Are you struggling with how to get your baby to sleep through the night? Healthy sleeping habits are vital for his/her development as well as the well-being of your whole family.Vivian Sonnenberg, a baby sleep consultant with more than 25 years of experience helping babies all over the world peacefully sleep through the night, will talk about common sleep myths, the biggest mistakes parents make when they try to implement a sleep schedule and share tips to help you help your baby to sleep through the night.
Full Interview Transcript
Kelly: Today, we’re here with Vivian Sonnenberg, a pediatric sleep consultant with more than 20 years of experience teaching babies all over the world how to sleep. Her advice has been featured on various news programs including Good Morning America. Today, we’re going to talk about common sleep myths and she will give you tips that help you help your baby sleep through the night.
Vivian, thank you for being here.
Vivian: Hi, Kelly. Thank you for having here.
Kelly: Of course.
Vivian: I really, really like to talk about sleep training, as you know, I did your two!
Kelly: Yes! You tremendously helped me with both of my children and I wanted to talk to you about it further. Can you tell us how you got into sleep consulting?
Vivian: Sure, I really like that. I took care of newborns for about 14 years back-to-back. I was super popular, love, love, love the babies. I have a passion for the babies. So sweet, and they’re so innocent and they need us moms to teach them, I feel strongly about that.
Just because of the way I was and being calm and loving babies were sleeping through the night at eight weeks, minimal crying. But that’s after taking care of newborns for a long time until I really got it. Then gradually, the moms started referring to other moms and to the Golden Gate Mom’s Group and I just went from one group to the other. Gradually it became so big, the sleep training, that’s all I do now. I’m very successful with my program, but we can talk about that later. So that’s how it all started. Now people call me from New York, from Chicago, from London. I did Australia, Spain, Italy, so fun, all over the world.
Kelly: That’s great! So, what is the typical number one problem that people call you with?
Vivian: I see the number one problem as being the babies are over stimulated, there is zero schedule, the babies get over tired and they start crying, and then the moms start worrying. The longer the baby is awake, the more he cries. So there is definitely a schedule I’d recommend to the moms to keep the baby calm, especially a newborn. The more you fuss with the baby the more it cries.
Yes, you love your baby. Yes, you hold your baby. But when it’s time to go to sleep, calmly you put the baby to bed. I’m very big on that. I always say no rocking, no bouncing, no talking a few minutes before the baby goes down.
It doesn’t really matter what the age. I mean, when they’re much older of course you can sing a song, you can read a book but a newborn, no.
Kelly: At what age typically do people call you? At what age do they come in for help?
Vivian: Well, at this point some moms call me when they get home from the hospital and I work with children up to three years of age that have never slept through the night. Babies that sleep with their parents and awake every two hours, toddlers that jump out of bed, toddlers that get out of bed or that don’t want to go to bed until ten o’clock at night or even later. The younger you start the easier it is, without doubt.
Kelly: Why is sleep so important for cognitive development? What are the implications if they didn’t get enough sleep?
Vivian: When they’re little, they cry more. They don’t eat well and they just don’t play. They just whine and cry. When they’re older, it’s the behavior, definitely their behavior. They’re wild, they jump, they throw, they scream, they have temper tantrums. People think, “Well, it’s just the age.” But most of them don’t really sleep enough. So, toddlers still need to sleep a lot.
Kelly: So, everyone has an opinion, especially the people who have kids, on how to get your baby to sleep through the night. Is there a one-size-fits-all to that approach?
Vivian: Too many opinions. I’m not a genius of any sort but after doing this for so many years, I can’t say one-size-fits all because it depends on the mom, it depends on the baby, the age, but in general if you’re asking do all babies have to cry to go to sleep? Yes. Sooner or later you’re going to have to do a little bit of tough love.
Kelly: And why is that? Because you hear about these other methods and their solutions – e.g. such attachment parenting, I mean, do those work too? Do those ultimately work in getting your child to sleep?
Vivian: Most parents before they call me they have tried some of those programs. They never worked. Or, they worked for a week and then they start waking up again. But really, really effective permanent is if you teach them how to sleep on their own.
