From the early days of round-the-clock feedings, you dream about it: “someday,” you think. “Someday, my kids with sleep through the night.” It feels like it will never happen. Your small, incomprehensible babies seem to think midnight to 4AM is prime party-time. And then, they start to slowly figure it out. They sleep more at night than during the day. The overnight feedings start to spread out a little bit. “Aha!” you think. “Any day now, they’ll just drop those last two feedings and sleep through the night!” You talk to friends, and their babies started sleeping 10 hours at a stretch at 12 weeks old. “Well, OK, mine are 16 weeks old… but they were a month early! Surely, any day now…”
And then five and six months roll around, and the kids still want a bottle or a nursing session once or twice a night. Your pediatrician assures you that they’re physically able to go a 10-12 hour stretch at night without eating, but your kids seem to disagree. Some of the time, they wake up screaming bloody murder, apparently starving. Wasting away in their cribs, in fact, if you take 30 more seconds to arrive with the food. You groggily make a bottle, and are insulted when they only take a paltry two ounces before passing out. “WTF?! I thought you were starving!” And that is when you begin to smell a rat. You begin to suspect that those nighttime bottles are more because they’re used to eating, rather than because they need to eat. But what’s a mom to do?
OK, maybe not everyone goes through this exact train of thought, but many of us arrive at a similar point with our five-, six-, even nine-month-olds. How can I get them to sleep through the night? The months of sleep-deprivation are getting really old, and you find yourself sick with jealousy when you hear about the “easy sleepers” who just kind of did it on their own. You wonder why you didn’t get those kids, or what you’re doing “wrong.” Fear not, you are far from alone. Maybe some kids are just easy sleepers, maybe some moms (intentionally or accidentally) do certain things that engender good sleep habits. Who knows. But there are things you can do to drop that last bottle and have your kids sleeping through.
Let me pause and say that this can be an incredibly controversial topic. There are lots of different theories, methods, and viewpoints out there. Only you can decide what is the right approach for you and your kids, and the moms of How Do You Do It? do not ever mean to imply that there is one “right” way to do something. We all have to what we feel is best. Also, we do not necessarily advocate any of these things for babies younger than 4-6 months old. Check with your pediatrician, trust your instincts. Now, onto some potential strategies…
If you want to cut out an overnight feeding, probably the first thing to try is to make the bottle progressively smaller (or the nursing session shorter). If you’re usually making a six-ounce bottle, try making it five ounces for a night or two, then four, then three… once you hit two ounces, some babies will just stop bothering to wake up for it. I definitely found that, once overnight feeding was eliminated, my kids’ daytime bottles got bigger and they finished them more consistently, so don’t worry about them “missing” calories. They’ll make up for it. And for some babies, this is all it takes. If it works for you, huzzah! Congratulations! For, ahem, some of us… not so much.
Some babies will grudgingly tolerate the reduced (or even eliminated) bottles, but still want your help in getting back to sleep in the middle of the night. You can rock them, snuggle them in your bed, cuddle with the pacifier, etc. But eventually, this too will probably grow old. As delightful as baby cuddles are, you’re going to want to spend an uninterrupted night in your own bed, maybe even cuddling with that familiar-looking man next to you (have we met? oh yeah, we’re married… nice to see you again!). Again, for some people, gradually shortening the amount of time spent rocking in the chair eventually just works. The babies decide it’s not worth waking up for. And, again, some of us are not so lucky.
Indeed, an unofficial survey of the HDYDI moms found that, for those of us who were not fortunate enough to have the “easy” sleepers, many of us got to the point of the controversial and oft-maligned “cry-it-out” method (“CIO”). Whether consulting Weissbluth, Ferber, or the Sleep Easy Solution (TraceyS says it’s “Ferber for dummies”), we decided it was the way to go. And we all say this: before you say it’s absolutely the wrong (or right) thing for you, read the book. There’s a lot of misinformation and hype out there.
We got there through a variety of ways. LauraC felt comfortable with CIO as more of a last resort, having exhausted a variety of other methods. TraceyS might have preferred something that seemed a bit gentler, but found that having two babies made the relatively quick duration of CIO “training” was preferable. I found that, with my kids, the more intervening methods just made things worse. One soothing method cascaded into another until I was cuddling. rocking, shushing, and feeding (and possibly jumping on one foot, I’m not sure) all at the same time. And so, CIO became the method of choice.
