Baby Sleep Saga

Miss Munchkin has been sleeping and napping on her own for a few months now. Still not perfectly with night wakings aside from hunger and some short naps… but that’s just life. It’s been a long journey to that place, and I wanted to chronicle it on the blog for us in the future and for anyone it might help.

I read a lot before S was born – probably too much. I had read things that promoted attachment parenting, cry it out, and a number of things somewhere in the middle. Our favorite was Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. We planned for S to start out sleeping in her crib, which is side-carred to our bed, in hopes that most future sleep training could be avoided. The first week was perfect, but then reflux hit. She would not sleep more than 30 minutes lying down, so out of desperation we had her sleep in her bouncy seat for a few nights while we waited to get in to the doctor, who suggested lots of things we could do. We started doing them, but nothing really helped and the bouncy seat was crunching her tummy so soon she was sleeping on my chest.
But she still went to sleep easily until about 5 weeks. Then it was a mess and kept going downhill and getting worse and worse, harder and harder to put to sleep during the day, and I was on plugged duct number 7 from her sleeping on my chest.

We had talked before she was born about preferring not to cry it out until six months and perhaps not even then. I was skeptical it really teaches sleep, and didn’t want to have to let her cry again every time we had sleep issues after trips, etc. I also wasn’t confident in knowing her cries and felt like letting her cry would be punishing her for props we had purposefully allowed her to have. Throw in a spirited personality and we knew if we went that route we’d be in for a lot of crying – which didn’t mix well with reflux either, since crying aggravates reflux.
But our “fade” methods of sleep training weren’t working. I had been trying to rock her until less sleepy/put her down more and more awake, but whenever we got close to her doing it on her own, we had a growth spurt or something else that led to it all being undone.
I found a forum for the Baby Whisperer method, and that helped a lot – they gave us the “be consistent” we really needed and also helped troubleshoot various issues, helping us understand what was going on at the root.
We said we’d take three nights to teach S to sleep in her crib. Three nights by the end of which there had to be progress. And that’s pretty much all it took. Night four she wiggled around, sighed, and went to sleep. But the first two bed times were tough: three hours of lots of crying, calming, almost being asleep, jolting, and repeating. I put earbuds in and listened to music, which really helped me to be patient and focus on being consistent and doing it as long as necessary instead of thinking about the time. E was home but sleeping on the couch, which helped because I knew I wasn’t disturbing his sleep, but he was there if I needed him.
Our method was to start the night with her bedtime routine of feeding, singing, and praying, then putting her down. When she cried, we first tried to calm her just by patting and shushing. If that didn’t work, we picked her up and patted and shushed until she was calm, then put her down again. It was more crying than I had anticipated, but it wasn’t three hours straight.

That week we did naps on me, but in the bedroom and with as little help from me as possible, to prepare her for naps the next week.
Naps did NOT go well the next week. We said “three days” again, because it’s easier to be consistent when you have an end in sight. But it was three days of me being in a dark room almost constantly, and when we took a break for me to get lunch or something, she was so tired she cried whenever I put her down, and there was very little progress by the end. It was really affecting me and I needed to get out and walk or do something, so put her in the carrier and we went for a walk while she slept, then changed tactics the next day to nursing her in the dark bedroom and then putting her down mostly asleep – since she was waking hungry whenever she did finally fall asleep and was so distracted in the light. We did that for a few weeks and were getting pretty good naps, and then we weaned the swaddle (more awful sleep!) and that would have continued to be a disaster, but she found her thumb, and after a week or two of sleepless nights trying to help her find her thumb consistently, we’re having good sleep again.

