Let me start by saying, I am not an expert on baby sleep.
And if you’ve already read my previous post about our son’s sleep challenges, you would know that I would have hung upside down like a bat, drank mud or cut off my pinkie toe if I thought it would help my kid go to sleep.
What I’m about to share is what helped us help our little guy learn how to be a good sleeper. I’m not saying everyone should try these methods, or that they would work for every child. But what I will say is that this is what is working for us (90-95% of the time).
First, what didn’t work…
Last fall, we moved to a new place, Jacob turned 2 and he started rejecting his binkie, all at the same time.
Every night when he woke up, I would bring him into bed with me, and nurse him back to sleep.
Once asleep, I would transition him back into his crib, like I had always done, but without the help of the binkie, he woke up every. single. time. when I tried putting him back into his crib.
Instead, I let him start sleeping in bed with me. Using my boob as a pacifier all night, rolling around and kicking me in the face did not make for a restful night of sleep for mama. I let this go on for months.
So I had this bright idea to make him a toddler bed at the foot of my bed, with a rolled up yoga mat and body pillow tucked in the sheet as a bumper so he wouldn’t roll out. I would lie down next to Jacob and nurse him to sleep, then slink out from underneath him and into my own bed. I thought my plan was brilliant! It worked…for a few days.
But then he started waking up after only 10 minutes. Just as I would be falling back to sleep, I would feel him patting my feet and crawling up into bed with me. UGH! I hated the feeling of wanting my son to get as far away from me as possible, but I was out of reserves and desperate for sleep.
The day I finally hit my breaking point, I reached out to a dear friend and colleague, Laura Jack (author of The Compassion Code), who had success with the help of a sleep trainer. She introduced me to Natalie Willes of www.babysleeptrainer.com
I completed the sleep audit form on her website right away. I think my sign off was:
“Mama needs some f*ing sleep!”
I can only imagine what she was thinking. 😛
I was really looking forward to the consult with her. But instead, I got a text that night saying that because of Jacob’s sleep apnea diagnosis and special needs, we were beyond her scope of practice.
I’ll admit, I was super bummed.
But I completely understood where she was coming from.
Even though she couldn’t work with us, I was resolved to find a solution. I read every single word on her website and watched every video she posted. Her style is funny and super down to Earth. Not preachy at all. She gives it to you straight.
The best advice I learned from her and applied that very night (and every night since) is this:
- Do not let baby fall asleep on the boob.
(What?!!? This was a revelation).
- Put them in their OWN BED (read: crib)
sleepy, but with eyes still open.
The first night we got the crib all set up again, and decided we would let him cry for no longer than an hour. We set a timer. We kept the monitor off (we could hear him through the ceiling) and turned on the new Jungle Book movie to drown out the sound.
For first-time parents, having a child we almost lost in his first moments on this earthly plane, we had an unspoken pact to never let our son cry, unless it was completely necessary or beyond our control.
Listening to him cry was excruciating. It was beyond hard, for both of us. But we knew that learning how to fall asleep on his own was necessary for mama’s sanity and well-being.
He cried for exactly 48 minutes the first night, 33 minutes the second night, 12 minutes the third night and now it’s for seconds or not at all.
This was a game-changer for us!
Now, here are a few other strategies that have also made a difference for us:
- Stick to a consistent naptime schedule
When Jacob was only 6 months old we followed the advice of another friend and ordered the book “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child,” by Dr. Weissbluth. The information on how sleep deprivation affects the developing child is astounding. Even though nighttime sleep was our biggest challenge because of sleep apnea, we have used the proposed nap rhythm in the book all along and have found it helpful as we transitioned from 3 naps, to 2 naps, to now 1 solid 90-minute to 2-hour nap per day. We also try our best to get him to bed as close to 8pm as possible. This feels harder in the summertime when it is light out. (We still need to invest in some black out curtains!)
