Sunday, 9 August 2015

Sleep: You're doing it wrong

STTN.  EASY.  PU/PD.  NAPS.  CIO.  A whole bunch of letters that all spell the same thing: your baby is sleeping wrong and it's your fault.

After Q was born, I actually felt a whole lot of guilt whenever other moms would ask me how things were going.  They had that knowing looking in their eye that said they were expecting me to tell them how exhausted I was, and the last thing they wanted to hear was that Q was sleeping so much we had to wake him to feed.  Even as he got a little older, he'd sleep pretty much anywhere: in his carseat at a restaurant, while being passed around at a family reunion, and even in the audience at my dance recital (complete with blaring music).  At night, his favourite place to fall asleep was on M's chest after I gave him his last nursing session.  While I joked that this was probably a bad habit to get into and that we were creating a monster who would never be able to sleep anywhere else, I couldn't begrudge M the cuddle time with his baby after he'd been away from him all day at work.

Well, those chickens have come home to roost.

You rang?

Things started to go sideways somewhere around the 3.5 month mark.  Instead of falling asleep on the boob and being easily put down in his crib for naps, Q started waking the second his head hit the mattress and then requiring long sessions of rocking/walking/bouncing/patting to go to sleep.  Other sure-fire sleep inducers like the swing and stroller lost their efficacy as well.  Rather than falling asleep the second we started moving, I began having to take longer and longer walks to get Q to drop off.  And no matter what, he pretty much always woke up within half an hour.  Finally, my worst fear was realized when his nighttime sleep started to suffer too.  No more waking only once or twice to feed.  Now he was up at seemingly random intervals, as many as four or five times a night.  I was forced to admit that the dreaded four month sleep regression was likely upon us.

Then we went on vacation to Maine, although the word "vacation" doesn't really apply when you're stuck with a chronically overtired and overstimulated baby who is thrown into unfamiliar surroundings and is missing half of his usual sleep props.  Only once or twice did we achieve peaceful-baby-napping-under-the-beach-shade status, and more often than not we spent large amounts of time pacing the floor in our tiny beach rental trying to soothe Q for a nap in his Pack 'n Play.   I decided that when we got home, one thing was called for: sleep training.

Of course, because I spent all my money buying a baby because I'm a cheap bastard I wasn't about to actually buy any books on the topic.  All of that shit is on the internet now anyway.  I soon discovered what all of my experienced mom readers probably already know, which is that there are a bunch of techniques and pretty much no one agrees with anyone else except on a few key points.  Namely, that a baby Q's age should only be awake for a maximum of two hours at a time, and that I should be aiming to put him down "drowsy but awake" so that he could learn to fall asleep independently.  Here's what else I learned.

Things I'm doing wrong
  • Letting him stay awake too long
  • Nursing him to sleep
  • Rocking/walking/bouncing him to sleep
  • Getting him to sleep using his swing
  • Getting him to sleep using his stroller
  • Getting him to sleep using any kind of movement whatsoever
  • Taking him into our bed when he wakes at 6am so I can snag an extra hour of sleep
Things I'm doing right
  •  Nothing, basically

In a fit of panic that I'd already screwed Q out of having any kind of normal sleep schedule, I spent the next week trying to fix things.  I established a daytime schedule of feedings, awake time and naps.  I tried to anticipate Q's sleepy times and dashed him upstairs to his nursery at the slightest yawn or eye rub, and often even before then as the magical two hour window of awake time closed.  I refused to nurse before naptime, instead trying to create the elusive "drowsy but awake" state through other soothing techniques like songs and quiet time.  I laid Q down in his crib awake.  I let him fuss a little to see if he'd put himself to sleep, and when he didn't I'd pick him up and soothe him a little and put him back down.  

And my happy little boy, who barely cries at all, started crying with an intensity I'd never seen before.  Not just a few times or for a little while, but essentially any time I walked him into his room and closed his blinds.  It felt like whatever I was doing had basically made him afraid of being put into his crib to sleep, which had never been a problem before.  On top of which, none of it was working anyway!  Forcing him into his crib (instead of his swing or stroller) meant that he was getting maybe 30 minutes of naptime, if he would fall asleep at all.  By the end of one particularly horrible 90-minute nap attempt, M came home to find both of us in tears.  I was frustrated beyond belief and felt like a huge failure as a mother, since I was supposed to be making things better but obviously I was only making them so much worse.

Out of total coincidence, later that same week a local infant program that we attend was having a public health nurse in to speak about baby sleep and routines.  I steeled myself for a huge debate on sleep training techniques, and then asked my question about how to get Q on a better routine and make sure he was getting the sleep he needed.  And do you know what surprised me?  Almost every mom there (many of whom are parents of older babies and hence have been going through this a lot longer than me) said the same thing: just do what works.  If that was the swing, swing away.  If it was the stroller, lace up your sneakers.  The nurse chimed in as well with a comment that struck a chord.  She said to keep in mind that "baby sleep" has become an industry unto itself, so there's a lot of effort put into making parents feel like they need to buy into a specific program to help their child sleep.  And yet no one can agree on exactly how to do it.

It struck me then that for the better part of a couple of weeks I'd been stressing myself out about how Q was getting to sleep rather than focusing on just making sure that he was getting to sleep.  I was so pig-headedly sticking to my schedule that I'd totally stopped watching his cues and just listening to what he needed.  So I quit.  I took Q for a two hour long walk in his stroller the next day, and what do you know...he slept 1.5 hours of it.  We were both a million times happier.  That night, he only woke up once to feed.  It felt like he was thanking me.

