Achieving great sleep in babies/toddlers

The first year of Diego’s life was a challenging one sleep-wise. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know that I’ve had my ups and downs with this endeavor. I am now happy and confident when I say that I have a good sleeper on my hands. The journey here was not an easy one. My quest for a better night’s sleep involved a lot of reading, frustration, and even tears. It is no fun being sleep deprived. I cannot claim to have been the worst off but I am confident in putting myself up there with many of the parents who have been at their wits end.

Some babies are great sleepers early on. I have a close friend who was enjoying restful nights eons before I ever imagined it was possible. A word of caution here, do not compare your child or situation to that of others. It’s never a good idea and it will leave you feeling incompetent and sad. However, for me, knowing that it was possible gave me something to look forward to and I was sincerely happy for my friend’s good fortune.  That’s not to say it was all fun and games for her, either. She was just a little less tired than I was.

Most, if not all, articles and books on child sleep recommend a bedtime routine. I honestly don’t think it can ever hurt, whether or not your baby or toddler kicks up a fuss, or refuses to cooperate, a routine is still important. Before Diego could crawl we did not bathe him everyday. It was more of an every other day type of thing. At bed time we fed him, swaddled him, and rocked him to sleep before placing him into his bassinet. At four months he moved into his crib. Our problem was never getting him to sleep, it was keeping him asleep. We achieved some good nights between four and six months but at six months he started a grueling schedule of waking up every 3 hrs to feed. I did not understand it and tried everything to remedy this to no avail. He demanded to be fed before he would go back to sleep.

Diego was breastfed until he was a little over six months. At six months he refused the breast and two weeks later my milk had dried up despite my efforts to continue pumping. Once he was exclusively formula fed I had high hopes that he would sleep for longer since I had read that formula is more difficult to digest and therefore causes babies to go longer between feedings.

This was not the case with Diego, especially since the most he would drink in one sitting were four ounces. Since Diego has never been on the heavy end of the scale I have always let him lead me in his nourishment. Babies aren’t corrupted like we are, they don’t consume more than they need. I continued his night feedings as needed.

By eight months I could maybe get four hour intervals of sleep each night. The problem arose in trying to put him back in his crib and then getting myself back to sleep. I struggle to go back to sleep after being woken up in the middle of the night. Regrettably, my body never adapted and it’s a problem I will probably always have. I decided that instead of fighting Diego I would just bring him back to my bed.

Co-sleeping and bed sharing are two different things, but both are controversial. Co-sleeping involves sleeping in the same room, say in a bassinet or even a crib. Bed sharing is exactly what the name implies: sharing a bed with your baby. Bed sharing has risks. You could smother your baby with a blanket or pillow, or even roll on top of him. Diego very rarely slept in our bed before he was able to turn over on his own. For a few months Diego would start out sleeping in his crib and would end up in our bed.

If you’re ever in a situation where you might consider bed sharing, consider this:

  1. Do not share a bed with your baby if you have limited space. A full size bed is not big enough, in my opinion. A queen bed could work but I honestly would not attempt it in a bed smaller than a king.
  2. If you’re a heavy sleeper, or a restless sleeper you should rethink bed sharing.
  3. If you’re on medication that impairs your judgment or makes you dizzy/drowsy do not share a bed with your baby. (This includes, pain killers, sleep aids, etc.)
  4. A crib or bassinet is the safest place for your baby to sleep.

Those are pretty common sense to me but I don’t think we lose anything by reminding others and ourselves of the risks and dangers of bed sharing. I fully believe in doing what is best for your family and sometimes sharing a bed results in better sleep for everybody. Do it safely and purposefully.

Shortly after Diego turned one I decided to start the process of teaching him to fall asleep on his own. At this point he was still waking up once or twice each night (not to feed) and I was just done with that. I needed to start cleaning up his routine and his habits. I started by having him fall asleep in his crib rather than in my arms. He protested at first but I was there to rub his back and say soothing things. Once we had this down I moved to leaving his room shortly after laying him down in his crib.

I guess I did a sort of cry it out method. It only lasted a week or two and he only cried for about ten minutes on average. I started doing the same thing during his naps so as to reinforce this new practice. I know that crying it out isn’t for everybody and I’ve heard many parents who feel that it is cruel to make your baby cry himself to sleep. In my case, Diego was pretty much crying no matter how we put him to sleep.

At his fifteen month check-up his pediatrician suggested giving him five minutes to settle himself back to sleep if he ever woke up in the middle of the night. It was difficult to not run into his room at the first cry. I wanted to rush in there as I always done. I was shocked to find that a few cries subsided into nothing. He could indeed put himself back to sleep. It has been a while since I’ve heard him awaken during the night.

He is now seventeen months old and is sleeping through the night. He whines a little sometimes when we put him in his crib but he doesn’t cry. He is also sleeping about twelve hours straight each night! He wakes up happy and doesn’t even cry out for anybody. He just amuses himself in his crib until I go get him. He is also napping really well. He has been down to one nap a day for months. On average, he naps for two hours but on some days he sleeps for up to three hours. It all depends.

Here’s what I’ve learned about achieving great sleep in your child:

  1. All children are different. Do not compare your child to others.
  2. Sleeping through the night is a skill and dependent upon many things.
  3. There is no one sure fire way to get your child to sleep through the night but there are many things you can try. Swaddling and a sound machine were particularly useful to us.
  4. Routines are important. For us it’s: bath, lotion massage, get into pjs, brushing teeth, and going into crib. Sound machine to ocean sounds and projector/night light.
  5. You need to decide when your child is ready for what, and be honest, is your child really not ready, or is it you?
  6. Adapt any method that catches your fancy.
  7. Do not listen to people who tell you to put rice cereal in your child’s bottle, give him medication, or any other ill advised, and dangerous suggestions.
  8. Bring any concerns to your doctor. That should always be your starting point. No question is silly. If it’s bothering you, bring it up. That way you know you are getting medically sound advice that is safe.

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