Tag Archives: baby sleep

Why you should talk to your baby before changing their life

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My youngest child turned 18 months-old last week. She’s officially a toddler, talking and running and climbing stairs, and although I’m getting better at not treating her like a tiny infant, sometimes I forget how much she understands and thinks for herself. Here is a cautionary tale about why you should talk to your kids, even when they’re tiny, especially if you’re changing the routine on them. It helps, you guys, it really helps.

My daughter has been sleeping in my room since she was a baby, first in a co-sleeper and then in a crib. She still sometimes wakes up for an early morning feeding, but she’s more than ready to night-wean and my partner and I want our room back! So we decided that we’d move her in with her brother and carve back some space for just us.

We talked about timing and made careful plans, and then for various reasons, those plans didn’t work out and we ended up moving her crib into the new room more-or-less on a whim over last weekend. We talked with my 3 year-old about how Sister was going to sleep in his room now and made sure he felt okay about it. I assumed that our daughter would be fine, because it’s a familiar room and we were keeping her in the same crib, and she routinely sleeps in pack ‘n plays in strange rooms when we go to visit friends in the evening. But still, I completely and totally failed to, you know, actually explain to her what was going on. Because she’s a baby, right, and why would she care? I know better than that, but it was a day full of distractions and a last-minute decision, and it just didn’t cross my mind to explain it to her.

Anyway, we put her down in the new room at bedtime, and she was smiles and smiles until I closed the door. Then, utter panic and screaming! My partner and I were unprepared. We’d expected to maybe have some upset from my son, but neither of us thought the baby would have any trouble at all. We gave her a few minutes and then my partner went up to try to calm her down, but she was so upset that he eventually gave up and set up a pack ‘n play in our room where her crib used to be. It still took her forever to fall asleep, and she woke a few times overnight extra upset, which made us feel terrible, and also exhausted in the morning.

We decided to just try again the next time it seemed convenient, but I had no intention of trying again the next day when the first night was sooooo terrible. But then we got home from our errands later than I expected, and by the time we had finished lunch, we were late for my daughter’s naptime and it was already time for my son’s nap, and I had an inkling that maybe she would be calmer if her brother was in the room with her when she laid down. So, I asked them both together where they would like to have their naps. My son said “Sister sleep with me!” (isn’t he a cutie?) I told the baby, “Baby, you can have naptime in your crib in Brother’s room, or in the pack ‘n play in our room. Where would you like to sleep?” She ran into her brother’s room and stood waiting by the crib, where she then slept for 2.5 hours with no fuss at all (even though Brother didn’t fall asleep for the entire naptime, and spent the whole afternoon singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and making raspberries with his mouth!) That night at bedtime, she fell right asleep, and though we’re having some frustration from her when she wakes up an wants to nurse at 5:30AM, I’m much more confident that we’re all in for a good night.

Two morals to this story:
1) Talk to your babies, even when they’re tiny. It helps them know what to expect and it helps get you in the habit of explaining what’s going on to them, which is better for everyone once they get older and understand what you’re saying.

2) Realize that your babies get smarter, and that you need to respond to their growing intelligences by helping them make decisions and control their own lives, as appropriate. I know that sounds obvious, but I think a lot of us pay attention to “milestones”, like walking or saying the first word, and then it’s easy to forget that babies get smarter in ways they can’t show you, too. Two months ago, my daughter would not have been capable of making a decision about where she had her nap, but now she is. Giving her the chance to make the decision on her own would have saved us all a lot of grief if we’d done it in the first place.

Milestone Madness

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It has been a huge week over here in the Mothering for Me household! Both of my babies are doing amazing things, and this momma is proud!

My youngest, almost 6 months, has been working so hard on rolling from her back to her front, and by Jove, she’s finally got it! I have spent the week waking up all night to her screaming, when she rolls to her belly and gets stuck there. Yesterday she spent an entire two hours rolling to her belly instead of napping. I went up there no less than 8 times to return her to her back before I finally gave up, and no sleep was had at all, which made for an interesting rest of the afternoon.

