Could it be? Has my baby worked out how to fall asleep on his own and through the night??
I was going to wait a few more days before I started writing a post about Baby’s progress in the sleep department, thinking it was too soon to celebrate.
But I know too well how the cycle goes; you learn something new or achieve a milestone of some sort and in that tiny span of several days (or if you’re lucky a week or two) you see a momentary glimpse of award-winning parenting, and just as you prepare yourself for a victory lap around the stadium with your shirt over your head while the imaginary crowd cheers you on, your glory is interrupted with a mental leap, a change in your schedule, an unannounced visitor, your husband staying back at work, baby’s next immunisation shot or another winter bug. So I figure I’ll share what success we’ve had so that in a week’s time when we once again struggle to get baby to bed, I can look back fondly at this phase in his life and have a record that it did in fact happen.
What are we celebrating? Bub is finally managing 12 hours of sleep in the evenings. That’s right folks; I’ve had six glorious nights of not having to stumble out of bed for a 4am feed!! After four months of broken sleeps throughout the night (or really 7 months if you count the interrupted sleep suffered during the third trimester), this is quite a feat. Imagine my surprise when I woke up last Wednesday morning feeling refreshed. Refreshed? Holy cow what a great feeling!
How on earth did this happen??
Well to be honest I’d been waiting for Baby to drop his 4am feed by himself. So many parenting books tell me that by 3 months, most babies can sleep through the night, as if it’s something magical that suddenly switches on when they hit 12 weeks of age. So there I was, diligently getting up to feed my baby whenever he cried in the middle of the night, waiting for him to show me this skill he was supposed to have picked up a month ago. No such luck. It didn’t really occur to me that it was something I could help him achieve. Then we had a few particularly bad nights where he wouldn’t settle and seemed permanently attached to my boob (breastfeeding is wonderful and all, but good Lord it is exhausting, especially in the freezing hours of a winter night). Or he’d only fall asleep if he was rocked or swayed, and ever so gently put down in his cot. Either way we’d end up spending significant parts of our evening in his room with the lights dimmed while our dinner went cold. So I thought, “You know what, I’m over this. I reckon there’s a way to get him to sleep and I’m going to find out what the hell it is.”
The problem I’ve encountered with trying to work out the “right way” is that there seems to be two rather polarised views about how to get babies to sleep. One involves the “crying it out” method (advocated by the likes of Dr Richard Ferber and popularised in books by Gina Ford and Tizzie Hall) and the other was the cuddle, feed, rock or do whatever you need to get baby to sleep without crying method (Pinky McKay comes to mind). Both are the opposite ends of the spectrum and I’ve never been fully comfortable with either of them. We tried letting bub “cry it out” a few times (checking in every few minutes, patting him, saying soothing things when his cry escalated and he needed comforting etc) but quite frankly it all seemed rather insensitive and I could tell Baby was just getting more and more frustrated with every passing minute. I figure my baby can’t talk, and he’s obviously crying because there’s something he needs, and if that was me and I was crying but my mum and dad was just waiting for time to pass and wouldn’t pick me up to make me feel better, I’d be pretty pissed too. But on the other hand, I didn’t want to be forever tethered to my baby until he fell asleep in my arms.
Then I stumbled across a book by Beatrice Hollyer & Lucy Smith called “Sleep – The Easy Way to Peaceful Nights“. I started reading it last Saturday and my husband and I started putting it into practice last Sunday night. By the third night we managed to drop his usual 4am feed and he didn’t need breakfast until 7:30am. I thought, “This is a bloody miracle! If I’d known to try all this a month ago, I would have.”
Needless to say, I really recommend this book (I found it on the Google Play store for AUD$10.99). Why? Because for the last six nights, I’ve been putting my baby down in his cot wide awake, and he’s managed to fall asleep with minimal or no intervention. Generally, we check on him before we go to bed ourselves, and don’t hear from him until 7am. Below is the main stuff I got from the book… if you can get your hands on it, read it.
- Baby can learn the skill of falling asleep by themselves (believe me, I was very skeptical of this before but it’s true).
- We can set up the stage for this by giving them the opportunity, making them relaxed, giving them assurance when they need it.
- Only feed baby when they’re truly hungry.
- Learn to recognise baby’s “core night”, then extend it so they are sleeping 10-12 hours through the night.
