Ok, let’s finish this boring story, take away a few lessons, and then get back to our growth spurts and unpredictable nights, ok? Like I said, at about 4.5 months I started to fully lose it due to Beck not sleeping for more than 90 minutes at a time and barely napping unless I was holding her. It was a nightmare, and since I was nursing all the time Jay couldn’t do a ton to help her/me. It’s probably a good thing that he was sleeping through the night, though, because both of us being exhausted might have led us down a dark marriage road, amirite? Someone needs to be able to handle exhaustion-related meltdowns, and it wasn’t going to be me at that period.
Babies need sleep during the day, and babies that aren’t getting it aren’t “different,” they are simply exhausted and fussy and buttheads. And, in my life, it really isn’t feasible to have Beck take 3+ naps per day in my arms. Sorry, kid. My friend Eleanor read and executed The Sleepeasy Solution with great success in naps and nights after less than a week, so I was all I DON’T HAVE TIME TO READ JUST TEXT ME WHAT YOU DID. So she did, because she is a better mother than me and a wonderful friend. The plan involves timed checks, but the baby does cry until they go to sleep. Naps don’t involve letting them cry indefinitely, just for the amount of time a nap “should” be – 30 minutes, 60 minutes, kind of whatever you decide.
I decided to work on naps first for a few reasons. First, Beck was sleeping decently at night, and nursing hungrily when she woke up, then going back to sleep. If I had somehow convinced her to sleep all night at that point I still would have woken up to pump, so I decided to keep nights as they were. Second, I had in my head that it would be easier to hear her cry during the day than at night when I was desperate for sleep, and that ended up being correct. BUT, we got more insistent with our bedtime routine, and bedtime became 8pm every night when we were home (we are bad parents aka think we deserve a life so we aren’t always home at bedtime and honestly don’t see any of the disastrous next day issues when that happens). Beck made her “nights” from 8pm until 7am, give or take a few minutes, and we stuck with it even though she was nursing a lot at night. I’m SO glad we did that, because it turns out that at that point she had all but stopped gaining weight, and I’m pretty sure my dumb boobs were to blame. So, nursing constantly wasn’t doing what it should, but trying to nurse even less wouldn’t have been good for my milk supply or her weight gain. Score one for listening to my intuition, even thought I didn’t know why I had that feeling.
So. Naps. Crying. The method was like this: when I thought Beck was tired, usually after she’d been up for 2 hours or so, I’d nurse her, change her diaper, read her a book, sing 2 songs, and put her down with her paci and noise machine. At this point she was still sleeping in our room in the Pack N Play next to our bed. I would go in after 10 minutes (if she was crying, which was all the time at this point), comfort her, put her paci back in, and walk back out. More screaming. Repeat for 45 minutes to an hour until she fell asleep or didn’t. If she fell asleep for anything longer than 10 minutes I’d make a HUGE deal about it when she woke up, all you slept in your bed like a BIG girl, you took a NAP!!! If she never slept I’d go pick her up, comfort her, keep her occupied, and try again after another hour or so. We did this 3 or more times per day every time I was home with her, so maybe 4 days per week. I didn’t feel like making another person nap train my kid because it involved a LOT of crying.
Some days it was terrible. 3 failed naps would mean a very tired baby, tons of crying, and I would get irritated and anxious by the end of the day. I’m not one who cries when Beck cries or needs to hold her if she fusses, but it wore me down in different ways; by the time Jay got home I’d just be fully done with it all and have no energy left to think straight. I’d be mad at her but not really AT her, if that makes any sense at all. Some days, though, were the best ever. 3 naps, more than 45 minutes each, omg it was heaven. But, for about a month, the 3 naps per day happened MAYBE once a week, and the other days were challenging. Beck would whine when she wasn’t being catered to, held, or fully entertained, and it made it really hard on me when I was supposed to be working from home. I could usually count on 1 nap per day because she’d wear herself out so much from crying, but I knew she needed lots more sleep than that, so I kept at it.
After several weeks of very faithfully trying the 10-15 minute checks during naps, I felt like things needed to be fine tuned. When Beck slept a lot during the day she was lovely. Cooing, able to hang by herself when I did stuff, eager to explore new toys, all the cute baby stuff. But when she didn’t, life just came to a standstill and it wasn’t good for me or her. So, I fine tuned. I read that the first nap of the day was the most important (just an opinion, I’m not sure if I agree with it) for setting the nap “stage” for the day. Beck usually slept for 30-45 minutes during her morning nap, so I started taking long walks when she needed to go down for that first nap. She’d sleep the entire time, then be refreshed when we got home. It’s not advised to “let” babies sleep other places when they’re supposed to be learning to sleep in their beds, but for a few weeks this worked well for us, especially if I knew that we wouldn’t be home later in the day to attempt more naps. At least this way I was guaranteed one rest, and I got some exercise to boot.