Last night was a difficult one again, but when I woke up this morning, I found her asleep (!) on her belly! She’d rolled over at night, decided it was suddenly not the worst thing in the world, and just went back to sleep on her own like she used to do. I’m hoping that means we are in for some better sleep in the coming nights. It’s hard to become used to sleeping for a few weeks, only to have it pulled out from under you once again.

I am so proud of my little girl, though! My baby can roll! It’s the little things.

And it’s the big things, too! My son, being much older, hit an even bigger milestone this week! We’ve been working with a speech therapist since late May, after a series of ear infections caused him a major speech regression. He’s been trying more words every week, with more or less success, but most of them you hear once and then never again. This week is particularly exciting though, because this is the first week in his life where I really feel like we are understanding each other most of the time. There are still moments where I have no idea what he wants, but over the past few weeks, he’s learned to point, make more eye contact, and he’s just started to say “Ya!” and “All done!”, which are hugely helpful words to have. He’s 28 months, and we’ve still got a ways to go, but I am more and more confident that the day of mutual understanding is a’coming.

Milestones mean less sleep all around, but it’s always temporary. In fact, baby girl put herself to sleep for the nap she refused yesterday after needing help just once! This week, the sleep deprivation feels worth it.

Book Review: Good Night Sleep Tight: The Sleep Lady’s Gentle Guide to Helping Your Child Go to Sleep, Stay Asleep, and Wake Up Happy by Kim West and Joanne Kenen

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Good Night, Sleep Tight has the dubious distinction of being the first baby sleep book I ever read. You may be noticing a pattern here, but I found this for $1 at the Good Will (I was there a lot when I was first pregnant, and none of my clothes fit), and when I looked it up online, it seemed like a lot of people liked it. I was young, I was innocent, I knew nothing about baby sleep . . . into the cart it went.

Now that I’m old and jaded and substantially more knowledgeable about babies all over, I have very mixed feelings about this book. I’m pretty sure that some of my son’s sleep problems were actually created when I tried to follow West’s advice too closely, but there’s also a lot of good information here.

west-good-nightPros: West’s delineation of the amounts of sleep that are normal for different age groups and the types of routines/schedules that work for different age groups are some of the clearest I’ve found, and the most accurate to what my son was doing from 0-9ish months-old. We didn’t try her “Sleep Lady Shuffle,” but it didn’t seem like a terrible idea and I think it would work well for some families.

Cons: West says she breastfed her own children, but it seems like she’s not well-educated about breastfeeding and what’s normal for breast-fed babies (a recurring trouble spot for many sleep books, I’m noticing). This is bad, because a lot of babies won’t be able to be night-weaned nearly as early as she seems to think they should be, and she sometimes suggests formula feeding over breastfeeding for sleep purposes, which is just baloney. If a mother’s willing to breastfeed, she should be supported in that, not told that she’s ruining her baby’s sleep. And we have good evidence that formula-fed babies *don’t* tend to sleep any better than breastfed babies, so encouraging formula here is especially wrongheaded.

Another huge problem for my family, and one of the reasons I end up not recommending this book that often, is that West does not address sleep regressions (common at 4 months, 8 or 9 months, and sometimes 11 months) as a normal part of development. She certainly doesn’t devote any time in the book as to how to get through them. As I’ve mentioned, sleep regressions are really challenging times for everyone, and West ignores the existence of that challenge, potentially making parents feel like they’re doing something wrong when their kid is just going through a normal, difficult stage. She does address some sleep issues like teething and regression in the last chapter, but it needed to be front-and-center in the age-appropriate chapters to be meaningful.

I have such mixed feelings about this book, but I think overall, it doesn’t really fit with my parenting philosophy. Nothing West says is evidence-based, and some of the advice seems actively harmful. For those reasons, I don’t recommend it.

