Sleep Plan: 6 months

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Following is copied and pasted directly from an email to a MOT friend of mine. She has been asking me sleep advice, and wants to do CIO with her nearly-6-month-olds but doesn’t have the time to read Ferber (you all know how I feel… read the book!).  I’m no guru, but I’m opinionated.  So, here’s my epic email to her (verbatim, just with added links), with my mish-mash, cliff’s-notes version of Weissbluth and Ferber.  All in what we deemed her “sleep plan.”  Maybe it’ll be useful for someone else out there in the blogosphere.  And remember, this is my opinion and what worked for my kids. Not sayin’ it’s the only solution or the right thing for everyone…

[cross-posted at Goddess in Progress]

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Alright, this might be the longest email I’ve ever written.  Sorry.  I just felt like I had to explain things.  Let me know if you have any questions.  And let me just say: this is what worked for me and my kids.  I’m no expert, I’m no doctor. Not all kids are the same, and there’s no one perfect solution that will have your kids sleeping until 8AM every day for the rest of their lives. (ha!) But, overall, this is what worked really well for us.

6:30am (or later, yeah right!): wake up
8:30-9:00: go down for morning nap, depending on how tired they seem or how early they woke up
12noon-1:30pm: go down for mid-day nap, depending on how late AM nap went
3:30-4:30pm: go down for late-afternoon nap, again depending on how mid-day nap went
6:30-7:00pm: start bedtime routine
7:00-7:30pm: lights out

Here’s my philosophy: well-rested kids with a predictable routine are going to sleep better (good sleep begets good sleep), wake up happier, and be generally easier and more receptive to their world than those who are over-tired or unpredictable.  Since that is my starting philosophy, I pretty much think that 95-99% of days should revolve around their sleep schedule.  Yes, sometimes you can play with it. But you won’t know how and when to take that risk until they’ve settled into it. So my advice is to stick like krazy glue to a schedule for at least a week or two and see how it goes before you try fudging things around. It can feel restrictive at first, and some people give you grief for it. But, honestly, I eventually found it sort of freeing, because I knew ahead of time what were good and bad times of day for my kids (more or less) and could plan accordingly.  If you don’t know when your kid is going to nap, how can you know whether or not to sign up for that 3pm class? And it does mean you need to be careful with outings, because you don’t want them falling asleep in the car when you’re on the way home for their nap, and things like that.  Not always super flexible, but it pays off.  And yes, I always did the same thing for both kids at the same time.  One may wake up earlier than the other, but I always put them down at the same time.

Now, for details…

Part of sleep-training/Ferber/CIO is that you have to pick a designated time that is your morning start time. Anything before that time is treated as night waking.  My kids were always early risers, so I set my morning start time at 6. Sometimes they woke up at 5:30, sometimes 6:30 (now, it’s 7:30! yay!). They went through a 3-day phase once of 4:45, which was ugly.  But it’s a goal that should always be in mind, and even if they wake up earlier than that, try to let them hang out until your pre-determined morning time.  I would say set it somewhere between 6 and 7. Much as I’d love to pick 9AM, that’s just not realistic.  I compromised and said 6:30. :-)

It’s early. It’s not all that long after they wake up. But it’s super important to do it before they get overtired.  For all naps, put them in their cribs (maybe with a brief naptime routine… some quieter, wind-down play before naptime, maybe a story and put on the same song as they’re getting into bed).  Let them stay there at least an hour.
When you’re first sleep-training, they may just fight it and not fall asleep even after an hour has gone by.  If so, fine. Get them up. “Naptime” is over.  If they doze off later for a few minutes on the playmat, so be it. But treat the time between naps as different from naptime.  Don’t put them back in their cribs 30 minutes later. They’ll get the hang of it.

There’s a wide range, at least at first, as to when this one starts. It depends a lot on how that morning one went.  But aim for a range between about noon and 1pm to put them down.  Yes, some days it will be pulling teeth to get to 11:45. But if you’re consistent, they’ll get into it pretty quickly. Same one-hour rule.  If they fall asleep during that hour, let ’em sleep.  If not, pick them up and try again at the next naptime.

