Truly Sleeping All Night

Rocco Gavin~2 years old

Rocco Gavin~2 years old

I have come to realize that there are many different opinions as to what it really means for a baby or toddler to sleep through the night.  For me, if I am comfortable and sleeping all night and the baby’s eyes are closed and there’s no crying, we’re both sleeping through the night.  This was accomplished for us at birth.  Rocco let me know exactly what he wanted from day one.  As long as we were co-sleeping and he had access to a nipple every four hours, he never made a peep and we both slept very well from about 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.  Most mornings, I had no memory of nursing him during the night.

Rocco would have nothing to do with sleeping in a crib, bassinet, swing, or car seat for more than five minutes from the day he came home from the hospital.  I could not put him down to do anything without listening to his heart-wrenching, “I’ve been abandoned and nobody loves me” cries.  I would put him in the swing and rush to the bathroom.  Laundry was piling up.  I could not believe how all-consuming this tiny person was from the moment he was born.  He quickly taught me the definition of Attachment Parenting, a term I had never even heard before his birth.  My first son was a very content “container” baby.  He was happy in everything, from car seat, to playpen, to crib, to swing.  I had every contraption available and got a lot of use out of everything.  I could put him in a swing and take a 20-minute shower everyday.  He was happy to be put down whenever I was hungry or needed to use the restroom.  He napped for two hours, twice a day, in his crib, and loved it so much, he did not get a regular bed until his fourth birthday.  I did whatever I wanted and he was happy to come along for the ride.

Well, Rocco could not have been more different.  They do say that every child is different, and my boys are a perfect example.  Rocco was very attached to me and there was no acceptable substitute.  Even being held by Grandma, his Godmother, and other family members did not help, so I quickly researched slings and carriers.  I found the Ergo carrier, and was able to resume a relatively normal life.  I was officially a breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, attachment-parenting mom and things were going well.  Because of my job, co-sleeping was our only option for getting adequate rest, although it became increasingly less than ideal as Rocco became more mobile.  When I stopped working, Rocco was 14 months old, and it was time to make some major changes in our sleeping arrangements.  He no longer slept in my arms, cuddled up against my body.  I was waking up a dozen times a night with his feet in my face, his head hanging off the bed, his leg stuck at the foot of the bed, his body across my face smothering me, and my pajamas being ripped open.  I lost buttons on every single top, and now sleep in tee shirts.  He also seemed to have a lot of dreams and would moan, whimper, and cry out in his sleep a dozen times a night.  His sleep was restless at best.  Several times, despite buying a bed rail and securing pillows around all four sides of the bed, I woke to the thud of him falling to the floor, and I could not take it anymore.  Lack of sleep turned me into a bad mom.  While I wanted the closeness and bond of co-sleeping to continue, and I wanted to “engage in nighttime parenting,” as recommended by Dr. Sears, it was creating other, very serious problems.  I was becoming one of “those” mothers.  You know, the impatient ones that scream at their children for every little thing.  Lack of sleep was to blame, and I took immediate steps to work on a solution.  I read every book I could find and researched online for alternatives to the cry-it-out methods.  Despite months of effort, we had very little success at actually sleeping all night for nearly a year.  If you’ve read my toddler bed blog, you already know that sleeping in the crib was not for Rocco.  He has never liked to be contained and left alone.  It makes a lot of sense to me, and honestly, I started feeling sorry for all the babies going from crib, to playpen, to high chair, to bath ring, to car seat, to stroller.  What a horrible existence to spend so much time strapped into different contraptions.  My son was physically close to me all the time, saw the world at my level all day, and had constant interaction with me when he was awake.  The only time he was in a car seat was in a moving vehicle.  I couldn’t imagine going grocery shopping with him in anything but the Ergo carrier until he was close to two years old.  I learned so much from Rocco.  He truly enlightened me to a better parenting style and I’ll never go back!

