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

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Early Bedtime Routine, Better Sleep

A consistent bedtime routine is a great way to end the day, and helps your baby or toddler relax and prepare himself for sleep.  Our bedtime routine has changed quite a few times as Rocco has grown from a newborn into a toddler over the last two years.  We have it down to a science now, and it works brilliantly about 90% of the time.

Sleeping Rocco

Sleeping Rocco

When Rocco was a bit younger, I made the common mistake of keeping him up until he showed obvious signs of being tired.  I was not putting him down for naps or bedtime until the whining started.  He would start getting upset about every little thing that went wrong.  His balance was off and he would start rubbing his eyes and yawning.  Some days, he did not take a nap until two o’clock, which started pushing bedtime as late as ten o’clock.  Although I had read dozens of books, I was regularly reminded that waiting for my toddler to show obvious signs of tiredness meant that he was overtired and I had waited much too long.  Several sources mentioned that very young children need to go to sleep much earlier, and that the ideal bedtime was around seven o’clock.  I wanted my evenings back.  Rocco was not the only grumpy one.

Several months ago, I decided to put Rocco on a better sleep schedule and follow a consistent bedtime routine for 30 days and see what happened.  The results were amazing and had a positive impact on every part of our day.  He was happier and much easier to deal with all day long.  He was getting the sleep he really needed and I was getting an extra three hours to myself.  I felt like a new person, and a much better mom.  Changing his sleep schedule was an excellent decision.  My only regret is not having done it months earlier.

The first day, I got him up an hour early, so he would nap before noon.  Surprisingly, he did very well with that and was asleep at 11:45 a.m.  I made a commitment to be home by five o’clock to start our new bedtime routine.  I gave him dinner in his high chair at five o’clock sharp.  He watched a PBS Sprout cartoon, which kept him happy in the high chair for 30 minutes and he ate most of his dinner.  Usually, he put a fight about eating and tried to climb out several times.  Television can be a wonderful tool when used wisely.  After dinner, Rocco had a bubble bath with a tub full of toys.  This had not happened since he was under a year old.  I usually gave a tired, crying toddler a quick three-minute shower.  He loved his bath and stayed in there until six o’clock.  After his bath, I dressed him in cozy pajamas, sat with him in the rocking chair in his nursery, and nursed him for about 15 minutes.  Everything was so much easier because it was early and he did not seem tired.  Before, everything was a battle because he was overtired.  After I nursed him, I explained that we needed to clean the milk off of his teeth, so we went back to the bathroom where I brushed his teeth and swabbed them with mouthwash.  Normally, he resisted and cried when I tried to clean his teeth.  He could not have been more cooperative.  With a full tummy and clean teeth, we returned to the rocking chair for three bedtime stories.  Before, he was wiggling out of my lap and whining while I tried to read to him.  After his stories, it was time to sit on the potty chair (he had just gotten out of diapers at the time).  Again, no resistance.  I showed him two more bedtime books and told him that I would read them as soon as he was in his bed.  He happily climbed into his bed and put his head down on the pillow!  This was a first at bedtime, and it was only about 6:40 p.m. at this point.  Again, this step was usually a big struggle and I felt like I was wrestling an alligator to get him into bed most nights.  I tucked him in and read him two more books.  I expected it to take him a long time to fall asleep so early.  He was sound asleep halfway through the second book, at 6:50 p.m.

It took about ten days for Rocco to adjust to going to sleep that early.  At first, he woke up several times a night before two o’clock.  After two weeks, he was sleeping nine hours in his bed, getting up to use the potty at four o’clock and coming in my bed to nurse and go right back to sleep until seven o’clock most mornings.  When he used to go to bed as late as ten o’clock, he was still up at four o’clock to nurse and never slept later than eight o’clock.  By making his bedtime earlier, his sleep increased from ten hours a night to twelve on average.  The length of the nap never changed, and has been an hour a day since he was 14 months old.

Putting Rocco on an early nap and bedtime schedule has been a totally positive experience.  I highly recommend this to all parents of toddlers.  It’s worth a try and hopefully many parents will find that it improves their child’s moods.