The whole point of this nap is just to get them through until bedtime.  My kids kept it until about 8 months old.  My general rule was that, if they were still happy and it was nearly 5pm, we could skip that one and maybe just do bedtime a little earlier.  But mostly they needed a catnap somewhere around 4pm, give or take.  Also, post-mid-day-nap became prime outing time, and then I didn’t mind if they fell asleep for a little bit in the car on the way home.  That would count as the 3rd nap, and that was OK.

Early bedtime. Seriously.  Bedtime routine shouldn’t be longer than 30-45 minutes, and you should not start it any later than 7pm. Sometimes it’s barely 5:45, sometimes you make it until close to 7. But I would say aim for somewhere around 6:30-7pm to start bedtime. Have it be whatever relaxing components you like. Bathtime, stories,
one last bottle (regardless of when the last one was), music, etc. But have it be soothing, quiet, and have at least the last component or two take place in the nursery, right near their cribs.  We’re getting them to connect cribs with sleepiness (and happiness/relaxing!).

You want to put them in bed while they’re still awake. Drowsy, hopefully, but still awake. You’re setting up conditions so that they know how to fall back asleep even when it’s the middle of the night and you’re not there. If the night light is on, keep it on.  If it’s totally dark, leave it totally dark.  Up to you on the paci decision. I kept Rebecca’s and it did not present a problem, but some kids who need the paci to fall asleep then need paci replacements in the middle of the night.  Also, WHITE NOISE WHITE NOISE WHITE NOISE.  Whether it’s a fancy white noise machine, a fan, a humidifier, or radio static, put on white noise.  And not all that quiet, either.  Enough that it gives you some cover so you can live in your own apartment while they sleep, not tiptoe, and have the TV on at a reasonable volume.  White noise is the best.

Again, the whole point of CIO is not the crying.  It’s getting them used to correct, predictable, repeatable sleep associations, and the crying is because they’re getting used to the change. You want them to “associate” sleeping with their crib, with dark or the nightlight, with white noise, maybe with a lovey or blankie.  That’s why you don’t want them to fall asleep with a bottle in their mouth, rocking in your arms, with a light on that you intend to turn off when they’re asleep, etc.  You want the same sleep/bed conditions to still exist in the middle of the night when they inevitably wake up, like all people do. So they know how to fall back asleep.

For the crying, I did the progressive checking method that Ferber does.  Basically, you just wait longer intervals to check on them each night.  Start with just a few minutes, eventually go as long as 15-20. And only go check if they’re really crying. Don’t just go in because they’re still awake.  Some people advocate not checking at all, but I was glad I did the first few nights because Daniel ended up with a poopy diaper and his face stuck in the corner of the crib. Obviously, you want to help out and resolve things like that.  Otherwise, though, if they’re just crying and unhappy, your checks shouldn’t be longer than a minute or two.  Just reassuring, pat on the back, “mommy’s here, you’re ok” sort of thing and making sure they’re OK.  Don’t pick them up, don’t rock them, don’t rub their backs until they fall asleep. You actually still want them awake when you leave.

I also found that the checks actually did nothing to calm Daniel. They actually just seemed to make him even more mad. So eventually I stopped doing the regular checks, and just went in if he was really wailing, to make sure he wasn’t stuck on something.  You’ll see how it works for you.

Same progressive checks in effect when they wake up any time before your designated morning start time (there should be about 10, no more than 12, hours between lights-out and morning).  It’s the 3AM wake-ups that are the big test for mom and dad, so you and [your husband] need to agree on the plan ahead of time.  There’s nothing worse than a screaming baby and snapping at your spouse about whether or not to go in.  You have to decide, you have to commit.  There is no halfway in this one.  Go 100%, or don’t bother. Seriously. If you can’t both do it all the way, it’s not worth doing until you can.  And you have to give it at least 3-4 nights.  Nearly every baby I know has managed to sleep through in 3 or 4 nights (as long as you’re consistent).  That 3rd night, when Daniel was still screaming, I nearly lost my resolve and questioned what I was doing.  But we stuck to it, and the 4th night, he did it. Fought it tooth and nail the first 3 nights, and has been my super-solid sleeper ever since.

