Monday, February 15, 2010
Putting Conan to bed tonight took all of 7 minutes. I don't mean to brag (well, ok, yes, I guess I do) but bedtime has become one of the easiest, best times of the day for us. It took a LONG time to get here! I've heard rumours of babies who sleep gently throught the night from the time they are a couple of weeks old. But then I've also heard stories of unicorns and fairies, and I've never seen any of them, either.
When he was little, Conan fought against sleep like a wild thing. We tried everything - putting him in the sling, driving in the car, putting the carseat on the dryer, running various electrical appliances in the room with him (white noise), nightlight, no nightlight, regular afternoon nap, no afternoon nap, later bedtime, earlier bedtime, dressing him warmer, dressing him cooler, feeding more, burping more, singing lulabies, cuddling, bouncing, rocking, swaddling, swinging - and eventually did find a few things that helped. By the time he was about four months old we had a system. It went like this:
1. Night diaper & Jammies on
2. Swaddle (TIGHT!!)
3. CD on (Gregorian or Tibetan Monks, chanting - very sleepy stuff!)
4. Nurse (10 minutes on each side)
5. Bottle (5 more minutes)
6. Bounce/rock as needed (bouncing more effective, but more tiring)
7. Once sleep acheived, 20 more minutes of holding before attempting to lay him down in his crib.
8. Stand over the crib, hands still on him, singing, "You are my Sunshine" (yes, over the CD) until he settles back into deep sleep.
9. Cover with blanket, oh-so-gently
10. Hold breath and sneak out of the room, quiet as a mouse
This worked pretty well. It was a long process, to be sure, but it would generally result in 3-4 hours of sleeping. The most common undesireable side effect was that a sleep-deprived parent would fall asleep in the rocking chair during the 20 minutes of "sleep set" time after Conan had nodded off, and wake up with a very stiff neck.
Yes, we'd heard of Cry It Out and other strategies for teaching babies to go to sleep without so much parental involvement, but it just didn't work for us. We tried it a couple of times, but Conan just got madder and madder and we couldn't take it. My baby was in distress, how could I not go comfort him? All he wanted was to be held... some more. Which is a pretty daunting prospect, when you're a new parent, and you're so tired, and you've got to work in the morning, but still. Some of those books make it sound like you'll still be rocking your kid to sleep when he's 16 if you don't let them cry when they're 6 months old, but I just couldn't do it.
We had originally planned to have Conan sleep with us, either in our bed and in an actual co-sleeper, which is a side-car mini-crib that is open on the side by the bed with a matress at the same level. It just didn't work for us. He never got the hang of nursing laying down, so we had to get up and sit in the rocking chair. Conan ALWAYS woke up if the person holding him tried to lay down, or even to hand him to someone who was already laying down. Somehow he just knew the difference, even though we went to great lengths not to change his position in the process. We moved him to his own room when he was almost three months old, because we were both about to start working again and really didn't want him to be woken up by the alarm clock (although in those days he generally got up before it went off anyhow). And as it turned out, we all slept better right away.
So anyway, we tried a lot of different things, and eventually developed the system I described above. And then, without really even trying, we gradually simplified and shortened it, and now it's marvelous. We still play the Chant CDs, but even when we've misplaced them, bedtime generally goes off without a hitch. We stopped swaddling in the summer, when we had the big heat wave. The 20 minutes of "sleep set" gradually shortened, until now I can put him down in the crib still awake, and he rolls over and snuggles in. In fact, after we get his jammies on, bedtime takes just long enough for Conan to drink his fill from the bottle, and that's it.
I'm really glad Conan never had to cry it out. Today he loves bedtime and is a great sleeper. He likes his crib. It's a happy place for him to wake up, and we stock it with toys each night so he has fun stuff to play with in the morning. He'll play for an hour or more before he lets us know that he's ready to get up and have breakfast, which is simply wonderful on weekends.
If you'd told me a year ago that it'd be like this now, I wouldn't have believed you. I don't want to jynx our current happy state of affairs by giving out advice, but if I were to give some advice for parents trying to get their baby to sleep, it would be to listen to your instincts. Don't listen to people who tell you they know exactly what you need to do, or not do. There's no one system out there. Some of those books have some good suggestions, but there's no magic bullet. Give yourself, and your baby, time to adjust, develop your own routine, and just do what feels right. Eventually you'll get some sleep. I promise.
Also, get yourself a really comfy rocking chair. It's worth it.