Thursday, February 28, 2008

All Aboard the Sleep Train

I only have two talents: packing a box/car/closet/dishwasher and getting babies to sleep through the night. Until I had children, I only thought I had one talent. I really felt sorry for myself! Well, now I have to say I'd rather have these talents than be able to sing, decorate, paint, whatever. Nothing is better than sleep. Wouldn't you agree? And NOTHING is better than a precious baby that sleeps through the night.

One quick disclaimer. It really hoarks a lot of people off when I brag about getting my sleep these days. If you're the jealous type, I suggest you don't read this blog entry. I don't get mad when someone sings well, so I don't know why this bothers people so much. But, obviously sleep is a sensitive issue. But, they say if you've got it flaunt it: so here goes! Plus, 95% of the people who read my blog are either pregnant or have a newborn and I'd really love to help. Be warned, this process is a lot of work and you will be exhausted the first few weeks. But it'll be worth it. And by the way, I don't judge you if your baby doesn't sleep through the night. I'm not like that...

So, without further small-talk, please pull up a chair for the first ever Another Day-Another Dollar Blog Talent Show!!!!!

First of all, I do not believe in cry-it-out for newborns. I do think it's a good idea for older babies, but if you stick to my tips, you won't have an older baby that needs to cry it out.

I hear people tell me every day that I'm lucky because their baby will NOT sleep. Maybe I am lucky and maybe your baby won't sleep. Maybe, but I doubt it. One of my favorite bloggers just spent the last week successfully sleep-training her 7-month old. She has 3-year old triplets that slept through the night at 14 weeks (5 weeks after adjusting for prematurity). It was HER discipline that worked with all of her children. (Her discipline just came a little later the second time around.) My opinion is that success depends more on mom and dad's discipline than on baby's temperment.

Let me tell you a little about my good little sleepers.

Buddy was tiny when he was born. He was 5 lbs 13 oz when we got him at 5 days old. He was wide awake the first day and night we had him. I remember thinking from day one that I must have been mistaken about that "sleeping like a baby" notion. Aren't babies supposed to sleep all the time? I even asked my caseworker about it. I learned that Buddy didn't need a lot of sleep and still doesn't. It would take forever to get him to sleep -- still does. We'd have to rock him and ever-so-gently put him in his carseat (where he slept) when he was drowsy. Any sudden movement or sound would wake him right up. He was busy and strong from day one. He hated being swaddled and was a 5-pound Houdini. He would fight and twist and fight some more to get out of his blankets... and by the time he did that, he'd be wide awake. And boy could that kid eat. He wouldn't tolerate being hungry and is exactly the same to this day. Buddy had really bad reflux and we had to suction his nose several times a day and night so he could breathe. At his two-month appointment, our pediatrician told me Buddy was beyond ready to sleep through the night. I had already been prepping for it and he was already sleeping 8 hours, I just didn't think a baby that young was "allowed" to go without food ALL night. This was Buddy we were talking about. A veracious eater.

Well, that night he slept 12 hours -- at 9 weeks old. I won't go into the details about how I got him to do it because I think there's a much easier way. A way I perfected with baby #2.

Pee-Wee was bigger when we got him (7 lbs 8 oz) but was four weeks early, so he was sound asleep for the first few weeks of his life. You couldn't wake that baby up for anything. He even ate in his sleep. It took forever, but he could do it. Before he was born, EVERYONE told me to rest up because there was no way he'd be as good of a sleep as Buddy. But the moment I met him, I knew he'd be a piece of cake -- he was that calm. His birth mom warned us that he hated to be swaddled. G and I thought, oh no. Getting the baby to sleep through the night is so much easier if they're swaddled, but we did it with Buddy, so we can do it again. Well, they were wrong. Pee-Wee loves to be swaddled. It's his favorite thing in the whole world! Pee-Wee's reflux is even worse than Buddy's was -- if that's possible. He chokes and spits up all night long, so we have him sleep upright in a bouncy seat. He was having growing problems early on, so he's now on medication to help his reflux and to help him grow. With all that said, his pediatrician and I agree that he does not need food during the night. Food is for day and sleep is for night.
Pee-Wee slept 8 hours at 3 weeks. It was still hit-or-miss at that point, but by 8 weeks he slept 10 hours. He's 12 weeks now and he sleeps between 10 and 12 hours at night with several naps during the day.

So, to summarize: both of my babies slept through the night as newborns. Through reflux and illness (we're just coming out of a fun bout with the stomach flu for both kids) these children sleep and so do I. And it's wonderful! These boys have very different temperments, biology's and sleep patterns -- and your baby will obviously be different than my babies. Buddy is busy and needs very little sleep. He stopped napping well at 2 1/2 and was very difficult to get him to nap even as a baby. But he always slept well at night. Even if it took him forever to get to sleep, once he did, he slept well until morning. Pee-Wee is calm and goes with the flow. He needs a lot of sleep and will fall asleep at the drop of a hat. I have a feeling he'll be one to nap until he's 3 or 4 or beyond! Let's hope anyway. So it really matters very little what kind of child you have.

