Ask the Moms – sleep advice

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Categories Infants, Napping, Overnight, Sleep, Toddlers

It’s no surprise that sleep is a frequent topic here on How Do You Do It?.  We think about it quite a lot, ourselves (as evidenced just this week by Snickollet and myself), and we get a lot of questions from our beloved readers. From the moment our kids come home (heck, even before then), the quality of your kids’ sleep impacts the quality of your sleep, and is practically at the very core of child and parental well-being. So, today, a slight departure in style from previous Ask the Moms segments: we’ll be addressing three specific sleep questions we’ve gotten recently.  Let us know what you think, and keep the questions coming!

A quick disclaimer, in case I get snarky or overly blunt in my responses: I totally understand all of the crazy sleep problems we all have. Sometimes we all inadvertently reinforce undesirable behaviors, and especially with sleep, I think it’s hard to see the forest for the trees when you’re in the middle of it. We’ve all done it. Hopefully this will provide a helpful outside perspective, but don’t think I’m excluding myself from the crazy-sleep-issue club.

[Questions have been edited slightly for length and clarityAs this is a pretty lengthy post, I’m going to break it up, click “Continue Reading” to see the whole thing…]

One of my girls co-sleep with me, I know a lot of people don’t agree with this but from things I read, they always say do whatever it takes in the first 2 months so that you can get some rest.  Well, after a few hours of trying to get her to sleep and calm down and with me exhausted, I nursed her to sleep in my bed. That went on for a couple of weeks and now she’s used to it.  I didn’t think she would realize it since she’s so young. She was born at 1 month early, so I always thought she would be 1 month behind developmentally and would not realize it if I try to move her back to her crib.  She does realize it, in fact, and she lays there and waits for me to come to her.  If she doesn’t find me there, she cries and only wants me.  My husband tries to console her but it doesn’t work. Problem is I’m going back to work soon and he will care for them for 6 weeks.  We would like to maybe have her sleep in her crib.
The pediatrician and nurse said it’s ok to let her cry it out a bit, like a few minutes and see if she will self soothe.  I feel really bad to do it to her at 2 months old since she’ll cry hysterically.  Babies don’t have the neurological maturity to self soothe at this age, do they?

Nancy, 2-month-old (1 month, adjusted) girl/girl twins

If co-sleeping is working for you, we’re not going to tell you to stop.  In fact, we largely agree that the first few months are all about survival, so do whatever works.  But it sounds like you’d really like to get her sleeping in her own crib, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to want. In truth, you’ll just have to try different soothing techniques until they take, and be firm in not bringing her into your bed if that’s not the habit you want. Maybe transition by nursing her to sleep in a chair in the nursery, and and then rock for a little while until she’s all the way out before you try to move her? Two months is not an easy time for sleep, but know that it really will improve over time, and you aren’t setting yourself up for unavoidable disaster right now. Hell, at three months old, my son would only sleep in his bouncy seat or swing. But I wanted him to get used to sleeping in his crib.  I literally had that darn bouncy seat inside the crib, my son strapped in and swaddled, and we’d stand there bouncing away until he was finally asleep. It didn’t last forever.

As for letting her cry, a few minutes of crying isn’t going to hurt a 2-month-old, though she’s probably too young for true “cry-it-out.” In fact, it’s probably good practice for both of you to not jump to intervene at the very first whimper. At that age, I wouldn’t let her get hysterical or anything, but I might give it a minute to see if she really means it before I lept out of bed (I can say this now… that’s not to say I didn’t need someone else to tell me the same thing at that age!).

Anyways, good luck. You’re still in survival mode, and that’s 100% normal.  Do what you need to do (bouncy seat, swing, white noise, etc.), and she’ll grow out of a lot of it in the next couple of months.  And definitely have your husband keep trying.  The more he tries, the better he (and she) will get at calming her.  If he feels like he “can’t” do it, then he’ll stop trying, and then it’ll be all you, all the time.  You’ve got to share the load, and your husband will be a very capable partner if he is allowed more practice.

