Category Archives: Putting Baby to Sleep

Five Favorite Bedtime Books

Reading has always been a big part of our family rituals. I’ve been reading to Alex since he was a day old. I’d hold the book up for him and read out loud all the funny sound effects and voices. My husband is the best for the voices, throwing his voice an octave pitch high for little birds or low for big bears, acting out as silly as possible.

Now Alex can turn the pages by himself and excitedly points at his favorite parts. Every night, he gets to choose the books to read before bedtime. These are his most cherished stories.

What books do your children love? I need some ideas to throw in some variety!

Are You My Mother? By P.D. Eastman A sweet little story about a little birdie's determination and love to find his mother. The ending is so tender as they finally reunite.

Moo, Baa, La La La! By Sandra Boynton Alex gets to practice all his barnyard animal sounds, and loves to shake his finger at the three little pigs. "No, no, no. You say oink!"

We're Going on a Bear Hunt, By Michael Rosen You'll be chanting the rhythmic sentences as the family goes on an adventure through tall grass, mud, river, forest and more. And what happens when they finally find a bear? That's where there's a little excitement for the end.

Counting Kisses, By Karen Katz My favorite part is when he produces his feet so I can smooch his little toes.

Time For Bed, by Mem Fox And here we wind down the evening with soft, quiet moments between mamas and babies, and final sweet good-nights before it's finally time for bed.

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Filed under My Life, Putting Baby to Sleep

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

Breaking all the Rules.

I have a confession to make.

All these basic tips and posts of ways to get your baby to sleep better, are only best-case scenarios.

Softly Sleeping

Every book you’ll read is selling you a dream… Because the idea that there’s a magical way to make your baby sleep uninterrupted all night is a sham.

I’m not being pessimistic! I assure you, I’m perfectly happy now that I’ve accepted that my little guy wakes up at least 3 to 4 times a night. That’s just who he is: a very intense, spirited child.

Some will say that I’ve created my own little monster. Yes, I have. Don’t we all? And I LOVE my little monster.

So here’s a review of my baby’s sleep progress in one line: it’s better but not perfect. I doubt it ever will be.

A few basic tips like

Creating a quiet environment,

Good habits,

Being consistent and compassionate,

Establishing a nap schedule,

do help considerably. Without these rituals, it would be a million times worse.

And we’ve outgrown other steps, like the Transfer (part 1, 2, and 3). Those tips were useful when he was very little. Nowadays, I can pretty much roll him out of my arms and he’s used to flipping on his tummy to fall asleep.

But mostly, it’s a work in progress… Like staying asleep, or falling back to sleep without my help. Since I’m pretty categorical about not letting him cry it out, I’ll just have to patiently continue rocking or breastfeeding him back to sleep. I pass no judgement on others who have “ferberized”, as long as they don’t judge me for using the boob or for co-sleeping.

So, hang it all to heck! Here’s another basic tip: Just do the best you can. Do whatever works for your family. Politely nod your head to anyone who has advice about your sleep issues, ask them to pass the guacamole, and carry on.

And if you can’t stand it any longer, make a plan and change it.

I’ve made my bed (harty-har-har) and I’m fine sleeping in it.

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

The Transfer, part 3

Finally, here is the last part of my trilogy in Transferring your Sleeping Baby into the Crib.

So you’ve prepared everything in advance, as described in part 1, and you’ve tried my little blankie trick, part 2, to cradle his head for a smoother transfer…

You are now facing the crib.

 

This is the moment of truth, and as I have often faced it and failed, here are the final tricks that kept my little baby asleep.

Avoiding The Drop

Push your lower body against the side of the crib, then lean your entire upper body and lower your baby inside. The sensation of “dropping” out of your arms is a big culprit in waking him up, so keep your baby in your arms and against your chest for as long as you can before he gets to the mattress.

Keep your Arms in the Crib.

You made it, but don’t release your arms just yet! This is another crucial point and you will have to muster all your patience not to let go and peel out of his bedroom.

When you’ve laid him on the mattress, you will have one forearm under his head and your other hand over his legs and cradling his little bum. Stay in that position, leaning into the crib. I would count ten of his deep breaths before even thinking of letting him go.

First, wiggle out your arm from under his bum. Simply, pivot your hand under him until it’s out. Second, slide your newly-free hand under his head-blankie, to keep his head steady when you pull your forearm out from the other side.

Anytime he stirs, freeze. Leave your arms perfectly immobile. Try breathing softly close to him to reassures him of your continuing presence. Then count ten breaths again and resume your “extraction”.

The rest is just practice. If your baby wakes completely and cries, pick him up, cuddle him in your arms or in the rocking chair, or breastfeed him until he’s settled, and try again. At any time, if you and your baby have had enough, go back to co-sleeping and practice another night.

I know I must sound bonkers to describe every little step like this, but I’ve found that attention to every detail has brought me success. With time, I could be a lot more sloppy, because my baby got used to this routine.

