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They say that in a parent’s life, the years fly while the days drag on and it’s SO true.
The first nine months of my youngest son’s life are a blur, and yet they were the longest nine months of my life…that’s saying a lot after the pregnancy I endured with him as well! When you have a baby who won’t sleep through the night (or at all!), life seems to whiz by while ticking away slowly. My son Theo did not sleep for more than two hours at once in his first 9 months, but we made some serious changes in his schedule and let me be an assurance to you parents out there dealing with a baby who won’t sleep-we went from NO sleep (really…no sleep) for nine months to sleeping over 12 hours at night and two 3 hour naps per day! Here’s our story:
I chronicled our issues with Theo in my post about deciding to go from breastfeeding to formula feeding HERE and mentioned that it wasn’t just a diet change that changed our lives. We had gotten into a pattern of rocking him to sleep, co-sleeping and other factors that (while perfect for some families) just weren’t working for us.
Theo would wake up about every 45 minutes or so, and needed to be rocked back to sleep or fed in order to calm down. He couldn’t self soothe. This wasn’t his fault or ours- it was a mixture of many different things, the main problem being his feeding issues. Because he was so uncomfortable from such a young age, I would comfot him often. I rocked him to sleep a LOT more than I ever did with my first son. I was so tired every night that when he would wake up crying I would just bring him into bed with me and nurse him until we both fell asleep…and never returned him to his own bed because I was just too exhausted.
By the time he was about 9 months old we had begun to eliminate foods from my diet to try and aleviate his pain. We thought that would cure his sleepless nights, and once we figured out the culprits his sleep did get a little better…for a few days. Then we were right back where we started. I was SO sure we had figured out his food problems so why was he still not sleeping?! I did what any desperate mom who has had no sleep in a year would do-I consulted Dr. Google.
When I finished my very scientific research, I realized a few things:
- I REALLY needed sleep. I was no fun to be around and neither was my screaming baby.
- I need to make a little more money to be able to afford an overnight nanny
- Babies not sleeping is a normal but totally fixable problem
Because Theo had been rocked and fed to sleep, he didn’t know how to soothe himself when he woke up. I found out from all my research that our sleep cycles last about 45 minutes (wouldn’t ya know, it’s all starting to make sense!), so after a cycle he would fully wake up because he didn’t know how to just roll over and fall back to sleep like the rest of us. We needed to train him to do this.
So then I took to the web and some parenting books to research sleep training.
There are way, way, way too many ways to sleep train. It can really get frustrating because some of them contradict others, some tell you that you’re abusing your child if you do it any other way, some tell you that sleep training isn’t necessary because babies just don’t sleep. My advice as a mom and a former nanny: FIND YOUR OWN METHOD. I can’t stress this enough. This rule goes for parenting in general. Every parent is different, every child is different. Do your research, find out what others are doing and mix up the methods that speak to you. I promise that when you find what you feel comfortable with and what you know will work for your child, everything will fall into place.
That being said, I am going to share with you the method we used (taking ideas from several books, sites, other parents and my own experience) in hopes that it may help you get a full nights sleep soon.
This is the first thing we changed. Life had been pretty lax around our home because of the craziness brought on by no sleep and having a baby around. That came to an end. We woke up at a certain time, took naps at certain times, ate at certain times and went to bed at certain times. This was hard for us, but we got the kids into a routine that helped us to go on to the next step a little easier.
Wait…didn’t she already say that?! Yep, but this time I’m talking bed time routine. If you aren’t already, start a bedtime routine that you repeat every night. We do bathtime followed by jammies and a bottle, then a story with dad before bed. When we put Theo into bed, we do the same thing every night now. We also got him a night light that we turn on before he sleeps (I LOVE this light, and it’s small enough to take along wherever we go!) and started giving him a soft stuffed animal to snuggle with*. That way, he had two things that were comforting to him no matter where we are. Different bed? Shouldn’t be a problem (and it hasn’t been!) when they have those comforting items with them.
3. Sleep Training Program
Slowly start to implement the training of your choice. My advice is not to go all gung ho, but to ease into it. Your child is used to comfort and jumping straight into putting them to bed can be a little traumatic. Take your time and do what feels best for you and baby.
Our Sleep Training Program:
I am by no means against the “Cry It Out” method, but I knew that for Theo it wasn’t an option. This kid is determined (this will be a VERY good quality later in life) and
we my husband tested the cry it out method a few times in the past with no progress. He never cried himself to sleep, never gave up…just cried and cried. We skipped that route to a certain extent. Then there’s the methods of putting them down, leaving, then going back in after set amounts of time to reassure them that you’re still there. Yeah, that just pissed him off. So I picked and chose a little of this and a little of that to come up with Theo’s Method…
Because he was used to either eating or being rocked to sleep, I made sure to feed him and then read him the story, making sure he wasn’t sleeping when we put him down. The first night, I rocked him until he was aaaalmost asleep, then took him to his room and laid him down with the night light on, stuffed animal in hand and rubbed his back until he fell asleep. This didn’t take 5 minutes. It is a process, so arm yourself and be ready for it to take time the first few nights. I promise that the time spent will make it go a little easier and take less time in the long run!
The second/third nights we followed up with the bottle then book routine, but I didn’t rock him too long these nights. I rocked him till he was calm and comfortable, then took him to bed, turned on his night light and gave him his stuffed animal and rubbed his back until he fell asleep.
After three nights, we did our bedtime routine, but I didn’t rock him after his story. I took him to his bed, turned on his night light and gave him his stuffed animal and rubbed his back until he was mostly asleep then left. He cried for a bit, but eventually laid down and fell asleep.
How we found Theo his first night falling asleep on his own
VICTORY! Oh, this felt so good! Not perfect yet, but what a HUGE difference in only four days!
On the fifth night, We did our night time routine and I laid him down after his story. Turned on his light, gave him his stuffed animal and rubbed his back for a minute to tell him I loved him then left. He cried for 15 minutes, then all was silent. He had done it! He fell asleep On. His. Own.
For us, it took 5 nights to get him to go down alone, but another 4-5 days for him to go down without crying. He still does cry sometimes when we put him down for bed, but it lasts only a second. He’s just checking to see if we’ve forgotten how mean we are.
If you plan to use a similar method, take the time you need. You can rock your child almost to sleep for a whole week if you feel that’s a better option. You can skip the back rubs if you’d like. However you choose to train your child to sleep on their own, I hope that our story helps to trigger some ideas to help you and your family to find sleep at night. It truly has changed our lives so so much-a friend recently commented just how much happier Theo and I both are now. Sleeplessness affects you, your baby, your life.
May your nights be filled with less crying and more dozing! Sleep Well!
*Stuffed animals can be a suffocation hazard to your child in bed. Please refrain from doing this with younger infants who can’t crawl or move away should their faces get too close.