I owe you guys a post on Dashiell's sleep. For the past two months he has been sleeping so so much better. It has changed our life; it is as significant as that. I wish I could tell you that it just magically happened, like a switch being flipped. Some people told me that this happened with their babies. But that has not been our experience.
After trying everything we could the only thing that has made a difference in Dashiell's sleep is a modified cry it out approach. By "modified" I mean that there has been crying but about 30 minutes is our (my) maximum and I also still nurse him at night.
Here's what our sleep approach has been since late December:
+ Consistent bedtime routine.
Our bedtime routine starts between 6:45 pm and 7:15 pm. After I nurse Dash, Chris reads him a book, walks/pats him until he puts his head down (indicating that he is sleepy), and then puts Dashiell in his crib. If Dashiell cries we will leave him to soothe himself and put himself to sleep. We already had a good routine established so this has gone pretty smoothly since we started. We can now consistently count on Dashiell to put himself to sleep without a peep from being totally awake. Three months ago I would never have believed you if you told me that my son would be able to do this.
+ Three hours between feedings at night.
We know Dash can go at least three hours without nursing during the day. We decided that if wakes before three hours since last nursing then we would not go to him and he would need to learn to put himself back to sleep.
+ Give Dashiell a chance to put himself to sleep when he wakes at night.
If Dashiell wakes, I lay in bed and listen to him instead of immediately going to his room. Within the first minute I can tell if he's really awake or sleepy enough that he'll wind down and put himself back to sleep. If he's not settling down and it's been at least 3ish hours since he last nursed then I will nurse him. We frequently hear Dashiell stir during the night and then put himself to sleep.
+ After nursing, only put Dashiell in the crib one time.
After nursing I pick Dash up and pat/rock him for a minute to burp him. Then I put him in his crib and place my hand on his back to let him settle in. Then I leave the room. I know that Dashiell has just eaten and is sleepy (since he falls back asleep while nursing) and so he should be able to put himself to sleep. Sometimes he will cry and it's incredibly hard to walk away. But by the time I've reached our bedroom door he's already quiet and goes to sleep.
+ Wake up for the day after 6 am.
Dash was consistently waking for the day at 5 am and sometimes pushing that into the 4 am hour. This meant he was taking his first nap of the day before 7 am! He was clearly still tired and we knew he needed to sleep longer. To encourage him to sleep until at least 6 am we will not go to his room if he wakes up before 6 am (and it's been less than three hours since nursing). If he cries, we will let him cry for up to about 20 minutes to be sure he can't self-soothe and go back to sleep. If he's not settling down by that point and it's getting close to 6 am we will get him up for the day. This happened more when we first started this approach but doesn't happen too much any more.
+ Put Dashiell in his crib drowsy but awake for naps.
At ten and a half months Dashiell still needs a nap about every three hours. When we see his cues that he is tired (rubbing his eyes, yawning, or fussy) we will start to wind him down for a nap. Sometimes we read him a book, similar to our bedtime routine, or just walk and pat him until he puts his head down. Then we put him in his crib, pat him a bit and leave the room. Sometimes he cries for up to 10 minutes and a couple of times it's been about 30 minutes. Sometimes he doesn't cry at all. When Dash cries it's very hard for me but before sleep training there was crying, too. He would be crying and pushing off of us so hard that we could barely hold him as we tried to walk him and settle him down for a nap.
So that's what's working for us right now. Since starting this approach Dashiell consistently sleeps from about 7:30 pm until 6:20 am or later and wakes between zero(!) and two times to nurse. I am thankful everyday for the sleep that we're all getting.
I want to be honest that it is hard every single time that I hear Dashiell crying. But we've seen an incredible improvement in Dashiell's sleep. It is our opinion that it's much healthier for Dashiell to be able to know how to go to sleep on his own and stay asleep longer rather than to have such disruptive sleep as he had prior to this approach. I know that as a parent I'm also able to bring my full energy to my time with Dashiell because I'm well-rested and also have some time to myself and with Chris in the evening and before Dash wakes in the morning.
I'm sharing our approach here not because I think it will be right for your baby or your family. I'm sharing this just to put it out there and to be honest about something that's been tough for us. Because when your baby is consistently waking multiple times a night it's exhausting, frustrating, isolating, bewildering, and other adjectives that make you feel totally defeated. So if there's a tired mama out there who reads this I just want to say, "I understand and want to buy you a cup of coffee and a cupcake and YOU ARE DOING AN AWESOME JOB."
There are so many opinions on baby sleep. So! Many! It is completely overwhelming and you can basically always feel like you're doing it wrong unless your baby is sleeping all the way through the night. There are also very strong opinions on using any kind of cry it out approach. And honestly I NEVER thought this would be a strategy for our family. It wasn't the right approach for us until it was.
Something I love about being a parent and having many friends who are parents is seeing all the different ways that we all arrive at loving and caring for our babies in the very best way that we know how.
I'm very grateful to have found this blog post, which was incredibly comforting to me and inspired me to write about it here.