1. Baby can learn the skill of falling asleep by themselves
“Learning to go to sleep by herself is a crucial step for your baby. It shows her, from her earliest days, that sleep is something she can manage on her own. She finds she doesn’t need a parent to ‘put’ her to sleep, and that’s a big boost to her independence. And it means that, when she half-wakes, everything around her will be the same as it was when she went to sleep. To go back to sleep after reassuring herself that nothing has changed, she can simply repeat the way she went to sleep in the first place.”
I remember a midwife telling me this during one of my antenatal classes and it all seemed great in theory, but in practice it was impossible. I’d put Baby down and he’d wail incessantly, like we were torturing him or something. But as the weeks have gone on and he’s gotten older, I’ve noticed he’s starting to get a bit more independence so I thought it was ok to test if the theory was true. Maybe he really did have the ability to fall asleep by himself, but I wasn’t giving him enough opportunity or preparation to do it. Instead I’d just gotten into a habit of helping him fall asleep (with feeding, rocking, swaying, lullabies, white noise – whatever worked) because they were “easy”. But it did mean he needed our help to fall back asleep in the middle of the night or whenever he stirred during the day. The sooner he learnt he could fall asleep on his own, comfortable in his own cot in his own room, the sooner he was confident with getting himself back to sleep when he would stir in the middle of the night.
To be honest it was all a matter of changing our attitude. Instead of feeling like we were abandoning our baby to cry, we approached it as though we were letting him learn a skill he’d need later. And I guess because we were more comfortable with this approach it’s worked…
2. We can set up the stage for this
“When a baby cries, we assume he needs our help. And sometimes he does. But sometimes he doesn’t. There is a cry that says: ‘Help me sleep.’ It comes from a baby who is uncomfortable, or who needs reassurance. But there is also a cry that says: ‘Let me sleep.’ It comes from a baby who feels his parents’ presence so strongly that he can’t relax… Instead of being reassured by his parents’ attention, this baby is over-stimulated by it.”
The thing I liked about Hollyer’s approach was that I’m allowed to comfort my baby when I believe he needs it. There are no hard and fast rules about how many minutes to wait before going in to pick him him up; it was a call I made myself by learning to listen to his whimpers vs cries and decipher what he needs.
The first step, though, is getting baby relaxed and ready for bed. One thing every writer on this topic of night-time sleep agrees on is that following a bed time routine is critical, so that baby has cues that say it’s bed time. Our routine is loosely based on the one from Gina Ford’s “The New Contented Little Baby Book” simply because we started it when Baby was 2 weeks old and it seems to be working. It was comforting to read in Beatrice Hollyer’s book that timing doesn’t matter as much as the actions / cues in the routine. So our night time routine can start anytime between 5-7pm, so long as we follow the same steps each night and he’s in bed at a decent hour (for us that’s at 7:30/8pm).
- Give bub half his night time feed (ie offer one breast)
- Bath time and massage (normally this is with his Dad)
- Swaddle bub give second half of his feed (ie offer other breast) in his room with the lights dimmed while Dad says a bedtime prayer (before, I used to feed Baby to sleep and the routine ended here. Last Sunday I started adding the following three steps)
- Burp baby and sing a song/lullaby while he’s in my arms (usually he’s staring at his lamp while this is happening and often he’s babbling away too)
- Tell him it’s time to go to bed and go to sleep
- Put him in his cot, give him a kiss and say “Goodnight. Mamma and Dadda love you!” and turn off the lights
We’ve done this exact routine every night for the last six nights. The first two nights he protested, and I let him protest until I could hear that his protests were turning into “real cries” and he was working himself up to a point he wasn’t going to calm himself down. Because we don’t use a pacifier, our first step when this happens is to turn on his lullaby music. If that doesn’t calm him, we turn to white noise. If that doesn’t work I pick him up and check if he’s hot/cold, and try to calm him down in my arms, and when he’s calm I say, “Ok, time for sleep now,” and put him back in his cot and turn the lights out. We’ll repeat that cycle of settling options until he’s asleep (after two attempts I check his nappy, then put him down in the same way).
On the third night he barely put up a fight – I turned out the lights, left the room, heard him toss and turn for a few seconds and then he was practically snoring. The same thing happened tonight. It’s amazing because he’s done it all on his own – the only difference is we’ve given him a chance to do it. Having said that, I think the fact he’s managed to catch on so quickly means he was genuinely ready. Some babies simply aren’t at that stage and will protest wildly and sob the moment they’re put down. Getting them to fall asleep on their own is the goal, and there’s no foolproof recipe to achieve it because every baby is different. I’m sure in a week or two something will change and he’ll start putting up a fight again.