Book review: The Dream Sleeper: A Three-Part Plan for Getting Your Baby to Love Sleep by Conner Herman and Kira Ryan

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Still clearing out the short book review backlog, though this one went and got longer on me.

If you are on this blog in the baby sleep tag looking for a decent book on baby sleep, you may have noticed that I haven’t been impressed by most of the baby sleep books I’ve read. This is really sad, because I’ve read a lot of them! I say that I’ve been unimpressed with the caveat that my first baby, my son, was just not a great sleeper, and he was never going to be a great sleeper no matter what method I used, until he was ready. He never dropped feedings as early as all the books said he should, and despite multiple frustrating attempts at night weaning, he really needed at least one night feed until he was 13 months. That’s not average, but now I know that it’s normal, because “normal” encompasses a wide range of behavior when it comes to the first year of life. But most books don’t tell you this, and when you end up with a baby who doesn’t (or can’t!) respond to common sleep training methods, you end up feeling like a failure for no good reason.

Now my son is 2 and he sleeps wonderfully, and it turns out that my daughter is one of these “normal” babies I’ve read so much about. But if you have a baby somewhere between my son and my daughter, I’m happy to say that I’ve finally found a book I can recommend for you.

When my son was about 9 months-old, he was still waking to eat 2-3 times at night. A friend with a baby 7 months older than my son had read The Dream Sleeper, and it had helped her with her son’s sleep issues, so she got it out of the library for me.

Spoiler: it wasn’t the magic spell that got my son to sleep through the night. But, it’s one of the stronger baby sleep books I’ve read, for a few different reasons.

herman-the dream sleeperFirst, I like how the book is laid out. Its structure was intuitive for me, and it was easy to find what I needed. I also really appreciated how much the authors emphasize that it’s okay to want to sleep! It might sound silly, but when your baby won’t sleep, you can feel guilty about your own need for sleep, and start to feel like your not being supportive of your baby’s needs because you’re so tired. Some parents have great reasons (or a great need) to sleep teach and are doing it for the right reasons, even though it’s hard.

What was really helpful for me, though, and one of the reasons I recommend The Dream Sleeper so highly, is that the authors spend a lot of time on nutrition at different ages and how that affects sleep. This is a major piece of the puzzle missing from most of the other sleep books out there. If your baby is hungry at night because of a scheduling issue over in the day, you will never be able to night wean, your baby will be screaming with hunger, and everyone will feel awful. So nutrition *must* be a large component of any plan to work on sleep.

To this effort, The Dream Sleeper offers useful optional daily schedules for babies of different ages, which actually helped me figure out that I could get the same amount of milk into my son without having to nurse every two hours. We were all much happier, and I still remember how much easier it was to transition him to the new schedule than I expected it to be.

There are some caveats to my recommendation that you should know about. The Dream Sleeper is a book that recommends a cry-it-out style of sleep teaching, which isn’t for everyone and didn’t really end up working for us. The information on the scheduling and nutritional components of sleep training can be applied to any method, though, and that’s what I think makes the book so valuable.

The other issue I noticed was that the book doesn’t reflect the most up-to-date research that the breastfeeding relationship can be sabotaged by early sleep training. If your baby’s over 4 months-old and your breastfeeding relationship is strong, or if you’re not breastfeeding, this won’t be an issue, but do your research on breastfeeding and sleep before any kind of training effort.

Have a book you’d like me to review? Leave a comment or email me.

Further thoughts on the 4 month regression.

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As predicted, I fell off the face of the internet for a little while, but my daughter seems to have figured out how to sleep with her fancy new brain with remarkably little intervention from me. The 4 month sleep regression is unpredictable, and this might be the eye of the storm rather than the end of it, but she has slept from 8PM-5AM for two nights in a row, and has been putting herself to sleep for bedtime and naps with no or very little fussing. I am ridiculously proud of her, and also relieved. Even if this is just a respite, my back and shoulders deserve the rest – rocking a 15lb baby to sleep 5-6 times a day is a lot of work!