I have 4 month old b/b twins who would be content going to bed around 7:30pm. However, they simply haven’t had enough to eat for the day by then and still need 1 more feeding. They are currently content eating about 5-6oz, five times a day (for a total of 25-30oz). They weigh 13 & 15lbs.  The problem is that they want to eat about every 4 hours throughout the day.  We wake them up at 7am for their first meal then they eat at 11, 3, and 6:30.  At which point they have had 4 feedings for a total of 20-24 oz.  We would put them to bed after that 6:30 feeding, but they simply haven’t eaten enough. They aren’t interested in eating more per feeding, nor do they want to eat any more frequently. So what we end up doing is letting them fall asleep in their bouncy seats around 7:30 and catnap on and off until 9:30 or 10 when we feed them again (typically only 4 oz, and sometimes getting them to stay awake through that is super tough).  But 20-24 oz for kiddos that weight 13-15lbs just doesn’t seem like enough. Bless their little hearts, if we put them to bed at 7:30pm they still sleep until we wake them up at 7am the next morning.  So should we just give up on this late night feeding and put them to bed?  Or should we keep it up until they are eating more during the day?

Brandi, 4-month-old boy/boy twins

Oh, Brandi… are you trying to make us all jealous?!  Four months old and only taking 4-5 bottles a day?!  You have to wake them up at 7am?! You’re killing me!  I tease, I tease, but this is definitely a “forest-for-the-trees” issue.  You have no idea how good you’ve got it!

Let your kids go to bed for good at 6:30 or 7:30. If they need more formula, they’ll adjust their daytime consumption within a few days, I promise.  That’s what my kids did when we stopped feeding them overnight – suddenly their daytime bottles were bigger!  It sounds like they’re perfectly good sizes, though you can always call your pediatrician for a weight check if you need the reassurance. A four-month-old will not let himself starve.  If he’s hungry, trust me, he’ll wake up and ask for it.  If it would make you feel better, offer another small bottle at bedtime as part of your going-to-bed routine (you do not need to adhere so rigidly to the 4-hour rotation, something that was an epiphany when I realized it!).  But if they take a bottle at 6:30 and are ready for bed right then and there, let them sleep, for pete’s sake!  They’ll be fine.

Just after my kids’ first birthday, we moved.  Before that, we had one crib in our room and one in their room.  They always slept in the crib (in both rooms).  In the new house, we put both cribs in their room, thinking they would go to sleep in their cribs.
They are sleeping longer and some nights, they will sleep all night long.  More often in the last few weeks, g and/or b will wake up in the middle of the night and my husband or I will just put them in bed with us.  In the morning I might have two extra in the bed.  I must note that my husband goes to work by 6am.  He usually is up by 4am to prepare and sometimes will bring to our bed a child or both before he leaves.
I have been trying to set a schedule for bedtime, but I work full time outside the home and the evenings are not always well planned out.  Bedtime could be anywhere between 8pm and 11pm.  We usually start out on my bed with a sippy cup of milk and cuddle, read, listen to music until they fall asleep.  Then I will move them to their crib.  I have been doing research on my own on co-sleeping and other sleep schedules for toddlers, but would like some real world experience/advice.

Nancy, 16-month-old boy/girl twins

The very first thing your kids need, in our opinion (since you asked!) is an earlier and consistent bedtime.  8pm is the very latest they should be going to bed, and anything later is just entirely too late.  Trust us, they’ll sleep better. I know it’s not easy when you work all day, want to come home and spend time with your kids, and all of that. But it really is important and best for their well-being to have a relatively early and very consistent bedtime. The second very important thing is a tweak to your bedtime routine.  The components are good (though it’s probably to the point that you want to start brushing their teeth after the milk, as the natural sugars that are left in the mouth can lead to early tooth decay), it’s just the location and execution that need a shift.  For one, I strongly recommend moving the bedtime routine to their room, not your bed. You want them to associate these enjoyable, calming things with their own space.  You also want them to learn to fall asleep in their own beds, not yours. [Again, not meaning to knock co-sleeping for those who like it, but it sounds like you want them to sleep in their beds, not yours, so that’s what I’m working with.] So maybe a new bedtime routine would look like this: sippy cups while you have stories or sing some songs (in their room). When milk is finished, brush teeth.  Back into their room for a final (soothing) story or song, then into the crib with kisses, maybe a blanket or lovey that they like, maybe a night-light on.  Good night, leave the room (it should be no later than 8pm when you walk out that bedroom door).

My theory is that, by having their previous routine include falling asleep with you in your bed, you’ve taught them how to go to sleep like that.  So that when they wake up in the middle of the night (as all people do), they feel a need to be back in that familiar situation (i.e. cuddled with you in your bed) in order to get back to sleep. That’s the only way they know.  If they learn to go to sleep on their own in their crib, though, then when they wake up, they’re already in a familiar place, and they know perfectly well how to go to sleep there.

