Part Two (Part One Here).
First before I proceed, I have to reiterate once again that I am writing from my experience with my six babies. I might have a different lifestyle from you-I am my children’s primary caregiver (with my husband of course), I don’t leave my babies often with sitters (meaning I am almost always the one putting baby to sleep), I have breastfed all my children for a year or more, and I learned early on that the only way I could survive feeding an infant/baby many times a night was to co-sleep (it wasn’t a decision made for any other reason but because no one got sleep any other way), and how long that lasted depended on the baby. I have found through trial and error, getting advice from other moms who I admire, and reading lots and lots, what has worked for me, my babies and my family.
I do NOT have some special “get your baby to sleep through the night” method! But have learned to accept my babies for who they were, and the stages they were at, and not mold them into something they “should” be doing because someone else says so. I learned to trust my mother gut and my baby. I learned that I am not comfortable leaving them to cry for extended periods of time (or who am I kidding, ANY period of time) and I am willing to do some extra “work” to get my babies to sleep.
So I am going to speak generally about my experiences and once again maybe it will help another mom who, like me, felt strongly that cry-it-out sleep methods did not feel right and then give a couple book suggestions that helped me with tips and tricks and reassured me also.
I was stumped on how to approach this “how I do it” section because I think it would be extremely boring to read about what I did with each of my babies sleep-wise. My babies were all different, and those stages of that first year all change so quickly and go so fast. I could say “Isaac was more difficult to get to sleep (movement worked for him), but once he was asleep he was out. But during his first three months, I’m quite sure that little guy ate every two hours, so he definitely wasn’t that “out”-not sleeping through the night!
1. The overall message that I must send is that you as the mom, know your baby best. Every little one is born with different personalities and sensitivities. When I look back with my five older children, I see each of their sleep personalities as babies are so much who they are now-I know I didn’t “make” them like this- I can “see” that little baby personality, all those nuances-whether sensitive, or fun-loving, or laid-back, or intense, it was all reflected that first one or two years.
2. One of the most difficult parts of the first year is keeping up with the quick development and growth which often leads to changing schedules and patterns. It seemed to me that first year, as soon as I could count on a schedule, a growth spurt would hit, a tooth would begin to break through, it was time to transition from three naps to two, or one, etc. I love predictability and knowing I can anticipate a little quite time here or there, but the nature of the first year, does not lend itself to cut and dry time tables. I have learned to adapt, but I also what has helped me is keeping a written schedule of the babies feedings and naps. (Not all year, just here and there as needed.) Just keeping track by writing down what is happening with feed/sleep/play patterns, helps me feel some control. It also helps me eventually pull out a pattern and therefore establish some sort of schedule. This isn’t a stranger led schedule-this a baby/mother led loose organic schedule that we work on together. I would look in books, ask friends with babies the same age, or look on-line to find out what a “typical” (remembering that every baby is different) schedule was at a certain age, but mainly I could be aware of a baby-led pattern.
Getting and keeping baby to sleep (and once again this depended on the baby) got SO much easier after that first year. Gradually, of course, but that first year is intense.
3. I’ve had three fussy babies-my last three. Andrew, my fourth, was colicky from morning till night, I held him all day and he slept on me or next to me all night-for months. That was by far the most challenging experience I had with any of my babies. It’s survival mode for a long time and it is not easy, and sometimes lonely. It’s not just physically draining, it’s exhausting work, and it’s emotionally draining too, because not being able to immediately soothe my baby was so stressful to me. (Nursing worked for all my babies, but did not for Andrew.) I don’t think anyone can really “get” how taxing caring for a gassy, and/or colicky, and/or highly sensitive baby is unless they’ve had one of their own. These babies need extra tender care, they need us to drop as much as we can off our plates and care for them as best we can. Rearranging our lives and reordering our priorities for a fussy baby is a must…if they aren’t worth that, than what is?
When I have a fussy baby, I have learned to pull out any and every tool to get my baby to stop crying, fall asleep and stay asleep, without tears.
Nurse, swaddle, swing, bounce (exercise ball), rock, music, fans, pats, slings, stroller rides, car rides, pacifiers…you name it, I’ve experimented with whatever I could try to soothe that baby, and once I found what worked I stuck with it. Do “bad” habits (which according to some sleep “experts” mean anything but dropping them in a crib and walking away) start with fussy babies? Yes, I guess they do. I still sometimes “bounce” Janey to sleep-that was what worked for her when she was younger.