Kelly: And that involves…
Vivian: Involves a little bit of tough love. The more the parent goes in the baby, the more the baby cries. I don’t want to say anything about any method but there’s a method that you go in every ten minutes, every 15 minutes, calm the baby, mommy’s here, daddy’s here, pat, pat, pat… two hours later, or 45 minutes later you’re back in there. But if you let the baby self soothes, it sleeps.
Vivian: No schedule.
Kelly: Should a mother feel guilty for letting their young baby cry a little bit to self soothe? I know it’s sort of controversial but wanted to hear your thoughts.
Vivian: Kelly, as a mom and as a grandmother now we always feel guilty. Every mom will feel guilty about everything, but 20 years from the time that she sleep trained the baby that baby that growing up is not going to say, “Mom, I hate you because you sleep train me.” It will be something else but there’s no damage. Pediatricians have said the same thing, no damage emotionally or physically if a baby cries a little bit.
Kelly: So, tell us your secret. How do you get a baby to to sleep through the night?
Vivian: So, I start with the nap, because naps are very difficult for little babies. They don’t sleep or they sleep in the swing or in the rocker. I start early in the morning with the first nap. Babies are so brilliant. They learn super fast.
So if you do a calm, putting to bed, cry a little bit, depending on the age of the baby, by the evening it’s already better. So many babies have actually slept through the night the first night. If the mom does it properly, within five nights the baby sleeps through the night.
The naps are hard because usually they go in strollers, in the car, in the bjorn, walking, walking, bouncing or no nap.
Kelly: Are some baby just better sleepers than others or does it or is there a technique or principle work on all babies?
Vivian: it’s the mom, it’s definitely the mom.
Kelly: And how is a mom play a role? Why the mom?
Vivian: It’s being nervous, which, I understand being anxious about hearing her baby cry. But it works every time. Is there any damage? No. So I’ve seen this a lot — a mom that says I’m okay with some crying, she says I just go and clean the kitchen or make dinner or have a glass of wine. Those are the moms that are very successful.
The mom that worries, worries, worries, it takes a little bit longer and it takes more encouragement.
Kelly: So, it’s very quick.
Vivian: Super fast, super fast.
Kelly: So, the younger they are, the easier, the more they sleep through the night and just happier?
Vivian: Yes. I just did a baby still working with her in Washington D.C. One night, two and a half months, he’s sleeping through the night.
Kelly: One night, he’s sleeping through the night? Wow. Let’s talk about the routine — I know we said something about the crying but there has to be more to this, it isn’t just straight letting them cry a little bit there’s a whole method, right?
Kelly: Can you talk about it?
Vivian: So the first day, like with the mom that had them in the swing, in the stroller, or lap must now put the baby to sleep in the crib or wherever he sleeps at night but not in parent’s bed and not in the rocker.
The second night, second day and thereafter, they can always go out in the afternoon. But the first two naps are always the easiest ones, all babies.
Kelly: You’re saying that they if they don’t take a nap then, they’re not going to sleep at night? So, the daytime nap is a really important key to this whole thing. What about the moms who don’t want to be stuck at home and go out?
Vivian: Absolutely they could go. The second day they can go out at 1:30 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon. At the beginning of training it has to be a discipline. So, Kelly, when moms call me and they said, “You do the cry out method?” I said, well, there is some crying involved but I call it a discipline because if you’re not disciplined and respect your baby’s needs until it sleeps properly for 12 or 14 days then it’s in a habit of sleeping fine and you can go out for dinner, you can go to nap, you can go to friends. But then the next day you always have to get back on the schedule.
Kelly: So you’re saying the calm thing is really important. Why can’t you put them in a swing or to bouncy chairs? Why do you not advocate for any external devices that helps them sleep?
Vivian: Yes of course. It helps them sleep but it doesn’t produce good sleeping because as soon as the swing or the stroller stops, the baby wakes up. The other thing is if the baby sleeps in the stroller all day then at night it doesn’t really know what to do in the bed.
I’ve had babies that had slept 24/7 in the swing and the stroller but according to old time pediatricians, that’s not very healthy.
