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