Sleep Maturity or “Did I go wrong somewhere?”

My last post was a little harsh, I think. I’m worried that I’ve frightened some parents out there into thinking that it will never get better. That’s not what I meant at all, of course. My intent was just to explain that I’ve embraced my little one’s sleep habits, warts and all. I may always be a bit sleep-deprived, but what’s really important is that he’s getting the right amount of sleep.

Though sometimes, I wince at people’s comments.

“What? He still doesn’t sleep through the night?”

Doubt creeps in and my resolve weakens. So I wrote this retrospective, almost like a forensic investigation, to see if I went down the wrong path anywhere. In the end, I still believe that a baby’s sleep patterns change as they grow older, no matter what sleep-training techniques we use. Sleep maturity is a slow process.

When I look at the big picture, I see my baby has actually improved a lot. My sweetie went through several phases:

0-3 months

He was hungry all the time, so naturally he slept ever so lightly. It’s a simple question of survival. A newborn’s stomach is the size of a chickpea and it needs to refill often. In his case, every one to two hours.

Feedings would take 40 minutes, at which point he’d loudly POP off the breast and use my boob for a pillow. Adorable! Unable to move without waking him, we snuggled on the couch and I got to catch up on all the seasons of Mad Men.

Many books urge starting good sleep habits from the beginning. “Start as you mean to go on,” is a popular one. But the math just didn’t compute! It would take 40 minutes to feed him, and almost an hour to convince him to go to sleep in his crib/basket/side-car, then he’d wake up ready to eat again 20 minutes later. Guess how many minutes of sleep I got? That’s right. Zero.

Best place to sleep on earth.

Co-sleepers

At first, my husband and I took turns holding him around the clock. Finally, co-sleeping, for mama’s and baby’s sake, was the best solution.

3-6 months

Feed me again!

Baby was still hungry all the time, and still highly sensitive to noise and movement.

We were encouraged to swaddle him. We tried the burrito wrap. He was like Houdini. Really. People don’t believe me when I say swaddling didn’t work. We even tried the wrap with the velcro. Instead of falling asleep, he would wiggle for 15 minutes until his fingers poked out of the wrap. At that point, he could slide the rest of his arms out and burst out from the constraints. I’ve bragged about this before, but we really have one strong kid.

 

Me? No, not sleepy in the least.

We tried white noise, like a hairdryer. Oh, we tried many, many silly things.

At last, I learned to nurse half-asleep in bed. Ah bliss! At least I could rest as he continued nursing every 2 hours through the night.

 

 6-9 months

Deeper sleep and for longer stretches. It seems like he was physically ready to let go.

Eating solids helped only a little, but every little bit helped.

Another little glimmer of hope: he started napping alone on my bed. After nursing him, I’d extricate myself away and read a book or knit or nap next to him.

Crazy early milestone: My little guy learned to walk at 8 1/2 months. (I’m not kidding. I run after him all day long! Having a baby is the best diet I’ve ever been on.) I’m pretty sure this affected his sleep pattern. Too much going on in the brain.

At his check-up visit, his pediatrician deemed he was old enough to sleep through the night without breastfeeding. “Just pat him gently. There will be tears.” I dearly love my doctor, but I disagreed and continued nursing at night. I have never regretted this decision as it has helped him through many a cold and virus when he couldn’t manage solids at all.

9-12 months

Mr. Guy Smiley

Finally, I convinced him to nap in the crib using my patented Transfer method. I would also remove my nipple just before he konked out. The theory was he’d learn to fall asleep on his own. That never panned out, but I found that it kept my nipples from falling off due to constant suckling.

At this age, teething began in earnest with some slight separation anxiety, which affected his sleep pattern, but he was still napping on his own.

12-15 months

Transition to nights in the crib, after one frightful night of Tough Love. Since then, he flips on his tummy, instead of sleeping on his side. Somehow being on his tummy helps him wiggle less and settle down faster.

Self-weaning begins. With fewer feedings, he sleeps in much longer stretches. Wow, sometimes a whole 4 hours.

15-18 months

Arg, daycare stress, teething molars, colds and viruses… so back to co-sleeping and waking more often again.

Hope is a thing with feathers.

Now, after two months of daycare, he’s getting used to the new routine. His bedtime begins in the crib, and he’s sleeping longer on his own.

He still wakes up a few times, but I’m too tired to keep getting up. I need unbroken sleep to stay awake at work the next day, so I bring him into bed with me after midnight. This also gives us time to reconnect and make up for the separation during daytime.

What the future may hold for us?

