Not for the Faint of Heart
New parents, babies and sleep. The ultimate trifecta of complete confusion and hopelessness for some. When will my baby sleep through the night? Will I ever get more than 2 hours straight of sleep again? How do I survive and be the best parent, spouse and human I can walking around in a state of extreme exhaustion? So many questions, so little answers.
These last 2 weeks have been such a learning experience “crib training” River. I don’t want to call it “sleep training” because I don’t really think that’s what we’ve been working so hard to accomplish. Yes, sleeping better and for longer is a part of what we are doing but our initial goal was to have him be comfortable in his crib. We started him in a rock-and-play that then led to co-sleeping until he was 4 months old. I do not regret letting him sleep with us. We enjoyed that time with him and let’s face it I needed SLEEP! It just was no longer working for us. We needed our marital bed back and I just sensed, even though I think he felt comfort by being close to us, he wasn’t getting the rest he needed. Thus our decision to get him in that adorable nursery we worked so hard on began to take shape.
I had no idea where to start…except to just put him in the crib and see how it went. I had done so much (Google) research on what books to read about sleep training but was getting a little overwhelmed with the all of the choices. I reached out to my sister-in-law because I remember her going through the process with my nephew 6 or so odd years ago (where does the time go?) and although I am sure they have their challenges, he is a good sleeper and I vaguely remembered that he was always in his crib as a baby. She gave me the recommendation of the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby by Marc Weissbluth, M.D.
For the most part I really learned a lot from skimming different parts of the book. It does get a little bogged down on statistics of sleep habits from children over the last few decades…I don’t really care that babies were sleeping longer 20 years ago, I just want to know what I can do to make my baby sleep now!
But let’s rewind back to 2 weeks ago to the day. River and I just got back from being snowed in in North Carolina with my dear friend Brittany and her 1 year old boy Sawyer. We had SO much fun and enjoyed the little impromptu vacation with the beautiful scenery but we had just spent 6 days sleeping together with his head directly in my cleavage all night long…I was creating a monster!!
And So it Begins
We get home and it’s time. No more delaying. The first night was incredibly rough. He did not want to be put down alone in his crib. No matter how many ninja moves we tried after we were able to console him back to sleep he would scream bloody murder after we tried to lay him back down in his crib. I am pretty sure we were up at least every hour to an hour and a half with him. Man it was rough. But we weren’t going to give up. The first week went by and he would wake up a little less after each night with a few exceptions of some setbacks. River would fall asleep by 9 p.m. wake up anywhere between 11-12:30 then again at 2 a.m. and every 2 hours from then on until early morning. I kept asking myself…why are we doing this?! Is it really getting any better?? But I had to digress. I knew it would be worth it in the end. Right?
Side note: I am sorry but he is just too young in my opinion to “Cry It Out” and I just couldn’t rip the band-aid off, so to speak, and leave him like that when we were the ones who had allowed him to be so close to us while he slept since he was born.
It was after the first night that I downloaded the book Bianca recommended. I dove in head first looking for answers. Here are 3 major points I took away from this book that have helped us tremendously.
- Napping is Key: So I figured out that he may just be “overtired” from not napping well during the day. Seems like a catch-22 but apparently if babies are too tired they do not sleep well. River has been a “cat napper” from about 2 months old. Unless it was just a fluke, he never really napped for more than 20 minutes. What I took away from the book is that a baby around 4 months old needs to be getting at least 14 hours of sleep in a 24 hours period. We were nowhere near that number. On day 2 I started to make sure we had an actual nap time routine. Whether we napped together or I put him in his crib I wanted to put him down about every 2-3 hours to nap. That equated to a late morning nap, early and late afternoon nap (so at least 3 a day) but making sure he didn’t nap any later than 5:30-6. Weissbluth mentions that napping in different places seems to be o.k. as long as they are getting the rest they need. When I would lay down in bed with him and let him nurse to sleep he would nap for about 2 hours! Yay! Especially on rough nights that we didn’t get much sleep. When he would be in his crib he finally started getting about 45 mins in for a nap. I will take it 😉
- Routine, Routine, Routine: While I have always known this about babies, since he was born in September, we were constantly traveling and visiting family all over Georgia/Florida through the holidays. Nothing was routine. So no matter how much we love to travel and be on the road, when I got back from North Carolina, I told Luke that no matter what we were staying put for at least a month in the best interest of our child. We’ve been out and about during the day but have made sure we were home every night to go through bedtime routine and put him in his crib. Although it’s not the exact time every night we have got in the routine of anywhere between 7:30-9 he is down and asleep. We eat dinner, one of us does bath time, reads a book or two then I swoop in, nurse him and he is out like a light!
- Nursing to Sleep is O.K.: When Bianca mentioned this to me about the book I immediately knew this would be beneficial to us. Most other sleep training books I had skimmed were saying it’s a no-no to let them nurse to sleep…well I am sorry this is just what has worked for us from the beginning. Breast milk has natural levels of serotonin so how can it be so bad that a baby would naturally want to fall asleep after nursing? I also had let him “side nurse” while we were co-sleeping so I mean, he was REALLY used to needing it as a comfort thing not just a hunger thing.
So we are now rounding out our second week of working on this crib sleeping thing. It has definitely gotten easier as time goes by. Last night he officially slept from 9:30 p.m.-4:30 a.m. This was one happy mama I tell ya! I still woke up at midnight & 2 a.m. naturally as my body was just used to it but was able to go back to sleep after I checked to make sure he was o.k. Tonight I can really tell he is comfortable in his crib. I was actually able to lay him down in a tired state instead of completely asleep and he went on to sleep on his own (seriously proud mama). Another small thing I changed that has made a HUGE difference is that I turned his night light thing off. I thought he was “scared of the dark” but I think I was just scared for him. Not being able to see us and arouse him back to full awake state has helped those moments when he may just need the pacifier and a calm presence to help him drift back to sleep.
So in a nutshell this is our “routine” that has just…worked (finally):
- First thing was to make sure we had sufficient time to keep at the training. No traveling or disruption from our routine was very important. Yes, life happens but I did what I could to control every aspect of navigating his success in becoming a comfortable sleeper.
- Napping 3 times a day. Even if it’s not always for as long as you think it should be those 3 naps are crucial for us.
- Keeping bedtime standard as far as a window of time, bath time, low lighting and minimal stimulation as we prepare him for sleep.
- When he cries for more than 5-10 minutes we do go in the room to offer a pacifier or rock him if he is inconsolable or I nurse him if I feel like he needs it.
While Luke and I are in no way professionals when it comes to this and most of the stories I read about “sleep training” people would rave about it only being 5-7 days and the baby was where they wanted them to be. It took us 2 weeks but I feel very accomplished and am proud of my little man for being strong and sleeping in his bed. Let’s face it…it’s the little things in life that add up to be big things and they are just so precious when they sleep!!