The Sleep Chronicles: Valery’s Story

Today I’ve got another edition of the Sleep Chronicles for you – Valery blogs over at Life and Love Actually and has an adorable little boy named Zach.  Valery and I have actually been blog friends since we were both planning our weddings, and I love when wedding planning friends become mom friends.  Enjoy!

I’m so happy to be chiming in with Jess’ Sleep Chronicles! I found while writing this that a lot of the details were forgotten (especially the low points), so I’m glad to have it documented – if nothing else, than to remind myself of how we actually survived. Maybe will come in handy to refresh our memory with what worked and what didn’t when/if we are in the same shoes with any future children! So here is our experience with sleep since Zach was born….


Before I start, it is worth mentioning that before Zach was born, I didn’t read any sleep books. I ordered and possessed them, but only read The Happiest Baby on the Block (which did end up coming in handy a little). But when sleep was at its worst and we turned to books for help, we regretted not having read them pre-birth, instead of with bleary eyes on limited brain power from fragmented sleep. That’s one of my tips for moms-to-be. Read your books before baby comes! I wish I had read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child before he was born. That, and The Secrets of a Baby Whisperer. Both ended up being very helpful to us in the beginning. 


Speaking of the beginning, the first six weeks were all about nursing-on-demand. Zach did sleep here and there, and for a few hours at a time at night. I felt grateful he didn’t seem to have his days and nights mixed up and figured we were sittin’ pretty. All of this time, Zach slept in the Fisher-Price Rock N’ Play next to our bed.  Breastfeeding became the *only* soothing method we had – any sign of fussiness and we assumed he was hungry and threw him at my chest. This lead to a breakdown of sorts because I realized it was completely unsustainable for me. Being stressed out from frequent and irregular breastfeeding was our catalyst to learning about sleep schedules. I started searching for references and advice on having some sort of schedule. I found many mentions of feeding the baby every 3 hours, keeping them awake for a period of time (at that age, I think it was only 45 minutes), and then putting down for a nap, while drowsy but awake, with minimal soothing (I think it’s often referred to as the “Babywise Schedule”?).


This worked out wonderfully for us. We stuck to the schedule and had great results. In hindsight, I am proud of how well we maintained it; I remember a lot of criticism about how rigid we were and how we were putting him down when he “didn’t seem tired.” But that was the key for us – that magic moment when he seemed to be getting drowsy but hadn’t gotten fussy yet. This routine lasted us for about four months. During this time, nighttime wasn’t as easy as daytime naps when we would swaddle him and plop him in his crib. At night we would rock, sway, bounce to calm him down and more often than not, we would cave in and break out the Rock N’ Play so that one of us could rock him to sleep easier. The Rock N’ Play became a crutch for us – a very bad habit. Overnight, there would be one night nursing, usually around 2 AM.

[Sidebar: I swear by Zach’s room environment as helping him sleep his best. We have black-out shades on the window and we use the Brookstone sound machine for loud white noise (loud compared to those sleep sheep and other toy versions). The white noise was initially for selfish reasons – his bedroom is under our living area, so we didn’t want to tiptoe around forever – but ended up becoming a sleep cue for him and it helps put him to sleep or calm down anywhere (plane, car, whatever).]

In December we realized he was outgrowing the swaddle and it was time to swaddle-wean and use a sleep sack. We figured if he was going to cry from the swaddle-weaning, we might as well introduce some self-soothing as well, so he would learn how to put himself to sleep without the bad habits we had been doing. We bit the bullet and did it cold turkey – we simply let him cry it out. It is not for everyone, but it worked for us. The first two nights were pretty rough but then it got better. At this point, he would sleep a fair amount, then wake and cry around 2 AM, I would go in and nurse, and he would sleep until morning.

[Another sidebar: we absolutely LOVED and SWORE by swaddling (it is a large component of The Happiest Baby on the Block book). I am a huge believer – arms down and wrapped up tightly was extremely cozy and comforting for Zach. We used three Miracle Blankets in rotation until they were ripping at the seams. We also layered a Summer Infant velcro SwaddleMe over as added reinforcement. Swaddled up, we could count on a solid stretches of sleep from Zach.]

The following month, we discovered that my breastmilk supply had dropped and the lactation consultant I met with had strongly encouraged feeding Zach at any sign of hunger and forgoing sleep training. We settled into a pattern of two night nursings – one around 11 PM and another at 3 AM. Since I wasn’t back to work yet, this new arrangement just became the norm…until weeks went by and I felt so overwhelmed (maybe in March?). Fragmented sleep wasn’t cutting it anymore for me. We started grasping at any source of knowledge or reference and found the Isis Parenting website. Cue the heavenly angel chorus. The website is pure gold – there are posted sleep webinars (http://www.isisparenting.com/page/webinarssleep) that you can watch..

