Getting Baby to Sleep

by Heligirl on July 30, 2010

in Daily Ramblings,Parenting Articles

Another installment in my Positive Discipline Articles.

By popular demand, the following is reprinted from a guest post I did for Molly and Mommy on May 24, 2010.

I have to admit, when Alissa asked me to write a guest post on sleep I cringed. It’s hard to find a hotter issue for moms of young ones. But ever the researcher, I set out to share not only what I used to get my two to sleep through the night, but some of the advice from experts I hope will be of some use.

First off, I’ll share my experience. I’ve been very fortunate that my daughter has slept through the night (10-12 hours) since she was three months old (which makes up for the fact that she’s really difficult the other 12-14 hours during the day). My son took a little longer and started around 11 months, but for only an average of about three nights a week. Sometimes people ask what I did to get them to do this and I firmly believe some of it was what I did, but some is also the child. I did the same stuff for both, but got different results. Here’s what I did.

When my daughter, we call her Sweetness, was still just a squirmy bump of heartburn and insomnia I started doing my homework. I knew there would be a certain amount of sleepless nights in the future and I was determined to limit those as much as possible. I found two books that were infinitely helpful – Dr. Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block and Tracy Hogg’s the Baby Whisperer. Both of these books were extremely helpful in getting me started in my parenting journey and the big thing I got from both of them was the theme of providing safety, comfort and predictability. These things help significantly when it comes to sleep.

Following Dr. Karp’s advice, I swaddled my kids and found that was significantly helpful the first six months for my daughter and three months for my son. I provided the comfort of a binky (I’m of the camp that believes if they’ve got a sucking reflex they’ll find something and you can take away a binky, but you can’t take away a thumb.) I put a fan in their rooms the first year to provide comforting white noise, and in the case of my daughter, used the swing all night every night for three months as that was the only place she would sleep. (I transitioned her out of the swing when she started waking in the night again by having her nap in her crib and once she got comfortable with that made the switch. We only had a week of rough nights then it was back to super sleeper.)

What I found most valuable in Hogg’s book was her emphasis on predictability. Kids need to know what to expect next and they find comfort and safety in that. So I developed a schedule. Not a time-dictated schedule, but an activity schedule. I began having certain activities always follow each other – sleep, eat, play, repeat. The babies always knew that when they woke, they’d eat, then play, then sleep. I watched for their cues (rubbing eyes when tired, smacking lips when hungry, etc.) and followed them. When kids feel comfortable and safe, they’ll be more likely to sleep better.

This extended to routines and one big routine in our house was always our bedtime routine. I personally believe this has been the single biggest contributor to our children sleeping. At the same time every night we begin and we’ve done this since the kids came home from the hospital. When they were infants, we just dove in. Now that Sweetness is 2 ½ we provide a five and two minute warning, followed by clean up then hit the routine. It simply consists of bath, dim lights in the bedroom for getting into jammies (hubby put dimmers in before they were born), a story, tucked into bed, and their music boxes turned on (which switch off in 15 minutes). Kids are usually tucked in between 7 and 7:30 depending on whether it was bath night or “tips and tails,” which is basically a sponge bath of face, hands, feet and diaper area. We rotate since soaking in a bath every night isn’t always best for their skin.

baby-sleep-2Another big thing is putting your baby down awake. Yes, awake. What really sent this home for me was when I read about how when you rock or nurse a baby to sleep, she’s all comfy and secure then you put her down all alone in the bed. When she wakes (which every human does several times during the night naturally), she’ll wake herself all the way up because she’s suddenly not sure where she is, “Wait a minute. This isn’t where I went to sleep. Where is that bottle/boob/rocking sensation?” Except for those first three months, when those newborns will fall asleep at the drop of a hat, I’ve not rocked/nursed either of the kids to sleep. Hubby tries that from time to time with Mr. Man and he pays for it the minute he lays the boy down.

I am personally not a co-sleeper so I never brought the kids to bed. For the first three months, Sweetness had her swing and Mr. Man had the cradle (for him it was in our room because it was summer and we had the air conditioner). Dr. Karp emphasizes you can’t spoil a child under three months. They’re all about needs at that age. After those three months when they started being more alert and awake during the day, they started doing all of their sleeping in their rooms and it has been that way every since. It’s a routine they never question. The keyword is routine. If your routine is to co-sleep, keep to the routine. It’s when you try to change it that you get resistance.

There is some experimenting we tried with our son, Mr. Man, to get him to drop one of his middle of the night crib parties. We added another step to his routine, which I call “topping off the tank.” I give him a meal before starting his bedtime routine. This could be some Cheerios or a yogurt or milk, depending on how hungry he is. It seems to have worked. He was hungry.

As some of you might know, I’m a very passionate advocate of Positive Discipline. I’ve written several articles on it on Heligirl and try to follow this parenting philosophy as closely as possible. When I read through Jane Nelson’s Positive Discipline books in reference to sleep, she advocates helping your children learn to sleep through the night rather than constantly running to their rescue, reminding her readers that the mother bird pushes the baby bird out of the nest despite its reluctance to fly. That said, while she does say that the cry it out method works the fastest, finding other ways are just as acceptable as long as we understand that some level of crying is going to take place. Some kids may be crying because they don’t like the change even though it is for the best. While positive discipline preaches allowing your children to have their feelings without rescuing them, it also teaches it is important to let them experience situations even if they don’t like it – such as falling asleep themselves. If we’re always rescuing them and helping, how will they learn to deal with life’s disappointments and find ways to pass through them on their own? Children have wants and needs. It’s important to meet the needs, but not all the wants. They need to sleep. They want you to rock them to sleep. Nelson encourages us to do what is best for both of us in the long term.

