Sleepless in San Antonio
I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but after 10 weeks worth of sleep deprived nights. Olivia is finally sleeping in her crib. And she's not just sleeping willy nilly. She's sleeping through the night. That's right. How you ask? Well after sending out a plea of desperation on Insta Stories. My friend Lauren from college recommended the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. I immediately ordered it on Amazon and devoured it.
You may be thinking, well I have a two year old who won't sleep. His methods can work as early as 6 weeks old all the way through adolescence. It's never too late to practice good sleep habits. I for one am a terrible sleeper while Derek can literally sleep anywhere, so instilling these habits in your child will help them into adulthood.
Now in this book there are several methods for getting your child to sleep through the night. The most drastic of which is very controversial among parents, but has the quickest results. And being at about our wits end, I was ready to go to the extreme with our baby girl. What I'm about to tell you may make you cringe, but before you judge us for being terrible heartless parents. I'll be the first to say that it worked, and she was sleeping through the night in her crib without a peep within five days. When I say "through the night" I mean that there is still one nighttime feeding. However, by night three she was sleeping for 8 hours straight before her night feeding. And now every couple of days she'll go 11 hours before waking up to eat.
Here's what we did.
Understanding Sleep Queues
This book stresses that parents are often selfish when it comes to keeping their babies awake. Either from being away at work and wanting to soak up those precious moments when you get home, or being too distracted with the TV, phone, other children, etc. to recognize that your baby is giving you visual signs that they are tired. These queues are your typical sleepy signals: yawning, rubbing eyes, staring off into space, sighing, sucking on hands, etc. Once you notice one or a combination of these signals, it's time to stop what you're doing and start your bedtime routine. You want to ride this wave before their second wind comes along and they are overtired (crying, fussy, unable to soothe, etc.) It's kind of like how you want to feed your baby before they are hungry to avoid the meltdown. Once you've mastered this you will easily know when your baby is ready to go to sleep whether its bedtime or nap time. You should rely on your baby's sleep queues not a clock.
Establish an Early Bedtime Routine (and Be Consistent)
We aim for around 6:00pm. I know this is very hard for working parents, but what is even harder is a baby that cries all night. Obviously it's still super light out this time of year, so we installed these blackout shades that we pull down during naps and bedtime. Your baby will naturally learn their circadian rhythm and start to differentiate day from night (or naps from bedtime).
Our daily bedtime routine goes something like this:
5:00ish - turn the lights down low and close the shades
5:00 - "last call" feeding
5:30 - bathtime
5:45 - fresh diaper, clean onesie, sleep swaddle (more on this later)
6:00ish - lights off, sound machine on, start soothing, nighty night
We practice this method every single night regardless of where we are. Babies love routines. However, sometimes we have an event where we have to stay out past her bedtime. The book stresses that pushing back her bedtime will cause serious havoc on their sleep that night and the next day. So far (knock on wood) we haven't found this to be the case, but we also don't abuse this. If we do stay out "late" we will get home by 8:00pm at the absolute latest and start the bedtime routine.
Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe
One of the 1,000 things I never knew about babies, until reading this book, is that they have to be taught how to sleep. When they are in the womb they are naturally rocked to sleep all day when you walk around. All warm and comfy. However, on the outside they need complete womb simulation in order to sleep. So after the first sleepless night (when she was about 5 days old) we made the mistake of bending over backwards to do everything we could to recreate this womb-like environment for her. Which resorted to her being swaddled in Derek's arms as he rocked her to sleep on the sofa. all. night. long. We made him a pillow nest that was encouraged by our pediatrician for "safe sleeping", and every night he would hold her while she sucked on his finger listening to white noise. Snug as a bug in a freaking rug.
The book explains that you want to soothe your baby to a point of a "sleepy but awake state". So many parents put their babies down asleep and then scoop them back up the second they start crying (guilty). However, if you put your baby down asleep they will never learn the skill of self soothing. Therefore when they wake they will cry and cry until someone soothes them. What is self soothing? All babies differ, but in our case Olivia likes to suck on her little fists and rub her cheeks until she falls asleep.
Enter the most amazing baby product ever invented.
The Magic Sleep Swaddle to End All Sleep Swaddles
Disclaimer: this is not sponsored by Love to Dream, I really am just honestly obsessed with this product.
