I thought I’d write a little recap here of what we’ve encountered with Isobel’s sleep habits thus far. I wish I could tell you that I have some secret, magical trick to impart, but I don’t. It’s all trial and error and instinct for me, and more than half the time I’m convinced that any small successes are merely luck.
If you’re a new mom, you’ll soon discover there is an exorbitant amount of reading material available for you both on blogs/websites and in book form about getting your baby to sleep. Before Isobel was born, I used to scoff at the dozens and dozens of books, thinking that I’d swaddle her, she’d fall to sleep, wake up two hours later, eat, bam, done. I wasn’t far off at first, but what I failed to realize is that for Isobel, there was an expiration date (a very LARGE expiration date) looming over my head. At around 8 weeks, this handy dandy little “schedule” we/she had stopped working.
More after the jump…
At that point, I was at a loss. All my books, all these blogs are telling me that around 8 weeks is when sleep is supposed to regulate. I had a baby fighting sleep (fighting HARD) and still waking up every 2-3 hours to eat. Then, just as I thought I’d lose my mind, she’d have a random night where she’d stretch her first shift for 6-7 hours. I’d think, finally! I soon learned that these fake-me-out tricks would last a night or two, maybe a bit longer, then something else would hit. A developmental leap maybe, or a growth spurt, and we’d be back in the thick of it.
The funny thing about Isobel is that there’s only been a handful of times, aside from the weeks during her 4-month sleep regression, where she hasn’t slept well (or slept normally for her age) once she’s asleep. What has nearly killed me is the lead-up to bedtime. The fighting, the squirming, the screaming, the totally asleep baby whose eyes shot open the instant her body wasn’t in my arms anymore.
But let me back up a little.
For the first 12 weeks or so, Brandon and I had great luck with Harvey Karp’s The Happiest Baby on the Block. You may know the book better by the technique it advocates—the 5 S’s. These are swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging and sucking. Although we had the rare meltdown moment and the occasional difficulty getting her to go to sleep (especially after 8 weeks), the 5 S’s tricks worked 99% of the time. Isobel liked to sleep on her side, loved her pacifier, LOVED her swaddle. I’d rock her in my arms on her side and she’d be out in less than 20 minutes or so. At this point, she was still waking frequently to eat, but eventually evened out into a 5-3-1 routine. 5 hours at first (usually from 8-1 or 9-2), 3 hours after that and then another hour in the morning (often from 6-7 or even 7-8).
From about 13-15 weeks, we had a relatively blissful period. She was going down more easily and extended her sleep from 5-3-1 to a 7-2 a few nights (magical!) and I thought, okay, we’ve got this! Over the hump!
Not so much. Have you heard of the 4-month sleep regression? We started it early and ended it way, way late. The damn 4-month sleep regression felt more like the life sentence regression for how intense and how quickly her sleep began to deteriorate before our eyes. From around 15 weeks until nearly 21 weeks, sleep (for us and for Isobel) became a distant memory. I said to Brandon multiple times that I wished she was a newborn again because wakings every two hours sounded fairly blissful in comparison to the utter chaos that unfolded night after night in our household. There were occasional let-ups: a night where she slept great, or went to bed well, but these were very much the exception and all too few over this challenging six week period.
Here are a few reasons the 4 month sleep regression isn’t very fun:
- Swaddling begins to become less effective or baby begins to dislike being swaddled. This is a double-edged sword, because although Isobel started to hate her swaddle around this time, she would also wake herself up flailing or startling—often just as we placed her down.
- There’s a significant developmental leap that occurs around 3-4 months. To put it simply, babies start looking less like infants and more like people. They’re interested in their surroundings, many are learning to roll over, mastering eye contact and motor skills and learning to smile and laugh. Developmental changes affect baby sleep at any age, but this leap—so large with so many variables—tends to really be a sleep killer.
- While all this brain development is happening, there often tends to be another large growth spurt as well, leading to frequent feedings and night wakings to eat.
A typical night would look like this for us:
- 5 pm - Fussiness begins. Cries anytime she is not held.
- 6 pm - Still fussy. Looking more exhausted. Beginning bedtime routine.
- 7 pm - Diaper change. Feeding. Pacifier. Asleep.
- 7:20 pm - Awake. Crying.
- 8:00 pm - Rocked for 40 minutes. Unswaddled.
- 8:30 pm - Second feeding. Reswaddled.
- 9:00 pm - Asleep.
- 9:15 pm - Awake.
- 9:30 pm - Awake and fussing.
- 10:00 pm - Awake and crying.
- 10:30 pm - Asleep.
- 11:00 pm - Awake. Another feeding.
- 11:30 pm - Asleep.
- 1:00 am - HEY MOM, AWAKE AGAIN, GOOD TIMES.
- 1:15 am - Asleep.
- 2:30 am - Awake.
- 3:00 am - Asleep.