With that in mind, sometimes we get a little fuss after putting Mr. Man down. I started giving it a little time before going in after he was about five months old. I began to learn sometimes he cries to let off steam and as long as he isn’t screaming out, we give him five to ten minutes before going to check on him. If he seems to be pretty upset, one of us will go in and rub his tummy, which usually works. It lets him know we’re there. He’ll cry out when I leave, but not for very long most times.

When it comes to Mr. Man waking in the night, we have now learned through trial and error that if we wait for a few minutes, he usually puts himself back to sleep. By connecting his binkie to his sleep sack (far enough down so he can’t wrap it around his neck), we’ve learned he can now just find it and put it back in, which has been a big step in him putting himself back to sleep.

Which brings me to the point of self soothing. Many experts contend, and I tend to agree, that you have to help you baby learn to sooth himself. If you’re always going in to rock, walk with, carry, nurse, etc., he’s not going to learn to sooth himself. I’m certainly not saying you need to let your baby scream. I couldn’t stand that. Hell, one scream and I’ve got tazer mom syndrome (that sensation you’ve been tazed as adrenaline races through your veins when your baby cries out in the night and now you’re wide awake with your heart racing). But there comes a time when you just have to suck it up and give it a few minutes. The longer you wait to put your foot down, the longer it will take to change the behavior. It’s important to remember that crying, for some babies, is self soothing.

Finally, here is a little trick my Hubby and I did to help each other. We had a deal once I went back to work after maternity leave that he’d take all wake ups before 1 a.m. and I took them after. I hit the sack by 9:30 p.m. (I was so dang tired by then this was easy) and he’d come to bed around 11 p.m., often after the late night wake up or even offering a “dream feed,” which is a bottle while the baby is still sleeping). Typically, I’d only be up once again before my alarm went off at 5 (and sometimes couldn’t fall asleep between those times). Hubby’s went off at 6:30 a.m., so we were getting about the same amount of sleep. It’s good birth control too, FYI!

Clearly, there are books and books out there on sleep. One last one I’d highly recommend for those still having difficulty is the Sleepeasy Solution by Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack. One of my buddies lent this to me when Mr. Man was still waking several times a night and it helped me better understand why he was crying and gave me the courage to wait a bit to see if he’d use his crying to put himself to sleep. Guess what? He did, most nights.


Kristen Truong July 30, 2010 at 12:28 pm

*Wonderful* post. I agree with every one of your recommendations! And this comes from a mom whose first baby did not sleep through the night — even once — until she was 14 months old. And then it was not regular. We tried every solution out there.

I would add onto all of your great suggestions one thing for parents who are at their wits end: there are a few medical ailments that can cause interruptions in sleep. If it seems like you’ve tried *everything,* then maybe it’s time to head to the doctor. Acid reflux is a big problem with some babies — sometimes related to extreme colic. With my little one we didn’t know until she was nearly four that she had “nightime asthma.” That coughing we were hearing every night was an asthmatic cough — and that is what woke her up nightly. Even now (she’s 6).
Kristen Truong recently posted: Five Question Friday- Dreaming of Samuel L Jackson with my favorite blankie

Twitter: Heligirl
July 30, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Thanks so much Kristen. That’s a great advice. Luckily we never got to that level, but I sure bet this isn’t uncommon. Thanks again for sharing this!!
Heligirl recently posted: Getting Baby to Sleep

Twitter: solarchief
July 30, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Most of what you say simply makes sense… there is a chasm of difference between a routine and regimenting a child’s life, and you seem to have understood the difference immediately… kudos for your positive parenting…

Twitter: SolarChief
SharleneT recently posted: Solar Beef Heart Scotched Egg on Quinoa Bed

Twitter: Heligirl
July 30, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Why thank you darlin’. 🙂
Heligirl recently posted: Getting Baby to Sleep

Melissa (Confessions of a Dr.Mom) July 30, 2010 at 8:43 pm

I LOVE that book the Happiest Baby on the Block. My firstborn…my son…was a most difficult sleeper but this book helped me a ton! This is a great post and I really like positive discipline…great job!

Heligirl August 1, 2010 at 8:27 am

Thanks much! The #31DBBB helped me get more focused. I have a new look coming and the focus will be a lot more on Positive Discipline (compassionate parenting, positive parenting, etc.). I hope it helps get lots of people excited about it.

Alexandra July 31, 2010 at 6:27 am

oh, do you know how I could have used this when I was a new mom? so much has changed, for the better, b/c of the internet. Instead, I had to lose my mind. Wonderful, wonderful advice.
Alexandra recently posted: What The Boys Would Be Like Without You- Or An Extremely Belated Happy Fathers Day

Heligirl August 1, 2010 at 8:27 am

Why thank you my Queen. 🙂

Carol Ann August 2, 2010 at 10:48 am

Tazer Mom Syndrome. That made me laugh…I get that big time when one of my kids starts crying or calling for us in the middle of the night. I’m in the middle of Bedtime Bootcamp with my oldest (4 1/2). I’m still looking for the trick to getting a preschooler to go to bed when asked and stay in her own bed all night. Getting a baby to sleep 12 hours was a cake walk compared to what we are dealing with now….
Carol Ann recently posted: If Jumping to Conclusions were Jumping Off Buildings then I just Jumped off the Sears Tower

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