I hope he will eventually fall asleep like a big toddler, with limbs sprawled and completely oblivious to noise as loud as a freight train. Perhaps when he becomes more verbal, I’ll convince him to stay in bed with his Elmo doll, even introduce him to a “big boy” bed. Maybe then, there will be a truce. Then again, he might just have an easier time of escaping his room and climbing into my bed. We’ll see!

So in conclusion of my forensic report into what-went-wrong, after considering his personality, his needs and my ability to fulfill them without becoming a crazy mommy-zombie, I can’t see doing anything differently. Do you?

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10 Comments

Filed under Co-sleeping, Daycare, My Personal Experience, Naps, Putting Baby to Sleep

10 responses to “Sleep Maturity or “Did I go wrong somewhere?”

  1. Those pictures! Those pictures! Those tiny little toes in the last picture are especially precious!

    LI’l D’s been a pretty good sleeper for a long while. He first slept through the night when he was about five months old; I awakened at 4 a.m., assuming the worst, only to find my rustling had awakened them. Since then, he’s had periods where he hasn’t been able to sleep well, but they’ve been pretty time limited. Those several-day periods have been reminders to me how much I ought enjoy the times he’s sleeping well, which is most the time. I feel very lucky.

    There are other things that are taxing, but like your parting question . . . I do what I can do, and find it all so much more than worth it. ♥ Thank goodness parenting is so drastically different from what I expected, which was 9 parts horror to 1 part awesome. So far, it’s been the opposite, although the balance falls differently on different days. 🙂

    • Thanks Deborah! Your support means a lot to me. Yes, you’re lucky. I think we all have our parenting challenges. Though sleep is mine, I know I’m lucky too.

      I love your idea of the 9-to-1 ratio. We can start a parenting segment on just that!
      Today’s 1 part horror: Alex dumping a full can of mango juice down his pants while in his stroller.
      But I can name so many more that fit in the awesome category, including seeing him give hugs to a little girl, just ’cause it feels good.

  2. CJ

    Those early days sound like a description of my daughter too. The first three months were really really (really) tough. All of the other stages are familiar too but I think the sleep deprivation has blasted my memory because I can’t remember the details. Just that I was tired. All the time. One thing I learned early on, though, is that anything she was doing – whether good or bad – was just a phase. And all these phases passed, whether I read books about it or agonized or did some sort of ‘intervention’ or did nothing at all.

    I suspect that the ‘just a phase’ is the song of parenthood and so, when she wakes up crying in the middle of the night (yes, she’s the same age as your son and YES she still wakes up sometimes too), I just tell myself that it’s a brief stage which will pass. And it always does. I’ve long passed the point of trying to rationalize my daughter’s sleep.

    So, I think what you’re doing – making intuitive decisions based on what’s happening at that moment – is the best way to roll with it. And no, I don’t think you went wrong anywhere 😉

    PS – love the pix too

    • Thank you CJ! I think my memory is full of holes too. It took forever to write this post, but I’m glad I did. I want to have it written down somewhere, because so many parents kept telling me they had no idea when or how their child finally slept through the night. They simply couldn’t remember and were consequently of no help to me.
      Yes, I think I hit that stage where it’s no longer important to know why he’s waking, but just do the best to help him through the night. It’s my job and I’m glad to be a mom, even at 3am.
      I think our kids have very similar energetic personalities. I can’t imagine what would happen if we put Alex and Poppy in the same room!

  3. “Sleeping thru the night” has different definitions. Around 9 months, I would say my first daughter STILL did NOT sleep thru the night. However, when I talked to the doctor, they claimed that a 8 hour stretch WAS sleeping thru the night. She’d go to bed at 10:00, wake up at 6:00, then go back to bed till like 9:00. Since she woke up and went back to sleep, I didn’t consider that “the whole night.”

    • What I would do with 8 hours of consecutive sleep! I think I would consider 5 hours a victory. No matter, at this point I’m so used to waking several times. Good thing I was a bit of an insomniac before I had a baby!

  4. My favourite moment was a few weeks ago when someone at a party calmly assurred me that if I “put some rice cereal” in his bottle, he would sleep through the night.

    Because, you know, as 11 months he eats MASSIVE amounts of solid foods CONSTANTLY, but a bit of rice cereal, yeah, THAT will do the trick.

    • That’s hilarious! Yeah, I had a moment like that at a party too. “Just give him water.” Lady, you have no idea. My son can be half-asleep and still fling the sippy cup across the room in disgust.
      I think these other mothers don’t realize that it wasn’t the water or the rice cereal that made them sleep. They just have babies that were ready to do it on their own.

  5. Jess

    Doing things my way with Chubbs is what really has helped us both get better sleep. Better sleep = better mommy, so I think it is worth every co-sleeping moment! (Gorgeous pictures, by the way. :))

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