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Baby Sleep the French Way

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Recently on Instagram, I shared about a book called Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. The author is an American woman who is living and raising her baby, known as Bean, in France. She shares about all of the differences between American and French parenting; it is very interesting! Druckerman wrote a whole chapter on sleep and I asked my followers if they would be interested in me writing a summary/review of that chapter, sharing how the French handle their "bebe's" sleep. An excited 94% said yes! So, without further ado...

Chapter 3 is titled Doing Her Nights. This term is synonymous with our American term of "sleeping through the night." It's simply a baby who no longer wakes at night to eat and is able to sleep all night without needing any intervention from the parents. Druckerman's findings about when a baby starts sleeping all night is very interesting: most babies start "doing their nights" much earlier in France. At first, she thought it was a fluke, but the more and more moms she spoke with, the more she realized this is simply the norm there.

I talk to French parents about sleep, too...They all claim that their own kids began sleeping through the night much earlier. Samia says her daughter, who's now two, started "doing her nights" at six weeks old; she wrote down the exact date. Stephanie, a skinny tax inspector who lives in our courtyard, looks ashamed when I ask when her son, Nino, began "doing his nights." "Very late, very late!" Stephanie says. "He started doing his nights in November, so it was...four months old! For me it was very late." (page 41)

The author shares many other similar stories about how all these French babies began sleeping through the night much earlier than she's used to. In fact, these moms were surprised when she told them that some babies in America don't start sleeping all night until a year old or later. I briefly shared about this on my Instagram and one mom messaged me saying, "How?!"

What's maddening is that while French parents can tell you exactly when their kids began sleeping through the night, they can't explain how this came about. They don't mention sleep training...And they claim that they never let their babies cry for long periods...Most insist that their babies learned to sleep long stretches all by themselves. (page 43)

Druckerman shares a few more stories and some general tips she learned from her French mom friends, but she still isn't sure what the "secret" is to how all these babies are sleeping through the night so early. Then she went back to America for a visit, specifically to Tribeca in NYC.

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Still intrigued from the topic of baby sleep, she started talking to moms in NYC about it too. To her surprise, she found quite a few American babies who slept well early without any formal training, just like the French babies. She learned that these moms were all seeing the same well-loved pediatrician- you may have guessed it- a French man!

So she made an appointment to go see him to find out what he was teaching these moms to help them get their babies to sleep through the night much earlier than most other American babies. This is when she learned about "the pause." In short, he taught these moms to pause when their babies wake in the night, even from birth.

I realize that I've seen French mothers and nannies pausing exactly this little bit before tending to their babies during the day. It hadn't occurred to me that this was deliberate or that it was at all significant...Could this explain why French babies do their nights so early on, supposedly with few tears? (page 47)
He says that using it [the pause] very early on makes a big difference in how babies sleep. "The parents who were a little less responsive to late-night fussing always had kids who were good sleepers, while the jumpy folks had kids who would wake up repeatedly at night until it became unbearable." (page 47)

Once she gets back to France, she starts talking to those same moms whose babies were all doing their nights so early, asking them if they practice "the pause."

Every single one says that, yes, of course they do. (page 49)

The rest of the chapter talks about other general tips she received and observations she made about pausing, which also spills into the following chapter where she talks about other areas of parenting that "the pause" tends to impact. It seems that this is something French moms just intuitively do. They pause and observe their babies before attending to them, both day and night.

This is actually a concept I talk about in my newborn sleep e-course. Not specifically a French pause, but just the notion to give your newborn a simple moment to see what happens before you respond to every cry, especially in the middle of the night. Babies are naturally noisy sleepers. Sometimes a parent may respond to normal squirms, fidgets, and noises that, if you instead give your baby a moment, may not actually need your attention. My course teaches how to do this without ever letting your baby cry or do formal sleep training, which I don't recommend for newborns.


So, what do you think of "the pause" and the idea that it's just the norm in other countries for babies to sleep through the night by the end of the newborn stage? Comment below and let me know!

I really enjoyed this book overall, not just the part about baby sleep! It's very interesting to read all of the differences she found between American and French parenting. I also enjoyed her writing style and even just gleaning what it's like to live and raise children abroad. Add it to your reading list!

~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant

Ashley Bell, Little Bell Sleep Solutions, Pittsburgh sleep consultant, 5-star sleep consultant

Need solutions for your child's sleep troubles? Find out more information about my Sleep Training E-Courses or Individualized Services and get healthy rest for your whole family!

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