This is also completely different from our experience of our son’s 4 month sleep regression, which lasted for months, and our son required significant intervention from us to learn to handle his new sleep patterns. I have vivid memories of rocking in a dark room for what seemed like hours, counting to myself to determine when it might be safe to try to put him down in his crib. As a second-time mother, I wonder how much of the trouble was really his different personality and temperament, and how much of it was just me getting in the way of him teaching himself sooner, but I really do think he was just a very different kind of baby from his sister.

Anyway, in my efforts to get through this regression with my sanity intact, I have been reading a lot about this age, and there are two articles I found in particular that I want to recommend strongly for any parents going through this period.

First, Ask Moxie has a great, lucid post explaining what the heck is going on during the 4 and 9 month sleep regressions, and reminds us all that it’s normal for these regressions to leave you feeling defeated and frustrated, even though they’re normal developmentally for your baby. The comments are good reading to help you feel like you’re not alone! A reminder about sleep regressions

(I do feel like I want to mention that, though she’s right that lots of babies seem to only take 20-40 minute naps as newborns, my daughter was the unicorn baby that would take 3 hour naps and always needed to be woken up to eat. So, these babies do exist, and are just as normal as the 20-40 minute nappers!)

Second, I love this article from KellyMom: Wakeful 4 month-olds

It addresses the supremely problematic advice a lot of parents get from their pediatricians, families, and an unfortunately large percentage of books on parenting and sleep, to resort to cry-it-out when their 4 month-old suddenly stops sleeping at night.

“Has NO ONE stopped to consider the developmental stage of the breastfeeding baby that begins at about four months and can go on to 6 or 7 months? Think about your four month old breastfeeding — what are they doing? This baby is on and off the breast — so interested in the world around him he can hardly stand it. “Oh look! There’s the dog! Hi, Mommy, I love you SOOOO much! The phone?! A car went by. The TV is on. Big sister comes into the room….hey, there’s just too much going on for me to concentrate on eating. I think I’m full now. I’ll see you later…..” – Jan Barger, RN, MA, IBCLC

Of course, of course, of course a baby distracted from breastfeeding during the day is going to be more hungry at night! I am moderately conservative when it comes to sleep training – I think there are a lot of gentle, limited-cry methods that are a great help in teaching babies how to sleep independently, but I don’t think cry-it-out is the Devil when used appropriately. The problem is that, in my experience, cry-it-out is almost never used appropriately. You do not wean a baby by leaving them to cry in the dark by themselves. You alter their daytime schedule to make sure they’re eating enough, you feed them in a quiet place so they can concentrate on eating, and then, only if needed, you work on night weaning in a gentle, supportive way. A lot of babies will drop night feedings on their own once parents ensure that they’re getting full feedings during the day, so why not try that before leaving them to cry at night?

I hope these two articles will be helpful to other parents going through this regression, especially if you’re going through it for the first time.

Sleep regressions are the worst.

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I have been a little absent this week, and I might be a little absent for the next month or so (we’ll see!), because my daughter has run head first into the 4 month sleep regression. My daughter is a much more adaptable baby than my son was, and I had tricked myself into thinking that maybe her journey through this sleep regression would just be a little blip on the sleep radar, but gentle readers, I was wrong. Oh, so wrong!

Sleep regressions are a normal part of a baby’s development through the first few years of life, and are characterized by a baby suddenly refusing naps and bedtime, waking a lot at night, taking very short naps, and generally turning into a fussbutt. You think you’re going crazy, because what happened to your adorable, smiling, happy baby? Where did she go? It’s not you, though! It’s totally just a sleep regression.

