issues in later life.
2) Baby’s sleeping problems do not go away on their own. Studies show that sleep behaviours developed in infancy tend to carry over to toddler-hood, childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
3) Healthy sleep habits do not develop automatically and, most interestingly, parents can help or damage the development of healthy sleep habits!
4) There are common mistakes parents make to get their children to sleep (from taking the baby out of their cot, feeding them late at night, putting them to bed late, arbitrarily cutting their naps etc) and these can be easily avoided.
5) To prevent is easier than to fix so: a) start early, although not before 4 months of age; b) get Dads involved, c) learn the rhythm of your baby and put him to bed when he is drowsy. To fix a sleeping issue may or may not involve some crying, but interestingly prevention doesn’t in general involve crying.
6) You have to choose your own way. Rather than prescribing a one-size- fits-all approach, it is up to you to observe your own child and try to adapt your bedtime routines and patterns until you find the ‘magic window’ where the child falls asleep naturally and with very little crying.

Counterintuitive Findings

1) Earlier bedtime (as early as 6pm) will not cause the baby to wake up earlier in the morning. On the contrary the baby will likely sleep better and later. ‘Sleep begets sleep! This is not logical but it is biological’ – see page. 280.
2) After 4 months, naps of less than thirty minutes don’t help. Try to have naps of at least 45 min. See page 42.
3) A 3 years old that still naps won’t sleep less at night. Also children who miss naps will not make up for it by sleeping more at night. See page 24

Good Tips

1) This is a book worth reading before your baby is born; you will be more alert, less exhausted and will avoid making the typical ‘mistakes’ that all of us first time parents do/did.
2) Over the course of the book there are many, highlighted in-a-box ‘practical points’. When you feel too tired to read the whole chapter just skim over those boxes. You will still learn a lot.
3) You don’t need to read the whole book. Even the author advises to at least focus on the Introduction and Chapters 1, 2, 4 and 5. I personally got a lot out of Chapter 6 (months 5 to 12).

Negatives

1) Overly long. There are 457 pages in the book, which is a bit overwhelming especially for an overtired parent.
2) Not so easy to read – many stats, references and a somewhat repetitive book. I did not manage to read it all but I concentrated on the sections (and examples) that pertained to my daughters’ age. I continue to use it for reference every now and then.
3) Some criticise Dr Weissbluths’ philosophy because he advises to let your child cry. I disagree. He points out that responding to a baby’s crying is very important till the baby is four months old. But then a parent needs to learn to distinguish between ‘need crying’ and ‘protest crying’. Protest crying at bedtime (at night and nap time) will not cause permanent emotional problems. On the contrary the capacity to be alone and soothe themselves is a critical learning step in a child’s development.

 

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  1. #1 by happy baby on November 2, 2014 - 15:38

    magnificent put up, very informative. I wonder why the other experts of this sector do not understand this.
    You should continue your writing. I am sure, you have a huge readers’ base
    already!

  2. #2 by Tanya on April 25, 2014 - 08:26

    thank you! I have it on order from Amazon!

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