Thursday, March 12, 2009


Sleeping Through The Night, that is.

My primary goal before I had the Girl was to get her to sleep through the night before I went back to work. Although she is a darling, growing, healthy child - this is my proudest achievement to date.

Disclaimer: There are MANY ways to parent your child and MANY opinions about the best way to do it. The bottom line is this - if you are parenting your child with love and your techniques work for your family, then you are doing the right thing. What was best for my family may not be best for your family. Here, however, is what worked for us.

As background, all of our friends have delightful children. Two in particular, however, had children who were excellent (truly, excellent) sleepers from very early on. They primarily followed the methods described in Babywise and I knew that we would try to make this work for us when we had a child of our own. There is a lot of controversy about this book online. I'm not really sure why - I think the critics probably didn't read it. At the end of the day, books don't make you do anything to or for your child. They are tools to help parents figure things out. You can't follow them blindly - you have to use the information and put it in context with your child and family.

I read Babywise during the middle of my pregnancy and then again closer to delivery. I have re-read parts of it over and over. I have found it to be extremely helpful, along with much of the information on the Chronicles of a Babywise Mom blog. The Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child book was also recommended by several friends and I have found it to be a nice supplement to Babywise. Some of the details are different, but they are overall quite similar and the Healthy Sleep Habits book is more detailed about sleep and covers challenges throughout childhood, not just infancy.

We really started from the first day on focusing to get the Girl to take full feedings. She was SO sleepy in the hospital that this was a challenge. We also didn't "room in" in the hospital. This is a personal preference, but I thought it was better for us to try to get some sleep for 3 days before we came home. The Girl was in our room all day and then in the nursery at night, but still brought back in every 3 hours to eat.

She slept in her room in her crib from the first night home. Our room is only a few feet from her room and we used the monitor and heard every sound, but it helped to eliminate another transition from a bassinet to her crib later on.

I firmly believe some kids are born sleepers and some are not. Fortunately, our Girl is of the sleeping variety. My friends both said that they could tell their children would respond well to Babywise. I had no idea what they meant until we had a child of our own and I figured it out ... you will just know if and when they are ready to respond to some sleep training.

As you might expect, it is EXHAUSTING to get up every few hours with your new baby for feedings. I religiously set our alarm clock to wake the Girl to eat every 2.5-3 hours for the first 2 weeks. She literally NEVER woke to eat during the night on her own (and rarely during the day, for that matter). I realize that this likely made our sleep training easier than for those babies who wake up screaming in hunger, but it was our reality.

Many books and specialists will tell you that "by the clock" feedings should be avoided and that you should read your baby's hunger cues and feed on demand. On-demand feeding was not an option for me: 1) the Girl was not demanding and wouldn't ever eat if I left it up to her, and 2) I didn't want to become a pacifier. I really needed to set a schedule for her because she wouldn't do it on her own. This is not to say that I didn't feed her if she appeared to be hungry and she wasn't due to eat "according to the clock". In truth, I still wake her for most feedings even at 13 weeks old.

Once I felt confidant that the Girl was growing (had regained her birthweight and then some) I let her go up to 5 hours at night between feedings, or whenever she woke on her own. (This is measured from the time you wake them to start feeding until the next time you wake them to feed. This does not equal 5 hours of sleep for you!).

Her first night of sleeping 4 hours was at about 12-13 days, and then her first night of sleeping 5 hours was at about 15 days. Her first night of 6 hours was between 3-4 weeks and her first night of 7 hours was at about 5 weeks, and this is for an exclusively breastfed baby. She certainly went back and forth over time, but I knew we could expect her to begin sleeping longer.

By about week 2 we started following the eat / wake / sleep cycle as best as possible. It is hard to keep baby awake for long at first. We also set her first morning feeding at 6:00am (the time we would need when I went back to work) at about 1 month. It probably should have been done earlier ... I had the Girl on a pretty consistent 3 hour schedule, but it was never the same 3 hours because we woke up at a different time each day. She became much more predictable when our days always started at 6:00am (give or take 30 minutes).