Two weeks after Beck turned 6 months we had a follow-up weight check for her. She was back to gaining weight at a good pace, so the doctor suggested we move her to her own room and see if she’d start to stretch her sleep naturally and maybe nap a little bit better. BOOM YES TO BOTH. We moved her that very night and kept everything else the same in terms of timing and bedtime and all that. I also talked to my friend Jordan who is very well-read on sleep and has a baby who is about 5 months older than Beck, and she suggested that we lengthen the “checks” or eliminate them, AND put Beck down for her naps after about 90 minutes instead of 2 hours. I’d actually already been thinking about eliminating the checks and letting Beck cry for the whole time, but it broke my heart to imagine her crying alone in her room for one hour. You know what, though? They were making it worse. That’s why I’d already thought about it. Beck wo.uld cry and cry, and then when she saw me it would remind her that OMG WOMAN YOU CAN COMFORT ME BUT YOU AREN’T NOW I’M REALLY PISSED. So she’d get even more riled up than she’d already been before I went in. The suggestion to put her down earlier was to try to “catch” Beck when she was happy and slightly sleepy instead of exhausted and cranky, which seemed to be happening in that extra 45 minutes of wake time. I did both of those things, and BOOM. Magic.
There isn’t a schedule, we still let Beck sleep as long as she will and put her down about 2 hours after that when she is tired. She has been going to bed closer to 7 than 8 for a few weeks now, which means that she’ll drop her 3rd nap in a few more weeks. Sometimes she only takes 2 good naps and fusses for the 3rd, so her next step will be a straight 7pm bedtime and 2 longer naps instead of 3 shorter naps. She’ll probably do that until she’s 18 months or so. When Beck drops her 3rd nap I’ll probably move to a 2-3-4 schedule where she has her first nape 2 hours after she wakes up, second nap 3 hours after that one, and bedtime is 4 hours after she wakes up from her last nap. I’ve read a lot about that schedule and it makes a lot of sense to me.
So here’s where we are at 7.5 months. Beck goes to bed about 7:30 and sleeps until 7am or so, waking up 2-3 times per night to nurse. In that time she usually has one 6-hour stretch of sleep. I nurse her when she wakes up if it’s been more than 3 hours since she last ate. If it’s been less than that and I know she’s not hungry, Jay goes and comforts her and puts her back to sleep. She takes her first nap about 90 minutes after she wakes up, then we repeat that cycle throughout the day: awake for 90 minutes to 2 hours, sleep for 1-2 hours, repeat. Sometimes she takes a nap in the stroller, sometimes she takes a nap in the car. If she only sleeps for 30 minutes and she wakes up crying aka still tired I’ll let her fuss for 10 minutes; sometimes she puts herself back to sleep and sleeps lots longer. If she doesn’t I might take her for a walk or put her in the car, somewhere I know she’ll get a little extra sleep with not much effort. When she’s awake I try to keep her busy and engaged because I know she’ll sleep better if she’s been “working” on something like learning to eat Cheerios with her teeny fingers. It’s hard work!
So there’s our sleep story thus far. Looking back (it hasn’t been long, but there are so many phases in a short period of time with babies!), I think I would have been much better at the beginning had I started a little bit smaller. We only want the baby to take great naps and sleep all night alone and being put down drowsy but awake, and that’s a GREAT end goal. But first they gotta sleep somewhere. And then they gotta have a bedtime routine. I think if I’d just been fine with checking little items off a list I wouldn’t have been so frustrated because, in reality, Beck was totally normal and did great, little by little, just like she should have. I also wish I’d known what to look for in terms of natural baby rhythms and schedules; the sleep advice that catered to what babies are going to do anyway made much more sense to me than trying to force them on a schedule that works great for everyone BUT the baby. I don’t feel bad for using a cry-it-out method because we did it in a way that worked for us, and now Beck coos in her crib and can flop over and go back to sleep if she gets startled, all the stuff that they tell you when you bring home a 3-day old. BUT, that didn’t happen overnight by a long shot. We set her up for success at each stage as best we could, but a good deal of our sleep “training” was waiting until Beck was developmentally ready to take steps, and I really think that helped her make each transition a little bit easier.
If she ever starts sleeping through the night I’ll let you know. Questions? Scenarios you’re dealing with? Comments? Pointing and laughing? Feel free!