In fact, one fine night, he decided to roll out of my arms and onto his tummy. My breath caught in my throat the first time, but he now falls straight to sleep with his bum in the air. So cute! At this point, I keep my hand on his upper back and again, reassure my presence until he’s off and dreaming.

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Night Wakings

My little sweetie has just woken up three times tonight, and it’s barely past midnight. Strange, because he was sleeping for longer stretches these past few nights. What am I doing wrong?

I’m sure I’m not alone with this problem. There are so many reasons to explain why a baby is having a bad night.

 

 

 

  1. He’s HUNGRY. Depending on the baby’s age, this can range from ravenously hungry to just peckish/thirsty.
  2. He’s teething. This can go on forever.
  3. He’s nursing a cold and can’t breathe or has a fever.
  4. He is reacting to the vaccines he had a week earlier.
  5. He’s overtired, because a) you put him to sleep too late in the evening, or b) his nap schedule was out of whack for whatever reason.
  6. He’s overstimulated, because your husband played chase with him all over the house just before bedtime.
  7. His cuddle quota was not met in the daytime. For whatever reason, you did not have time to pay attention to him, give him kisses and hugs, or just hold him. (Dr. Sears would say the solution is to use a carrier.)
  8. He’s uncomfortable because the room is too hot, or too cold, or who knows, maybe because his pajamas have an irritating tag.
  9. He’s going through a developmental milestone and his brain is going on overdrive because he learned how to hold and use a fork at dinner.
  10. He’s having nightmares. Poor little guy!

I’m sure I’m missing a ton of other possible reasons for night wakings, but are these reasons or just excuses?

There are nights when I’m unsure about the path I’m taking. Am I doing the right thing? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know…

And then I think about my other mommy friends and their Sleep Stories, and doubt really starts to crumble my defenses. One offered their baby a drink of water. Lo and behold, the baby was disgusted and never woke up again in the middle of the night. Another couple decided to let their baby “cry it out”. He now sleeps 10 hours a night, uninterrupted, and is a very happy child.

Then I take a hold of myself. I would never compare my son with other babies. So I shouldn’t compare my decisions as a mother with others either. Their situations are unique and would not work for my baby. The baby who refused a drink of water and simply rolled over has a very easy-going personality. My son has a strong will. He would laugh in the face of sippy cup. My friends who resorted to let their baby “cry-it-out” were facing so many challenges (cracked nipples, low milk supply, parents returning to work and unable to handle the sleep deprivation). I can’t judge their decision, and I know they don’t judge me either.

So the reasons above are not excuses. They are valid. One has to respect the fact that our babies face a lot of challenges. They are capable of great things, but we shouldn’t pressure our babies because we’re feeling insecure as parents. It all works out in the end, right?

Hey, my little guy is still sleeping… I think it might be a good night after all.

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Napping Schedule

Figuring out when your baby should nap is practically an artform. Their nap schedule is in eternal flux, they’re sprinkled throughout the day messing up your daily goals (modest may they be, like have a shower), but without them your baby will fall apart.

Here’s what I figured out…

First, babies need a lot of sleep and you have to work around their schedule. That means you may not have time to go out shopping, visit friends, or whatnot. Just thank God you got the time to do one thing, like go for a walk in the park.

Second, if you skip a nap, you will pay for it later. More precisely, your baby will be paying for it. He will not be a cooperative baby if he’s overtired. And don’t believe that they’ll sleep better because they’re exhausted. Think about it. When you go to bed super late, don’t your muscles get twitchy, doesn’t your brain hurt, aren’t you a tad sensitive? Imagine your baby going through that. It’s going to be a nightmare to put him down and keep him asleep. Don’t skip naps!

Third, figure out your little one’s sleep cues. This is the best way to figuring out his personal schedule. Yawning means, hmmm I could sleep a few winks. Staring into space, please put me to sleep. Rubbing eyes, I’m so tired I’m about to have a fit and I’m getting crabby. Crying means you missed the boat. Don’t delay a nap. If you see them yawning a couple of times, swoop them up, it’s time to sleep. If you catch it on time, it should be very easy to put your baby to sleep.

Lastly, a typical schedule for naps varies widely and greatly depends on the baby’s age. On average, a baby under 4 months old should not be awake for more than 2 hours at a time. It could be two naps in the morning and two naps in the afternoon. As they grow older, the morning nap may consolidate into one, with still two naps in the afternoon. Then, playtime starts lasting longer with a nap in the morning and one later in the day, until one day your baby only needs one nap a day.

Most sleep books only discuss bedtime issues, and explain very little about naps, except for The 90-minute Baby Sleep Program. So useful and easy! Don’t worry. This book will not force your baby into an arbitrary schedule. It helped me understand when my baby is tired and discover his ever-changing sleep pattern. Check out my short book review here.

Good naps mean good nights!

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Filed under Basic Tips, Naps, Putting Baby to Sleep, Sleep Cues

Co-Sleeping

The first month of being a mommy was so hard. Let me rephrase that: it was the most exhilarating and disastrous time of my life.