We feel strongly enough about reading the book for any of these methods, that we will not actually post all of the details for how to “do” them. I know, I know. You don’t have time to read a book. But we promise that you don’t even have to read it cover-to-cover, just the relevant chapters. The most important things to pay attention to, though, are sleep associations. This was a big “aha!” moment for me. The point of the CIO methods is not that there’s something good or magical about the crying. It’s all about teaching your kids how to go to sleep, in such a way that does not require your intervention. We all wake up a bit overnight, toss and turn, and go back to sleep. Babies are no different. But if we’ve taught them to go to sleep with a bottle in their mouth (that would be me), or rocking, or whatever, then that’s what they’re going to want in order to get to sleep every time. “Aha!”
So, if you’ve read the book (yes, I’m going to keep harping on that point) and decided that one of these methods is for you, then here’s the rest of our recommendations:
- Fully commit to your method of choice. It requires 100% follow-through to be effective. Yet again, this is part of why we recommend reading the book. You really have to believe in why you’re doing it and do it all the way. If you don’t believe in it, don’t do it! Commit to doing it at least 3-7 nights straight, so that you have time to see any results.
- All of the adults in the household need to be on board with your choice. Crying in the middle of the night does not lead to the most… productive of adult conversations. If one person, at 3AM, is going to suggest that you “feed him, just this once,” you’re in for trouble. Everyone has to agree, and has to be on the same page. Talk about it ahead of time, not at 3AM. Trust us.
- Decide whether you’re going to work with your kids one at a time or together. This is really up to you. Some of us felt as though we already had one good sleeper, and didn’t want to disturb that one, so we put the babies in different rooms. Some of us felt as though one of the key things was teaching them to sleep through each other’s noises, so we kept them in the same room. Think ahead of time about which way you’re going to go with that one, because again, you don’t want to scramble in the middle of the night.
- If you’re doing a method with timed check-ins (like Ferber), get a kitchen timer or stopwatch. Two minutes can sometimes feel like forever, and I found it helpful to have a kitchen timer to keep me on track.
- Try to do something else when they’re crying (and I don’t mean try to sleep!). Sitting and listening to them cry, while staring at the clock, just makes it worse. Time passes more slowly, the cries seem worse than they really are. I found it easier to have one ear on the monitor, set the timer to go off in however-many minutes, and then distract myself on the computer or watching TV. When they were up in the middle of the night, I did the same thing: came downstairs and distracted myself. Much less frustrating than staring at the clock and wishing I could go back to sleep.
- Take heart. Listening to your child cry is not easy, but committing to the process really does result in pretty quick changes. Most kids will sleep through on the 3rd or 4th night. Some will continue to wake up periodically for a while longer, but will still get themselves back to sleep on their own within a pretty short period of time. And if you’re like me and LauraC, you may find that the baby who fights sleep training the hardest will actually become your better sleeper!
Pretty universally, we’re all glad we did it. (If you want a play-by-play, I documented my attempts at Ferber on my blog – prologue, nights 1, 2, 3, and 4, and epilogue – just note that my son was abnormally stubborn…) We have disruptions, sure. Travel, illness, teething, or even big developmental changes (like learning to crawl) can throw things off a bit. But having established good sleeping habits, it’s easier to get back on track. Good sleep is important for babies and moms. Not only will you have crabby babies (and mommies) on your hands if no one is sleeping well, but there are even studies that correlate poor sleep with obesity, depression, and a variety of other ills. (See this article from Time magazine…)
And if CIO isn’t your cup of tea, there are lots of other methods out there. The No-Cry Sleep Solution and Secrets of the Baby Whisperer are two of the many alternatives. Some people also find co-sleeping works well for their family. Some people do find that, though one of those methods would have been their ideal in a one-baby world, they’re arguably less practical with multiples. Whatever works for you and your kids, this is just one thing that worked for some of us!
So, readers, do you have a different favorite “method” for getting the less-than-easy sleepers to manage the coveted “through the night?” Post away in the comments. Please, just remember, we’re all friends here. One method works for some people, and something else works for others.