Why we make sleep a priority and how we got our littles to sleep through the night

Ah, moms.  We’re such a low key bunch.  I am always reluctant to even mention things like “sleep training” because it can cause such a visceral reaction from some women.  I once made the  unforgivable mistake of recommending the book “Babywise” to a mom friend on Instagram who was incredibly sleep deprived and desperate for advice and I was immediately excoriated by some other moms for pretty much advocating for child abuse. Yikes.  My bad.  I’m sorry, but I have been in the trenches of total sleep deprivation, and I found “it’s totally normal” or “this too shall pass after a couple years of not sleeping” less than helpful/comforting.  In fact, those kinds of advice made me want to go jump off the nearest bridge.  Years of not sleeping?!  You do realize sleep deprivation is one of the most popular methods of torture throughout the history of oppressive regimes for a reason.  Listen, I am a terrible mom when I am sleep deprived, and want to be at my best for my babies.  I don’t want to barely coast by during this season of their lives in a sleep deprived haze, never again remembering these precious moments with them because I spent my days barely conscious.  Not to mention it seems just plain dangerous. It is highly recommended that you not drive after a night of no sleep. How can we be expected to keep a tiny completely dependent human alive and well after years on end of no sleep? It is really no small task. I think we fellow moms should try and help our desperate and sleep deprived sisters instead of just yelling down from the boat that the drowning feeling is totally normal and you will get used to it eventually.  

I know, I know. I’m a mother, and I signed up for this gig knowing that it would be a 24 hour job.  That is a given.  But I like to guide my children in the art of good sleep habits, like I guide them on how to reach any other milestone.  And yes, I think that sleeping through the night is a milestone just like eating solid foods, talking, walking, and using the potty.  It should not be forced if they are not ready and there will be a period of time where you will be sleep deprived and having to get up with the infant all night long.  All children sleep through the night at different times, but that doesn’t mean we should just throw our hands up and offer no sort of guidance for them on it whatsoever.  Sure, some kids can do it without any outside help, but some need assistance in reaching certain milestones.  So, after three babies in three years, this is the sleep training routine we have set up.  The timeline is approximate, we don’t set rigid ages for sleep milestones, but we do expect gradual progress as the baby gets older.  I have pretty much combined several approaches, including supposedly contrary ones, like attachment parenting, Babywise, cosleeping and crib sleeping.