- 4:00 am - Awake.
- 4:30 am - Asleep.
- 5:30 am - Awake.
- 5:45 am - Asleep.
- 6:30 am - Awake, awake, awake. Good morning.
If you think this is fake or exaggerated, it’s not. Oh sweet lord, I wish it was. I was a shell. A zombie. The living dead. I staggered around the house with a crazed look on my face. My whole body was constantly tensed during moments of silence waiting for the inevitable scream. I couldn’t sleep because my brain was listening so intently for noises that would signal a nonsleeping baby.
Up until this point, we had Isobel sleeping successfully in her crib. Once the regression started, into the bassinet she went. At about 17 weeks, she began to hate the bassinet. Full-body tensing, screaming, angry HATRED of the bassinet. So, I did what I said I wouldn’t, couldn’t, “oh me? never!” do and began to cosleep. It saved my life. It probably saved Brandon’s too, because the sleep deprivation was putting me on the verge of some psycho bitch rage. God help him if he’d looked at me the wrong way.
During this time, I read a lot of books and a lot of blogs and websites for help. None of them offered me any meaningful suggestions. “Put her to bed earlier” was useless. She wasn’t sleeping. Cry it out (or CIO) solutions weren’t an option I was considering because she was too young. The typical tricks—swaddling, white noise, etc.—were all things I was already doing. The only thing that made a meaningful difference was cosleeping. She settled more easily, slept more soundly and woke less frequently on the whole. (And even if she did awake every 45-60 minutes, I wasn’t trudging to another room, which made it easier for me to go back to sleep.)
Soon after, we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Around 20-22 weeks, she began to go to sleep more easily and wake less through the night. It was during this time that we decided the cosleeping needed to stop. She was sleeping worse because of it and I was too. I wanted my bed back! We weaned her off the cosleeping by starting her in the crib for the first portion of the night (typically her period of deepest sleep) and then I’d cosleep with her for the remainder of the night. Eventually I began feeding her in her room if she woke during the night and placing her back into the crib.
The past two weeks or so (Isobel is about 29 weeks old now) have been interesting, as she’s getting her first teeth and showing signs of separation anxiety. Although her length of uninterrupted sleep has been magnificent at times (one 7:30 to 7 am stretch comes to mind), she’s begun to fight going to sleep again.
I’ve been following my instincts and not books so much during the past several months, and when the separation anxiety started rearing its ugly head, I knew that we had to fix the habit we had of rocking or nursing her to sleep. It’s so tempting to do it—a heavily sleeping infant in your arms, who WOULDN’T just set her down and tiptoe away? But the adage we followed when she was a newborn (never wake a sleeping baby!) started to cause problems. Instead of soothing herself to sleep, she’d wake up, realize we weren’t holding her or nearby and scream a frantic, high-pitched, furious cry. Bad. Bad Jackie. Bad Brandon. Bad habits.
We have started doing a modified CIO and it’s been alarmingly successful, although it is never, ever fun and always a massive source of guilt for me. We start with 10 minute intervals, then pick up/put down, then if she’s still crying, we move to 5 minute intervals. She’s usually fallen asleep on her own by the 20-30 minute mark. This morning she took her first nap in her crib falling asleep unassisted. It took 7 minutes. (If you want to read the mechanics of the methods I semi-intentionally started using, it’s a combination effort of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth and The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley.)
There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll encounter another hiccup (or maybe even a large hiccup) down the road, and I’ve seen evidence that Isobel is probably going to give us a run for our money with teething, but I feel like I am somewhat better equipped to handle curveballs. After all, I’ve tried every trick, done every suggestion and sort of feel like I’ve been through the worst. Waking every hour or two for nearly 6 weeks straight was enormously difficult. I can’t even tell you how many times I cried sitting on the edge of our bed or would have huge tears rolling down my face reading books and saying to myself, “Tried it, tried it, nope, won’t work.”
During this time, people would tell me, “You’ll get through it. It will get better.” When I was in the throes of sleep deprivation, I’d blow off that kind of comment in a hot second. I didn’t want to think about the future. I could only think ahead to the next night and the night after that.
But, I’m writing this blog post because I think it offers some proof, if you might be in a similar situation, that things do get better. I think it also shows that despite well-meaning books and message boards, there is really no quick fix or solution sometimes…or there might be one that you swore you wouldn’t use but have to for your own sanity.
Until next time, here’s to the light at the end of the tunnel. Cheers! xo
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- almosthalfway said: great post. as excited as I am for #2 in a couple months here, I do already dread the inevitable sleep issues.
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- withperspective said: I wish someone would have told me how much time, energy, analysis, sweat, tears, heart & soul goes into developing your child’s sleep habits! I truly had no idea. As everyone says though it does get easier every month (THANK GOD).
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- emmysmacks said: Cam is still getting up SO MUCH during the night. I hate the CIO method, but am about ready to try anything.
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