Before I talk about sleep training & our quirky alternative to it, let me explain the apparent writer’s block I’ve been experiencing. My husband/agent is super supportive of all my endeavors & lovingly reminds me that I should post consistently, often adding to the end of conversations that I should “write about that.” He is right! Successful blogs grow by giving consistently. But my goal isn’t to gain 50,000 followers & become a social media influencer. I write for me & for you, not for the masses. And I am seasonal. Just like your floral purse, there is a time for me to put myself out there & a time to hunker down in the closet until the weather changes. My immediate postpartum season was full of words & ideas that needed to be shared & sprinkled with a bit of extra time. Recently, I have been focusing on my two babies – my son & my business. Both are growing & both require lots of attention. One is way cuter, though! Another reason for my inconsistency? You will understand after reading the rest of this post…
My little man is a little over 8 months old now. The monthly Instagram highlight photo will tell you all about his new skills & the adorable traits that make us love him. If you know my child, you know he smiles easily, he’s super nosy, & he is his best person when others are near. He is beginning to prefer Mommy & Daddy, a healthy part of emotional development. But as “easy” (I never truly got that phrase?) as he is during the day, he is harder at night. His little mind has trouble switching from On to Off. Aerosmith plays our theme song in the background each night: I don’t wanna close my eyes, I don’t wanna fall asleep ’cause I’ll miss you, baby, & I don’t wanna miss a thing… & just like Aerosmith, a dream will never do. He wants the real thing. Mommy & Daddy beside him all night. No ability to self-soothe. No sleep cue is enough. No training method will change the fact that this little guy hates the crib & needs help falling to sleep.
Now I know each of you have a solution loaded & ready before you even finished that paragraph. And believe me, I have asked & taken LOTS of advice. This post would become a book if I wrote about everything we tried & failed & tried again. And the book wouldn’t even have an ending because he still isn’t sleeping through the night, though we have made great strides. Instead, I want to encourage all you moms, especially first time moms, by letting you know it’s ok to be creative. Maybe you already knew that, but it took lots of tear-filled nights of this type A Momma crying in bewilderment “But the book said if I only did THIS…” or “we have to do this because her baby sleeps 12 hours a night…” & “we can’t create bad sleep habits or he will never have nice manners OR go to college OR count to 50…” So here is the trouble-shooting, the creative answer I know you are dying to hear, then the real message of this post.
- Cry it out – nobody lasted more than 5 minutes as Baby J kept shifting gears until he hit panic mode.
- Extinction – Baby J seemed very confused that we kept putting him down, then picking him up, then putting him down, then picking him up…
- Playing until he passed out on the floor due to exhaustion – though less of a fight, this lack of routine & consistency led to waking up at all hours wondering where in the world he was this time.
- 3 daytime naps. NO daytime naps.
- Increased solids before bed to ensure his tummy was full – overstimulation, constipation, less breast milk consumption leading to MORE night feedings.
- More clothing, less clothing, warmer, cooler, fan, no fan…
- Gas drops until he looked at the bottle like dessert.
- 7:30 bedtime. 10:00 bedtime. Back to 9:00 bedtime…
- Sleep cues galore – wearable blanket, lavender EO diffuser, state of the art white noise machine, calming glow night light in a variety of colors, glow-in-the dark pacifiers = slight improvement in sleep quality. However, he was still waking up to 6 times a night.
The Creative Answer:
- Decrease in solids. We found during this period of rapid growth & crazy motor development, he needed the condensed & super-efficient calories of breast milk instead of the solids that were filling his tummy with a fraction of the nutrients. Solids are now maybe once a day & mainly for play. Immediate improvement in sleep, though we still had a few night wakes. After continuing to feed 3x a night, we supplemented some solid foods with formula while continuing to give him just as much breast milk.
- Consistent bedtime routine that worked for all three of us: shower with daddy (lots more fun than the bath tub), pajamas, play time with “night time toys” (stuffed animals, pillows, soothies, etc.) & lots of hands-on time with Mommy & Daddy, a warm bottle of breast milk/formula followed by a full nursing session (yes, my son is a milk monster), cuddles & prayer time, & maybe a book or song in his room with all sleep cues going.
And here is the kicker…
- Transition to a floor bed. Yes, we put his mattress on the floor at 8 months old. Some would call this a Montessori nursery, but we call it improvisation.