Breastfeeding was a challenge, my baby got jaundice, the back-splash poop was staining everything, but mostly I was exhausted. My little baby just wouldn’t sleep in the crib, wouldn’t sleep in the side-car, wouldn’t sleep in bed next to me, wouldn’t sleep anywhere except in my arms.

So on the second night at home, my husband and I took turns every 3 hours holding him. Now that I think about it, 3 hours is a lovely chunk of sleep after a year of waking every hour or two on most nights.  But back then, 3 hours would go by in a wink.

On the third night, I devised a way to hold my baby and learn to co-sleep.

After breastfeeding him, he would just pass out. He wouldn’t stir unless I moved him out of my arms. So my husband would prop my legs up on the couch and I slept sitting up with my baby on my chest.

The next night, I arranged my bed with several pillows and leaned back with my baby cradled in my arms.

And after a couple of nights of baby steps, every time testing a minuscule change, I managed to lie all the way down and get my baby to sleep next to me.  With him in my arms and high up on my lap, I would scoot in bed and slowly lean back, while at the same time shifting my baby to my side and laying him down next to my body. Then, only after I was assured he wouldn’t wake up, I would scoot slightly over to give him enough space, but still kept my arm under his head.

For a long time, I could not reclaim my arm from under him. With time, and more baby steps, I was able to move him down my arm further and further, from my armpit to my forearm.

One night, after breastfeeding him in bed, my arm went numb because of the weight of his head. He was growing up fast and his head was getting heavier. I said, enough! And slowly slipped my arm, while holding his head with my other hand so he wouldn’t plop suddenly on the mattress. And presto! He stayed asleep.

From that point on, I would use a folded receiving blanket under his head while breastfeeding so I could easily transfer him off my arm and on my bed. Then I could lie next to him and sleep at last! (For more details on this trick, read my past post here.)

Now, my little guy sleeps in his crib. It took several months of baby steps to progress to a little sleep independence. Of course, if he’s sick we snuggle together again and I must confess, I do miss it terribly. Here’s the cutest little video that epitomizes the mommy-baby snuggle at its best:

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Night and Day.

So you have a baby who sleeps from midnight to noon.

Chances are your baby is a newborn, used to sleeping around the clock in your womb. But now this is a brand new world, with sunrises and sunsets.

It may take a while to help your baby adjust his circadian rhythm… in other words, learn to sleep at night and stay awake during the day.

But a little bit of time to get used to a new way of sleeping, and establishing good habits, I think are the only factors. First, when baby wakes up in the morning, open the blinds, say “Good morning!” as cheerfully as possible (even though you hardly slept all night) and keep active until nap time.

Then, in the evening, make everything mellow. Dim the lights, talk softly, and turn off the television. (See more ideas here and here for a wind-down routine.)

In a few days, your newborn will get in the swing of things!

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Early to Bed, Early to Rise…

I don’t think it makes a baby wealthy, but definitely healthy and wise.

I bring this up because my friend was wondering why her baby was able to sleep soundly for 4 hours at the beginning of the night, but would wake up every 2 hours after that.

Quite simply, the beginning of the night is when you get the most restful and deepest sleep (there is a greater amount of deep sleep, called N3, earlier in the sleep cycle). We all wake up several times a night, but during this stage it’s much easier for a baby to “konk” out and keep sleeping.

However, for the rest of the night, a baby sleeps very lightly. Falling back asleep on their own becomes increasingly difficult when their sleep shifts into light, REM sleep.

And that’s why they wake up so easily at the crack of dawn. Or sometimes, pre-dawn. I found my baby would wake up at 5am if he was over-tired and went to bed too late. You’d think he would want to sleep in! In these cases, I think his body and brain were “irritated” that they didn’t get enough of that deep sleep early in the night.

That’s why it’s important to tuck them in early. They get the best quality, most restorative sleep early in the night.

Personally, I found the bedtime sweet spot to be between 7:30pm and 8pm. Anytime later makes getting to sleep and staying asleep much more challenging.

(Sure I know a baby who sleeps from midnight to noon, but there are exceptions for everything. In such cases, usually very young babies, they need to adjust their circadian rhythm… in other words, learn to sleep at night and stay awake during the day. See here for more info.)

Take heart! In my experience, as the baby gets older, you get longer stretches at the beginning of the night.

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The Transfer, part 2

The best trick I found for a smooth transfer was using a folded receiving blanket for my baby’s head. When it was time to breastfeed him, I’d put the rectangular blankie on my forearm and then lay his head on it.

First, it would prevent him from sweating all over me, especially in the summer. Without the blanket, I’d get an imprint of his ear on my arm and his skin would stick like velcro. Not a good thing if you’re trying to gently transfer him into the crib or next to you in bed.

Second, as I would scoop him up and place him in his bed, I could easily slip my other hand under his head to release my forearm without tugging at his hair or folding up his ear.

Third, his cheek would have the warm blankie to lay on, and he wouldn’t get jolted awake by a cool bed sheet.

Voila!

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