According to the book Bringing up Bebe, virtually all French babies “do their nights” (sleep through the night) between 6-12 weeks. Say what? You mean 6-12 months? No. You heard me the first time.
How do they do it? The author, Pamela Druckerman, credits what she terms The Pause. The Pause essentially is crying it out. Not the Ferber-style crying it out of possible hours of screaming and vomiting that might be necessary if a child misses the four month window of learning to “do her nights” the French way. The Pause starts at birth and involves listening to a baby cry in the night for about 5 or 10 minutes to determine whether the baby is really so hungry and uncomfortable that she just can’t go back to sleep, or whether with a little time on her own she just might be ready to learn to connect her sleep cycles. That means instead of flying into the nursery 4 times each night, mommy pauses and listens and lets her baby try to fall back to sleep. Just like Druckerman, I’d heard this advice before, but mostly as a side note suggestion, not as the be all and end all of teaching a child to sleep.
Druckerman credits the whole French nation with knowing what most of us in America only learn when we start reading a bunch of baby books, i.e., that all people go through a number of sleep cycles during the night with brief waking periods in between. As adults, we wake up, then fall right back to sleep, usually forgetting the waking periods ever happened. In order for babies to get a full night’s sleep, they need to learn to fall back to sleep after each cycle.
But what if the baby is hungry? Well, everyone’s hungry in the night. The question is really whether the baby is too hungry to fall back to sleep. If that’s the case, then of course, the French mother will feed the baby.
Wait, you say, French women don’t breastfeed. Of course their babies sleep longer stretches and “do their nights” earlier. The most dramatic study Druckerman cites, however, actually involved only breastfeeding mothers.
The treatment-group of mothers were given instructions with a few rules to follow from birth or the first couple weeks of life while the control-group got no instructions.
Some of the rules:
1. In the evenings do not rock, hold or nurse the baby to sleep. Put the baby down drowsy but awake.
2. From the time the baby is one week old, if the baby wakes and cries between the hours of midnight and 5am, reswaddle, pat, rediaper or walk the baby around and see if the baby will go back to sleep. Only if the baby continues crying after that should breastmilk be offered.
3. From birth, mothers should wait to determine whether the baby is really crying or just whimpering or making noise during the night. Babies are not to be disturbed unless they are fully awake and truly crying.
Says Druckerman, “at four weeks old, 38 percent of the treatment-group babies were sleeping through the night, versus 7 percent of the control-group babies.”
Not too shabby. But wait, there’s more!
“At eight weeks, all of the treatment babies were sleeping through the night, compared with 23 percent of the control babies.”
Eight weeks? All of the babies. Even the collicky milk-sensitive…. All? Pardon my French, but “Dang.”
Now, The Pause only works to painlessly settle your child into “doing his nights” if you start early. By four months, sleep habits have developed and sleep-prop dependencies (addictions to the pacifier, to nursing-to-sleep, or to endless rocking) may have to be broken.
There are a lot of things about the French way of parenting that are just not for me, but believe me when I solemnly vow that if I should ever have another baby (Yes, I realize having more than two or three children is considered vulgar these days), I shall Pause and she shall do her nights by 8 weeks.
Note: In fairness to Druckerman, Bringing up Bebe is not a guidebook to French parenting any more than Battle Hymn is a guide to Chinese parenting. Bebe is a largely ambivalent exposition through memoir of the differences between French and American parenting including everything from socialized medicine and socialized daycare to swimming lessons and getting the kids to stop throwing food on the floor. I may throw in some other tasty tidbits from the book as I leisurely make my way through it.