The 4 month sleep regression has the dubious honor of being the only sleep regression that is permanent. What I mean by that is, the 4 month sleep regression is caused by a permanent change in the way your baby sleeps, and the associated miserable-ness is really your baby doing her darnedness to re-learn how to sleep under new conditions. I am not a sleep scientist, but from what I understand, babies under 4 months-old are almost always in deep sleep. Around 4 months, this changes, and babies start to sleep more like adults, cycling between light sleep and deep sleep continuously. A lot of the symptoms of the 4 month regression are your baby going, “What the heck is this light sleep thing, and how do I make it go away?!”

Although I have met many parents who swear that their baby has been sleeping well since they were 6 weeks-old, I have met many more who hit 4 months-old and started to fall apart. You’ve been getting up a minimum of twice a night to feed the baby for four months, and maybe you weren’t sleeping well during the later stages of the pregnancy, and maybe you are the rare adult like me who needs 9 hours of sleep to be a happy person. You think you’re finally getting the hang of this exhaustion thing, and then, BOOM! Your baby is suddenly not napping and waking up 10 times a night! Awesome, right?

The 4 month regression is a time for self-care if there ever was one. This is the time to call in all favors, to pay all the babysitters, to get a night nurse for even one night if you can. Get the teenager across the street to hold the baby for an hour so you can take a nap. Order pizza for dinner so you can veg out in front of the TV with your baby who will suddenly only sleep if you hold her. Find other people to worry about the crumbs on the floor and the dishes in the sink. The regression can last anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks, and you will make it through, but you need to pace yourself. And above all, you need to sleep, as much as you possibly can.

There is some good news associated with the sleep regression! Once it’s over, your baby is mature enough to learn how to fall asleep by herself, and to fall back asleep on her own if she wakes up at night and it’s not time to eat yet. She might not *want* to do that, and you might not feel ready to teach her, but after the 4 month regression, you *can* teach her if you want to. In my opinion, there is ZERO point in sleep training of any kind before 4 months. I know lots of people disagree, and you can certainly get to 4 months in better or worse shape, considering, but I think a lot of new parents work way to hard on sleep in the first few months, see it all fall apart during the regression, and then are just too exhausted to make any real strides after the regression ends. And that’s honestly a shame, because after the regression is the best time to start sleep training – your baby is finally ready! You could probably all use some good sleep!

Anyway, I’m going to try to keep posting a few times a week, but if I completely disappear, now you know where I am. I am frantically bouncing/rocking/climbing stairs trying to get this baby to sleep.

Three months-old

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My baby girl turned three months-old a few days ago. I can’t believe it. It’s probably just the sleep deprivation that makes the days flow together so seamlessly, but it feels like yesterday that I was laying in bed with my partner in the hospital, watching her sleep, still riding the endorphin high that comes after labor and birth.

It has been so interesting being a second-time parent to this little one – I’m really starting to understand how unique each new person is, even though there are patterns that repeat from one to the next. My son, for example, was never great at napping in the car. If he was already overtired, the car might make him fall asleep, but he’d wake up at every red light and immediately upon getting home, and would never fall back asleep. And the screaming . . . my gosh, the screaming. Especially as a first-time mom, the screaming really got to me, and it was really never worth a panic attack while driving just to get my son to sleep for twenty minutes.

My little girl, on the other hand, seems to sleep very well in the car, and I’m starting to understand why so many parents are still driving their one year-olds around for every nap. Today was the first day I gave into that impulse myself. After a morning of 20 minutes naps, endless crying, and obvious exhaustion, I packed baby girl into the car and drove into Boulder for no particular reason. I got a drink at Starbucks. I stopped for ice cream. I tried to drop off a bag for Good Will, but there was a line. She slept for almost the entire ride, and when I got her home, she woke up for long enough to nurse and then went straight back to sleep. I put her down in her crib and got an entire two hours to myself, and when she woke up she was her usual happy self.

When I got into the car I felt like I was giving up, but giving up in this case actually managed to turn my entire day around. I got out of the house and had some fun. The baby slept. No one had a panic attack. I may need to start giving up more often.