You may not believe it, but you really will learn to understand your baby's sleep cues and figure them out sooner rather than later. (The Girl yawns, sneezes and yelps). As described in both Babywise and Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child, your baby should be taking 1.5-2 hour naps and should not be awake more than 2 hours at a time. Our Girl would never stay awake more than 2 hours. Once I really paid attention, her optimal awake time was more like 50 minutes from the time she woke up until she needed to go back down for a nap. Practically, this meant she woke, fed for about 30 minutes, was awake for about 20 and was back in bed. This awake time will lengthen with age, but we are still at about an hour or an hour and 10 minutes at 13 weeks.

About the time we became consistent with the 6:00am waketime, I worked on actively getting her to sleep when it was time for her to nap. The "5 S's" in Happiest Baby on the Block were useful for this to help to establish the pattern of eating, waking, sleeping.

Our days were great, but bedtime and night feedings became exasperating for me. The Girl would feed great and would appear tired, but would just lay in her crib and NOT SLEEP. We played the game of bouncing, shushing, and replacing the pacifier over and over and over again. She wouldn't scream, but would squawk and grunt and whimper. Before you knew it, you were awake for 2 hours in the middle of the night just trying to get her to sleep and that 6:00am feeding would be right around the corner. My coping skills were wearing thin ...

Now for the controversy ...

I felt the Girl was ready to "cry it out" at about 6 weeks. (For us, this meant allowing crying to fall asleep at naptime and bedtime. We would still get up if she cried during the night to eat, but we let her cry when we put her back in bed to sleep). She had been so easy going and cried very little and really seemed to respond to our schedule. I understand we were lucky! We pieced together a plan that worked for us - started on a Friday night when no one had to work the next day. We planned our naptime and bedtime routine: swaddle, pacifier, rock for 5 minutes, then in bed. We agreed to let her cry 5 minutes and then check and re-plug with the pacifier and walk out. Then 10 minutes, then 15 minutes. You and your partner MUST both be in agreement that this is the right thing and the right time for your family. The crying is hard to listen to and you don't want to cave 20 minutes in. (Note: I did listen to all of the crying rather than leaving to go outside or something. It may frazzle you, but you do learn what the crying means - tired, hungry, mad...)

Girly cried for a total of 1.5 hours the first night, off and on. We also committed to ALL sleeping in the crib from the day we started - naps and bed. I was prepared for a few days of crying at naptime, but she miraculously never really cried when being put down for naps. Her crying at night was always less after the first night, but some nights were better than others. I don't know exactly when it happened, but by 12 weeks (6 weeks after we started) she generally goes down for all naps and bed without a peep. She is sleeping about 9 hours at night consistently.

A few tips:
- If we had the right pacifier for her (see Pacifier post) it might have made the crying even less from the start. There was a lot of crying when the pacifier fell out of her mouth only seconds after we put it in.

- We didn't check her after 5 minutes for long - it seemed to make things worse at times. Ten minutes was about right for her.

- Develop a nap routine and a bed routine that you can stick with. Our routines are generally the same, but we add a book at bedtime. The nap routine especially should be something that is brief and can be done other places, like if baby naps at grandmother's house, for example.

- We initially had rocking for 5 minutes in our nap and bed routine, but cut it out after a week or so. This is such special cuddle time for parents, but I don't think it is as important for baby and you run the risk of training them to sleep ONLY with rocking. My great wise friend suggested rocking when you wake up - genius! Still gives you cuddle time and doesn't interfere with sleep training.

- Despite how I've written it, our Girl is not the perfect child. (She is close to perfect, though!). From close to the beginning her evening nap from 7p-9p was dicey and she would scream and scream and we would end up getting her out of bed and putting her in the swing. My wise friend again suggested we just start with the swing at that time of night to avoid the scene. Swings are OK for sleeping as long as your child doesn't NEED it to sleep. The Girl does fine in her crib at all other times, so this is our solution for now.

At 13 weeks, Girly takes 3 good daytime naps (7a-9a, 10a-12p, 1p-3p) when she is at home. She usually takes a shorter nap in the 4p-6p window and then usually sleeps from about 7p-8:30p in her swing before her last feeding. Then, to bed!

We are blessed.

There are sure to be trials and tribulations to come (weaning from the swaddle and pacifier, for example), but we are all happy and rested for now. Life is good.

1 comment:

Carrie said...

I have entirely too much to say on this topic for a comment. You could do about 20 posts on sleeping.