Monday, July 17, 2017

Baby sleep

I originally wrote this a year and a half ago, and as I'm currently dealing with this with another baby, I figured I should finally post this. I'm so glad I wrote this down! Now to sleep-train another kid... 

Sleep (or the lack thereof) has been probably the #1 discussion topic in our household since baby joined our family.

I anticipated that the biggest adjustment for me in becoming a parent would be the lack of sleep, and I was right. Those early days weeks months were a struggle! But it was evident early on that our baby slept a lot less than pretty much all of our friends' babies of similar ages. From the beginning, she seemed hyper-aware of her world, and spent quite a bit of time awake.

By the time she was four months old, I was still getting up with her to feed her almost every 3 hours most nights. And once we moved her to her crib in her own room, there were many occasions when getting her to sleep at night was a 2-hour process of nursing her, putting her down, her screaming, nursing her, putting her down, ... etc. There were definitely nights when I thought, "I can't do this anymore!"

At my wits' end, I solicited friends for advice and checked out a huge stack of books on baby sleep from the library. The advice all seemed to be variations of the same, and none of it really worked for us. I settled on bringing her to our bed for the night if she woke up before midnight (which resulted in  bittersweet bedsharing for months on end -- I liked the snuggles, but it's much more restful for me to not have a child in the bed).

It has been a source of stress and contention in our home, but we are finally getting somewhere in this regard, and I'm not sure if it's necessarily due to anything we've done, or just that she's developmentally ready for better sleep! I wish there was a magic formula, but here are some things I've learned over the last few months:

  • I read somewhere about a 2-3-4 schedule -- after the baby is awake for 2 hours in the morning, put him down for a nap. After he wakes up from the nap, give him 3 hours until the next nap, and after that one, four hours until bed time. A variation on this has been a godsend. Marie does best with 1.5-2 hours of wake-time. If she wakes up too early in the morning (like, before 7:30), even just an hour of wake-time before her first nap is about the maximum she can handle (and she is 11 months old). I try to be very aware of how long it's been since she awoke, because it is my best indicator of when she's ready to sleep again.
  • A lot of people swear by bedtime routines, and we've finally developed one that works well for us. It's not long, it's not complicated, but it seems to be the signal she needs. We aim to get her to bed by 8 PM. After dinner and play time (and maybe some stories), we change her diaper and put her jammies on her. I try to pick up her toys with her there, just to get her in the habit, and then I tell her to say goodnight to Daddy if he's home. Then we go into the bathroom and I wash her face and hands with a warm, wet washcloth, brush her teeth with a wet toothbrush (I try to scrub them a little, and then let her chew on the toothbrush for a few minutes), and brush her hair. We turn off the light, go into her dark bedroom, and I say a short prayer before placing her in her crib. I walk out of the room and mostly close her bedroom door. Most nights lately, she doesn't even cry. About half the time, she will babble to herself for 5-20 minutes. But usually, she ultimately falls asleep.
  • One of the tiredness indicators that is very reliable in our household is that baby tends to get "disorganized" or "uninhibited" -- that is to say, she starts acting a little crazy and naughty. We were having huge problems for a couple months with her biting (me, tables, toys, books, etc.). It dawned on me after a while that the biting seemed to get worse when she was extremely tired! Some other things she will do when she is really tired include pulling books off the bookshelf, getting ALL of her toys out of the basket, unrolling the toilet paper in the bathroom, and other similar annoying mischief! Yes, at this point she also rubs her eyes, gets whiney, etc., but this crazy behavior is my surest sign that it's bedtime or naptime. 
  • Crying it out is something we experimented with a little bit a few months ago. At the suggestion of my mother-in-law, we would get baby ready for bed, put her in her crib, and -- this is the important part -- note the time. We decided that if she was not starting to settle after about 15 minutes, we would go in and comfort her. Like I said above, I don't know if this helped her be able to fall asleep on her own, or if she's just developmentally at that point now, but I do like the idea of paying attention to how long it takes. Several times within the first week or so we attempted this, she was asleep after 12 minutes, so that became our new threshold. If it sounded like she was working herself up or we heard her fall against the crib sides, I went to check on her. I really don't like the idea of letting a baby go comfortless, but we always made sure her needs were seen to and we also did not try this before she seemed developmentally able to be successful with it. I cannot bear to think of letting a baby cry for an hour or two like some of the books suggest. 15 minutes, though, was a good standard for us. And baby still trusts me and comes to me for comfort (and there are still occasional nights when all she wants is Mommy), so I am confident she is not scarred for life!
  • I weaned her at 10 months, and her sleep dramatically improved afterward. I was surprised by this! I have no idea if it helped or if, like I've stated, she was just developmentally ready to sleep at night! 
At 11 months old, baby currently sleeps 9-12 hours in a block on most nights. If she awakens before 6:30 or so, she will drink a little bit of formula, maybe need a diaper change, but then go down easily (usually) for another hour or more. If she gets up before about 7:30, she might play for a little while, but usually ends up needing a nap within an hour. She still occasionally wakes up during the middle of the night, but this is becoming rarer at this point. Of course, throughout her life, she's vacillated with how well she sleeps, so now that I've written this, I'm probably in for some more sleep disturbances :) She typically takes 3 naps during the day, which last anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours. Usually one nap is about 2.5 hours and the other two are about an hour.

I am really grateful to finally be able to get more sleep at night! We'll see if any of these theories work with our future children! Maybe the next one will be a good sleeper... (Spoiler alert: he's not)

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