I know, it’s not exactly that easy.  They will probably protest the new routine at first, since it’s not what they’re used to.  They might take a while the first few nights to go to sleep, and they may wake up and protest a few times overnight.  But if you’re 100% consistent with the behavior that you reinforce (after maybe 10 or 20 minutes of protesting, go in and lie them back down, a pat on the back, but no getting out of the crib, and minimal interaction and attention), they’ll soon realize that you really mean it, and will stop insisting on coming to your room.

Oh, and your husband has to be on board with this one, for sure!  Sometimes (in our sleep-deprived stupor), the easiest thing to do is to just grab the fussy one and bring them into bed.  But if you don’t want them to sleep in your bed (and they’re smart, they’ll keep doing it if it gets them something they want!), then you can’t bring them there every time they fuss.  No good cop/bad cop routine on this one: you have to be a united front.  Toddlers are notorious for seeing one little chink in the parental armor and exploiting it for all it’s worth. It’s developmentally appropriate for them to test boundaries, and therefore all the more important for you to set consistent ones.  Even if they protest, in the end, they actually feel much more secure when they know what to expect.

— — —

Sleep is hard, almost always.  And I know that as soon as I can stop lamenting how early my kids wake up every morning, I’ll flip and start complaining about how my son won’t get out of bed before noon.  There will always be phases of sleep disruptions, whether it’s teething, illness, travel, gross motor development, or anything else.  But if you’re consistent with reinforcing the behaviors you want, and maintain a predictable rhythm/schedule/routine, the phases should hopefully pass relatively quickly.

Sweet dreams!

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8 thoughts on “Ask the Moms – sleep advice”

  1. I haven’t read all of this yet but OMG there is nothing wrong with co-sleeping! In particular in a child younger then 6 months (IMHO). I co-slept on a nd off with my girl when it made things better. Around 5 months she started waking up every 2 hours IF she slept with me so she went back into the crib and has been there sense. Now that I feel she’s old enough to “deal” with it I always put her in the crib, unless she’s sick and then we start in the crib but sometimes wind up in the bed.

  2. Such good advice! Sounds like we read a lot of the same books in the past couple of years.

    I love the forest for the trees perspective. The thing that I always have to remind myself (and was too exhausted to deal with the first 13 months) is short term vs. long term gain. In the moment it always is easier to pick someone up and rock them back to sleep, or nurse them, or whatever it is they want, and everyone gets back to sleep. But in the long run, letting them learn how to self-soothe, checking on them but not picking them up, explaining things to them (if they’re old enough), and having consistency, definitely work much better! From 13 to 21 months we went from wake ups every 1 to 2 hours, to sometimes (not always, for sure) 2 sleeping 7:00 PM to 7:00 AM, and that was lots of work for us, but on the good nights, definitely worth it!

  3. Great advice. I like the Q&A format. I’ve been “lurking” on this site for a few months now in preparation for our twin girls (scheduled for a 7/30 arrival). They are our first, so I’m trying to absorb all the info I can…this blog is a terrific resource!

  4. Pixie:
    Indeed, I would not (and did not intend to) say that there is anything inherently wrong with co-sleeping. But it has to be the right thing for ALL parties involved. If the parents are not happy with the baby(ies) in their bed, then it’s not the right thing for that family. If everyone enjoys it and sleeps better that way and does so safely? More power to ya.

  5. I agree with goddess. Co sleeping is great when it works for all involved. We have 6 kids and some slept with us and others prefered their own bed. My concern is that please if you co sleep be extrememly cautious. Adult bedding (pillows blankets etc) could easily suffocate a child while you are deeply sleeping. Worse yet mom or dad could push the childs face into a suffocation position. 2 weeks ago a friend lost one of her 2 month old twins to SIDS. Absolutely no warning. There precious baby is gone. I have had sleepless nights since constantly checking on our 8 month old b/g twins. Whatever your sleep situations are please do them with extreme love and care. And remember to love your babies even in their worst (and our worst) crying, screaming exhausted moments, as this is far better than not having that child at all! I wish everyone at least a few good hours of sleep a night! Sweet Dreams!

  6. Ah, sleep. Is there any question nearer and dearer to a twin parent? I’ve got to say, to any mom of itty-bitties out there, the sleep DOES get better. It does. Around 9 months, something magical happened in our house, and the sleep became FANTASTIC. So hold out hope…..

  7. I don’t know what the best way to have my question answered it, but I literally just pulled some hair out trying to get my b/b twins to take a nap. I do realize I’m having a rough morning, having had their 4 month shots Friday, there by ending my nights of long sleep I was getting use to… But, I want to know how you MOT’s get your twins to sleep for naps without letting them cry it out. It makes me nuts to let them cry it out, I end up crying often. Does anyone have any advice on that?

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