Thanks for reading ~ Sid

Published in: on February 13, 2009 at 1:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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From Co-Sleeping to Toddler Bed at 17 Months

Rocco's First Night in the Toddler Bed

Rocco's First Night in the Toddler Bed

Rocco never slept in his crib for very long.  During his first year, he slept between five minutes and maybe three hours at a time.  Between 14 and 17 months, I struggled to help him become comfortable with sleeping in his crib.  I read a million books about toddlers and sleep.  I tried every non-CIO method of getting him to go to sleep and stay asleep.  Nothing worked, and he became increasingly freaked out by the “cage” we called his crib.  As a nanny, I had helped dozens of infants and toddlers sleep in their cribs.  I had never dealt with such a difficult infant or toddler when it came to sleeping in a crib.  My first son loved his crib and we couldn’t get him in a regular bed until he was four years old.  Rocco disliked his crib from the day he came home from the hospital.  Well, it turned out that his main objection was the confinement of the crib.  If only I had known earlier, I would have converted it to a toddler bed as soon as he started walking.  At 17 months, he began climbing out of the crib after sleeping just a few hours at bedtime.  I could not get to him quickly enough, even with a monitor, so I converted the crib into a toddler bed.  I was concerned that he would really hurt himself.  I thought it would be nice to use as a place to read books in his room and his stuffed animals could sleep there.  As soon as he saw his new bed, he climbed in and would not get out.  That day, we played in his room until nap time and he went right to sleep in his new bed.  He was very calm and comfortable with the knowledge that he could easily get in and out of the bed.  He seemed to love that I could sit right next to him on the floor and give him full hugs too.  To my absolute shock and surprise, naps and bedtime became almost effortless from the beginning.

Thanks for reading ~ Sid

Published in: on February 1, 2009 at 4:33 am  Comments (2)  
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Out of Diapers at 19 ½ Months

Ocean Beach, San Francisco

Ocean Beach, San Francisco ~ August 2008

I believe in teaching typical toddlers to use the potty or toilet before age two. Post 1960s child development “experts” began recommending delayed, child-led toilet learning, which has led to the current trend of three and four-year-old children still wearing diapers full-time.   Barring developmental delays and medical problems, I do not agree with waiting until a child is over three years old to begin the process.  I joined an “early potty training” group and was surprised that “early” was defined as having our children out of diapers by age three. I believe that giving a toddler the dignity, pride, and self-respect of keeping himself clean and dry as soon as he is physically capable is best for both parents and child. The “magic” age I have found is between 18 and 22 months for the majority of toddlers, however, this is not set in stone by any means. There are some important factors to consider before trying this method.  I do not recommend it for toddlers with developmental delays, medical problems, or anything considered special needs.  I also do not recommend it if the child’s life is in a major transition.  Major transitions include such events as the separation of parents, divorce, a new sibling, serious illness, home remodel, moving, loss of caretaker, new daycare situation, and similar events that need to pass before this can be done reasonably.  In my experience, waiting for a child to be “ready” often means that they become embarrassed about soiling themselves and sometimes humiliated by their peers teasing them, calling them babies, telling them that they smell, and even refusing to play with them. As a professional nanny for over 20 years, I have experienced these exact scenarios with preschool-age children in my care.  I have also observed first hand that as toddlers approach the two-year mark, they start developing a lot of common fears, including the toilet and elimination. Many also become stubborn, desire more power and control, and are far less eager to please their parents and caregivers, which makes the process very difficult. These developmental changes are a normal part of growing up, but they can be quite counterproductive to the toilet learning process. If you wait too long, you risk missing that window of opportunity and sometimes have to wait until what I call the “embarrassment and humiliation stage” that I described above.  Sometimes that does not happen until children are close to four years of age.   The process can take much longer and be a lot more difficult after age two, so many parents choose to wait and try again after the “terrible twos” have passed.  Wearing diapers for an extra two years also means an additional $1500 or more spent on diapers.  Another issue to consider is the phenomenon called “stool refusal” which did not exist prior to delayed, child-led toilet learning. Click HERE to read an article by family psychologist, John Rosemond about stool refusal in children over age three years.

