So, in the comments of Sunday’s post about vacuuming, Sarah and Elizabeth and Sarah Marie asked for my two cents on getting babies to sleep. 

As you wish . . . 

“Sleep like a baby.” Seriously? Who started that saying? Have they met babies?

I don’t know who Leo Burke is. Wikipedia suggests he might be a retired Canadian professional wrestler, retired American professional baseball player, or current Cardinal Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. Who knows?

My first baby was like living in a Berenstain Bears book about how NOT to get babies to sleep. While pregnant, I had read ALL the books about babies. So, I knew how it was going to go. At night, I was to wrap my baby up all nice and cozy, nurse/walk him until he was really asleep, then lay him down in his crib and head off to my own bed for four to eight hours of glorious sleep.

Well, that’s not quite how it worked out. No matter HOW deeply asleep he was, if I put him down — he woke up. Sometimes five minutes later, usually immediately. Occasionally I’d get an hour. He would sleep on me, or in a moving stroller. That was it. Not on dad, not in a parked stroller. Swings and buzzy seats might as well have been made of hot lava. He couldn’t have screamed any louder in them if they were.

Once, Jack was asleep in his bucket car seat (which was pretty rare) when we walked into Mass. And a lady walked up to us and picked up the blanket over his seat and totally woke him up. As if sleeping was just something babies did all the time and as if he would just GO BACK TO SLEEP. Well, I know now that some babies do. But mine don’t. And I still haven’t quite recovered from that day 11 years ago when a lady woke my baby up.

Getting that baby to sleep was really hard work. I would get him to sleep, put him down, fall asleep myself for a minute or two, he’d wake up, we’d start over. I would even put him in the stroller and walk laps around the courtyard of our student housing complex in the middle of the night, because nothing else worked. It was NUTS.

found here. totally what happened. (what is with me and zombies this week?)

Finally, after a couple of months of that I was just so exhausted that I’d fall sound asleep sitting up in my bed nursing him at night and realized that we actually could get some sleep that way. I no longer cared if co-sleeping was just for hippies and weirdos. It was the only way my baby and I got any sleep at night. The husband was concerned about it at first, but we did some research and decided that we were comfortable with the safety of co-sleeping. And the fact was it was the only way we could actually sleep at night.

It doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s a godsend for us.

So that’s what I’ve
done with all my babies since. I
carry my babies around all day and sleep with them at night.

The only advice I really have from where I am now about newborn sleeping is that I’ve learned to not ever start doing things I don’t want to keep doing. So, even on nights when the baby is fighting falling asleep I don’t ever get up and walk him around, because I don’t want to have to get up and walk him around on a regular basis. I’ll nurse and pat and go from one side to the other and hum and sing, but I stay in bed. Because in my experience being more stubborn than the baby usually works.

But then, all of a sudden sometime between six and nine months, it stops working. Where baby and I used to nurse and sleep happily through the night, now baby is kicky and wiggly and we wake each other up and it gets really old really fast.

So, THAT’S when I turn to Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
by Marc Weissbluth. Of all the sleep books out there, I think this one has the most reasonable approach to getting babies and kids to sleep in a way that works for your family. If you want to nurse your baby to sleep, he’s okay with that. If you don’t, he can help you there too.  It’s not one of those books that says, “If you don’t do it exactly this way, your child will most likely become a serial killer.” I don’t like books like that.

Since in my case, with my babies, they WILL NOT stay asleep if I try to put them down, once I move them to the crib, I let them cry it out. And once it’s over, I’m always glad I did. I only gave it a half-hearted attempt with Jack when he was a baby, mostly because we lived in a university-built townhouse and I could hear every sound he made and so could the whole neighborhood. Plus, he was my first and I was already sleep-deprived and I just wasn’t emotionally prepared to handle it. So he didn’t learn to sleep until we moved into a house when he was over a year old. I was so very tired.

But with every baby since, I read the book over again as a pep-talk, re-convince myself that learning to sleep on your own is just as important as learning to eat healthy foods or to wear your seat-belt and then just do it.

Anita sleep trained in one night. Frankie sleep trained over the course of several very miserable months. But if you knew them, you’d say that sounds about right. And once it’s done it has always felt worth it.

For our family a key has been being able to separate the kids enough that they don’t wake each other up and to find a way that mom doesn’t have to listen to a crying baby, because it makes her feel like this:

 Then like this:

Then like this:

Not good. And am I talking about myself in the third person? Also not good. Anyway, baby gets his own room until he learns to sleep well. We have a spare bedroom now so this isn’t a problem. But even when we lived in an apartment, we made it happen. Bobby spent his babyhood in a pack n’ play in a closet, Harry Potter-style. Anything to keep the baby from waking up the toddler and vice versa.

When I put a sleep-training baby down, I go somewhere I can’t hear him. I take a bath on the other side of the house, or go read a book in the yard, or watch a movie. We have a noisy hall fan, and I use a white noise machine when I sleep. We’ve even just slept on the fold-out couch on the other side of the house for a couple of nights. I never, never sit listening to the baby cry (or watching the baby cry on the monitor). It doesn’t help. It makes me crazy and mean to my husband and other children.

And it’s counterproductive, because I know that he has to learn, because we weren’t sleeping well together anymore and for us, there isn’t another good option. So the choice is: (temporarily) miserable baby or miserable mom and miserable baby. He won’t remember it in the morning, but I will. So I put him down and don’t listen to him and don’t go back in (except for one night nursing usually) until it’s time to get up.

Even with Frankie, who really resisted it, the end result was totally worth it for us and for him. Once he figured it out, he started sleeping well and going to sleep easily. And we were all so much happier for it.

Sometimes it works great for a while, then baby will regress and start waking up again. I just continue to not go get him at night. Even if he’s probably teething, or has a runny nose, or got shots that day, or anything. Because it never seems to make it better and it always makes the re-training process take longer than if I just do not go get him at night. 

I wish I had more of a magic formula, something that would sound better than: Put Baby in Crib, Put Fingers in Ears. But that’s what we’ve had long term success with. Once they’re sleep trained, my babies sleep well and in their own beds, my toddlers sleep well and in their own beds, my kids sleep well and in their own beds. And they all seem quite happy and well adjusted.

But I guess you never know . . . 

how terrifying were those plastic ’80s Halloween costumes?

You really just have to do what works for your particular baby and your particular family and your particular self. If you have read a book that says there’s only one possible way to successfully sleep-parent and all other ways are wrong and potentially damaging, I would say that probably a better use for the pages of that book would be as insulation for the inside of your sound-proof sleeping helmet, or as stuffing for your giant whole-family mattress, or, I don’t know, just toss it out. Because it’s really just not true.