Kelly: Right because it affects their movement.
Vivian: Yes, the movement, and always sitting and always on their back. It’s just not a good thing. It’s better for them to be in their bed calm, move however they want to move, definitely.
The other thing is that I believe a baby being toasty like if they’re cold, cold feet, cold hands, they’re not that comfortable sleeping. Not sweaty but not cold. And, as you know, I do not believe in swaddling.
Kelly: Yes, why not swaddling? Because there is a method that you’ll read about that they wrapping a tight swaddle and they fall asleep?
Vivian: Because I find that if you swaddle them for three, four, or five months I’ve heard of one baby that has been swaddled for one year, they don’t have mobility and they at some point their arms are going to go flying all over their place. So again the sooner you let them move or let them be just like or with their little hands up, they’re totally fine.
I don’t believe in swaddling, except for the first few weeks, but I always swaddle with little hands up.
Kelly: Right, it just helps their movement. Now, you’re talked about being more natural but I wonder why do babies came to cry a little bit to sleep? Why is that?
Vivian: Because from the moment that they’re born, I feel they go through so much trauma, you know, birth, putting in eye drops, and diapers, and learning how to nurse, and they start crying. It doesn’t mean they’re unhappy but they’re very instinctual so you know that as soon as you put your baby on your tummy or on your chest, it falls asleep, tummy to tummy, so happy. No issues. But he’s on his tummy. Nowadays we’re not allowed to put them on their tummy but babies are very instinctual, they know. They know everything I feel.
Kelly: So having done this for 20 years you’ve obviously seen a lot of babies grow up. Do you see any cognitive differences in kids who learned to learn to sleep well from the beginning versus those who didn’t’?
Vivian: Yes, definitely. So the moms call me sometimes for baby number two, baby number three, and they tell me, maybe I don’t see them but they say, Vivian, so and so is so calm. Sleeps so well, actually wants to go to sleep when he feels tired and just great. Can you help me with two or three? I’m actually going to third, they have three girls? But when I see them, the child that sleeps well, it’s just a very calm, happy, little toddler, plays for much longer than the other ones. It also has to do with how much stimulation they get.
So the child that has grown up with maybe two or three toys versus 75 toys actually plays better. Anyway, they are calmer and they’re just happier. They look better. Oh, the other thing is a tired baby in general is kind of pale. As soon as they start sleeping, they get really rosy cheeks.
Kelly: So you’re saying the difference that you see are mainly the calm it’s not necessary how they do academically or or socially if they learned to sleep early?
Vivian: I feel that even academically they go to school or pre-school they just mingle better because Kelly sleeping is not just about sleeping. If the mom is really religious about the sleeping throughout the little young years she’s also religious about maybe discipline and the times they eat and what they eat. So that’s also very important, what they eat, when they eat, even for a newborn. How often do they eat?
I heard parents like at six months said, “Whoa, yes, he ate yesterday but I didn’t have time to feed today.” Then, I say, “Well, how would you feel if you didn’t eat today?” I mean, we have to be as I always say respectful of our baby’s needs and our toddlers.
Kelly: Let’s talk about the routines and just giving them structure early on, which I know is very important for them to thrive.
Vivian: Absolutely, super, and they love it. They actually love it because if they’re out of control then that’s a little bit scary.
Kelly: So, any other tips that you can share for a new mom that’s not getting any sleep up all night?
Vivian: When moms call me when they come home from the hospital, I recommend, even if they don’t hire me, to be calm and try to stay with good habits. Like, if you put your baby, the newborn on the sofa, then on the chair, then in the swing, then in the rocking play the baby never knows where it’s actually supposed to sleep.
Kelly: Then what about like you have mentioned something in the past about circadian rhythm. For example, when you bring a baby home can showing them daylight how kind of set their rhythm for sleeping?
Vivian: I don’t’ believe that the moms or the families have to buy dark shades. I feel that if you train a baby, like a baby a newborn baby can’t really stay up more than maybe 45 to 50 minutes’ maximum before it starts crying again. But that changes pretty quickly. Like a two months they can stay up an hour and a half or so but the signs are very, very predictable. They start kicking more and whining and eeh, eeh and moving more.