  • After the baby is born: We cosleep.  Period.  It is the only way I can get any sleep.  I wear some button down pajamas, a nursing bra (you need that added support in those early days), and put a burp cloth underneath the baby’s head in case she is a spitter. I have a bassinet by the bed, but I just use it as a changing station for all of those lovely middle of the night poops.  When she wakes to feed, I change her diaper, swaddle her back up, and nurse her on one side or the other until we both fall back asleep.  Rinse and repeat all night long.
  • Once she has slowed down to 3-4 feeds a night:  This usually happens on its own after about 3 months for my  babies, but if she is still feeding constantly throughout the night, I tighten up her daytime routine.  I have become a demand feeder the more babies I have had (I have too much to do to keep up with the exact time my baby last fed); however, I have found that the more rigidly you stick to a 3 hour feed, awake time, nap time schedule, the longer they sleep at night.  So if I need for her to sleep for longer stretches at night, I try to get as close to the 3 hour schedule as I can.  If she gets hungry before her 3 hours are up, I just feed her and restart the 3 hours like we had stuck to the schedule. If she is still constantly feeding through the night after I do this, then I chalk it up to a growth spurt and try again later. Anyway, when they are down to 3-4 feeds a night is when I transition them to a crib.  I don’t know about everyone else’s children, but my children are way too loud and wiggly for us to continue cosleeping for much longer beyond this point.  They snort and snore and sigh and snuffle and generally drive my husband and me crazy all night long.  So into the crib it is!  I usually set up a guest bed for me right next to the crib for the next few months.  It sucks because I miss my husband and he misses me, but it is only for a short time.  When the baby wakes up to feed, I get her out of the crib and feed her in the bed with me and put her back into her crib after she is done (if I haven’t passed out first.)  If she is having trouble transitioning to her crib, I start putting her in the crib for all of her naps.  If she still needs help transitioning, I have been known to add a (loud) sound machine in the room and with Wren I even put my pillow case in her crib next to her little nose (tucked under her mattress so that it wouldn’t go anywhere near her face) so that she could be soothed by my smell.  I still make sure to swaddle them tightly and they are good to go!
  • When she is down to 1-2 feeds a night: Now, Wren didn’t get to this point until I finally just adjusted her to a strict two nap schedule (morning nap and afternoon naps at the same times every day) after she turned six-ish months.  I got to go back into my own room (hooray!) and when she woke up once (or twice) a night, I would go nurse her back to sleep and put her back in her crib.  
  • Night weaning: My first two night weaned on their own by five months, which was wonderful!  We were all waking up cheery and refreshed.  However, there is the added ahem blessing of me getting pregnant again since not breastfeeding through the night entails a return to fertility.
  • Cry It Out: Ah, the dreaded CIO method.  I don’t really use it.  Not because I have a moral objection to it, but because we have just found it to be ineffective.  My children have never followed the whole every night they will cry less and less paradigm.  In fact, they have been known to cry more and more.  Again, everyone getting the best night’s sleep possible is the goal, and listening to a baby cry for hours on end every night does not achieve that goal.  Once Wren was close to a year old, I would let her fuss herself back to sleep without going in unless she was full on awake and crying. When Ruth cried and wouldn’t go down after I fed her, I would sing to her and rock her and she would pass out before the song was over and sleep the rest of the night. If Rose fussed right after I fed her, she usually just wanted her paci. I randomly pushed Wren’s bed time back an hour, and just like that she was night weaned and sleeping through the night by about 8-9  months.  She still wakes up once a night every once in a while, but since she sleeps through regularly I know she is crying for a serious reason (like a poopy diaper or teeth hurting). And even if she does just want a snuggle, it is rare enough for me to cherish it and think it is adorable rather than fighting the resentment that comes from sheer exhaustion (I have been there, it is horrible.)

Now, this isn’t to say I didn’t have those rough nights where merely nursing them didn’t seem to comfort them or make them fall asleep.  The first few months can be hard, and sometimes you just have to camp out in front of the TV and bounce the baby and wander back and forth and bounce some more.  Then, try another feed and hope against hope she falls asleep and stays asleep this time.  If we’re having a rough night, I find a new show that I love (or a good book) and camp out on the couch with the bassinet nearby and some yummy snacks and lots of water and we make a night of it.  If the baby won’t stop crying and I am starting to get desperate, I hand off the baby to daddy and take a 2-3 hour nap/mental break.   Those nights might happen, so just try to make yourself as comfortable as possible and let daddy step in if it is becoming too much for you.  But keep in mind this is very temporary  and the baby will figure out this nighttime thing soon enough.

Like everyone says, the years are short, but the days are long.  Every family is different, and each mom must discover what works best for her and her baby.  Some moms have found that they can get along with the sleep deprivation and know that some day their children will grow up and sleep through the night in their own beds.  Some moms (like me) just need their sleep and know that their children do too (like mama like daughters) and do what they can to encourage good sleep habits.  Hey, some moms are strict Babywise moms and their babies are healthy and thriving as well! Some moms use CIO and their babies cry less and less for three nights and then sleep peacefully all nights since. You need to find whatever nighttime routine works for your family.  I’m just here to say that you shouldn’t let other moms make you feel guilty or that you are a bad mom because of your nighttime routine.  It is a very personal choice and no one knows your babies better than you.   Because we are all in this crazy ride called motherhood together and we all want the same thing: healthy, happy babies and a healthy well-rested mama (yes, you may add yourself to that equation because your babies need you and you are only human).