Step one: I believe in starting this process from day one. A newborn naturally sleeps more than say a 2-month old or an 8-month old. Of course, a newborn also eats more often, but you can't possibly eliminate feedings if your baby doesn't know how to sleep well for long stretches on his own. Does that make sense? I will repeat: This process must start right away. Here's why:

At a few months old babies learn "object permanence," which means they learn that objects and people exist even if they can't see/smell/hear them. A six-month old baby will wake up and remember their mommy and will cry. A newborn will not do that. They may wake up and know they are hungry or uncomfortable, but they won't wake up and want you per se. I hope that doesn't hurt anyone's feelings, but it's true. If a mom that smelled and looked like you showed up to breastfeed, the baby could be calmed (of course that would never happen... ) It is so much easier to get a baby to sleep through the night if they don't know you are in the other room. An older baby knows you are. And good luck getting them to sleep on their own at that point. That's where cry-it-out becomes helpful.

Step two: Most babies have days and nights mixed up. So what. Your first few weeks will be hell as you try to sort that out, but it'll be worth it in the long-run. So you're up all night for a few weeks. It's better than being up all night for a few months. Do not give in just because you're tired. Oh, I was sorely tempted with both of my babies. When Buddy was a newborn I had to finish up my job, so I was up early every morning to get ready for work. And we were moving. And G was a brand new attorney. And it was Christmas. I was exhausted to put it mildly. But I didn't give up.

Step three: I do not believe in letting my babies sleep with me. I did it occasionally with Buddy and it never worked. I did it twice for a few hours at a time with Pee-Wee and it really set us back. I think he would have slept 10 hours much earlier if I hadn't done that. From day one, let your baby sleep on his own. I hold Pee-Wee the majority of the day, but never at night. You will not sleep well if you've got a baby in your arms. And they won't either. Every little move or sound either of you makes will disturb the other. Not only that, it's a SIDS risk and I just get really freaked out about possibly crushing my baby. But again, I don't judge you if you do. It's just not helpful in the long-run.

Step four: This step is key! Swaddle with two blankets. Get a stretchy thin blanket and swaddle as tight as you can. Then get a heavier blanket and swaddle again as tight as you can. This works for most babies, but not for all (Buddy), so if your baby hates to be swaddled, swaddle him anyway but leave his arms out. Before you try that, though, if he hates to be swaddled, do it tighter. I think that was the issue with Pee-Wee. His birth mom wasn't doing it tight enough. Does that make sense? They were snug and warm in the womb, afterall!

Step five: Have a night-time routine from day one. We change Pee-Wee into pajamas, double-swaddle, feed, burp, and place him in his bouncy seat. Some babies (Buddy) will first need to be rocked until drowsy.

Step six: Put your baby to sleep drowsy, not asleep. They need to learn to self-sooth and this is so much easier when they're little and they don't know any better. Pee-Wee is sound asleep by the time the bottle hits his lips, so we've had to teach him to put himself to sleep during naps.

Step seven: Put your baby to sleep in the same exact place every night. Pee-Wee sleeps in his bouncy seat right next to the couch. This just goes back to the routine idea. Both of my babies loved the bouncy seat with a vibrator. It's cozier than a crib but more upright than a bassinet. And choose a bedtime based on your goal of getting your baby to sleep 12 hours. Truthfully, I need to be better about this. I'd like Pee-Wee to get up around 8:30 or 9:00, so I should put him to bed around then too. This is hard, especially since I love cuddling with just him after Buddy goes to bed.

Step eight: When your baby still needs to eat during the night, keep the lights low and do not interact with them. That's harder than it sounds because there is nothing cuter than a newborn baby swaddled up just staring at you... but try to resist and spend your time with them during the day. If you do turn on the light or TV, cover your baby's eyes with a burp cloth.

Step nine: When Buddy was a baby I was complaining to a friend that when I would change his diaper during the night it would wake him up so much it would be hours before he'd get back to sleep. She asked why I was even changing his diaper at night. And that was a good point. In my experience, brand new babies pee a lot and you have to stay on top of their diaper changes. But after a few weeks, just put a big name-brand diaper on the baby at night and they'll be fine until morning. If they poop you'll have to change them, but Pee-Wee only pooped once during the night. Maybe I'll be charged with child abuse: but if they leak during the night, so what. Who cares? They'll be asleep and swaddled with two blankets, so they won't even notice and it's a lot easier to throw a couple blankets in the laundry in the morning than to be up all night with a wide-awake baby. And if you're not feeding them as much during the night, they certainly won't be peeing as much. And if they're consistently leaking, get bigger diapers.

Step ten: If your baby wakes up, don't rush to feed him. Many, many times my babies would go back to sleep if I waited or jiggled the bouncy seat or reswaddled or said "shhhh" in their ear or put the binky in their mouth. Babies don't wake up just because they're hungry.