During this horrid month-long sleep regression, Baby J grew out of all of his footed pajamas, began crawling, pulling to stand, AND walking with a push toy. This meant dropping the crib mattress, which I already had trouble reaching. A cot solved the problem of not having to drop my sleeping baby into the crib; I can lay him down gently with no momentary free-fall or low back pain. PLUS, it took Baby J’s crib anxiety away! He now wakes to eat 1-2 times (normal for breast-fed babies) & maybe once for comfort (which is much better than 3+ times). Instead of waking up in a panic, he sits up & even begins crawling off the mattress toward the door while he fusses. Now we can lay with him & snuggle, which is nice because I like the idea of co-sleeping, but J & I are too nervous to do it. Diaper changes are also more seamless & less disruptive.
- Stuffed animals – not super plush (I’m the first-time-mom that still worries about suffocation), arranged behind & in front of him so he feels snuggled.
Some things we considered when transitioning our pre-toddler to a floor bed:
We did not convert his crib to a toddler bed because he is still a tiny guy who could roll out, so for now it’s just the mattress surrounded by a moat of blankets to cushion any falls during the night (which he hasn’t had yet!)
Our nursery is a “Yes Space,” meaning he can go to any corner of the room & play with anything in the lower half of the room safely. This is nice for play time during the day, & also gives me peace of mind at night.
My once beautiful, perfectly symmetric & coordinated nursery is no more. We had to add a rug for extra padding which overlaps the cute existing rugs. The crib is now in the corner, used for storage with all the bare bones showing. The Joanna inside of me cried a little.
Each night we check the floor really well to make sure there are no dead bugs (summertime in Florida) or small objects that made their way into his room during the day.
The Real Message:
I tell you our story more out of humor & less as an actual suggestion. But mostly to make this point: Your child may not respond to methods or protocols. They may not follow the plan you made when you were pregnant, no matter how good of a plan it was. Your child may require more comfort & that doesn’t mean they will be a “bad sleeper” or that you are creating “bad habits.” You aren’t giving in by giving your child what he needs. And, please, don’t think that you are “spoiling your child” by doing things your own way. Baby J is slowly learning to self-soothe BECAUSE we are giving him the comfort & closeness he craves. And we are all way less stressed & way more rested.
It’s taking a while to learn to trust my Mother’s Intuition. I’m also learning that my intuition is more sound when I tease out factual help vs. opinions. In other words, know what is developmentally normal & expected – fussiness with new motor skills & teething, sleep regressions after growth spurts, the clingy stage around 8 months. That way you can ease some of the Fears of the Unknowns while you navigate bedtime. Reading popular opinions on what works best (I’ll just say it… Baby Wise…) should not make you feel like a bad mom if you aren’t “successful.” I read a certain sleep training book & promptly reported to my husband that we WOULD be doing this so that he will be the “happy, well-adjusted baby” in all the scenarios listed. Almost 9 months later I can attest to the fact that you can still have a happy, well-adjusted baby that doesn’t follow the rules when it comes to sleep & cycles.
Having said that, it is sometimes difficult to trust yourself in the throes of torture-status sleep deprivation. I sent an SOS text one morning after spending the night awake more than asleep to my mom, AKA Saint Grammy, who packed up & spent the night in his nursery to see what in the world his problem was & to let us actually get some consecutive hours of sleep. Her insight proved invaluable & I found out that Baby J has his momma’s personality & sleep habits… Sorry about that! Many of our sleep cues came from having my sister-in-law as a house guest for 10 days, after she took a few night shifts herself. My sister sacrifices a night every so often to let us reset, which helps us see things more clearly. So find those few others who know & love your baby like you do & let them give some non-judgmental advice or at least let you recover from the demoralizing situation that sleep regressions can create. His nanny & I brainstorm together since she sees him in his natural environment 2 days a week. Many friends know about our sleepless nights & inquire often about how we’re doing, giving very helpful suggestions based on the fact that Baby J is very compliant & non-fussy during the day.
Whether you have a Rule Follower or a Bad Sleeper, remember that the Lord gave him (or her) to you, so first listen to Him, then yourself, then the ones that know & love them. & if you do have a Free Spirit Sleeper like we do, stick with the facts & avoid methods. You can do this!!