Friday, June 17, 2011

Our Sleeping Beauty

I have fielded a couple of requests to write about what we are doing to sleep train the little miss so early, since she can already sleep 8 hours at a time through the night.  I have to confess right off the bat that we are no experts but that this is what is working for our baby and our family.   This will be a lengthy post, so if you are not interested in sleep training your baby or in sleep theory meets practice, here is a cute picture of the babe partying in her bed and I will send you on your way for the day:

Resources and Stuff
Like I already said, I am by no means an expert.  We have used a combination of sources and adapted them to who we are as a family, what we are comfortable with as parents and to our daughter's specific needs and personality.  We know what her likes and preferences are and we know what her natural rhthym is and we use those things to our advantage, but every baby is different.  What's important is to figure out what those things are for your baby and incorporate them into your strategy to get those extra winks.  I will share more specifics later.

The three resources that have influenced our sleep training in these early months the most are Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child* (it was given as a shower gift and was recommended by the pediatrician), our pediatrician, my mother and this blog post by Nicole over on Making it Lovely.**

The Beginning
I have to be honest, before Adelaide came along I hadn't really given much thought to the whole sleep thing.  We are both good sleepers and so I assumed two things, that when she was tired she would sleep and that she would fall into a natural schedule (I also assumed that I wouldn't get any decent sleep for months, maybe even years).  While both of these are sort of true, they are also not true at all.  It was probably around two weeks old that we started thinking about how to be intentional about teaching our child how to sleep and getting her into a routine.

We developed a bed time and a routine at around three weeks, maybe a little before.  For those of you that have had a newborn, that may seem like a joke, but we wanted to begin to give her little brain the signals that say "Its time to wind down and sleep."  We had bath time at a set time every night, then we took her to her sleeping area, nursed her and worked on getting her to sleep.  Now, this is where it gets tough.  Some nights we would work 2-3 hours to get her to sleep because she was fussy, but instead of thinking our plan wasn't working we powered through.  During this period we would either wake her or get up when she woke about every 3 hours to feed.  Like some of our resources suggest, we kept the lights low or off and were "all business" meaning no playing, singing etc. (I might have had a quiet whispered conversation with her about the middle of the night surprise in her diaper a few times) and we stayed in the sleeping area (our room in the early weeks and now her room).  We wanted to communicate that night time was about sleeping so low lights and quiet voices sort of set the tone.  She started going to sleep quicker and sleeping a little bit longer so that by her one month check up she was hitting 4-5 hour stents from time to time, which our pediatrician shared is what she is capable of at that age.

Six Week Growth Spurt and Colic
At around six weeks our little miss had a growth spurt and for you expectant moms this is also the peak time for colic.  For 10 days straight she didn't sleep more than 3 hours a night.  I thought I was going to go crazy, but luckily had a good support system, family and friends that would come over during the day to hang with her while I caught a nap.  During this time we still stuck to our schedule, keeping her in a routine.  On night 11 guess who went to bed after her bath and slept 13 hours only getting up twice to feed?  We set the tone for our nights so that when her little body was ready it would click.  That is more or less how our nights went for two or three weeks.

I guess it would also be helpful at this point to share a few things about expectations.  Adelaide is a baby.  She is unpredictable, her neurological system is developing and she is still learning about our family and most importantly she is figure out things about herself.  Our job is to help her develop over time the self-soothing and sleeping skills that she needs for healthy growth and brain function.  Thus we have worked towards a future goal even when it shows no sign of working.  We also know our daughter and know her needs and quirks.  For example, we know that at least 1-2 nights a week she is going to be gassy and fussy most of the night, waking every two or three hours.  We work as a team to get through those nights and keep in perspective that the other 5 nights a week she is sleeping how she should for her age and sometimes even better.  We stick to our plan because even though the two nights a week where she is fussy suck, the other 5 nights are pretty much bliss.  But be patient, Rome wasn't built in a day and a baby isn't going to pick up on your new strategy or routine for a while until it becomes exactly that, a routine. If I am honest anything new we add or try take 1-2 weeks to really see any result.

Ok, I feel like this post is getting way too preachy so let's take a break and check out how cute that little babe is dancing in her crib:

Would you check out that side kick?  Anyhow...

Two Month Shift
The week or so leading up to our two month check up we introduced another strategy to help little miss get better sleep.  Instead of plucking her up out of bed every time she woke or peeped, we left her in her bed and would go to her, check to make sure she was ok and then we would sooth her back to sleep.  Soothing is baby specific, so do what you know works for your baby--swaddling, rubbing their head or tummy, offering them a pacifier, you are the parent and you will know what works and what doesn't. Oh and keep in mind what works could change from week to week or even night to night.