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19 thoughts on “Sleep Plan: 6 months”

  1. Wow! We just started a schedule that looks EXACTLY like this one on the 7th. My twosome were waking up 2, sometimes 3 times per night, and our pediatrician wants us to start cutting out middle-of-the-night feedings (even though they are only four months, our twins are larger – 97th percentile – and eating WELL over 32 ounces per day.)

    Within 3 nights, we did have them drop the 1am feeding – praise the Lord!!!!! We still give them a small bottle at 4am, but that’s the next one to go. Oh, and we do have a dream feed between 10-11 at night…that one will go once we’re on solids and we’ve dropped the 4am. Baby steps (tee hee.)

    I do 5-10-15 minutes increments of CIO, and we have yet to get to the 15 minute mark. And you are absolutely right about having a plan with the husband, especially if he is working. Earplugs, white noise for mommy and daddy, and a guest room have helped us stick to it (we take shifts so we both aren’t being kept awake.)

    I’ve gotten the best sleep I’ve gotten since my second trimester, and the twins are WAY happier during the day.

    Very good post.

  2. Oh, and to answer the previous comment, we do have blackout shades for naps and nighttime sleep. I take them out of their nursery between naps, and for all bottles EXCEPT their breakfast bottle. I find that mine are too focused on playing and socializing with each other (and me) so I have to keep them somewhat sedate to get that first bottle in them. After that, it’s playtime and shades up!

    We also have a “sleep machine” with LOUD white noise. You can’t hear anything in the nursery when that thing is on. I hate to get them dependent on that crutch, but it’s portable, and it works. One battle at a time.

    We do pacis, but my twins are equally happy with their hands in the middle of the night, and the pacis have helped us to bridge the gap when we need to calm them down. Personally, I wouldn’t be without them.

  3. Ok. This post is really timely because I’m very frustrated. So I’ve read Weissbluth and have been trying really hard to stick to the schedule and follow his guidance, but I breastfeed my 4-month-old twins and so far it seems like he completely neglects what to do with extraordinarily long eaters, napping nursers, etc. My infants nurse for about an hour at a stretch and still snooze while nursing, so sticking to a schedule is weird because I feel like all I’m doing is nursing and trying to get them to sleep, but not having time to stimulate them to make them sleepy, which doesn’t really work.

    Also they are marathon nursing in the evenings right now, so they really aren’t going down to bed until sometimes 9 and 10 at night because they are screaming mad hungry, even though I have started the bedtime routine at 6 p.m. and have them bathed, relaxed and swaddled, but they still want to nurse. Weissbluth says give them a bottle, but frankly, I’d rather nurse than stay connected to a pump forever. I do enough of that at work during the day.

    Finally, our twins wake each other up, so how do you all handle it when you are using CIO? It seems like neither one would ever fall asleep if the other one is fussing and I have to admit I don’t like to let anyone cry for fear of waking the other one up. We haven’t really started sleep training yet, but we check on them if they don’t settle down after a couple of minutes and the crying is escalating and try to pat them, offer a pacifier, etc. I only pick them up if nothing is working and usually find it is a burp that needed to come out or something like that.

    Any comments? Can you tell I’m frustrated?

  4. I’ll add my 2 cents in. Hrm, perhaps I may be a bit opinionated too?

    For the most part, we followed the exact same schedule. We, however, didn’t do CIO with my daughter, only my son. She didn’t really need it and was pretty much sleeping through on her own most nights by 4 months. Danny—hahaha. Not so much. We did CIO with him at six months and moved her to her own bedroom. They slept separate unitil 13 months and then were back together since them. They still nap in separate rooms. We don’t do blackout shades, but we do do white noise. I swear by that, and invested in the pricey therapist white noise machines.

    We didn’t do checks with the CIO because it made it worse. I will also say, be careful saying “I’ll let him cry for 45 minutes”. What happened with Danny was that we TAUGHT him to cry for 45 minutes, because then we’d come to get him. They are smart little buggers. It made finally doing CIO all the way so much harder—he could cry up to 1.5 hours. However, at 6 months he didn’t need to eat at night and we were desperate for sleep. After 3-4 nights, it was a much, much better place to be. But be prepared, some kids can cry for hours.