3. Only feed him if he’s really hungry
Hollyer spends a chapter talking about the relationship between food and sleep, which is well worth the read. I fell into the same trap she did; offering the breast whenever baby was unsettled because it was the easiest way to stop him crying. The result was he was never really hungry enough to take a good feed, or he would fall asleep while feeding. The basic idea is to feed baby often throughout the day (for Baby that can mean every 2hours or every 3 hours, depending on his mood. My GP said during the day, maximum 4 hours since the last feed began but he never seems to last that long unless he’s had an unusually long nap).
Try to limit feeds at night by using other methods of settling baby if they wake up. Once baby shows they can make it through longer periods in the night without needing food, that means they’re ready to start learning how to sleep through and it’s time to keep night feeds to a minimum. So if they wake at 3am, try to get baby to wait until 3:30am or even 4am until you feed them. They might surprise you and fall asleep before you get to that point. If baby bottle feeds, Hollyer says trying offering sips of water first, rather than milk, and eventually baby might realise it’s not worth kicking up a fuss for just a few sips of water.
For us it meant that hubby had to do the settling for the first few nights because Baby could smell his milk on me the moment I walked into the room. Our general rule is to keep the lights off or dimmed (we usually use the hallway light instead of turning on the lamp in his room), keep him in his cot, tucked in for as long as possible – this way he knows that it’s not time for a feed and waking up in the middle of the night won’t be rewarded with a attention or a feed, unless he genuinely needs it. If his cry progresses from an annoyed, sooky whimpering to sounding desperate and hungry, I’ll pick him up and feed him (still swaddled) and I only change him if I hear or smell a poo.
4. Learn to recognise baby’s “core night”, then extend it so they are sleeping 10-12 hours through the night.
I remember my sister mentioning the concept of the “core night” a while back, but neither of us really knew what it was. Basically it’s the time when baby decides to sleep longer than usual. Instead of waking every 1-2 hours you might find they sleep for 3-4 hours. Those hours might might be 10pm-1am or 7pm-11pm or 3am-8am. Whatever the timing is, those hours are your baby’s “core night” and you should treat it as their night’s sleep. Once you can recognise a core night, the rule is never to feed the baby between those hours ever again. If baby wakes in those hours, try everything else possible to settle him first, and only when he absolutely won’t settle, offer a feed.
When Baby 2-3 months old, he would fall asleep at approx 7pm, we’d offer him a bottle feed at 10:30pm, he’d wake some time between 12am-7am at which point I’d breastfeed him, then he’d wake at around 7:30/8am to start his day. I can’t remember when we stopped waking him for the 10:30pm bottle feed – I think we were just tired and couldn’t be bothered and would wait til he woke up himself. So his core night started from around 7pm until 130-2am, at which point I’d breastfeed him. Then he’d wake again at around 4/5am, then again at around 8am to start his day. Eventually he dropped one of the middle-of-the-night feeds and I only had to get up once; sometimes at 2am and sometimes at 3:30/4am.
Last Sunday we decided to test this “core night” theory and try to extend his “core night” by settling him with music when he woke, rather than feeding him immediately. That night he fell asleep at 8:30pm woke at 3:30am. My husband went to his room and turned on the lullaby music for 20 minutes. Baby fell back asleep. He woke again at 430am, so I got up and turned the music on for 30 minutes. He was doing a quiet whimpering cry that whole time while I busied myself in the kitchen and put dishes away. At 5am he started crying desperately so I fed him; but I was impressed because we’d managed to push his feed from 330am to 5am. The next night he woke at 5am and I turned the music on, and he fell back asleep until 6am. By the third night he slept from 730am – 7am on his own.
I haven’t read the whole book yet, but I did want to report on Baby’s excellent progress this week. Even though we interrupted the routine on Friday night because we went out to dinner, my husband managed to get him back to bed at 10pm without me needing to offer another feed, and he slept through until 730am on Saturday morning. I’m crossing my fingers that his immunisation shot (which he’s due for this Thursday) doesn’t stuff all this up. 🙂
To all the parents trying to get a full night’s sleep – all the best! It can be done… it’ll take a bit of time, but it is possible!!