The idea behind leaving her in her crib was two fold--one, the jostling around your baby makes it harder for them to sleep. Imagine trying to get to sleep and having someone pick you up and move you around, it would make it hard.  The second reason for this is that at this age the baby is getting so much more social and may prefer to socialize with you in the middle of the night instead of sleep.  And trust me there is tons of fun to be had and socializing to be done during the day after everyone has gotten sleep.  Of course, if little miss couldn't work herself back to sleep by lying in her crib with us trying to console her we got her up and rocked her.  This was a gradual process and even now we have nights where her fussiness requires rocking or other out of crib soothing.

At our two month check up our pediatrician, who God bless her is a big proponent of "when the whole family gets sleep the baby is happier and healthier (and so are the mom and dad)", shared that developmentally babies at this age should on average be able to sleep 6-8 hours a night without waking.  You better believe that with the promise of 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep she had my attention.

Building on our existing routine and per our doctor's recommendation we now have started laying little miss in her bed not all the way asleep and sometimes awake, so that she can begin to practice falling asleep on her own.  The idea is that then when she wakes up in the night she can get herself back to sleep and not require us to get up every. single. time. over. and over. again.

No Cry Babies
While some sleep training and sleep theorist say that it is perfectly fine to let a baby "cry it out" at this age, we are not using this method.  Our pediatrician does not believe that its an appropriate strategy for babies this age (2-4 months) for cognitive and social reasons.  And we were not comfortable with it as parents.  So what do we do instead?  We let her "fuss it out."

This is again one of those things that falls into the "you are the parent and you know your baby best" category.  By observing little miss during her morning naps and at night we have learned the intricacies of her little noises.  Her "I am trying to get to sleep" fussy noise is very different from her "I am in distress" cry. I always thought the baby books were a little optimistic when they talked about learning "cues" from your baby, but it happens and it should be used to one's advantage in the epic quest for more sleep as a new parent.

So, once we put her down or if she wakes in the middle of the night if she wakes up or starts making noises we check on her first to make sure she is ok (quietly, ok, stealthily).  Then we let her work it out.  If she sounds like she is about to cry we go in and console her either in her crib (first strategy) or by rocking her (next strategy).    We give her the opportunity to practice her own skills at falling asleep first but always console and help her get to sleep if needed.

Since we have started this phase our little miss has not only woken up and gotten back to sleep with ease a handful of times, she has also started sleeping in longer chunks of time.  Most notably she sleeps 8 hours straight one night a week or more.  But it is a process for sure.

Naps, Naps, Naps
One of the first things our pediatrician asked when we shared she was sleeping better was, "have you noticed that naps are easier too and when naps go easier bed time is easier?" Heck yes.

The theory (if you aren't familiar) is that when your baby is over tired it is harder for them to wind down their little brains and calm themselves into sleep, especially the more social they become.  So sleep becomes a cycle, crappy night sleep leads to crappy naps which lead back to crappy night sleep.  And I would have to say in our experience that's totally true.  So a commitment to good night sleep means having some game plan for naps as well.  Now each baby is different especially on this topic.  I know that some babies at this age can take three naps a day.  We get two solid naps and a cat nap in each day, but sometimes the wheels fall off the bus and we don't.  I am not suggesting being a slave to the baby's sleep schedule.  Let me tell you, when you realize that there is only one roll of toilet paper in the whole house you go to Target, nap time or not (and grab an extra case of diapers just in case).  But it helps to have some structure and some naps.

Disclaimer or Reality Check
Like I said earlier in the post, we are laying ground work for a long term goal and have realistic expectation of the little miss.  We also know she is a baby so things to go totally smooth every night.  A gas bubble stuck somewhere between a burp and a fart can ruin the whole family's night.  We can have a gas bubble one night a week or three.  Growth spurts can throw a wrench in the whole sleep thing (although if it does the it is sure to follow some blissful sleep eventually--little bits can't keep up the insomnia forever!).  Realistically this strategy has earned us on average 4-5 nights of good sleep for the whole family a week.  Which isn't perfect, but its better than no nights of good sleep for many more months to come.  And the longer we stay after it, the more good nights we seem to get and the bad nights don't seem as bad because you have gotten some rest and you know eventually that week you will get some more.  I said "not as bad"--they still suck :)

So that's what we have been doing that works.  I am sure it is TMI for most of y'all (you probably left after the cute baby pic and aren't even reading this) but I would be curious to know what is working for the other moms out there?  

*If you have read this book you will recognize some of the stuff I have said and we are trying. There are some things about it that are helpful, especially the argument for why everyone needs good sleep.  However if I got the chance to chat with the authors we would have some disagreements, mainly on the value of a good editor.

**If you are breastfeeding there are some nuances to all of this that you may want to have the support of a lactation consultant for.  Our local hospital has several lactation consultants on staff that are awesome at  fielding my calls and answering my questions and being of general support and awesomeness.  Also, message me and we can chat about it, but this post was getting waaay too lengthy already.  

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