[Yet another siderbar: Just recently, Isis Parenting announced that they are abruptly closing. This is heartbreaking because the website has been such a resource for us. So far, the webinars and blogs are still up on the website, but it’s not clear for how much longer. I had originally written a draft of this post a few weeks ago and had a lot of praise for the Isis Parenting website, but now I’m not sure what the future of the website is and what will happen with all of the great content on there. It really is too bad, because it was super helpful and informative (not just for sleeping – there is also a ton of information on feeding, pumping, weaning, discipline, etc)]

It is through those webinars that we found a method for weaning Zach off that late night feed, intending to keep the 2/3 AM feed. Basically Matt took over the feed so that it could be through a bottle and over a period of several nights, we reduced the amount in the bottle. According to the webinar, this gives the baby’s metabolism time to adjust and learn to acquire those calories during the day instead of just taking them away cold turkey.

After the feed reached zero, we tried to sooth Zach to sleep – he was still waking for that feed, even after we had phased out the breastmilk amount. We didn’t want to form any bad habits by rocking him so we watched another webinar about “Trading Down Sleep Associations.” Basically the theory is that you do a soothing technique that works (rocking) until they are drowsy but still awake, then try a less committal technique, like rubbing their back. If they get upset, you switch back to the rocking, always trying to get them calm enough for you to exit the room on the new technique. Then you work down from there, choosing your “steps” based on your comfort level. So next could be rubbing their back and a still hand on back, or a larger jump would be to no touching, but shushing next to the crib. Ultimately working to getting you out of the room while they are calming down themselves and putting themselves to sleep. In theory, it sounded good but it was really brutal for us. We struggled with defining which associations we wanted to use, and for how many days, and it wasn’t showing a lot of success. This is where my memory of things gets a little foggy. Rubbing his back proved effective, and was less intensive than rocking, so we resigned ourselves to that – but I’m not sure how long that went on. 


During this time, I was still breastfeeding him once anywhere from 1-3 AM.  But we were coming up on June – and we knew I was returning to work and did not want to continue the night feed since my new work schedule would require a 5 AM wake-up. By that point (May?), Zach wasn’t taking a full “feed” anyway; and we felt confident that it was mostly a soothing habit for him, not nutritionally needed. I spent a few nights trying to cut the feeds shorter and shorter, but it’s not as straightforward with nursing as it is with a bottle so we ultimately ended up with a few nights of cry-it-out again – and this time, for *both* wakings, for the entire night. Again, first night or two was hard but he figured out how to self-sooth very quickly. By that time, it was simply a matter of “why didn’t we do this sooner?” It was clear Zach had been ready and didn’t need the night nursings, and could learn to put himself back to sleep on his own, it had just taken us 10 months to make it happen. 


Since then, we have had a handful of random whine/cries when Zach will wake, sit up for a moment and whine/whimper/cry, but after a few minutes, flop back over and fall asleep. We’ve seen the success of cry-it-out, so we try our hardest to not go into his room at night, now, for anything. The only exception is when he is sick. Now, after months of no issues, it still feels like tempting fate to say it out loud – like I’m saying a jinx – but things are really good. Now coming up on 18 months old, Zach naps from 1-3 in his crib and sleeps from 7:30/8 PM – 7:00/7:30 AM, all of it in a sleep sack, in his crib, with white noise and blackout shades in the room. 

I think the takeaways from our experience are:
  • the conditions made a big difference for us…swaddling, black-out curtains, white noise…all helped greatly!
  • be careful about creating any habits that you may have to break down the road (see: Rock N’ Play). In hindsight, I hate that we relied on it so much. I do think we will use it for potential future babies, but we will be much more aware of the impending transition and not put it off so long. Of course, it’s important to note that what is a “habit” in my eyes that I don’t want to commit to (i.e. rocking him to sleep), is what works for other families. After all of these months, I think the most important thing is just maximizing the sleep in the house. Whatever method is used to achieve that, is nobody else’s place to judge.
  • If you are on Twitter, I recommend following @NancyHoltzman. She answers a ton of questions from new moms about anything (at all times of day!) and a lot of tips and tricks are in her replies and retweets.  

I hope reading our experience helped give an example of the way that sleep can come about for a family. What worked for us may not work for others and vice versa. But sharing the experiences can only help all of us better understand each other’s choices and normalize the different methods. One thing that is not up for debate – sleep is crucial! It makes a world of difference…so I recommend getting it any way you can!
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If you’re a mom who’s interested in sharing her child’s sleep story, please let me know – I’m always looking for stories!  Email me at [email protected]

 

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2 Comments

  1. February 20, 2014 / 9:20 am

    This is a great post with a lot of helpful information!! It is so important to help foster good sleep habits, and you seem to have had great success! We have used similar tricks – i.e. swaddling, then sleep sack, and now just blankets (my daughter is 2.5) and the black out curtains and white noise since birth. I’m expecting my second soon, and I know each child can be a bit different so I appreciate all of the resources you shared as I might be needing them!!!

  2. February 20, 2014 / 9:54 am

    Thanks Heather! We love the blackout + white noise (even my husband and I adopted those tricks for our bedroom and I sleep AWESOME). When did you transition your daughter to a blanket? I’m curious when they start understanding enough to keep a blanket and pillow nearby through the night.