Ok, you moms with kids who sleep through the night, prepare to howl with laughter.
Everyone else who is curious or having sleep problems, this one's for you. I'm starting to think that sleep problems maybe are just....sleep situations in which your child doesn't sleep through the night. It sounds nicer that way, right? Anyway, this is our story.
In the last year or so I have read an exorbitant amount re: baby sleep. When I was pregnant I couldn't sleep a lot and was super curious, and then when Beck was teeny and nursing all night I just wasn't that tired; my new-mom-adrenaline lasted for about 3 months, so I had 12 weeks of full nights to absorb information that may or may not ever work for my kid. That's the winning bit of information - everything won't work for everyone. I think that mostly, the super popular programs will work at some level for every kid if followed to the letter. They might not be perfect, but change will occur. That's the other piece of advice, though...gotta follow that ish to the letter. And what I've come to believe is that it just isn't always possible to do that. First, some parts of some plans might sound terrible to you. They might not work for your kid. They might not be possible for your schedule, or if you're sleeping in the same room, or whattheheckever. So, a plan then "fails" because you don't do it exactly like the shiny book says and then you start to think that your kid will never ever sleep ever and whyyyyyyyyy god.
At least that's how I was.
At the beginning, per lots of reading and pediatrician's instructions, we did nothing related to sleep training. I believe that the 4th trimester (first 12 weeks or so of life) is a real thing, and babies are figuring out their way in the world. They are cold, they startle all the time, and true learning simply isn't occurring, more of a general getting used to the situation. I'm also a believer that 1. babies are usually more tired than hungry and 2. sometimes crazy crying means that a baby wants you to hold them tight and pace about for 2 hours at a time, not really a "problem." That is a controversial belief, though, but I stand by it. Babies are inadvertent jerks.
There are lots of numbers as to when a baby "can" be trained to sleep all night by herself, 11 pounds, 14 pounds, 12 weeks are all figures I hear a lot. Our pediatrician actually recommended not trying anything until 6 months, which seems to be more on trend these days. But, the internet is filled with old and new wisdom, and there is nothing to say that kids who cry themselves to sleep at 9 weeks aren't going to grow up to be perfectly lovely humans. For me, I didn't mind being up all the time in those really early days, and I really wanted to establish nursing whenever Beck needed it. So, we nursed 24/7, every 90 minutes to 2 hours, give or take. Beck also had a nasty habit of waking up the second we put her down in anything but that gosh darned pod for a really long time. She was just happier sleeping next to us in our arms, which was frustrating because we tried the swing (yep, we had a baby that didn't sleep in a swing!) and the Rock N Play and all kinds of things that, looking back, she just wasn't ready for. She slept well near us, and we lived to tell the tale.
We did accidentally cosleep for the first 6 weeks or so of Beck's life. In the same theme as the last paragraph, she really didn't want to sleep alone, and I was so tired, and she nursed constantly, so some nights she'd just snuggle up next to me and it worked fine. There is a lot of fear surrounding cosleeping, and there are definitely some steps to take to be sure it's done safely, but I think it can be a wonderful way to bond, save space, get some sleep, or any other benefit you can see to the practice. For us, Jay wiggled wayyyyyy over to his edge of the bed. I slept in the middle of the bed, and Beck had a whole half to herself. That gave her a little wiggle room (I wasn't worried about her rolling off because she wasn't rolling or anywhere close to that skill) to not be right next to me (read: under), so I slept a little bit better. I'm a really light sleeper so I wasn't worried about rolling over on her, and research actually suggests that women who breastfeed are highly unlikely to do so anyway. Dads are another story, which is why Beck didn't sleep next to Jay, much to his chagrin.
At about 12 weeks, we still weren't getting a ton of night sleep, but Beck's stretches of sleeping alone in her pod were lengthening slightly, so we kept going with it. At that point, we did start a vague bedtime routine of books/rocking/singing, and at that point it felt absolutely ridiculous, but I really think that over time (and this is straight animal behavior theory, nothing I've made up) babies will recognize patterns and start to know what comes next in a series of things, including sleep. The bedtime routine worked horribly, but we stuck with it fairly consistently, at any time of night that felt as though Beck was getting pretty tired. A little fussier, rubbing eyes, and tugging at ears are Beck's signs, and they can vary from baby to baby, but figuring out her sleepy cues and getting her to bed immediately was something that proved really useful to us as we moved towards a more intentional plan of action. Naps were still an utter nightmare, and days when she took even one nap not in my arms were few and far between.
Cue 4.5 months. I was completely over the not sleeping ever during the day game Beck was playing, and decided to force some kind of a nap schedule. ...and that's where we'll pick up tomorrow. That period was when I went from watching Beck and taking her cues to using those cues to create some kind of schedule. Again, I read a ton, took pieces of things I liked, and knew that it'd take a little bit longer than a "regular" sleep program because all of them had some aspects that I didn't love, but not using an existing method involved a lot of trial and error, because I ain't no sleep specialist.
Newborn Sleep Tips:
- Swaddle like your life depends on it. Babies want to feel like they're being held, so halllp them with that. Lots of babies will act like they hate the swaddle, but really they can bust out of your handiwork and cry because they aren't swaddled anymore. Fighting a swaddle at 3 weeks does not a swaddle-hater make. Try different methods! Brands!
- Bedtime routines are great, straight sleep training isn't as effective until 4-6 months. We waited until Beck's 4 month sleep regression was over to try anything.
- 0-12 week babies sleep kind of all the time, maybe with a schedule, maybe not. We did bright/noisy things during the day and calm/dark things at night in terms of our behavior and sleep location. That way we "taught" Beck when night and day was, which helped her naturally lengthen her night stretches.
- At about 3 months, babies might start stretching their night sleep to longer periods, and stretching their day waking times to 90 minutes or so. They also might sleep through the night after a certain weight, and if that happens for you I hate you.
- Overtired babies usually won't sleep better or easier. Unlike adults, when babies are overtired their little bodies produce extra cortisol, which jacks them up and makes them PISSED (took that straight out of science, yo). Sliiiiightly sleepy babies have a nicer time drifting off than exhausted ones. It took me a very long time to actually believe this.
- Be gentle with yo baby! This is a controversial opinion, I know. Some people really need to sleep long stretches of time before their baby is a year old, or however long it would take them to sleep all night on their own. Some babies really suck at sleep and do need to cry some to get it down. Beck was certainly one of those babies. BUT, it's a baby, not a terrorist. It will learn to sleep, whether it's at 12 weeks or 2 years. You'll get it, they'll get it, kum ba yah. Celebrate little wins, gloss over perceived failures, time will pass and said kid will not go to college needing you every 90 minutes.
Up next, how we got her from 4.5 months, eating every 90 minutes, and howling for 3 "naps" a day to allllmost sleeping through the night and taking 3 naps per day like a human being. It was fun!