At 17 months, for safety and sanity reasons, he was sleeping well in a toddler bed.  Within weeks, he was falling asleep on his own, calmly and quietly, and staying asleep for an average of eight hours.  That still meant partial co-sleeping from about 3 a.m. to 7 a.m.  Putting him to bed later did not change the pattern.  He just slept fewer hours in his bed and still joined me around 3 a.m.  I had read that sleep patterns improve around a toddler’s second birthday, so I did my best to work with the situation until we got closer to two-year mark.  When he woke up at 3 a.m., I tried nursing him back to sleep and putting him back in the toddler bed.  The result was a very restless sleep that never lasted more than an hour.  I tried having him come into my bed and telling him to go back to sleep, but that caused a lot of crying out and restless sleep, even after nursing him.  As the early morning hours became more difficult, so did our days.  As his birthday approached, my bed became a trampoline at 4 a.m. and he was grumpy and ready to take a nap as early as eight o’clock in the morning.  There were other problems too.  He was manipulating me with the “I need to go potty” excuse several times a night, and then started developing fears to just about everything in his room at night, especially shadows.  I remember my toys and stuffed animals, and even furniture transforming into monsters and ghosts when I was little, so I was understanding.

Out of desperation and complete exasperation, I turned off his nightlight.  Of course, he freaked out about the tiny green light on the baby monitor and the tiny red light on his noise machine, so I covered the noise machine and wrapped the monitor with baby blankets.  Something absolutely amazing happened.  The typical pattern every night was for Rocco to wake up, get out of bed, and come running across the hall to my room.  Suddenly, with his room pitch black, he moaned and fussed, but did not come out of his room.  I think it was about 5 a.m. when I woke up the first night.  He had slept 10 hours in his bed!  This was a very exciting milestone for us.  I was a new person after sleeping all night.  I had the patience of a saint and did not feel frustrated or exasperated when Rocco climbed on the dining room table 57 times, or the kitchen counter 23 times, or threw away my car keys in the kitchen trash.  I actually enjoyed him and realized that I had stumbled upon a great solution to our problem.  Throughout the day I spoke with him about how wonderful it was that he had slept so well in his bed all night.  I reassured him that he was safe and that I was close by and would be there if he really needed me.  At bedtime, I explained to him that it was good to stay in bed and go back to sleep in the dark, and that he was doing a great job and I was very pleased with him.  I told him that when the sun came up again, Mommy would come get him and give him milk.  I was sure he understood.  The second night was a little more difficult, but I watched him on the video monitor and there was an interesting change.  He cried for 12 minutes at 3:40 a.m., but he was lying down, eyes closed, and appeared to be trying to sleep.  Let me stress that it was not constant, nor hard crying.  He was moaning, whining, and whimpering.  He did not call for me, sit up, or even lift up his head, so I watched and waited.  He went back to sleep and slept until 6:30 a.m., 11 ½ hours!  The third night, he did not make a peep and slept 11 hours until 6 a.m.  Although I am personally opposed to cry-it-out methods for teaching babies and toddlers to sleep at night, I had reached a point where I had become a mean witch and desperately needed to get more sleep at night.  I was willing to let Rocco learn to settle himself and get back to sleep without my comfort, if the benefit was being a much better mom during the day.  As it turned out, he only cried for more than 30 seconds once.  There were a few nights where he let out single cries in his sleep up to a dozen times throughout the night, but that became less and less until it stopped completely during the first week.  I am very pleased to say that Rocco now goes to sleep on his own without a fuss between six and seven o’clock every night in a dark room and sleeps an average of 10 hours.

