Monday, May 26, 2014

On Infant/Toddler Sleep

From Ferber to Dr. Sears, and everywhere in between, there are a LOT of opinions on baby sleep.  I have some, too, but first I'll share my story:

When we were expecting, I read a little here and there about infant sleep, but mostly I figured it would be intuitive, or that we would just do what works best for our baby and our family.  I knew I wouldn't really be able to handle the "cry it out" method, but I was maybe open to some kind of sleep training, and I was pretty much against co-sleeping (it seemed scary/unsafe). I also knew I wanted him in our room at first, but that was about as far as my plan went.

napping on his first day home (with our pup wondering what the heck this new thing was...)!
Then, we got lucky (at least that's what other parents told us), when Jacob slept through the night virtually from day one. For real. Literally, I would set my alarm for two or three a.m. for the first two months to wake him to nurse. Some nights he would seem hungry and nurse okay, but others I would have to strip him down, tickle him, even use a wet cloth on his cheeks to get him to wake up enough to eat! At around eight weeks, the doctor told me I didn't have to wake him anymore, and he slept through the night from then on! He was a "great sleeper."  Really, he just loved his Fisher Price Rock n' Play (He had bad reflux, noisy breathing, and eventually we found out he was aspirating, so he slept in it -- to be elevated -- every night for almost five months as well as for many daytime naps), and he loved being swaddled (yay for Halo swaddle sacks!).

swaddled in the Rock n' Play
working on the transition to flat sleep (in a pack n' play)
When it came time to have him start sleeping flat, move him to his own room (he was in ours for six months), and to lose the swaddle, it was a whole new world! And not in a good way. What had happened to our great sleeper? He still slept well a far as number of hours (the boy always did and still does sleep a LOT), but he wasn't able to self soothe any more, and he seemed to hate laying flat, especially in a big, empty crib. I totally agree with following the AAP recommendations regarding an empty crib (no blankets, bumpers, or stuffed animals), since that's the safest sleep environment for baby, but Jacob was used to a snuggly Rock n' Play, and now he was on this firmer, more open, flat surface. He didn't know what to do. So he cried.

I just gave in and and took pictures instead during one failed crib nap ;)
"Party in my crib."
I rocked him to sleep from then on, and then moved him to his crib when he was asleep. And you know what? I loved the snuggles, and he seemed to sleep well (mostly through the night) after being set down, so no harm no foul, right? Well, eventually teething began, or he'd have a cold, or something would cause him to wake and fuss in the night, and I'd be in rocking again in the middle of the night...lots of nights. This was when he was around 8-9 months old, I think (I don't really remember now!), and some time after several weeks of that waking in the night routine, he was sick with a fever or something and we decided to just keep him in our bed that night to monitor him. Of course, he didn't wake up in the night when we were close by! We did that for a few nights, and after that, he would cry whenever he woke in the night in his own crib (because we weren't there!). We "fought" it and kept trying to put him in his crib at night, only to bring him in at two a.m. when he woke crying, for quite a few months, and then at around 15 months, he climbed out!

I was in bed, sleeping in until I heard him cry for me, except he didn't cry this day. I don't know if he even made much of a sound (although he must have, right? I didn't hear it...) as he scaled his crib and dropped to the floor of his room. He is pretty small, and we had the crib on the lowest setting (or so we thought -- later we realized it did go down about two more inches), so we didn't expect him to escape and didn't yet close his bedroom door or the gate at the top of the stairs! Thank God, he toddled right past the stairs and into my bedroom, calling "Mommy!" I almost had a heart attack, seeing him standing there, out of his crib. So then came the "great toddler bed debate." Do we put him in a toddler bed at only 15 months? Or risk him climbing out again, and possibly being injured in the process? Do we forget it all and start co-sleeping (he was already ending up in our room many an early morning)?

Still holding him to get him to sleep at around 15 months...

Ultimately, we decided he was too small for a toddler bed (and we weren't up to the challenge yet), so we kept the crib but sort of did a combo of the "risking it" (we did realize we could lower the mattress two more inches, and we surrounded the crib with pillows on the floor) and the co-sleeping. During this time he seemed to increasingly dislike his crib, and he had still yet to put himself to sleep, since those early days of the magic swaddle/Rn'P combo. We limped through those few months, with one of us staggering into his room in a half-sleep daze in the wee hours to bring him to our bed whenever he cried. We struggled a little at bed time, too, as this was between about 15-20 months, and he'd gotten pretty big and heavy for rocking. He didn't let me rock him in the chair any more, so I would kind of rock/cuddle/pin him down in our bed until he drifted off, and then transfer him to his crib (and make "the drop" -- 5'1" me trying to gently lay down a sleeping 23-ish lb. boy in a crib on the lowest setting, where I could barely reach down to the mattress).
a makeshift nap spot after trouble moving him into the crib ;)
I read about baby/toddler sleep again sometime in there...I read Elizabeth Pantley's No Cry Sleep Solution, information on sleep training from The Baby Sleep Site, excerpts from Pamela Druckerman's Bringing Up Baby, and countless posts on BabyCenter and other websites. I tried various pieces of advice and couldn't quite come up with the "magic formula" for getting him to sleep in his crib and/or to soothe himself to sleep. I really don't think there's an expert who knows exactly what to do in each unique situation, with each unique baby.

