“I can’t survive without sleep” – Anyone without children.
We think it’s true but any parent knows that you CAN survive without sleep.. mostly because you don’t have a choice.
While I was pregnant Mike sat me down and in a very serious tone told me that he needed sleep. He wasn’t sure about much going into parenthood but he was sure about that. So we (I) researched and read many different sleep training methods and picked out parts of each method that we liked. We also knew not to get too attached to any idea we had because we didn’t know our baby yet and to find a good sleep training method would require us understanding who she was. Regardless of how we did it, for Mike to function as a partner, or even a human, sleep training was happening in our home. Despite all the opinions that were going to come our way about it.
My labor and delivery was really the initial test if I could survive without sleep. The answer was… yes, but barely.
I had a 28 hour labor and by the time I finally got to sleep after L’s delivery, family visitors and the constant parade of medical staff, I had been awake for 45 hours!
That time in the hospital, I was a total zombie and Mike confessed to me later that he was worried I seemed so disconnected from L at the time. Really I was just EXHAUSTED, too exhausted to feel emotions. More tired than I’d ever been and while I finally got a couple hours of sleep with L in the nursery, it was not uninterrupted. Medical staff was coming in to check my vitals every three hours (they had her in the nursery for 5 hours) and the hospital beds inflate and deflate on their own every couple minutes. Mike was literally bribing the hospital staff to discharge us. He even made a donation to their charity hoping they would speed our discharge up! Needless to say, we had never been more happy to be home when our stay was finally over.
Here are the steps we took in sleep training:
It’s worth noting L was bottle fed (I exclusively pumped) so that generally helps babies sleep longer stretches. Right off the bat we were lucky because she was sleeping 3 or 4 hour stretches at a time.
First, from the very beginning naps during the day were done in the living room with the TV and lights on. We would talk and move around freely. Night time sleeping was done in our bedroom, in the dark, with a noise machine on. This helped regulate her circadian rhythm which helps them recognize night time as the time for deep uninterrupted sleep.
Next, starting at about three weeks we would keep her up between 5pm and 8pm. We would do our best to just have exciting things going on, family visits, cooking dinner, dancing to music, etc. When she was tired and full she would sleep longer stretches.
She would fall asleep on my chest and then I would move her to her Rock N Play that was right next to my bed. Around 12 weeks she stopped sleeping well in there, so I transitioned her to a Lula-Go Bassinet and the transition went better than i would have imagined because she was, in her own way telling me she needed more room to stretch out, which this bassinet gave her.
It was around the same time that we stopped holding her until she fell asleep and would let her “cry it out.” I put that in quotes because she didn’t cry much. Due to the fact that we were keeping her up in the late afternoon until bedtime, she was usually really tired and able to fall asleep faster. We would lay her on our chest as usual and wait to put her down when she was ALMOST asleep and it was more like “fuss it out.”
It is really important to be on the same page with your significant other too. We were both on board for sleep training and gentle cry-it-out methods from the beginning. But for parents 5 minutes of crying feels like an eternity. It is not easy and definitely not fun but be in it together. For me, every difficult situation is easier with Mike around, he can ALWAYS make me laugh as a distraction to whatever is going on. This method worked for our baby because she is easy going, flexible and just plain happy. If she was more anxious or colicky this may not have worked for her, she may have found it harder to self soothe and if that was case we may have done 3 minute intervals before going in to gently soothe her.
It was hard to listen to our sweet little baby cry, the most important part was listening to her type of cry and reminding ourselves that she was tired. She was fed, changed, and comfy and for the most part it was mainly her expressing what goes through my head every night while I lay in bed, “I don’t want to fall asleep, I just want to be asleep.” Then there was the “something is wrong” cry which was distinctly different (this cry was very rarely heard). Experience helped us differentiate and when she needed us we were always right there. It was sooo worth it for us in the end!
It was around this time that we introduced Topher so she didn’t feel like she was completely alone and we have a noise machine the projects stars on the ceiling so she always knew she was home and safe, even when she couldn’t see the familiar room. I also held her and sang to her the same song every night right before we put her down so after a week or two, she recognized that this song was a cue for sleep and wouldn’t be totally surprised when she was put down. Some nights she would protest when I started singing her bedtime song but after she saw I was not giving up, she would usually relax and put her head down on my chest after the first verse.
I have always heard/read that a routine is what works best for babies. Many people do baths with lavender scented soap to calm their little ones as part of bedtime preparation. We personally didn’t do a bath as part of our routine at the time because she was home all day with me most days and we didn’t feel a bath everyday for an infant was necessary. If she had gone to daycare, we probably would have added it in to our routine!
L was sleeping through the night around 2 months. She did have regressions here and there which is completely normal. There were plenty of nights I spent up all night watching her sleep because I could only get her to sleep on her belly over the Boppy, or in the swing (both which are not safe if she is not being monitored.) Her sleeping patterns change during the time of year as well. During the summer she didn’t go to sleep until 8:30pm because of how late the sun goes down. Now that winter is here we are trying again to make her bedtime a little earlier.
L is currently going through her 21 month regression. She almost never wants to nap but I continue the routine. She usually fusses and protests for at most 20 minutes before falling asleep. Some days she whines for 20 minutes and then just plays in her crib and after an hour I will go get her. We find it important to listen to our little girl’s needs but also maintain a normal routine because these sleep regressions are temporary, normal and part of growing up and brain development. So she still has to try to nap during the day. It’s like when you were little and your parents would say ” just TRY to go to the bathroom before leaving the house.” You would fight them and then try and would almost always end up going. Well, L almost always ends up sleeping.. Mama knows best!
She absolutely does not want to go to sleep at night either lately so we have been working on adjusting her bedtime routine to work better for her. So, nighttime baths have been added to her routine. Partially to calm her and cue that bedtime is coming but also because she is also older now so playing at the park or with other children, we feel a bath is needed to keep her crib dirt and germ free. We no longer allow screens after dinner because she gets overstimulated and can’t wind down as well. We turn most lights off after 6:30pm, just enough to read books stays on. She still gets one bottle before bed, Topher, her sound machine with the projector on the ceiling, and every night I still sing the same song to her before bed.
Even when she was very little I found it important to remind myself regularly that she is her own person and I have to listen to her and try and decipher her messages to me. While I am no expert, I do have baby who is pretty kick ass at sleeping and I think Mike and I staying united while also gently adjusting to our baby’s needs and personality has been a big (if not the main) reason for her sleeping success.
23 month update: For the past month, after reading a couple books and playing in low light we ask her “Are you ready to take a walk to your room?” Having her walk herself to her room instead of carrying her has provided a sense of control for her. Mike and I alternate who puts her to bed each night so she will kiss and hug whoever is not putting her to sleep and take the others hand to walk to her room. We then read two books; one of her choice and Good Night Moon, before holding her and singing a song. I am incredibly PROUD to say that she has been laying down in her crib and going to sleep, no crying! Beyond proud mama here!