I don't have strong opinions about binky's, by the way. I don't like them, but they do work. Buddy hated them and never got coordinated enough to keep the darn thing in his mouth. He did get to sleep easier when he had one in his mouth, but he couldn't ever keep it there -- and then he'd wake up mad. Pee-Wee on the other hand loves his, but doesn't depend on it. I actually think they make it harder for the baby to sleep through the night because no newborn is proficient at keeping it in. But do whatever works for you. If you're baby doesn't love it, go without I guess.

I know what you're thinking: You feed your baby formula. I breastfeed, which takes a lot less time to digest. I don't dispute that. I really don't. BUT... You can't tell me that it takes 3 hours to digest breast milk but 10 hours to digest formula. No, of course not. And if it did, why did Buddy start rooting and crying like a crazy baby as soon as his tummy got empty during the day -- but was totally fine all night? Breast milk may digest quicker, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not that much quicker. When we're talking a full night, it's not going to make a difference. Yeah, your baby might not sleep through the night as early or might not sleep as long, but I bet it's still possible.

I thought long and hard about this issue and this is what I think: it's easier to breastfeed a baby in your sleep (at least I assume), so it's asking a lot to get up and work on getting your baby back to sleep if they wake up. For us formula moms, you have to get up to make the bottle and then stay awake to feed the baby which took forever with my little Pee-Wee. By the time I did all that, I was wide awake because there's no way you can hold a bottle upright in your sleep. And if I was going to be wide awake, I might as well spend my awake time getting Pee-Wee to stay asleep so he didn't do that to me again! So I think that's a bigger issue than the digestion thing.

Step eleven: When you're done feeding, put your baby right back to bed. If they won't go to sleep or if they start to cry, pick them up, console them and put them right back to bed. You may have to repeat this for hours, but do not let the baby sleep with you. I did this every night until Pee-Wee slept through the night and low and behold, he knows how to put himself to sleep.

Step twelve: Sleep begets sleep. Your baby will sleep a lot better at night if they are well-rested during the day. It's a law of nature, I think. If your baby misses naps or gets overly stimulated during the day, your nights will be a lot worse.

Now some comments on older babies that once knew how to sleep through the night, but no longer do. Go re-read my feelings on object permanence. At around six months, Buddy would wake up screaming for me. I refused to mess with the good fortune we had by removing him from his crib. So when he would do that, I'd give him the shirt I had worn that day. He'd cuddle with that, possibly thinking about me as he drifted back to sleep. Worked every time. This will NOT work if you pick them up and comfort them. Why would they then go back to sleep with a shirt when they've realized they can go back to sleep with you? When Buddy started waking up at night I also gave him some small stuffed animals and a blanket. After a few months he fell head-over heels in love with Teddy, one of the "lovies" I provided him with. Buddy sucked on Teddy for months and years and still to this day he receives so much comfort from Teddy. I think this is so important for all children: to have something that is comforting besides mommy and daddy.

If you want your baby to sleep longer in the morning, might I suggest dark blinds. I cannot understand why people put white blinds, thin blinds, or no blinds at all in their kids' rooms and then they can't figure out why they wake up at dawn. Up until this summer, Buddy never woke up before 9:00. Now he gets up between 8:00 and 9:00, but if he ever sleeps somewhere without dark blinds, he's up at 6:00 just like every other kid in America without dark blinds. And strangely, the few times we've had friends and guests spend the night (or even nap) at our house, they sleep longer too! I love dark blinds.

Well, I think I'll stop there. Please leave a comment if you have any other ideas. Now, if anyone has the talent of having patience with a 4-year old, please let me know. That's something I have not mastered.


Emma said...

very good suggestions! I'll have to remember them next time around. You are right that it is easy to breastfeed a baby while sleeping. that was my problem, we'd both fall asleep while he was nursing, so he'd end up in my arms for a few hours! Although I never turned on a light when it was dark. Thanks for your advice and insight. Good luck with patience, that's not my talent either.

Jen4 @ Amazing Trips said...

Patience with a 4-year old? Why on earth would you need that? Are you suggesting that four is a trying age?? Oh, oh for me!!

Great post, good tips. I definitely think we should have started our little guy w/ sleep training earlier. It certainly makes it more difficult when they know that you are nearby and WILL come get them!

belle black said...

michelle, you're brilliant! i forwarded this post to my sisters and will definitely be saving this for future reference!

p.s. you have many, many talents. ;)

Emily said...

Brilliant! This could have not come at a better time. I may print it out and leave a copy in the baby's room for future reference.

Myndi said...

I read this a few days ago, but didn't have time to comment after so much time was spent reading it! JK! Yes, the advice is just in the nick of time since I am going blind shopping tomorrow. The only problem is I don't know if I can find dark blinds in the style I can afford--I guess Mom will have to make the curtains extra thick (isn't there light restricting fabric?). I am going to print a copy of your advice as well.

Jordan said...

Maybe you should think about writng a book. Not say your post was long, but that everything you mention makes perfect sense. And people love step by step instruction when they are having difficulties. I'll make sure to print a copy myself and reference it often with T and I's first.

StrykerLOVE said...

sounds like you are saving the nightlife of some new parents here - but once again hahahah that I no longer need the advice. still, do you have something for how to deal with the female tantrum? sophie is living up to every one of her sex's sterotype.