Sleeping: What Works For Us Part 2

Back in Part 1 I described how we made it through the newborn and infant stages getting Mouse to sleep. Once he got older, however, we once again had problems. Mouse would only sleep in the bouncy chair. Not the crib, not the pack n play, not in our bed, not the swing, nowhere else–only the bouncy chair. I am not joking when I say that one day the original bouncy chair broke and I was literally in tears until Train Guy raced out to buy another one.

However, there came a time when the bouncy chair just wasn’t big enough anymore and we had to find a different solution. It was time to fully utilize our beautiful crib. Transitioning him was HARD. He’d fall asleep in the bouncy chair and then as soon as we stopped bouncing with our foot, he’d wake up. Or he’d fall asleep and when we tried to transfer him to his crib he’d wake up and cry. Or if we put him in his crib awake, he’d cry and cry and cry and cry and cry.

Our beloved Duckie

I read tons of advice. One method was to cry it out, but go in at intervals and let the baby know you’re still there. Well, going in where he could see us just amped up the pathos and made things worse. But I just couldn’t hack a full-on cry it out for as long as it takes. Even though I had friends who swore by it, I just couldn’t do it emotionally.

Now that’s not to say that we threw cry it out totally off the ledge. In fact, we ended up doing a gradual cry it out. First we gave him 5 minutes before we went in to intervene. Then we worked up to 10, then up to 15 minutes. It was much easier for me emotionally to hear him cry when I knew it was only a couple of minutes. I can count on one hand the number of times it’s taken him longer than 15 minutes to self-soothe.  That said, the thing we found most effective was the sleep associations.

Along with that, I read Elizabeth Pantley’s The No-Cry Sleep Solution, and much of it didn’t apply to me (the focus is on getting children to stay asleep, which we had no problem with, it was getting him down in the first place that was the problem). However, I did pick up a few tips, primarily around creating sleep associations.

First off is routine, routine, routine. I resisted routine for a long time. I wanted Mouse to do what I wanted when I wanted. It didn’t work that way. Finally, we figured out the optimal time for him to nap and to go to sleep at night. And for us, it was never a case of “if you put them down earlier they’ll sleep more.” I’ve heard that numerous times, and it was just never the case with Mouse. He would just cry and cry until the regular bedtime and then fall asleep. Putting him to bed the same time every day has worked wonders. The second aspect is sleep association. I cannot explain how much sleep associations work for us. Sleep associations are exactly what Mouse needs to know that it’s time to sleep. Deviate on one thing and expect a meltdown and zero sleep. Here are our sleep associations:

  • Brush teeth. We try to remember to brush teeth every night, but some nights it gets skipped. Still, it’s important so we do try to do it most of the time.
  • Sleep Sack. Mouse wears a sleep sack–actually ours is a lightweight Aden + Anais sleep sack made of muslin to allow a lot of air circulation. When we zip him up in his sleep sack, he knows it’s time to sleep. One time all of our sacks were in the wash and there was absolutely no sleeping. I was actually surprised at how potent this association was.
  • Favorite story book. Once we get him sleep sacked up, we read the same story every night. Our favorite is Sandra Boynton’s Going to Bed Book. There are many great bedtime books to share, but doing the same one every night lets him know that we’re not just reading for fun, we’re reading to go to bed.
  • Loveys. Mouse sleeps with three essential elements–a stuffed duckie (his favorite), a stuffed Pooh bear, and a blanket we’ve taken to calling “Linus the Blanket.” See, we’re big into Snoopy around here (hey, we have two beagles!) and the nursery is Snoopy. Mouse has this round face that makes him look a bit like a Peanuts character. Linus the Blanket is blue, fuzzy, and has Snoopy on it, and quite frankly, when he’s sucking his thumb and holding the blanket, he looks very much like Linus. Anyway, his loveys help him a lot. We also took to placing Duckie in between us and Mouse when he was having a bottle to associate a closeness with Duckie. Seems to work.

    They're so sweet when they sleep

  • Lullaby. We sing the same lullaby every night. It’s short and sweet, and we follow it up with “Good night, I love you, I’ll see you in the morning.”
  • Music. After the lullaby, we turn on the music. Mouse has his own iPod. Actually it’s my old iPod Nano before I upgraded to an iPhone (LOVE!), and we have it hooked up to some speakers. This is probably one of the most significant sleep associations we’ve gotten. We have a playlist I created myself–hint: when you make your playlist, choose songs you don’t mind hearing over and over and over again–and we play it after we say good night. An added bonus is that the sound of the music drowns out any common household sounds. Again, he really, really needs the music. One time we were up at the cabin and couldn’t for the life of ourselves figure out why he was crying and crying. Finally it occurred to me to put his music on, and almost instantly he settled down and went to sleep. Now another thing about music is the length of the playlist. I found that Mouse woke himself up after about 45 minutes. When I read somewhere that a baby’s sleep cycle is 45 minutes long, it occurred to me that he needed the continual association to carry him through the awakening. As a result, I made sure that my playlist was longer than 45 minutes.