We learned a lot.
– The best thing would have been just to do things differently from the start, but that wasn’t really an option for us. Next baby it will definitely be more of a priority, and we are praying that our future babies don’t have reflux.
– The first month gave us a false impression of what her sleep would be like and what our new normal would be. That made it MUCH harder when we started having sleep issues, because I was used to being able to get things done, cook, etc.
– A lot of baby sleep books give false impressions that if you follow their plan from the start it will all just fall into place and that you can have baby sleep figured out. It’s always changing and there’s always something to figure out.
– Pick your battles. We had a reflux flare-up about two weeks after S was sleeping on her own. We didn’t want her to have the pacifier to fall asleep because then she’d wake up whenever she lost it, but it was better than the alternative of more frequent wakings from reflux or sleeping on us – so she got the pacifier.
– Know when they’re ready. S was no longer sleeping well on us, had konked out on her own, and slept in crib for short stretches, and was also starting to get cranky and sleep instead of just skipping naps and getting hyper, so we knew it was a good time.
– Be consistent. This does NOT mean you can’t ever wear your baby for a nap once you start sleep training, like I thought. It may be faster if you don’t, but save your sanity if you need to. What it ended up meaning for us was that we had to be perfectly consistent with each nap. If it didn’t work, then we took a break and either tried again or got her to sleep a totally different way, but we stopped caving in on a nap attempt and saw it through. It also helped a lot to have an end for the consistency. We said we’d give it three days or nights, so we knew that even if it wasn’t working, eventually we could stop.
Consistency also means sticking to ONE method, whether of calming, wake times, etc. for at least a few days before throwing it out. Everyone disagrees on how much sleep and how long baby should be awake, so you may need to play with it, but give each thing a fair trial of 5 or so days.
– Swaddle weaning. Pray. A lot. We went cold turkey because of rolling – so start sooner! Then it was a lot of patting, shushing, and putting her hands back at her side so she got used to her arms being free and not to us holding her down.
– Know your baby’s temperament. This relieved a lot of mom-guilt for me, because I felt like we were doing everything wrong with S because of how badly she slept. Then I watched the other babies at church fall asleep in a light room with people around, and knew S was just different. As long as there was light and people, she would happily play and be distracted rather than going to sleep, which was also why it was so hard to get her to wind down and go to sleep, even at home in a dark room.
– You aren’t failing if you change what you do because something doesn’t work but this new thing does. You still have to be OK with doing it long-term and not just doing it because it works.
But what works now may not work next week, or may stop working before your fading it out is done. S nursed to sleep for a while and then stopped when we stopped swaddling. Thankfully she found her thumb and so we didn’t have to re-train anything, but that may not always be the case.
– Take care of mama, even at the risk of naps or nights being a bit worse. I really needed to get out and go for walks, but felt like I needed to work on naps with perfect consistency, and at that time her wake times were so short that walks were impossible… but I should have just put her in the ergo and gone anyway, because I needed it – walks on my own and time out and in fellowship with friends. Yes, there are times we need to buckle down and do it, and there are times when we just need to grow to be more patient and less stressed… but sometimes we just need to get away.
– S is already “crawling” and will often get up on hands and knees when going to sleep and get stuck there. So we put her back down, say “lie down,” and repeat as often as needed. She’s learning pretty quickly.
– Eat/Wake/Sleep cycles sound like a good idea and they worked for us until 4 months – when S’s wake times extended but her time between feeds didn’t, so she was waking early from naps because she was hungry. So I started topping up before naps, and then stopped worrying altogether about when in the cycle she ate, as long as I wasn’t always feeding her to sleep.
– We don’t have a schedule with S and not really even a routine any more. Bedtime and morning wake up are roughly the same each day and she eats roughly every 3 hours, but beyond that it’s based on her awake times.

But maybe the biggest thing I’m learning is to not worry so much about baby sleep. Yes, bad day sleep affects my night sleep if it affects her night sleep, but don’t get so hung up on the amount of hours and times.
I still would love to know the difference between what’s best, normal, and possible.
Babywise sets forth possible – baby sleeps a long night early, perhaps even with no crying. But that’s certainly not the norm, and I really don’t know if it’s best for babies with such small tummies to sleep for such long stretches so early on. I agree with the statements in Babywise about the marriage being most important, and so there’s a certain level of sleep and sleep on baby’s own that needs to be happening, but I think sleeping 12 hours straight at night by 12 weeks is overrated and not necessarily even the best thing, and from Western culture (it’s certainly not the mark of a good baby). Most of what I’ve read says that between 4-6 months babies no longer need a feed at night except during growth spurts. At 6 months S eats 1-2 times a night, which I’m fine with for now, especially as she’s not stagnating there but has been increasing the lengths between feeds little by little.

Tips and tricks:
Awake Times. (having the right A time was key for S, and what dictates our routine, and I think having too short wake times was the biggest contributor to nap problems)
10 Reasons other than Hunger for Night Wakings
(check out all the FAQ links on this forum!)
Eat Play Sleep Fail (I also love her thoughts on Cry-it-out)
Tips for Teaching Your Baby to Sleep (attachment parenting style)
Getting Your Baby on a Schedule (love this site!)

For nap training: Try for 40 minutes, then take a break for 15, just to sit quietly. Feed when they’re hungry, wait 10 minutes, and try again.
After a short nap (under an hour), cut awake time by 15 minutes.

Under tired/Over tired cycle: S would wake early from nap 1 because she was under tired and then would be over tired the rest of the day because of it. I thought she was just chronically overtired, though, so kept pushing earlier naps in the morning, just making the whole thing worse. So I learned:
35 minute wakeup is usually undertired.
40-45 minute wakeup is usually overtired.
20 minute wakeup is usually overstimulation – this was common so we started a longer wind down.


3 thoughts on “Baby Sleep Saga

  1. Cait K. says:

    Great thoughts. Thank you for sharing! You have done such a wonderful job. It’s hard to figure out a baby’s personality and I’m glad it helped so much to understand S. There are so many perspectives and every baby will be different, which makes it hard to not feel like a failure as a parent whatever way you slice it. So your ‘learned’ thoughts would be really helpful to someone starting out.


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