  5. Some responses…

    Carrie: my personal feeling is that 4 months is a minimum for doing CIO, and after that, you have to gauge the readiness of your kids and yourself! I decided we were ready just shy of 6 months, and we did it at 6.5 (travel and illness delayed things). In hindsight, I might have done it closer to 5.

    I do use room-darkening shades in the nursery. Blocks out a lot of the mid-afternoon blast that comes straight at that side of the house, and makes it pitch-black at night. Our kids are so used to the dark that attempts to add a nightlight only made things worse.

    Lisa: I was not able to successfully breastfeed, so I can’t speak directly to that. Rebecca, I know you had speed-nursers and an early bedtime. Any thoughts?

    Yes, my kids did wake each other up when we did CIO. But only the first two nights. Ever since then, Daniel can sleep through just about anything Rebecca throws at him, and vice versa. I clearly remember that jumpy feeling of one starting to cry and hoping against hope that the 2nd wouldn’t get up. But when we Ferberized, I just accepted it and let it happen, and within two nights they could sleep through each other’s noise. Also, white noise in the nursery helps lessen the startle-effect of a sudden cry.

  6. I’m back with a couple of thoughts for Lisa about nursing and Weissbluth. I did exclusively BF my twins and also follow (mostly) his advice with a couple variations. #1, I decided at 6 months (with huge babies) that unlike what he said, they didn’t need to eat at night, so we did CIO then.

    As for nursing for an hour, my advice would be to work on speeding up their nursing. At four months, I’d think they could eat in about 15-20 minutes. I was a big fan of pulling them off if they stopped swallowing or slowed down—they learned quickly that BFing was all business, very little just hanging out and enjoying the snuggle. They might have fallen asleep, but I then would quickly unlatch them and put them down. For me, this was necessary for my sanity—I needed some time when I wasn’t nursing them. As for the clusterfeeding in the evening, I’d start that last feeding earlier, maybe 4pm?—so that way they could eat from 4-6pm and then still get an earlish bedtime. I also had my nurse to sleep at night and naps for a while, and they grew out of needing to do that.

    Hope that helped at least some! Feel free to post any questions about BFing—I know it can be hard to find people IRL who BF twins, at least I didn’t know many–but there are a few of us here, and hopefully some more reading!

  7. A few things:
    One, the importance of a designated “wake up time” is something that is SO under-rated in my opinion. My husband and I used to argue about this all the time. Also, like Goddess said, it should be realistic. He used to try and force them to hang out longer on weekends. Like an infant knows what a weekend is!

    Two, I agree with Rebecca’s comment that some kids can really hang in there and cry. For hours. You have to gauge your “checks” on your own children. We listened for changes in cries. We knew when someone was too distraught to calm back down and we always picked him up if he was over the top. But mostly, it was a very consistent whine-type of cry.

    Some encouragement to those about to start: You can do it. Prepare yourself for a few tough nights but it will happen.

    My kids woke each other up. This was part of our problem – we were constantly catering to this and snatching them up for every little peep. Then Brady would only sleep in our bed, etc. It just got out of hand. We knew we needed to get a handle on things before our new baby arrived and I was up at night with him. So, at 13 months, we took Aaron out of the room they shared for a few nights while to let Brady CIO. On night #3 when Brady was almost there but not quite, we moved Aaron back in. We figured, he should get used to his brother making noise, just in case. By night #5 they were sleeping through and have ever since. Once we got night-time down, napping was an easy progression.

  8. Ah, yes, BFing twins! I agree with Rebecca. Teaching them efficiency is key to getting through the night. I also pulled mine off if they dosed at night. They were very efficient little eaters: 20 minutes max. Over time, it was 15 minutes, then 10, etc. Good luck!

  9. This is perfect timing for me. The only thing I am worried about is the fact that my twins are hyper-aware of each other, but not consistently. Sometimes one will sleep through the other crying and sometimes not and there is no rhythm or rhyme to it at all. I will try this. Hopefully we can get this done soon.