Thanks for reading~Sid

Falling Asleep On His Own

Excited About His New Bed

Excited About His New Bed

Rocco spent the first 17 months of his life sleeping with me about 90% of the time.  Between 14 and 17 months, I researched every alternative to the Ferber CIO (cry it out) method and tried them all with very little progress.  I was able to get him to fall asleep without nursing him, but I spent an hour or more each day bent over his crib rubbing his back and soothing him to sleep.  Within a few hours he would wake up screaming and trembling with fear.  Even though I rushed to him every time he woke up, I would spend the next 30 minutes with a scared toddler clingy to me for dear life.  I thought he just disliked being in his own bedroom alone, because he was happy to play in there during the day, and was fine in the crib with me in the room.  We had a nice bedtime routine established, which took place in his room as well.  I nursed him, read him stories, rocked him, and sang him lullabies.  I reassured him daily that I was always in the house and would come to him whenever he needed me.  Nothing helped.  Soon, he started regressing and would become upset at the sight of the crib.  I went back to nursing him to sleep.  Within about a week, he started waking up and literally flying out of the crib before I could get into his room.  The mattress spring was in the third and lowest position, so I took it off and dropped it another three inches to the frame of the bed.  That did not help and he was out the second night at midnight, less than three hours after going to sleep.  That was the 31st of May, 2008.  He was 17 months old.  On the 1st of June, I removed the side of the bed and decided to use it as little love seat/daybed.  We would sit and read books and cuddle with stuffed animals, and I would co-sleep with him until he went off to college.

Rocco “helped” me take off the side, which was very exciting to him.  He helped me put blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals on our new love seat/daybed.  At that point, I was not even thinking about having him use this as a bed.  To my surprise he loved it.  He played on or around it for the next two hours, and even pretended to sleep with his blanket covering him and his eyes closed.  When nap time came, he didn’t want to get out of the bed, so I climbed in there with him, which was very uncomfortable, and nursed him to sleep.  He slept 90 minutes, a nap time record for Rocco.  He had never napped for more than 30 minutes in his crib, and always finished him nap in my lap in the living room chair.

That first night, I decided to give bedtime a try in the new toddler bed.  It went as smoothly as nap time had gone and he was asleep at the regular time.  He had never slept alone in his room for more than three hours, and I did not expect the toddler bed to change that.  Well, it did, and he slept over four hours the first night.  After a few weeks, he was sleeping six to seven hours straight in his bed, and I was thrilled!  Soon, I moved his bedtime two hours earlier, which I have written about in another blog, and he was sleeping eight to nine hours straight in his bed most nights.

Now, for how I got him to fall asleep alone without fussing or crying and without me in the bed nursing him to sleep.  The first step was nursing him into a groggy state in the rocking chair, laying him in the bed, and rubbing his back until he drifted off to sleep.  That worked almost immediately.  When it didn’t work, I repeated the process until it did.  In other words, if he got upset and sat up or tried to get out of bed, it was back to the rocking chair to nurse until he finally drifted off to being nearly asleep.

I moved to the next step after about four days.  With each step, if it did not work, I went back to the last step that worked, and kept trying.  On the fifth day, I rubbed his back for a very short time and then stopped, but continued to sit next to his bed.  If he started getting up, I’d lay him back down and rub his back more. That happened a few times.   Within a week, I was able to lay him down, rub his back for less than a minute, and he would go to sleep.  A week or so after that, I stopped sitting next to his bed and sat across the room in the rocking chair as soon as I put him in his bed.  If he got upset, I simply moved back to his bedside, settled him down, and went back to the rocking chair reassuring him that I was close by.  Once he was comfortable with that, I stood at the doorway.  That was the longest step, and it took Rocco over two weeks to become comfortable with not having me in the room.  Finally, I tucked him in his bed, gave him and hug and kiss, and walked out of the room.  It was about six weeks to complete the entire process.  The last step was the longest.  The first night, he got out of his bed no fewer than 50 times and followed me into the hallway.  I clearly and firmly told him that it was bedtime, and that he needed to close his eyes and go to sleep.  After putting him back in bed the first time, I did not say a word to him when I put him back to bed.  That was an exhausting process, but thankfully, there was no crying. I took a very long time, making sure he was comfortable with the routine and never felt scared or anxious.  He did not cry or have tantrums during this process, which was very important to me.  It took a lot of patience on my part, but it was priceless for me to have Rocco learn to fall asleep on his own without it being traumatic for either of us.

Thanks for reading~Sid