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or any sort of sleep expert, but I am an attorney (hence the disclaimer).  I know people get very passionate about this baby sleep thing and of course SIDS is something all of us mothers are the most terrified about that first year. So, please take this blog post as simply me sharing my experiences with our babies’ sleep ONLY.  If you are in need of medical or professional advice, you should consult your pediatrician.  I also feel compelled to add not to depend too much on the stuff you read on the internet.  Because not everything you read on the internet is true. And also mommy guilt trip stuff is out of control  on the internet. 

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About sylcell

Wife, mom of four girls, Catholic, insatiable sweet tooth
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22 Responses to Why we make sleep a priority and how we got our littles to sleep through the night

  1. morgan says:

    Great post on a really difficult topic! love you for it!
    Sleep deprivation makes me first cranky, then depressed. Thank god, those days are over! I thik in hindsight the worst nights were those when they went through some spurt or illness or whatever and wanted that dang nipple in their mouths all. night. long.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sleep definitely has to be a priority! The boys were pretty different for me in terms of what worked, mostly because my first had reflux. G just turned 4 months and she does fairly well at night, and is putting herself into a day routine. I’ve always been open to everyone’s ideas and I think it’s so rude when people say “I would never”- I always think to myself “then you aren’t THAT tired yet” haha! And I totally agree with you that a constantly exhausted mommy isn’t good for anyone, we have to take care of ourselves too! I’ve heard many people say (and I couldn’t agree more) that one of the best things we can give our children is good sleep habits πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a great topic! I really appreciate that you say you have to figure out what will work for your family. Elizabeth has been on a medication to shrink a hemagioma she had on her face (Propranonol, it works wonderfully!) and your baby has to eat every 8 hours because hypoglycemia is a side effect. So night time feedings have been part of our routine since day 1 and when people found out our 7+ month old was eating during the night they’d say “You really need to wean her off that habit because .” I even once yelled at a stranger offering her rude advice!

    Liked by 1 person

    • sylcell says:

      Unbelievable. My oldest was sleeping 5 hours a night on the regular when we brought her home from the hospital but she tested positive for a metabolic disorder, so my doctor told me I had to wake her up and feed her every 2 hours. It was miserable. After two more months of tests and misery, they finally told us that it was a false positive and she didn’t have a metabolic disorder after all. Such a relief. You gotta do what you gotta do! And you never know someone else’s situation, so if the mama isn’t asking for your advice, keep your big mouth shut!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Love this! Before I had Will I was adamantly anti-sleep training (stop laughing) and thought people just needed to suck it up and try harder. But then my child decided that he wouldn’t sleep unless held in a cradle hold with me sitting upright and a boob in his mouth. And when he was six months old and I was falling asleep driving on 75, I decided we had to do something.

    Liked by 1 person

    • sylcell says:

      Ack, you poor thing!! Being the human pacifier/all night buffet for months on end is enough to drive anyone crazy! And that is if they let you lie down!!

      Like

  5. Rachel O says:

    AMEN! Thank you for your insight. Your methods sound very similar to our family’s approach. I am at the point of wanting my 8 mos old to drop his night feedings (he still gets up 1-2 times a night most nights). His brother (now 2.5) didn’t drop them entirely until he was 22 mos old. *sigh* I had two months of sleep (if that’s what you can call it at 8 months prego! LOL)And I appreciate you ideas about tightening up our schedule and naps during the day to try and encourage bedtime sleep. I am going to give it a try! THANKS!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Joanna says:

    I, like you, have found that the reaction to Babywise is very strong! people either agree very strongly or disagree very strongly. I am a mother of 8 and found Babywise about 6 months into our oldest’s life! She is now 14 years old. I was so frustrated and feeling lost from all the friendly/encouraging supportive tips from family and friends. a friend who had twins recommended Babywise. The idea that this little girl joined our lives and needed all the leading and direction that we could give her in every area of life was what I needed to hear. after getting her onto the sleep/eat/play routine she slept 12 hours at night! I was able to answer the cry a lot better, as well. our youngest is 3 months and has just started sleeping 10-12 hours a night. thank you for sharing! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • sylcell says:

      Alright!! Well rested mama and babies= a happy family! And I find that mamas of large families tend to be over the whole resigning yourself to complete sleep deprivation thing pretty quickly. Of course, I only have 3 and I was totally over it as well! The eight months Wren wouldn’t sleep at night were the hardest of my life. I reread Babywise with every baby. It is such a good guide to a sample schedule for every age.