Still, something had to give, so just after he turned 20 months old, I decided it was time to take off the rail to turn his crib into a toddler bed (yes, I mean that "I," not we, decided -- Daddy was pretty skeptical). Thankfully, it worked so well! Jacob LOVED (I really mean it) his new "Big Boy Bed," as it was dubbed. He climbed in it proudly, promptly filled it with all his stuffed "friends" and his blankies, and claimed it as his special space. He would even run and dive in it at non-sleep times and get this huge grin. When we traveled, he would ask for his Big Boy Bed and struggle to go to sleep anywhere else. Daddy was surprised and impressed. This was all wonderful, but there was a catch -- Jacob still couldn't "self soothe."
The first night in the Big Boy Bed!
He was almost two, and I still had to help him get to sleep. I know this was because we didn't let him cry it out and we didn't sleep train. It's because he never had to self soothe after about six months of age, and he'd forgotten how. But now he was older, much louder, verbal, and able get out of his toddler bed and roam his room, but still too young to really understand why we'd leave him alone in there. So, I would still lay next to him (yes, I'd squeeze in the toddler bed -- good thing I'm really short) at naps and bed time and read a story, sing songs, cuddle, rub his back, etc. until he was sound asleep. Then I'd sneak out of his room. It was a routine for so long, and it was "our time," and most evenings I didn't mind spending that time at all (I did mind when we visited family or had company over and I'd have to disappear for a half hour for the bedtime routine). He wouldn't need it forever, though, right?

Right. Jacob is almost 26 months old now, and about a month or so ago, I started thinking that he had to learn to put himself to sleep now that he's two. It's just a skill kids should have, and I wanted a little more freedom in my evenings, but I wasn't sure how to go about it. I had tried leaving the room before, and he had spazzed -- screaming and crying for me, and definitely not falling asleep. Well, my husband was traveling for a week for work, and on the third night, our dog started barking/whining/ringing his bell to go outside while I was upstairs, mid-bedtime routine with Jacob. He was not letting up, so I told Jacob, "I'll be right back, I have to go take Avery outside. I'll come back in a few minutes." He said "Okay, Mommy," and sat still as I walked out of the room and closed the door. I thought, "Wow, no crying?" When I came back inside, the monitor was silent. I waited about ten minutes, listening for a little boy wandering his room or calling for me, and it stayed silent. I knew he was safe in there, but I had to check, so I peeked in; he was sound asleep, favorite blankie in hand, covers pulled up, in the same spot where I left him in his bed. HE DID IT. For the first time ever. I was amazed, thankful, and maybe a little sad that he didn't need me (I know, weird considering I'd wanted and waited for this moment, right?).

I took that night as a cue, and continued the same routine for the next several nights, following our bedtime routine, lying next to him, and then telling him I needed to leave and would be back to check on him in a little bit...I did come back each time, just after he was asleep. ;) Each night I left a bit sooner, until I was leaving right after a story, a song, and a kiss, while he was still mostly awake. Each night, he put himself to sleep. He didn't have one night of crying, calling for me, or getting out of his bed. In fact, he never gets out after I leave, until the morning (I can tell based on the pillows we still have on the floor in case he'd fall, the sound in the monitor, etc.). It's been about two weeks now, and every night we've had the same success. I think he was just ready developmentally. My toddler now goes to bed by himself, in his own Big Boy Bed. He stays there, and we don't hear from him until about 7:30 - 8 a.m. (bed time is 8 - 8:30). Plus he naps for about two hours each afternoon (but I still have to help him fall asleep for many of those). It is a little bittersweet, but I'm so proud!

He loves his bed now -- snuggling recently with a bunch of his "friends" :)
I know that's a LONG story! I think most of our "sleep stories" are, if we have babies or toddlers, but my point in sharing all of those details is this: we've reached the desired end result. Jacob puts himself to sleep. He got there eventually, despite some struggles along the way. He's growing up.

And now? I kind of wish he was my tiny baby again and I could swaddle him, rock him to sleep, and place him in the tiny Rock n' Play nest by my bed. I even kind of wish I could lay next to him and cuddle him to sleep, see him drift off peacefully, and listen to his even breaths as I carried him to the crib and snuck out of the room. I don't really (I do have major baby fever, but that's another story for another time). The point is that I don't care about all of those "sleep struggles." I don't wish that I had let him "cry it out" at some point. Sure, I've learned some things and may do things a bit differently if we're blessed with a second child. But I don't wish Jacob's baby and toddlerhood had gone any differently, including the sleep stuff.

I hope that these thoughts are helpful to you if you're in an earlier stage with your little one. If you're struggling with sleep, it's so hard to think ahead, to realize that your child will someday sleep all night, alone. Heck, it's hard to even function when you're exhausted. So maybe it's annoying when people tell you "this too shall pass," or "this is just such a short phase, a season of life." I think I was annoyed by those same people and now I'm one of them, but IT IS TRUE. Your baby or toddler will not go to college needing your help to get to sleep. In fact, he or she will probably want to sleep, ALONE, much more than you'd wish during those teenage years ;)

So try to soak it in, enjoy the time and the stage, and do the "sleep stuff" however YOUR gut tells you to. I'm a true believer in "whatever works for you" when it comes to parenting (as long as it's safe, loving, and developmentally-appropriate!). I don't like it when moms feel like they have to do exactly what the mom next door does, and I really don't like when moms judge each other's choices. Don't listen too closely to the famous expert, or the moms in your play group, or your mother-in-law, or even your own mother (sometimes even your husband). You are the mom, you're the expert on your baby, and you will eventually get the desired end result.

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