And that’s what works for us. You may notice we don’t have a bath in there. The fact is, baths have always energized Mouse and made him a lot more wired than he had to be. It was hard calming him after a bath, so we save that for other times during the day.

This has worked so well that we can simply put him down for a nap or at bedtime and within 5 minutes he’s asleep. As I said before, though, not every technique works for every child. Share in the comments your best advice for getting a child to sleep!

The Scrivener

Sleeping: What Worked for Us Part 1

I’ve heard it said that sleep is the Holy Grail of parenting. We were lucky in that Mouse slept through the night very early on. But naps and getting him to go to bed, let alone sleeping in his crib? Yeah, good luck with that.

There are as many ways to get a child to go to bed and stay asleep as there are individual children. But for some reason, sleep techniques are about as controversial as it gets, with many sleep adherents believing that their way is the Right Way, and others are at best, foolish, and at worst, downright harmful.

Now first let me make this clear. Gen X Moms is a No Judgment Zone. All of us moms have different parenting styles and techniques, all of which are equally valid. What we all have in common is that we love our kids. There’s nothing like a vibrant conversation, and it’s only by listening to other voices that we all can understand each other. So if you’re looking for the One Right Way to do anything, you’ve come to the wrong blog, but if you’re looking to read and share ideas and support one-another, welcome! This entry and its soon to be posted companion are what worked for us to get Mouse to sleep, and I hope you find some helpful tips and share your own.

Shortly after I found out I was pregnant, I traveled to visit some friends in Northern California. One friend, whose daughter was 6 months old at the time, pressed a book into my hands and emphatically stated, “This book saved my life. I. Am. Not. Exaggerating.” The book was Dr. Harvey Karp’s The Happiest Baby On The Block, and once Mouse arrived I knew just what my friend was talking about. It saved our lives too. And I’m not exaggerating either.

You can read some excerpts here, but as a quick overview, Dr. Karp’s premise is that babies have 5 different ways of calming themselves in our wombs, and if we re-create those 5 ways, we can help our babies calm themselves after they’re born. I know, my first reaction was “re-create the womb? Puh-lease!” but the more I read, the more sense it made to me. His approach is summed up in the “5S’s.”

S #1: Swaddling. Babies are curled up very tightly in our wombs and to set the stage for the other calming approaches, you swaddle them so they don’t jerk their arms, feel like they’re falling, or wake themselves up. I cannot tell you how well swaddling worked for Mouse. It was a true “off-switch” for him, and he couldn’t sleep without it. We swaddled him until about (a pediatrician-approved) 8-9 months. When he outgrew commercial swaddlers, I invented my own. The key to swaddling we found was swaddling tight. Mouse’s arms needed to be right by his side and the more tightly he was bundled, the calmer he got.

S #2: Side or Stomach-laying. Babies don’t sleep on their backs in the womb, and even though that’s the safest position for SIDS, it’s difficult for many babies (like ours) to fall and stay asleep flat on their backs. Rocking or holding the baby in a side or stomach position is another off-switch. Mouse ended up sleeping in his bouncy chair, but when he’d get really fussy, it was all about holding him in a side-lying position in our arms.

Binky Fail

S #3: Shhhhhh. It’s really noisy in the womb, what with all of that liquid sloshing around and noises from the outside coming in. In fact, Dr. Karp posits that this is why babies in the womb are so active at night–once it’s quiet, that’s when they wake up. Dr. Karp emphasizes that it’s okay to be really loud, since it’s really loud in the womb. Again, we got all up in Mouse’s grill and Shhhh’d at the top of our lungs (so to speak) and the louder we did it, the calmer he got.

S #4: Swinging. Pretty self-explanatory. Unfortunately for us, this didn’t work for Mouse no matter how hard we tried, but it works really well for a lot of babies.

S #5: Sucking, as in a finger or pacifier. Again, Mouse never went for this. He couldn’t keep the binky in his mouth but eventually didn’t seem to care much anyway. But it does work for lots of babies.

In short, read the book, and buy it for any new parents or parents-to-be. They will thank you profusely!

The Scrivener