I won't say that I won't try sleep training again at some point in the future.  And I've taken some tidbits to heart, including trying to make sure that I get Q down for a nap before he gets overtired, and attempting to put him down drowsy but awake.  If it's not working, I'll switch it up, and just do what works.


  1. I'm glad I read to the end of your post, as I think I'm doing just about everyone of the wrong things. Many years ago, I baby sat for my cousin's son and I rolled my eyes when she reviewed the page long bed time routine ("Read a story while you give him is bottle, stop the story when he stops drinking...put him down, pat his back three times...) It really was that detailed. We didn't follow it to the letter, and no surprise, he wouldn't go to sleep and we had to repeat the whole routine, taking it more seriously. Thus, I didn't bat an eye, when Myrtle took her daughter outside to say good night to the moon as part of her bed time routine (she obviously read 'Goodnight Moon' one too many times...) Maybe there was something about the cold Autumn air in Connecticut. Again, whatever works.

  2. Oh baby sleep... Paloma was the same. Great sleeper in the beginning and started 30-45 minute naps around 4 months. I found that the maximum awake time always worked great for us. It meant she always took 1 more nap than was recommended, but whatever...

    Now that I'm on the other side & looking at baby #2, the one thing I know I'll do again is spoil the hell out of my baby doing whatever it takes to keep her happy and rested.

  3. Ahhh the old baby sleep only advice is to do what you think is best. But if it gets to a point where Q is not sleeping at all and you are going insane you may need to look at a few of the tough love measures. We ended up doing CIO over two nights at about 12 months old. She started sleeping through after about a week and occasionally woke up (sometimes a baby is going to wake!) Molly is now three and comes down to sleep in my bed probably 2 out of 7 nights. One of those I can put back easily and one I usually let her stay just because.

  4. I need to echo your last point: no matter who you are, just do what works. Ever person on this planet sleeps differently. Night owls vs. early risers, side vs stomach vs back, total quiet vs background noise, sound sleeper vs light sleeper,etc, etc. So why would we expect infants to fall into a prescribed plan?

    Sounds like you have a system that is working for you. Keep doing it until it doesn't work anymore (hoping that is "never") and then find what works best for you. But I think the new acronyn is JDWW.

  5. The internet made me crazy when I was trying to figure out all this sleep stuff! It took us a looong time to find anything that worked, so I'm glad you've got some tricks you can use! Trying to put an over tired baby to sleep is definitely a million times harder, so just keep doing what works for the three of you (until it doesn't anymore--sorry, but it'll probably happen).

  6. Thanks for sharing - I can relate to so much of this, but I never worked up the energy to try any actual sleep training, so I'm glad to read your conclusions now. And so sorry about those rough 3 weeks! SB has defied the no-more-than-2h-awake logic since she was a few weeks old, so I can't even go with that. It has become more important to create a calm environment for her though - initially she'd sleep anytime, anywhere, but starting from 4-5 months she became so interested in and distracted by anything going on around us that I needed to take her to a quiet space for both nursing and sleeping (which for us go hand in hand anyway). She's a light sleeper and will wake up after 20-30min most of the time. Hang in there! I hope the stroller trick keeps working for a long time.

  7. Babies and sleep are theeeee most stressful things and I honestly think it's because of what that nurse said- how baby sleep has become an industry in and of itself! Sounds like you are doing a great job for what works for your baby and you!!

  8. There are so many theories about babies and sleep- not to mention you can hire sleep consultants to help you as well! I was worried because I always nursed Izzy to sleep and we didn't always put her down drowsy but awake...but it worked and she is a rockstar sleeper. Just do what works for you guys!!

  9. God, I don't even know what most of those acronyms mean, and after reading your post, maybe I don't want to. Managing these tiny humans can be so difficult. We're too young for any schedule or sleep routine, but I am already stressed about what we're going to do. We did just get two night in a row of 6+ hours of solid sleep, so my new approach is just to treat every day like the last two days and hope that it's more than a two day trend.

  10. Oh, I can so identify with this. Honestly I've avoided reading almost everything about sleep or any parenting books exactly because they make me feel like I'm doing things wrong. I do believe that when you do what works you have a happier baby and mom. Just keep in mind that "what works" will change based on baby's development (you know this already) and your life as it changes. As I prepare to go back to work I'm trying to reduce nursing to sleep at night and during the day, but only because I know that it's soon not going to work so well, not because there's something wrong with AJ. (Actually I looooooooove it when she goes to sleep in my arms. Best feeling ever, and I waited a long time for it.) We're lucky in Canada that we have a year of freedom to grow and learn with our babies: I say throw out the books and the internet and enjoy it.

  11. oh, sleep. The girls were such good sleepers in the beginning that we didn't even talk about it. When people asked how sleep was, we never, ever said it was going great. We didn't want to jinx it. We had sleep regressions, but they got through them and returned to their normal sleep habits. We are now having all sorts of toddler sleep problems and cannot figure out how to solve them. I wake up more during the night now than I did when they were infants. It's so frustrating and everything out there makes me feel like I am doing something wrong. I need to take your advice and just do whatever works. It isn't like I will still be rocking them to sleep when they are teenagers. You really just have to trust your gut on everything about your baby. You know him best.

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