Book Review: Sleep: The Brazelton Way by T. Berry Brazelton and Joshua D. Sparrow

Sleep is one of those things that I think each family has to figure out for themselves. Hundreds of rigid programs exist, but few (none?) are worth following to the letter. Because every baby is different. Every parent is different. Every situation is different.

I used to think I’d never bring a baby into my own bed. I value the intimacy of sharing a bed with my husband (only) too much.

Then we brought home a preemie who would only sleep on Daniel’s chest or mine. We’d trade off nights, Daniel staying awake on the couch with her on his chest, then me taking a turn. Except we got so exhausted with the routine that we were falling asleep with her on our chests. And whatever your views are on the safety of bed-sharing, there can be no mixed opinions about sofa-sleep sharing. It’s dangerous.

We didn’t feel comfortable with her sharing the same surface. I was pumping and fortifying breastmilk to be fed by bottle at that time – and that thing about exclusively breastfeeding mamas being biologically more in tune with their babies and non-exclusive mamas not as much? There’s good scientific evidence for it – and it held out in our experience. I totally could have rolled over on her. We got a guard rail for the bed and a box for her to sleep in next to me (against the rail). Once we were exclusively at the breast (and Tirzah Mae was growing too large for her box), we tried on the bed directly – and there was never a fear that I’d roll over on her. We were physiologically bound, cycling through sleep together. I was aware of her, yet not losing sleep.

But that didn’t mean I was willing to give up and just be a bed-sharer. At the beginning of March, I made getting her to sleep in her bassinet a goal. It was hard work. No longer right next to each other (I placed the bassinet at the foot of the bed), getting up with her became more disruptive to my sleep. It was easier to nurse and then fall asleep together without having to stay awake to put her back in her bassinet after nighttime feedings.

Then I started reading Sleep: The Brazelton Way. There are plenty of things I’m uncertain about regarding Brazelton’s “method” (he seems to think that spacing out feedings during the day helps a child sleep better at night, which I don’t understand philosophically and don’t really agree with nutritionally), but one thing in the “four month” sleep section ended up being an epiphany to me. Brazelton suggested that parents try “patting” their baby back to sleep during nighttime wakenings, not getting them up to eat. What? I thought. Tirzah Mae might not be hungry, might not need to get out of her bassinet at nighttime? I tested it out, patting her when she awoke during the night.

About three-quarters of the time, patting was enough. She settled back into sleep after minimal fussing – and I could go back to sleep too. The other quarter of the time? If she didn’t settle or started to cry, I got her out and fed her. Sometimes I stayed awake to put her back in the bassinet, sometimes I didn’t. But she was on her way to independent sleep.

**Regular readers will note that Tirzah Mae’s sleep took a turn for the worse at the beginning of April. That was majorly disruptive and she was NOT able to be soothed with patting. Now that she is sleeping better and is in her crib in her own room, she awakens much less frequently but generally needs to be fed at those awakenings.**

I have since finished Brazelton’s short volume (114 pages), in which Brazelton addresses a variety of sleep issues (that we aren’t dealing with).

Do I recommend Brazelton’s sleep program? No, I don’t. But I think I will recommend his book. Because I think that coming up with a sleep program that works for your own family involves collecting ideas and occasionally letting your assumptions be challenged and experimenting to find out what works for you. Brazelton’s book is a generally non-extreme resource for coming up with ideas and challenging assumptions.

Rating: 3 stars
Category: Baby Care
Synopsis: Discussion of a baby and young child’s sleep patterns and how parents can deal with common sleep issues.
Recommendation: Useful as a source of ideas, not particularly for a comprehensive “sleep program”.