I did not think that I would ever spend so much time thinking about things like diapers and baby sleep habits, but this is my life now. Love me.
John-Paul started out like many newborns in regards to sleep; he slept a whole lot but not for more than 3-4 hours at a time. Eventually his sleep consolidated, and we’d get 5, 6 even 7 hour stretches of sleep at night. His naps usually lasted an hour, maybe more. Then all of a sudden, around the time JP turned four months, he turned into the night time menace…his stretches of sleep kept shortening, and shortening…down to about an hour and a half. His naps also grew shorter, to the point that I couldn’t lay him down for more than 20 minutes on average. Some nights he wakes up every half hour and fusses. Exhaustion ensued. And I looked like this:
But add greasy hair and tears. And subtract the cute boots.
I started scouring the internet and begging moms in person and via social media for some advice. The people I spoke to either didn’t have a serious sleep issue, or they just kind of dealt with the frequent wakings or they were at a loss like me. If the wake ups don’t bother you too much, you are lucky and bless you. But it bothers me and I’m not here to be some sort of sleepless martyr. I accept that tiredness is a part of parenting, but my exhaustion doesn’t do anyone any good. And not to mention, poor JP looked just as tired as me! His sleep habits were/are not serving him well either.
So we’ve started the sleep training journey. I picked up the No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. Let’s just say the “No-Cry” refers to the baby and not to the mommy. Sleep training is a full time job, because it’s also about daytime training with the naps. I feel like I’m constantly attempting to put John-Paul to sleep. It’s been about 10 days, and we are seeing some improvements, though. It’s definitely a two steps forward, one step back kind of thing. And it seems that things got worse before they got better. Let’s focus on the positive, shall we?
The length that JP sleeps at night has not changed much. However, he is able to go back to sleep more frequently without breastfeeding. Sometimes he wakes himself up and is able to go back to sleep on his own…and sometimes with only mild interventions such as SHHHing him or patting his bottom. Still, I end up feeding him 2-3 times a night now…which is an improvement from 6+. 2-3 night time feedings is much more do able, but still would like to be down to 1 or 2. Zero would be great, but I’m keeping my expectations realistic.
Daytime is where we have seen the most progress. John-Paul is consistently taking 1 hour naps, and sometimes even two hours or more. As I type this, he has slept 1 1/2 hours. He started to stir, but we gave him a binky about 20 minutes ago and he stayed asleep.
These small victories are the fruit of a number of changes:
- Moving his bed time to between 6:30 and 7:00
- Starting his bed time routine earlier, to help get him ready for his earlier bed time
- Not breastfeeding him all the way to sleep/Allowing him to fall asleep in other ways like rocking, bouncing, walking, etc.
- Not letting him sleep in my arms throughout the day. I always did this because I liked holding him and he seemed to sleep better. I was creating my own problems there. But no one should deprive themselves of the pleasure of holding their sleeping baby! Just don’t let it become a habit, is what I learned.
- Having a flexible, but regular nap schedule. I put him down for a nap at the first signs of tiredness. His first nap is between 9-10am, second around noon or 1pm, and then sometimes a third around 3 if one of the others was a short nap.
- Setting him down just after he nods off, while he is still not quite asleep but almost.
- 90% of the time I use a whitenoise app on my phone, set to sound like the ocean. I really need to get a white noise machine though because I can’t use my phone when JP is sleeping, which is often inconvenient. Especially if someone calls and temporarily interrupts the white noise…
- Not picking him up right away when he fusses, but 1. see if he falls back asleep on his own or 2. trying to shhh him or pat/rub him first. If he cries, we pick him up and use other methods to soothe him and get him back to sleep.
- Recently we started including a binky. He never used to take it; he would just chew on it, usually. But now sometimes it will help him fall asleep. Today for his nap, I nursed him, laid down next to him and shhhed him while he sucked on his binky until he fell asleep. I know this isn’t breaking his “suck-to-sleep” association, but honestly I’ll take sleep and deal with breaking a binky habit later. I KNOW THIS IS CONTROVERSIAL and many will disagree. Please don’t troll my blog over this minor parenting disagreement, please and thank you. You do what you gotta do to get through.
- Sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night, wide awake and ready to play. As long as he is happy, I just let him stay in his crib and “play” until he starts to get tired/upset, then I’ll try our methods to soothe him back to sleep. With some training, he has started to put himself to sleep without our help. It is useless to exhaust myself walking around with him to try and put him back to sleep when he is wide awake. It makes for a very cranky and impatient mama. I learned that the hard way.
- We’ve also started to introduce a “lovey” which is basically a small, sleep-safe item that they can hold to comfort them. JP doesn’t seem to really love any one item yet, but we’ve had the most success with his little stuffed beaver. His U of O fanatic father obviously loves this.
None of this has come easily. A huge part is just accepting the lifestyle change – I have to plan things around his nap times and we can’t go out in the evenings. I get discouraged almost daily, and most nights I dread getting ready for bed because you just never know how it’s going to go. I think in many ways it’s like dieting and/or exercising…you can’t step on the scale or evaluate your progress every day. You just have to trust in the process and know that change will come EVENTUALLY with time, patience and hard work. It’s just a real challenge to hang in there when you feel like you’re putting in so much work and not seeing dramatic results. I know this too shall pass, and that someday I’ll look back on these sleepless nights with romanticized eyes, missing those sweet moments with my little baby. Right now though, all I want is a good night of sleep. And if not that, bring on the coffee.
I know there are other sleepless Mamas and Papas out there! Commiserate in the comments. All y’all Ma’s and Pa’s who have sleep success, what’s been the key to good sleep for your little one? Even if your babe is sleeping for just 5 or 6 uninterrupted hours, I want to know what you did to help them get to that point!
Also a big shout out thank you to my mom who took JP night duty THREE NIGHTS IN A ROW during her visit. She handled all the minor wake ups, and only called me when he legitimately needed to eat. And thank you to Josh, who took JP duty last night. It really helps me stay patient (and sane) during the day.