At 19½ months, Rocco was wearing regular underwear all day, using his potty chair with pride and enthusiasm, and keeping himself clean and dry 99% of the time. The learning process from wearing diapers all day, to wearing regular underwear all day, took exactly eight days for Rocco. I want to stress that there was no crying, no tantrums, no fear, and no anxiety for Rocco.  I was calm and matter-of-fact about it, and he was very curious about seeing pee and poop coming out of his body.  He was thrilled by my praise and excitement and quickly became eager to please me.  Toilet learning at a year-and-a-half old was common place until the 1970s, so your toddler does not have to be exceptional or advanced in any way for this to work. In fact, Rocco was almost non-verbal at 19½ months. Of the dozen or so words he spoke, none was related to using the potty. He never expressed an interest before I introduced him to idea of staying dry and using the potty. In fact, I am certain that he was completely unaware that it was even an option until the day we started. The potty chair I purchased when he was 18 months old was nothing more to him than a chair his size to sit on and play with.  Teaching him to use the potty was 100% my idea. It was not difficult at all. I had helped many toddlers learn to use the toilet as a nanny. I also taught my first son back in 1990 just before he was turned two. Although every child is different, this method has worked for me every single time with approximately two dozen toddlers over the past 20 years. The youngest was a set of 17-month-old twin girls in 1987. The oldest was a 23½-month-old boy. Some got it in a few days, while others took a few weeks.  I have also helped teach preschoolers (age three or older), and some of them were very easy, while others were frightened and traumatized by the whole experience.

Your toddler should ideally be between 18 and 22 months when this is done, however, all children are different and it will work for some and not others.  There is no technique with a 100% success rate for a specific age or time bracket. You will need to set aside about one week to spend at home with him, mostly sitting on the floor and watching him like a hawk for cues that he is about to go pee. The cues for poop are usually much easier. If you have a play room or family room, plan to spend the week in that area with your child. If you have carpeting, I recommend laying thick towels, quilts, or blankets down that can be easily washed. At the end of the week, you’ll need to do a good carpet cleaning.  If you are able to do this in a room with tile or wood floors, you are very fortunate.  Be warned that toddlers often slip and fall on a wet floor in a split second, so be mindful of that.

I highly recommend the Once Upon A Potty book, the Once Upon A Potty DVD, and the Elmo’s Potty Time DVD right around 17 to 18 months. Rocco and I spent about three weeks watching and reading these daily before starting the official process. Rocco loved these and he did connect events in the book and on the DVD with his accomplishments several weeks later. In addition, we purchased the Baby Bjorn potty, which is very comfortable and easy to use, as well as easy to clean. Rocco liked the potty chair and spent several weeks sitting on it fully clothed thinking it was quite a nice chair.

Spend the day before you begin the actual teaching process explaining to your toddler that he will no longer be wearing diapers. Instead, he will be wearing big boy underwear and using his very own potty for pee and poop. Take him to the store and let him pick out about a dozen pairs of big boy underwear with his favorite characters. Rocco picked Elmo and Thomas the Train. The next morning, have the area set up with plenty of your toddler’s toys, books, DVDs, clean underwear, rewards, favorite foods, and lots of fluids. I recommend water and juice. You want your toddler to eat and drink as much as possible throughout the day. Treats are optional. Some children respond well to m&m’s or stickers. Others are fine with lots of hugs, kisses, and praise. At this age, toddlers are very eager to please. They are motivated to do things that make you happy, which is why this age range is so perfect for toilet learning.

When your toddler wakes up, take off his diaper and have him “help” you take all of the diapers out of the house. Put them in a big bag and explain that the diapers are going to the babies. Put regular underwear on your toddler, get down on the floor, and start watching. As soon as he grabs himself or you see wetness in his underwear, say “Oh, you’re going pee! Let’s put the pee in the potty! Great job!” Give him a ton of praise for even just a few drops of pee in the potty. Have him “help” clean the potty in the bathroom so he can see that the pee goes in the big toilet where Mommy and Daddy go. Expect to go through all the underwear in the first day. You’ll be washing them with the towels the first night.

You will notice fewer accidents each day. Our experience was 11 accidents the first day, seven accidents the second day, and one accident the third day. By the fourth day, Rocco was walking to the potty on his own when he got that feeling and there were no accidents. Poop did not click with him until day seven. Day eight was a perfect day and after that we resumed our normal activities, including visiting the park and having lunch out. Rocco never wore another diaper after that first day. I chose not to attempt nighttime training at this age. That is a different process, so I purchased a set of cloth training pants for overnight use only, so Rocco would not be confused by using diapers. By age two years, Rocco was dry five out of seven nights, so it comes on its own in due time.

Thanks for reading~Sid


Published in: on January 31, 2009 at 10:44 pm  Comments (20)  
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