I am OK with doing whatever works, no matter how “crazy” it might seem to some. If it gets that baby to sleep, and helps me sleep better also, I’m good with it. And you know, I look back on all my babies, and that hard first year, and do you think I regret the time I spent rocking, strolling, bouncing, reading? Heck no.
With all my babies, not just the fussy ones, when I felt like we could move to that next step up (meaning less sleep assistance) without much or any angst, I did so. Every transition was timed different according to the baby. For example, over a course of the year or two, we transitioned from sleeping in sling (my fussy babies), to being swaddled and put down in crib once they asleep in sling, to just bouncing or nursing (no sling)and then to just rocking and put in crib almost asleep then just being read to in bed. From ages two to four we transitioned from reading while toddler falls asleep, to reading and then leaving while toddler fell asleep by himself, and then eventually they learned to read themselves to sleep. We transitioned from baby in our bed, to a crib, or to baby on mattress on floor of our room, or toddler in big boy/girl bed in own room. Eventually when baby becomes toddler (after 2 or 3 or 4), and I know the understanding is there, I can and will be lovingly firm-(“we are going to read 3 books and sing 3 songs and then I’ll come back and check on you, you have to stay in bed”) because consistency is the key. Consistency and routine are the keys. I say WE because Jeff helped with this transition a great deal. Once I am finished nursing, or even, depending on the baby, before then, or when I was pregnant with the next baby, Jeff would take over the bedtime routine mostly. I found that Dad can help a lot after that first year, or during the weaning process. For some reason, Dad is just not as fun to wake up to, and that worked for us.
4. I also had one baby that could and would fall asleep completely by himself early on. Matt was my third and I could set him in his crib (after a certain age, maybe 3 months? I don’t remember exactly) and he would hold a blankie he loved and suck on his pacifier and he’d fall right to sleep. It happened the first time by pure accident (there was some emergency and I set him in his crib, tired, and he fussed (in a babbly sort of way, not crying) and when I went to go check on him he was fast asleep. I tried it again and again and every time he snuggled in and went right to sleep almost always-if he didn’t fall asleep and I could tell he was going to cry, I would rock him a little and lay him down. I, of course, thought I had the ‘whole sleep thing’ figured out because of this-which is why God gave my Andrew next. 🙂 Matthew was such a laid back, non-gassy, super-content baby. That’s why this worked.
(My babies all slept so much better on their tummies-maybe I make “gassy” babies. Not infants-babies who could hold up their heads. I asked my doctor about this and he gave me the go-ahead each time and it really really really helped.)
5. I always tried to lay baby down for naps in the same place-their crib-so they would get used to that. Some of the gassy babies slept in the sling as infants if needed, because they would immediately wake up when put down, or shortly there after. Once those fussy gassy babies were able to sleep on their tummies, or just stay asleep for longer periods of time then it took to put them to sleep, I would set them in the crib, once I got them asleep (in the sling or nursing, bouncing, etc.) with the fan (white noise) on. Sometimes if they woke up, I would go right in and soothe them back to sleep, whichever way worked for them (usually bouncing on the ball) and then try to set them right back down again. It seemed eventually their nap times got longer and longer.
6. Perspective is important. “This too shall pass.” “The days are long but the years are short.” Two very important quotes to keep in mind. And how about “I can do hard things“, which isn’t a famous quote but just one that I made up and works in this situation. No, having a baby that is fussy or a very sensitive sleeper, or a baby who needs to nurse a lot, or wakes during the night isn’t easy. I have been exhausted before, and frustrated, and sometimes it seemed that next transition couldn’t come soon enough. But I have the gift of a broader perspective now, and what a gift it is!
Here is a beautiful article on the “the art of being”-something to keep in mind during those hard days.
Here are some of my favorite books chock full of tips and advice and reassurance. Once I read and understood about the science of baby’s physical development it helped me so much-it helped me know I was doing the right thing by avoiding prolonged, ignored crying, and also recognized development stages and the sleep needs of infants and babies.
Elizabeth Pantley is the author of many books on the subject of infant and toddler sleep and her site and books are excellent.
-lots of good tips especially if you have a fussy baby.
And of course Dr. Sears-
The last sleep post had so many nice comments from other moms who are NOT comfortable with cry-it-out methods also. Maybe if us no-cry moms all shared the little things that worked for us, or any tips, tricks or our experiences with our babies, in the comment section, it would be helpful for others who felt the same.