BurlingtonVT Moms Blog is partnering with Phoenix Physical Therapy to bring you our latest series titled “50 Shades of Sleep”, about…you guessed it….sleep. Like an elusive treasure, we find ourselves obsessing about sleep not only for ourselves but for our children as well. Although we may not consciously recognize it we are constantly making decisions surrounding the subject of sleep. Is it OK to co-sleep? Can babies really be trained to sleep? What are night terrors? When do you move your child from your bed to the bassinet or to his own crib or into his own bed? Does the thought of SIDS scare everyone? Is it normal for kids to wet the bed and up to what age? And does it all change when they get older? Our goal through this series is to invite you into an open conversation about all things sleep, and to acknowledge that no matter your struggles or choices, you are never alone.
Sleep Training a Baby
When I was pregnant with my first son I had a vision of what mothering would look like. In that vision I was dressed in a white nightgown holding my baby wrapped in a beautiful blanket while rocking him to sleep in this amazing nursery. My husband was there standing over me, his hand gently laid on my shoulder, a dog curled at our feet, and a glow that was almost angelic enveloping us.
And then my son was born and that vision was exposed for the fake-ity, fake, fakeness that it is. I mean we don’t even have a dog!
In his first weeks of life, as personality starts to express itself, it became abundantly clear that my son had no intentions of adhering to that pipe-dream of a vision. But I held onto that vision, explained to him that that’s how it was supposed to go, pleaded with him to obey. Especially when it came to sleep!
Here are two things I remember from those crazy, sleepless first few months of life:
- Aden had a witching hour…actually it lasted from 10pm – 2am. Aden would cry and scream and nothing I did seemed to soothe him. I offered him my breast until there was nothing left. I rocked him, went through all the different variations of bouncing and nothing between those hours worked to get him to sleep. My husband and I were at a loss for those 4 hours every night.
- The only position he wanted to sleep in was on his stomach, which we all know is a huge no no. So we decided that he could sleep on his stomach as long as he did so on us. So we took shifts, my husband and I, Michael taking the first shift and I taking the last 2 of the evening. But did I mention we did it on the couch, because we could properly prop and for whatever other reasons I believed at the time. And did I also mention that we did this sleep schedule for 6 weeks?
Between the insane 4 witching hours and 6 weeks of couch surfing with my newborn I was actually feeling crazy! I had no idea that sleep deprivation could wreak havoc on your faculties like that!
I don’t even remember what feeble straw broke my back one night but I remember putting Aden in his crib to cry, shutting his door, and joining my husband in our room and said “Let him cry!!” (insert crazy tone of voice here). I had had it! I wanted my life back, I wanted to sleep with my husband again, I wanted to enjoy those first months and not be out of my mind.
What I want to share with you is what did all that for me.(I say this with obvious caution because in NO way am I a sleep expert and in no way am I a perfect parent…just soliciting my advice on what worked for us.)
I began sleep training / scheduling my baby at 6 weeks of age.
The basic premise was this: baby eats, baby plays, and baby sleeps…in that order. Once I put him on a schedule I began to see marked improvement in his sleep habits. And that 4 hour witching period…that went away pretty quickly once we settled into a routine because I could now tell exactly what he wanted / needed depending on which phase of his schedule we were in. For us it just clicked!
That all sounds pretty easy doesn’t it? Well, there were a lot of cry it out nights which neither of us were fond of but we firmly believed that in order to get good habits we had to allow him to figure things out on his own. The books say the most a baby will cry is around 45 minutes…I’m sure they’re referring to the majority of babies here. Some kids, like our sweet firstborn, have a particular doggedness only exhibited by trained interrogators. We had some nights when it seemed like eternity passed, translation way more than 45 minutes. Of course we’d go in and reassure him he was ok, we were there, etc, but for the most part we put our proverbial foot down and let him figure it out.
It took about 1 week to establish this schedule and start seeing him take 2-3 hour naps and sleep for more than 5 hour stetches at night. And when he did wake it was to nurse and go back to sleep…none of that crazy crap from early on.
When number 2 came we decided to jump on the band wagon from the get go. We gave him 1 week to adjust to the outside world before we started scheduling him at 2 weeks. He took to the same schedule as well and although it was 4-5 months before I was getting more than 6 hours of sleep at a time, the predictability of it all made me so much more relaxed and easy going.
People say you can’t schedule a baby, well I’m here to say that you can! It is not for the faint of heart, there will be tears and cries (on both sides of the bedroom door), but the payoff is so worth it. We now have two boys (almost 6 and almost 2) who go to bed at 7:30 and sleep for 12 hours. As happy as I am with how we did things, I want to stress that you have to find your way and do what works for you. Only you know your kids best! I’m just here to share our way, remember we’re all in this together.
Just a quick story as I wrap this up.
Shortly after I got Aden on a regular eat/play/sleep schedule I went to my weekly moms meeting in Seattle. A local mildly famous baby nurse held a class for moms with babies 0-3 months of age to allow them to ask questions, express concerns, and celebrate joys. One day the question of sleep training came up and which books, if any, were trustworthy. One mom made a comment about the exact structure I was following with Aden and the nurse responded that you cannot technically schedule a baby, it just wasn’t possible at this age. I looked down at my sleeping baby in his car seat and smiled to myself and thought “you bet your next night’s sleep you can!”