This book also has a section on sleep problems, for those parents like us who have kiddos that have bigger issues going on that might be impacting their sleep, and resources for how to get set up with a sleep study. (Happy to chat with anyone about this, as we have gone through 3 sleep studies so far).
2. Go outside & play, play, play (weather permitting)
Physical exertion, time in nature, fresh air, sunshine and splashing in the water during waking hours help produce quality naps and nighttime sleep.
In the warmer months, Jacob spends almost the entire day outside on a blanket, under a shady tree, reading his books and scooting around. When my husband gets off work each night he takes J to the river to practice their father-son synchronized swimming / comedy routine. I often stay home to make dinner, but when I do tag along, I get rewarded with ear-to-ear smiles and lots of belly laughs. After the swimming our boy is ravenous, then super energized, then he crashes. It works like a charm.
3. Keep the pooping on point
Nowadays, if J is having rough nights with sleep, it is usually because of tummy issues. He takes lots of supplements but the one we never miss is Magnesium Oxide. If he gets this daily, he usually doesn’t miss a beat.
4. Happy Tummy, Better Sleep
Ok, this one probably seems totally obvious, but worth mentioning. If baby doesn’t eat enough during the day, they will wake up hungry in the middle of the night If our guy doesn’t get enough calorie dense foods during dinner, guaranteed he will wake up to nurse by midnight.
This was especially hard for us earlier on because our son could not, would not eat anything (read: only nursed) until he was about 15 month old, and even then he was only willing to eat small quantities of fruit. We had to mix all of his daily supplements in a thimble sized amount of purees and we could barely get him to eat it. He is a much better eater now, with quite a big appetite. While he still prefers fruit, he has a more broad palate now so we have more options. I digress, this post is supposed to be about sleep, not feeding challenges, but hey, it’s all connected, right!?!?
5. Lullaby & Good night
Designate special books, stories, songs and rituals baby can associate with sleeping.
J knows that when we “Go up” it’s time to get ready for nighty night. We have a special book for getting pajamas on, “Pajama Time” by Sandra Boynton, and then there is a pillow fight and tickling with Papa, before we go into his room, rock in the glider and I have special songs I sing for nursing, and a sweet send off I say exactly the same every night before I put him in his bed. It might seem redundant, or get boring but I think the association with certain soothing sounds and sleep is healthy and helpful.
6. Keep the nose clear
It is less and less of a problem now that he is getting bigger and it’s summertime, but almost every night J’s nose has required copious amounts of saline (encouraged by his ENT doc). We use Baby XClear if he has a cold because it has grapefruit seed extract and xylitol, both natural antibiotics. But for everyday use, we use the Arm & Hammer Baby Saline nasal spray.
7. White noise it up
We love our NUK air purifier that doubles as a white noise machine, gifted to us by a dear family friend…we learned about white noise for baby sleep from the “Happiest Baby on the Block” also a great book for the early days with baby.
8. Soothe baby with scents
I don’t sell essential oils and I’m not an expert, but I use them and believe they work. While you would never put essential oils directly on baby’s skin, you can mix a drop of lavender oil with coconut oil and massage onto baby’s feet, or use EO’s in a diffuser. Currently, I am using the Badger Sleepytime Balm on the bottom’s of his feet, which includes Lavender, Ginger, and a few other oils in a nice soothing blend. One of my all time favorite blends is Serenity by DoTerra.
And last, but certainly not least…
9. Never publicly praise your child’s sleep
Seriously. I mean it. It is a recipe for disaster. And I keep learning this the hard way As my mother-in-law so plainly put it “you have to keep that under your hat dear” 😉 After my last post about Jacob now sleeping through the night, he didn’t sleep throughout he night for a week. Call me superstitious, but I’m pulling from experience.
I hope sharing these resources and the techniques that are working for us will be helpful for another Mama & Papa out there.
In “Get Some Sleep” Part 3, I’ll cover “Help for Mama.”
Wishing you sweet slumber!