Then, at four months it changes again like they stay up longer. But if you go past that time then I call them jet-lagged babies and then they’re over tired, cry, cry, cry. Mom thinks, “Oh, he’s not tired.” Cry, cry, cry. Stimulate… yes.
Kelly: Because it’s harder to put them down if they’re too tired.
Vivian: And then it’s very hard to get them to bed. Toddlers that go to bed maybe at ten p.m. still will wake up at five or six in the morning.
Kelly: Oh, wow. Is it because of the light or because…why?
Vivian: I have no idea why 99% of babies wake up whether eight weeks or two years, five o’clock in the morning. You know that.
Kelly: I know it well.
Vivian: But there’s ways that I stop that.
Kelly: To help them sleep longer.
Vivian: Yes, absolutely.
Kelly: So no matter what time they go to bed, even if later, they still wake up no matter what just because?
Vivian: It’s worse. A little baby that goes to bed at nine, a six months old baby that goes to bed at nine that you hope they would sleep at least until eight or nine, no way.
Kelly: The more sleep you get, the better they sleep.
Vivian: Sleep begets sleep. That’s one thing that I learned from all the books that I read because I did— it’s a whole long story but I did read them all and I went blah, blah, blah, no good. But Weissbluth is a good book and it talks about sleep begets sleep.
Kelly: What’s the name of the book?
Vivian: Weissbluth. Well it’s called “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.”
Kelly: Is that a book you’d recommend for people to pick up?
Vivian: If they want. It’s the only one that makes sense. But it’s written, I mean, it’s a little confusing but it’s a good book. I haven’t gotten to my book yet.
Kelly: Yes, you need to write one. Any other resources or information that you could recommend to people to get more advice on how to help their babies sleep at night?
Vivian: I see too much, too much online, too many books, that’s the reason that even though so many clients said, “Vivian, write a book, write a book.” My family wants me to write a book. I really haven’t gotten to because I feel that the one on one, every mom is different. Just to read another book is— nobody wants to read a book.
Kelly: I don’t have time to read a book.
Vivian: And they don’t have to read a book and certainly don’t read online because everything is contradicting.
Vivian: Like the four months’ regression.
Kelly: Yes, if we can go back into that. Is there such a thing as sleep regression?
Kelly: You hear about these moms who their kids are sleeping so well and all of a sudden at eight months they’re getting up. What’s that all about?
Vivian: So the problem is Kelly that it’s possible. You know, a baby has a bad dream at eight months. It was uncovered or something she woke up or her up, mom goes in to see what was wrong. Nothing was wrong. The next day the baby will do the same thing, will wake up again. So then that’s when the Mom says, “Okay, buddy. There’s nothing wrong,” settle down.
These things like travel, like big travel, time changes, that would disrupt the baby and not things like not teething, or growth spurts.
Vivian: A newborn, a little baby grows every single day. So I don’t buy that one day they had growth spurt. But there are what I call, bumps on the road. If they are sick, of course you take care of them. But I mean, sick, not just teething. Teething is not sick. Tummy aches, you know. Then of course, you take care of your baby. But as soon as it’s well you go back to the same thing.
Kelly: Great. Is there anything else that you wanted to mention that we haven’t talked about?
Vivian: I love the babies.
Kelly: The Moms are the best important influence.
Vivian: Mom is the most important, or Dad.
Kelly: The dads, yes.
Vivian: Yes. I have two Dads that I love that are fantastic fathers.
Kelly: Thank you so much for being on the show today. Your advice was great. Can you tell people more where they can find more information about you?
Vivian: Yes. They can go on my website, viviansonnenberg.com and I reply very quickly.
About Vivian Sonnenberg
Vivian Sonnenberg is a pediatric sleep consultant with more than 25 years of experience solving sleep issues for thousands of babies all over the world. Her goal is to have your baby/toddler develop consistently good sleeping habits. For more information, visit: www.VivianSonnenberg.com.