  10. I love this post! It sounds very much like what my husband and I did with our twins between four and five months old. It’s worked great for us. They are now two and sleep like angels most of the time. I’ll just add that “most of the time” doesn’t mean all of the time, something which has been disappointing to me but that I’ve come to accept is reality. Disruptions like sickness, holiday excitement etc. can throw your beautiful sleep for a loop, even when your babies aren’t really babies any more. Every time it’s happened I’ve panicked, and every time it’s been OK once the abnormal event ended. Stick to your schedule, or try to, even during the strange times! And be flexible about things like separate rooms for napping, white noise, avoiding car seat sleep and skipping activities that you will be able to do again in a couple of years. I live in Colorado and haven’t been to the mountains since my twins were born. Do I miss it? Yes. Would I rather sleep than snowshoe right now? Absolutely.

  11. Lisa, I exclusively breastfeed my 6 1/2 month old girls. (I started exclusively bf-ing them at 4 months when they rejected bottles). They were extremely long eaters at that age, too. I remember going an hour and a half a few times. And, they were only taking 20-30 minute naps during the day (ugh!). Eventually, I had to do something. Another MoM gave me the advice to not let them fall asleep at the breast. They seemed to combine their nap and feeding time all in one. So, I reverted back to the preemie days of rubbing their heads, doing palm presses, and tickling to keep them awake. It make a big difference to keep them awake and they became more efficient. If they started to fall asleep I would take them off when they slowed down. Like a previous commentor said, they’ll begin to learn that you mean business.

    Couple questions for you all – how do you know when your babies are ready to move from 3 naps/day to 2? I follow a very similar schedule with my girls as Goddess laid above out but I’m starting to wonder if my twins only need one nap per day. Also, my girls wake up about twice per night still and they really do eat and then go right back to sleep. I think they are hungry in the middle of the night because they oftentimes don’t get full feedings during the day because they are so distracted (unless I nurse them to sleep before naps, which may create another problem). Is this just a phase that will pass or is there anyway to fix this issue? I don’t feel comfortable letting them cry at night if they are truly hungry.

    This post is VERY helpful – thanks!

  12. Ditto Ditto Ditto Ditto. I will say that third nap of the day was a hard one for us. At around six months, they napped two times per day and then just went to bed at 6:00 PM. They slept until 6:30 AM each morning.

    One thing I didn’t see mentioned was the routine I did. I red it in The Baby Whisperer. It was called EASY.

    E: Eat
    A: Activity
    S: Sleep
    Y: You Time

    The most important factor being that they didn’t eat before sleep (except the last nursing/bottle of the night). That way going to sleep wasn’t fed by food (milk). Obviously the activity for little ones is often just trying to keep them awake but it helped to establish day time for them which helped to establish night time. When they were tiny and were waking up at night to feed the only change here is there is no activity time. They just ate and went back to sleep.

    I completely agree with Goddess that a key factor is laying them down drowsy but not asleep and that this aids them in going back to sleep in the middle of the night. Weissbluth says that we all (even adults) wake in the middle of the night but we have learned (most of the time!) to roll over and go back to sleep. Babies need to learn that too and falling asleep on their own is important for them to do.

    I have to say that yes, disruptions in the schedule and sleep cycles occur but for the most part this plan always worked for us.

    My girls are now four and they still take a 2 hour nap each day and sleep 12 hours per night (7 – 7) and actually love going to bed. Their bed has always been a comfy place for them (and we let them CIO).

    PS: My theory, once a child weighs at least 12 pounds and is 4 months old, they CAN sleep through the night. Unless there are weight issues, it is time for some sleep training.

    PSS: Also just wanted to add that I think sleep training is important. My girls are identical but one of them is a natural sleeper but the other is a definite trained sleeper. My life would be hell if I hadn’t trained her.

