Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Getting a Baby to Sleep Through the Night

Or Getting Our Baby to Sleep Through the Night
Or How We Got Our Baby to Sleep Through the Night (We Think)

Kylie's recent posts about sleep inspired me to share our story about sleeping. I wrote this lengthy post early on in the process, but I wanted to share some updates. I think figuring out the sleep situation is one of the most difficult parts of being new parents. First and foremost, you absolutely want to do what is best for your child, but you may also want to help your new family reach equilibrium as quickly as possible, which can include helping your child learn how to sleep through the night. Matt and I were both equally committed to helping Henry sleep through the night (as soon as it was healthy and safe for him to do so) because we are both much better people when we've had sufficient rest (and better parents).

In the early days, weeks, and months when Henry simply wasn't biologically ready to sleep through the night, we tried to put a bunch of systems in place to help us feel more rested. We would go to bed early and wake up later, plus I would try to take a nap at least once a day while Henry was napping.

At our first doctor's visit, our European pediatrician (whom we adore and trust) gave us the following advice:
  • Don't try any sort of sleep training before four months. Babies aren't ready for it. But try to finish by six months because after that it gets much more difficult.
  • At two months, babies should be able to sleep 6 hours without eating in the night. At four months, they should go 8-10 hours, and at six months they should go 10-12.

We stopped co-sleeping with Henry at two months. When he would wake up in the night, Matt and I would alternate who would go in. If it was earlier than the amount of time our pediatrician recommended, we would soothe Henry back to sleep without feeding him (unless he persisted and seemed truly hungry--then we fed him). This strategy helped him sleep longer and longer stretches, since he wasn't always expecting to be fed. When he was four months-old, we went on a two-week road trip to New Mexico and Colorado. He slept terribly! He woke up all night long. I finally ended up pulling him into the bed and just feeding him all night.

Once we got home from that trip, we waited for his sleeping to get back to normal. We found that he was waking up more than ever. We were more tired than we had ever been. We finally decided to try a modified version of the "cry it out" method. The first time he cried, we would wait for five minutes and then go to him to pick him up and put him back on his Montessori floor bed with a pacifier. If he still cried, we would wait ten more minutes and then repeat. Then we would wait 15 minutes and repeat (and continue every 15 minutes). The first night, he woke up three times, cried a bit (but not an overwhelming, fearful cry), and then went back to sleep. The second night, it happened twice. The third night it happened once. Since then, he's been sleeping from 7:30pm to 7am.

The main exception is when he's sick. He didn't get sick much at all the first year, but now that he's in daycare he gets sick frequently. If he's sick we go in right away instead of letting him cry and make his congestion worse.

A few other things we did (although I have no idea if they actually helped him sleep through the night):

  • In the early days of breastfeeding, we encouraged him to take full meals instead of snacking (for example, if he started to fall asleep after drinking just a little, I would brush his cheek or rub his back to wake him up.
  • We keep Henry on a pretty consistent nap schedule (although his changing needs dictate when those naps are--it changes every couple months), and we try to honor his nap schedule by being home when it's time for him to nap.

I think transitioning Henry to his own bed, following the pediatrician's advice about how long Henry could go without milk in the night, adhering to a consistent nap schedule, and being okay with letting Henry cry a little (plus his personality thrown in) have all coalesced to help Henry sleep through the night. I am so thankful for the specific advice given to us by our pediatrician. I will definitely attempt to follow this advice again, if we have a second child.

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Annalisa said...

Having a 10 month old, I truly feel like STTN is 1) is so very personal decision for each family 2) is extremely intuitive. I stressed out when my baby was 3 months old because all the books/blogs/boards were suggesting we should make changes before she gets spoiled. I realize now this isn't true! She's exclusively BF and we did co-sleep. She wasn't ready and neither were we. I think she showed signs (again, an intuitive process) when she was around 6 months but I wasn't ready! Around 7 1/2 months, I started putting her in a pack and play in our room for naps and we'd start out the night there. Finally, around 9 months, we put her in her crib in her room consistently and she took right to it. No drama. She almost STTN but I'm still waking!

I don't like sleep posts from other people because I feel like new moms either want technical info (but again, it's so individual) or it puts pressure on them to start sleep training. I'm not saying at all that is what your post is doing but I mention this in case there is a new mom who might have these feelings!

Our pediatrician recommended that our baby STTN at 12 months otherwise, it's fine if she wakes 1-2x per night. I think so many traditional peds encourage moms to get their babies to make this change around 4-6 months and that doesn't make much sense biologically. Again, parents should do it when they are ready and if they are ready at 4 months and so is baby, than make the transition but don't force something that is not natural.

Babies change so much and develop so quickly and sleep needs and patterns change. I think if you ride the wave as a parent, it's not that hard to figure out how to meet a baby's new needs - if that makes sense! I do think there are some very high needs babies and that must be very challenging as a parent! Overall, I think just going with the flow, trusting your gut, your baby will make the changes they need to on their own with some encouragement on the parents' part.

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Annalisa! Thanks for engaging in this dialogue! I agree with nearly everything you said:

1) Almost every aspect of parenting is a very personal decision for each family, and each family has to feel out the situation and do what feels right in the moment, for them.

2) I was also stressed during the first three months of Henry's life because he took every single nap in the Moby wrap, and the main sleep books suggested that we were letting him establish very bad habits (but then I talked to a veteran mom friend of mine who said it wasn't possible to spoil a baby in the first four months of life, so I stopped worrying and instead just looked for those windows when I could encourage separation and independence).

3) My intention is definitely not to pressure anyone to do anything. I'm just sharing the kind of information I would want to read. I included links to Kylie and Meg's thoughts on sleep because they are taking a very different approach. I also read blogs of other people who take a different approach, such as hankandlucy.blogspot.com.