      Like

  7. I am very curious how you force the transition to 2 naps a day. I don’t remember struggling so much with my first three but by golly number 4 is almost seven months and still napping 3-5 times a day!!

    Like

    • sylcell says:

      Well, I think Wren was really ready for a two nap transition, because it wasn’t really hard. She has a really easy tell for when she is sleepy, which is that she sucks her thumb. So every morning she would start sucking her thumb around 10:00 and would go down easily (if not, I would give her a bottle and she would settle down). I would wake her up if need be before lunch at noon and put her back down at 2:00 (and made sure she didn’t sleep past 5:00 or she wouldn’t go down for the night). My first two were terrible nappers, and I would just put them down at the same time every day and if they fussed no matter what I did, I drove my first child around in the car until she fell asleep and then kept driving for an hour (I know, was she a first child OR WHAT?). And with my second I would let her fuss for a while (shhhhh don’t tell the anti-CIO-ers) and then get her out of her crib if she didn’t fall asleep after an hour and keep her up until her next scheduled nap time. (Hello, second child). They all transitioned to one nap sometime soon after their first birthday and then they all became perfect nappers. But I tried not to nurse them to sleep during the day so that they could become accustomed to falling asleep on their own. (Following the nurse, awake time, nap time schedule). I try to only nurse them to sleep at night. But, of course, if I am desperate for them to nap and they are inconsolable I will most certainly nurse them to sleep at a nap.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Boeta says:

    Good post, yeah tough subject, we moved Boeta to his own room at 4 months, we had the feeling we were waking him, we never did demand feeding, ok maybe in the first 3 months to a small degree, looked at loose routine very soon, focused on quick methods for feeding at night and appropriate age exercises in day between naps, even now, burning energy through play remains one of the most important cornerstones of happy healthy and well sleeping kid. He sleeps through and 3 hours at midday. Yes we have the odd issue, but that is mainly teething. All kids differ, but one can help by trying to be sensitive to change as they develop and change, being able to adapt and tweaking routines subtly as they grow makes for well rested baby and parent. A friend has a 14 month old who still demands feeding 2 a night and sleeps whenever, they are fun, outgoing people who do not like routine and do baths sometime in morning. One day we were all out, I told them to let their little man crawl on the grass and play with boeta, joking hope that is not his best clothes..later they send us a message, we are good influence, baby slept 3 hours, he got stimulated and exercise, that’s why. I digress, great post, touchy subject, agree with, loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • sylcell says:

      Yes, definitely with toddlers exercise and getting their energy out is key. If the girls don’t get enough exercise during the day, they nap badly and have a hard time falling asleep at night. I was a very scheduled feeder with Ruth and she slept through the earliest, but I just can’t keep track with the subsequent ones. If I could be more scheduled with it I would. Demand feeding is definitely not my favorite. I agree with everything you said! The less of a routine the baby has during the day, the more badly they seem to sleep at night. But some parents like to have total flexibility during the day and their babies sleeping through really isn’t a priority. I can appreciate that everyone is different and parents differently.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Boeta says:

        Yes definitely, I think my point is that it comes down to the family unit and what happens within, finding the balance within the unit that works. Maybe precisely why so touchy subject because people see that as sacred and rightly so, that’s why I guard against giving advice to friends becoming to familiar is a recipe for disaster in friendships. Hehe.

        Liked by 1 person

      • sylcell says:

        I never thought about that! You are so wise.

        Liked by 1 person

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