  13. Response to Kim:

    Any time you’re dropping a nap, my vote is to keep trying to put them down until they fight it or stay awake through it for at least a solid week. And that 3rd nap was always a tricky little catnap. Sometimes it was just a doze in the car on the way home. Sometimes it was just a little quiet time in the crib. If you’re finding that they are happy enough to make it from the end of the 2nd nap until bedtime, then there’s your answer. :-)
    While the 3rd nap can be really limiting, I do advocate keeping two naps as long as humanly possible. My kids are coming up on 18 months and still have a short morning rest/quiet time nearly every day. Just a little break, and seldom actual sleep now, but they still need it.

    Re: eating at night, I found my kids ate a lot more during the day when I eliminated the nighttime feedings. I totally agree that it has to do with distraction and interest in the world around them. But, in my opinion, it was important that they learn to eat during the day, so eliminating the overnight feedings was important to me.
    I began by reducing the nighttime feedings (if nursing, make the session shorter, if bottles, make them smaller) so that it wasn’t a sudden shift of big intake to nothing. But once they tapered down, then we just dropped them. No one starved, and two days later they started drinking four 8-oz bottles (from barely finishing 6-oz ones during the day).

  14. Love the post! I started sleep training our five month old B/G twins two weeks before Christmas and had great success until the holidays hit. It has taken us a little while to get back on schedule, but it is so worth it! Napping separately, white noise and room-darkening shades have been key for us. Our little ones now sleep 11-12 hours each night…and I’m EBF.

    I would love to chat with other MoM who EBF. I can’t remember who commented that it is so difficult to find other twin moms IRL who EBF. We are introducing solids, per our pedi’s recommendation, and I would love to hear how others incorporate solids with nursing.

  15. Re: nighttime feedings… Baby411 also suggests that you can offer water instead of milk at night. The baby won’t like it, and will stop waking for it. We haven’t done that, though, so YMMV. CIO worked for us.

  16. Thanks for all the feedback on my comments. I think I just need to be more diligent about keeping them awake while nursing during the day. I’ve tried just unlatching them and putting them down, but that backfires big time in my experience and within minutes we are right back where we started. Personally, I’d rather nurse for longer and know I will have a two solid hour break before the next feeding than doing the on again off again routine during the day. According to La Leche and cluster feeding in the evening is normal, so I’m just going to plan to start that as soon as I get home from work. Last night we did that and got the girls down by 8:30 p.m. Still a little on the late side, but we’re improving.

    Fortunately, if they get up at night to eat they only do so for about 15 minutes and go back to sleep easily and we’ve only been doing one or no feedings at night since Thanksgiving, save one VERY exhausting growth spurt.

  17. thanks for this post ~ my 5 1/2 month boys are on the exact schedule you lay out. however (isn’t there always a however?)… we have 2 issues that we can’t seem to resolve…

    1. they start waking up every 30 to 45 minutes starting at 1:30a ~ for no reason. not hungry. no leaky diaper. sometimes a binky insert takes care of it, sometime not. we don’t pick them up, just try and soothe them. anyone have any ideas what is causing this or how to stop it?

    2. some days (the good days) they will stop the constant wake up and go back to sleep until 6/6:30 ~ perfect! other days it’s 5:30. or 5:a. or 4:30. any idea on how to reinforce when day time begins?

  18. Thank you so much for this post. There are some great tips here that I intend to try…It appears that most of you started sleep training at 5-6 months, does anyone have any suggestions on what to do until that time?
    My B/G twins are 12 weeks (6 weeks adjusted) and I have to go back to work, so sleep is becoming more precious. Right now, they’re on a 3 hour feeding schedule, set by them…like clockwork.
    Naptime Issues – My girl has little problem putting herself to sleep in bed, but she only likes to nap a little over an hour. But my boy doesnt like to go sleep and can sometimes take 45 minutes just to get to the groggy state…then as soon as I lay him in his crib, he screams and they’re both awake.
    Bedtime Issues – We were able to get an evening of 5 hour shifts one night and have been trying everything to get that back. We have just started adding rice cereal to their nighttime bottles and we will get 4-5 hours before the first waking, but then we are lucky to get 3 hours before the next waking. The cereal does not seem to be making much of a difference at all. My son wakes up like he hasnt been fed in days and is very hard to pacify, and he tends to wake her up in minutes.
    Any suggestions for sleep training at 3 months? When does CIO make sense to them?

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