Bringing Up Bébé: The Art of Doing Their Nights

I can’t believe we are in week two of this book study! We’re reading all about the secrets to babies “doing their nights,” or otherwise known as sleeping through the night – even at just a few weeks old. I was completely fascinated with these two chapters as we learned more about how French mothers not only get their babies sleeping soundly each night, but a key to this feat is something known as le pause.

Join me in welcoming Iryna from We Are Moms as she discusses her thoughts on chapters three and four!

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New to this book study? Join us, and other bloggers, as we dive into learning the ways of French parenting through our reading of Pamela Druckerman’s hit book, Bringing Up Bébé. Find more information and how you can join in the discussion by visiting the book study page!


As a mom of a 2.8 year child who doesn’t sleep through the night, the chapter about baby’s sleep was particularly compelling to me.

doing her nights

When I first read that French kids start “doing their nights” from as early as 6 weeks old, I was stunned. How is it even possible? The talk is not only about some random child who started his all night sleep at a very young age. Pamela Druckerman, the author of Bringing Up Bébé, describes it as a very common experience among French babies.

It is quite fascinating how the author’s method of getting her daughter to sleep resembles my own methods. Since my daughter rarely fell asleep during nursing, I had to rock her in my arms until she would doze off. Then followed the ritual of keeping her in my arms for 15 minutes or so (because according to a theory, these first minutes of sleep are light sleep and you don’t want to wake up a baby before putting her in a crib).

As you can imagine, the routine was far from teaching a child an independent sleep and even further from “doing the nights.”

That’s why when I read the first sentences of kids starting to sleep through the night at 6 weeks old, I craved immediate answers. I needed to know, what are these French parents doing differently and whether I can change my parenting technique to achieve that long awaited night’s rest.

There is one thing, that worths to be mentioned about France. The country is often criticised about its approach to breastfeeding and its very low rates in comparison to other European countries. Many people believe that bottle fed babies begin to sleep better at a much younger age than breast fed babies. So, at first I thought that bottle feeding is the reason behind a good sleep.

But as I continued reading the chapter, the author pointed out that type of feeding doesn’t make a crucial difference in a baby’s sleep pattern. Bottle feeding is not the reason why French babies sleep well. 

wait!

As the author attempts to dig deeper into the sleep secrets, she discovers one small detail, that finally sheds a light on why French babies sleep. And the secret is in a “pause.”

Instead of rushing to a crying baby after every single peep, first, try to carefully listen and observe. Did he really wake up or maybe he’s making noises in his sleep? Does it seem like the baby’s hungry or having a dirty diaper? You just need a couple of minutes to get things clarified before responding.

At this point, it’s important to distinguish between waiting a few minutes before attending to a baby versus letting him cry-it-out. In fact, most French mothers don’t condone the latter method.

As a French paediatrician Michel Cohen, whom the author met in New York, put it: “My first intervention is to say, when your baby is born, just don’t jump on your kid at night,” Cohen says. “Give your baby a chance to self-soothe, don’t automatically respond, even from birth.”

putting these strategies into practice

I finally start to realise, that it might be the reason I was long searching for why my daughter doesn’t do her nights. When she was born, people told me about “the pause”, but I totally disregarded this advice. I responded to every single noise because I thought she was up and ready to play.

There are a couple of reasons why babies wake up at night. One of them is that babies make a lot of noise in their sleep and we can misunderstand these sounds as a demand for food. Another reason is that babies wake up between sleep cycles. And it’s normal if they cry a little bit. If we wait a couple of minutes before responding, the baby will learn how to connect these sleep cycles by himself.

In order to clarify that truth, I went a little further and I joined a Facebook group of French “mamans”. I felt an urge to know if all this information was true. Given that, I explained myself in English, I had only few responders who could understand me and give me a clear answer.

And their answer was: YES! French babies indeed start to sleep through the night early on. Voila!

As one woman described it, – she would wait 2-3 minutes before responding to baby’s cry and then she would go in and comfort him. Her first son started sleeping through the night at 6 weeks old and second at 2-3 months old. 

Isn’t that cool?

breastfeeding

Now, what about breastfeeding at night? Many parents know that if you don’t feed a baby at night, your milk will dry out.

But as a person who dropped night feeds when my daughter was 21 months old and then continued nursing only few times a day for 3 more months, I have some doubts in this theory. In a former Soviet Union, doctors advised against breastfeeding during the night. Therefore, my mom didn’t give me milk at night but successfully kept nursing during the day.

If many French parents don’t feed their babies at night, would it mean they are starving their children and all kids are underweight? I highly doubt that. Instead, the mothers try to tank up their babies as much as possible during the day so that a baby wasn’t hungry at night. Makes sense? It does to me.

What also intrigued me in this educational overview of French parenting is that all kids  follow the same feeding schedule as adults. They have breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon snack. And French see it as a common sense. They start to incorporate a 4 meal day rule at a very young age, as early as 4 months old, gradually easing babies into a schedule.

independence in infants

What surprises me even more is that French children are capable to wait long stretches between feeds without whining or crying.

Feels like these French have perfect babies, who sleep and eat well. But how did they achieve such an unquestioning obedience? It turns out, the secret lies in that same old “pause”.

French parents apply “the pause” rule not only for sleep issues, but for everyday matters as well. If a child wants something that a parent cannot give him right away, the parent will simple say “wait”. And some crying is considered normal, because a child needs to understand and respect that some things cannot be done his way.

French parents expect from younger kids the same discipline as from the older ones and give them a lot of opportunities to learn how to cope with the frustration of not getting what they want.

It’s also important for French that kids could play by themselves. And here I think to myself: Yay, finally, there’s at least something that I can see a resemblance with those parents. I never have a problem to make a phone call or do some other home chores without being interrupted. My daughter can easily play by herself. She learnt that mama can be busy with other chores and cannot play with her all the time.

After reading these two chapters, the whole French parenting thing started to make sense to me. Why didn’t I use these simple yet effective “pause,” and “wait” techniques when my daughter was much younger? I’m confident that the earlier you start these life teaching lessons, the easier it will become later on when your child grows and develops his personality. In my observation in American culture as well as in some other cultures, parents don’t expect much from small babies. French parents instead, take the infancy very seriously and consider it as an important stage to teach important life lessons.

iryna we are moms

Iryna is a lifestyle blogger at www.wearemoms.org and writes about all things that are dear to her heart. She has a major interest in pregnancy/childbirth and parenting topics. Iryna loves good food and gladly shares most loved by her family recipes on the blog.

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  • Thanks Iryna for sharing your thoughts this week! I am all about “the pause” even as a teacher and it’s something I plan on incorporating as a future mom. I found it fascinating that this idea of the pause is directly related to how well babies sleep through the night. It’s another reason I love reading this book so much – everything is interconnected and reliant on each other in order to work. These techniques ARE quite simple and it’s a wonder to my why more moms aren’t practicing these easy tips for more independent children 🙂

    • Iryna

      Seems like a very simple approach that is “a pause” really works for French parents. I don’t think that waiting 2-3 minutes before responding to a cry would hurt anyone. I also plan to incorporate this technique with my second baby. Hoping for the the same great results as French parents have:)

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