I was thankful to have our pediatrician's advice (he was on the recommended list our midwife gave us, and she is very picky). Although Henry didn't follow the advised schedule perfectly, it gave us something to aim for. If I hadn't known that Henry could physically go longer and longer stretches at night without breast milk, I honestly think he would still be waking every two hours to eat (which is fine for families that choose that; it's just not what would have worked for us--unless Henry truly needed it, then we would have made it work, obviously).

I know sleep is a really sensitive topic. I remember feeling really frustrated when my friends' babies started sleeping longer and longer stretches naturally and Henry just wasn't. However, my pediatrician's advice made me hopeful, and it helped us encourage Henry in certain ways that helped him sleep through the whole night pretty early on. I feel like I'm able to be a better parent because when he goes to bed at 7:30, Matt and I get a couple hours of alone time every night. Then we go to bed and can sleep for eight hours. That kind of rhythm helps us be more patient and present with Henry during the day. And it seems to work for Henry, too. He is a chunker, so he clearly gets enough food all day long.

But you're absolutely right that every family has to do what is right for them. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to childrearing. I just wanted to share our story to contribute to all the information that's out there!

Thank you again for commenting! I love to hear what people are thinking...

Laura said...

Thank you Sara and Annalisa. This is something that has been on my mind lately. My daughter (my first) will be five months old next week. For the first few months, she was a pretty good sleeper - she would sleep 4-5 hours, eat, 3 hours, eat, then 2-ish more. Then about a month ago, everything changed. Now she is waking up much more frequently and, ugh. (Although the last two nights have been pretty good, maybe the cycle has broken!) Anyway, my husband wants to try modified cry-it-out, but I'm not ready. I'm hoping that she'll start sleeping longer on her own or when she starts eating solids. Right now she sleeps in a cosleeper, unless we're having a bad night, and then she sleeps in the bed with me. I'm planning to start putting her down for naps on her floor bed.

Hmm, this is getting really long! Anyway, I'm having exactly the conflict you guys describe of wanting to do what is best for her, what will have her NOT be the three year old who can't sleep through the night, and not being willing (yet?) to try cry-it-out. Sigh. One of the problems is that (because we have established tvat routine? Because she's actually hungry?) when she doesn't get fed when she wakes up, she doesn't cry a little, she cries a LOT. Loudly. All of the things I read about "try to sooth her without picking her up..." ha. Yeah right.

Anyway, I enjoy reading others' perspectives as we try to figure out what will work for us... Even if they do sometimes cause me stress! :)

Sara E. Cotner said...

I hear you, Laura!

When we were trying to soothe Henry without feeding him (following the pediatrician's advice), he would definitely cry (we always picked him up). If he kept crying, we would take that as a cue that he really needed to eat and feed him. After a lot of that, we finally decided to try to the 5-10-15-min. cry-it-out method. It was easier because his crying was actually not as loud/long when we didn't stay in the room with him. We made sure to leave extra pacifiers lying around so he could easily find one.

It felt like a balancing act. It was like we were trying to communicate to Henry: "We know that you cycle through sleep and wake yourself up every two hours and would prefer to soothe yourself back to sleep on the breast, but we will be better parents for you if you learn how to soothe yourself right back to sleep with your pacifier. If you are truly hungry and need to eat, we are always willing to wake up and feed you." Figuring out the difference was tricky. When I did feed him in the night, I would pay attention to how hungry he seemed when he latched on. After a few nights of not so vigorous eating, I would start to get the clue that it might be time to drop a feeding.

Wishing you and your family well!

Rebecca said...

I feel like I may have a very good sleeper on my hands... My 4-month old is sleeping through the night, SOMETIMES. She made this adjustment on her own. I think it can be an intuitive thing, though I'm sure there are babies who have a very difficult time and need a sort of intervention. :) We had planned on Audrey sleeping in her little bed right outside our bedroom door for the first 6 months. But at around 2 months she started fussing when we would put her down in it after feeding her at night... and we found that she enjoyed sleeping in her crib in her own room! At first she would only spend half the night there. (Heck, we'd let her sleep wherever we could get her to sleep!) But eventually we started putting her down there for naps and every night, and she hasn't looked back! At 3 months she was beginning to sleep up to 6 hours at a time during the night, most of the time. Since I knew that she COULD go that long without eating, we gradually began soothing her back to sleep sometimes instead of feeding her. Now at 4 months, she only eats once a night if at all. It doesn't happen every night, but we have seen her sleep up to 10 hours straight!! We always go straight to her when she wakes, but if she seems very sleepy we try just giving her back her pacifier and she'll usually roll onto her side and go right to sleep. Of course, if she fusses more after that we'll try feeding her a little bit.

I know it can get frustrating going to a baby every time she wakes.. but I think it's worth it! My husband has been tempted to try letting her cry a bit (and for a couple of days we did try letting her fuss for about a minute before going to her), but I'm glad that we have been consistent. I think that's the most important thing! If she's crying, I always pick her up and bounce her until she stops. But she's getting so much better at just taking her pacifier and rolling over to sleep. Of course, it seems like it will be a big fight when we decide to stop using the pacifier... Ahh, there's always something!

cileag said...


I'm glad that CIO worked for Henry---it sounds like it wasn't very traumatic and that he was a classic "Tension Reliever." I really like Moxie's theory on sleep where there are basically two types of babies: Those who release tension by crying, and those who increase tension by crying. Which is why some babies seem to need to cry to be able to fall asleep, while others escalate more and more if you let them cry at all.

I totally think this is why CIO works so seamlessly for some people and is so traumatic for others.

For others with the opposite type baby here's some info:

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