First, I’ve been so overwhelmed by the outpouring of support this week and the countless messages. Honestly, who needs The Notebook? I feel ALL THE FEELINGS.
I’ve already been able to connect with some of you, particularly those that really needed a friend (or virtual drinking buddy), but I hope to respond to the rest in the next few days!
For all new parents—and even those second and third-time offenders—the sleep struggle is REAL. I got a message from Ashley who said her 13-month-old son isn’t sleeping through the night. She’s DESPERATE for a full night’s sleep, and was hoping we could offer her some help.
The good news is, she’s not alone. This is such a common hurdle among parents, so I thought exploring it a bit more could hopefully help many of you.
It’s not until becoming a parent that I truly appreciated how completely bogus the phrase “sleep like a baby” is. Like…what baby? Did you know that very act of putting oneself to sleep is a learnt skill? I didn’t, but that’s mostly because I spent the better part of my 20’s crashing out face down in my NYC apartment at 3 a.m. (sorry Dad).
But back to Ashley’s little night owl…
Her husband and extended family don’t subscribe to the “crying it out” method, and Ashley ends up doing much of the nighttime duty.
OK, so part of me wants to shout, “Woman…if you’re the one doing the lion’s share of work, do what you want.”
But I’m checking myself. Ashley has decided that letting him cry it out doesn’t work for her family, and I want to support that. If his crying will lead to a stressed out house, that doesn’t help anyone.
This is how Ashley broke down her dilemma:
For his naps and at nighttime I give him his bottle, rock him to sleep and place him in his crib when he’s out. If I put him in his crib when he’s awake, he cries until I either pat his bottom or rock him. He then wakes up 2-3 hours later crying and I usually just bring him in our bed. I know I shouldn’t, but I get too lazy to re-rock him. If it’s been longer than four hours [since his evening feed], my husband will change him and I’ll get the bottle to feed him. Once he’s asleep, I’ll usually bring him in bed with us. I know I need to cut out the co-sleeping but any advice would really be appreciated!
First off…do not call yourself lazy for doing what you need to do to get through a night. Not to me, and not to anyone. There’s a reason sleep deprivation has long been used as a form of torture. It can break down even the strongest minds. Sometimes you just have to get through, by any means necessary.
That being said, you recognize that the co-sleeping is making this more difficult for you. He’s gonna have trouble sleeping through the night in his own crib, if he’s not spending much time there.
As for the night feedings, most experts would say (depending on weight, growth spurts, etc.) that he’s not waking up because of hunger, even if he does end up drinking a full bottle. By 14-16 pounds, a baby should be able to go eight-plus hours at night without a feeding. Think of it this way: If you wake up to pee at 3 a.m., and someone is there to offer you a funfetti cupcake, would you turn it down? Me neither.
Basically, he’s gotten in the habit of waking up, and he knows that if he cries long enough, you’ll come in, so why wouldn’t he just keep crying? To his little brain, it makes perfect sense.
Since I’m not an expert (or anywhere close), I decided to ask one. Melissa Brown is one of the top infant and toddler sleep consultants in Southern California and is the founder of Sleep Shop OC.
Here’s her two cents. (Actually, this is worth like way more than two cents. Trust!)
Getting older babies to sleep can be challenging, but the good news is that if you are willing to put in the hard work, they usually catch on quickly!
Stay consistent with a bedtime routine and actual bedtime (7 p.m. is usually the sweet spot for babies and toddlers, so begin the process around 6 p.m.). Kids thrive under consistency, even though they may not want to go to bed, they will begin to recognize the cues and begin prepping themselves. Keeping a firm bedtime is also a good way to make sure he’s not getting overtired (which makes falling asleep that much harder). You also want to make sure he’s not overstimulated right before bed, so spending the last hour of his day winding things down can help you avoid that.
Think: bath time followed by bottle, brushing teeth, and then reading a few books. It’s important he has a full tummy, but don’t feed the bottle as a way of getting him to sleep. Keep the lights dim, and any noise soft.
This is the hard part: Always put your baby down awake. When you rock or feed your baby to sleep, he will keep expecting to be rocked and fed back to sleep every time throughout the night.
Lastly make sure he has a good sleep environment. Set him up for success! His room should be dark, use a sound machine to block outside noise and have the temperature between 68 and 72 degrees.
Unfortunately, some crying does come with the territory, but there are ways to minimize it. I found this article from Parenting, and it seems to offer a softer approach to sleep training. Slowly pull away each crutch, until he’s finally on his own. For example, be firm about placing him in crib awake and patting his bottom. After after a few times, he’ll start to accept this as the new normal. After he’s conquered that hurdle, start pulling your hand away when he looks like he’s getting ready to fall asleep. Taking little steps to back away from being his human security blanket will make it less upsetting for him and for you. Eventually you will just be able to be in the room, then next to the door, and hopefully soon, outside completely…with a wine glass in hand.
It may take longer than “crying it out,” but it can work.
Ultimately, he needs to LEARN how to put himself to sleep, so until he has the opportunity to, he’s going to still depend on you to help. Your job is not to get him to sleep, it’s to teach him to put himself to sleep.
One more tip: My daughter wanted to be comforted by me so routinely, that I got her the Comfort Silkie, and I’m telling you it’s like baby Xanax. One side is all silk, and since silk absorbs smell easier, I wore it under my shirt for a few nights so it picked up my scent and then tossed it into her in the crib. And because silk feels similar to skin, it can help him replace YOU with the blanket.
Now I hate to end on a bummer note, but I’m gonna have to serve some truth salad.
For you as the parent, uninterrupted sleep is pretty much in the rearview mirror. You’ll stumble on a few those blessed nights over the next few years, but it’s like finding a crumbled $5 in your coat pocket…it may happen on occasion, but don’t count on it. Even when your tiny human starts sleeping through, you’ll still be waking up every few hours to check the monitor to make sure he’s breathing or to triple check you locked the front door or to pee. I woke up three times last night—during a six-hour period—to turn the air conditioner up, then again to turn it back down, and then up again. The current temperature in Los Angeles is SOUP, so I wanted to make sure the baby was cool, but not too cold. (I mean… I’m my own worst nightmare.)
If any of you guys have tips to share, please comment below! Or if you have any questions, start a dialogue…this is why we’re here, people.
But keep it cool. Regina George gets hit by a bus for being a mean girl. Just saying.