So swaddling is fine and dandy if you have a good sleeper (or if your baby isn't a swaddle busting ninja). However, if you're like the rest of us your baby will never learn to self soothe if their hands are pinned down at their sides. So you can either swaddle them with their hand up by their mouth, or just get one of these. I've never met a baby product that has worked so well so quickly. This guy does what it says it will do to the point where Olivia will immediately start sucking on her hands (we call them flippers) the second I start putting it on her. We implemented this on the third night which is when she slept for a solid 8 hours without waking. Before that the longest she would sleep on her own was 3 or 4 hours tops.
Okay enough stalling. As I said earlier, the book provides several different methods for getting your baby to sleep through the night after you have put them down sleepy but awake. And as I mentioned before we went with the harshest method with the quickest results.
Okay here we go. Are you sitting down?
After you put your baby down sleepy but awake you leave the room, close the door, and don't go back into the room until they wake for the middle of the night feeding. Yep. You let them cry it out. How long? For as long as it takes. This was worse than childbirth. Derek and I literally had to stop one another from caving and rescuing her. We didn't watch the baby monitor, we put a movie on and pretended to watch it. But as the book states, you are not hurting your baby by letting them cry. You are hurting them by depriving them of sleep.
Here are our results:
Crying: 70 min (I know. Bare with me.)
Sleep: 3hrs - feed - 3hrs - feed - 2hrs
Crying: 60 min
Sleep: 4hrs - feed - 4hrs
Crying: 32 min
Sleep: 8hrs - feed - 3hrs
Crying: 20 min
Sleep: 8hrs - feed - 4hrs
Crying: 10 min
Sleep: 9hrs - feed - 3hrs
Crying: 15 min
Sleep: 6hrs - feed - 5hrs
Crying: 5 min
So yeah. The first two nights are rough. But as you can see from our results there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And now when we look at the monitor we just see our little girl sleeping soundly in her sleep swaddle. In her favorite position. Her head jammed up against the crib railing. Go figure.
For her night feedings there is minimal stimulation. This is not social hour, it's a "business feeding". When Olivia wakes I turn on the hall light, go into her room leaving it dark. I turn down the sound machine to it's lowest volume. I pick her up, kiss her cheek, change her diaper, zip her back into her sleep swaddle, and feed her in almost darkness with just the hall light creeping in. Afterwards I turn the sound machine back up, I burp her, kiss her again, lay her back down, and close the door. Even from the first night of training she immediately fell back to sleep after her night feeding.
Regular Napping with Limited Wakefullness
Another thing I didn't know is that babies require A TON of sleep. It varies by age, but even at 3 months we're talking about 16-17 hours a day. So with her average of about 12 hours of nighttime sleep, this still leaves 4 hours of sleep that has to happen during the day. At the beginning she would automatically sleep during the day with little to no soothing. But now with there being so much to see and do, I have to soothe her pretty heavily before each nap.
Here is our typical schedule:
5:00 am - wake / change / business feeing (pretend it's still nighttime)
5:30 am - early morning nap (I usually sleep during this)
8:30 am - wake / change / business feeding
9:00 am - mid morning nap
9:30 am - wake / change / greet the day / feed / activity
11:00 am - early afternoon nap
12:30 pm - wake / change / feed / activity
1:45 pm - mid afternoon nap
2:45 pm - wake / change / feed / activity
4:00 pm - late afternoon nap (optional)
4:45 pm - wake / change / feed / bath
6:00 pm - bedtime
She tends to sleep for about 40min to an hour during each nap, so at the end of the day we hit that 16-17 hour mark of sleep, which is the goal. At first I had her in my arms for all of her naps other than the early morning nap. But as each week has gone by I've slowly transitioned each nap to the crib and now she's 100% sleeping in the crib.
Have Confidence That a Well Rested Baby is a Healthier Happier Baby
After the second day of training we immediately saw that we had a completely different baby. Rather than screaming bloody murder when she awoke (even in her daddy's arms), she quietly chatters to herself until you walk into her room, and then gives you THE biggest smile. She is happy and alert all day, when before we were terrified to even take a phone call, go out in public, or have company over in fear that she was just going to start screaming. To this day she never cries after waking up. She barely cries when we put her down, and if she does it's usually because she's over tired and we missed her sleep queues. I'm not saying this is a fool proof method, but after seeing results almost immediately, I felt selfish not sharing our experience.
Note: I am not a sleep expert, you should definitely read this book before attempting anything especially if you have an overly fussy / colicky baby. Also, a lot of people (guilty again) resort to the stroller, car rides, etc. for sleeping. Which is fine and dandy for short naps. But as the book states this is not quality sleep and shouldn't be a crutch. You won't see real change until your baby get's solid and sound sleep.
Has anyone tried a similar method? What worked for you?