Our happy co-sleeping situation that has kept us all sane and well rested the last few months had clearly reached its natural end point. But transitioning from said happy situation to a new situation with the baby in her crib in the nursery seemed daunting if not downright impossible.
I had a plan to start Ferberizing in September. And then as life so often works, pretty much as soon as I came up with that plan and threw my hands up in the air out of frustration, the baby started to have little Oprah aha moment level breakthroughs.
I’m going to tell you what changes we made, but honestly I think the #1 reason she has started to sleep better is time. The first six months are a crap shoot. Some babies start sleeping well really early, like almost from birth (and we not so fortunate ones try so hard not to secretly resent their parents for that). Some babies take a really long time. It all depends on them and where they are in their individual little snowflake development.
Ryley went through the 4 month sleep regression HARD. I think she also simultaneously went through a growth spurt and wonder week all within a pretty short span of time (if you don’t know what a wonder week is it’s basically just another way of describing the delightful and predictable phases when babies start acting like little turds when they are learning new skills). All of this made for a really difficult couple of weeks in the sleep department, right around the time we were ready for her to move out of the bed.
And so naturally the moment I decided to give ourselves a month before true sleep training and stop stressing out about it, she decided she was ready to start sleeping better and longer. Go figure.
So here’s what changes we made (and again, if you are having baby sleep problems, know that these changes absolutely might not work for you, like I said I think parents try so hard the first few months to force good sleep on babies, and really they aren’t going to sleep well until they feel like it, because sometimes for all of their charm and adorableness, infants=pills). I think the only reasons these changes worked when they did is because Ryley grew out of some of her newborn sleep habits.
Change #1: Bottle right before bed. I have thought about doing this so many times, but any super pro-breastfeeding article or book will tell you not to do this. The logic is that giving a bottle instead of nursing means that your supply will decrease. Which I get for the early stages of breastfeeding. But if you are like me and have a relatively low supply, it’s hard for your baby to get a full tummy just from nursing (hence why she has been reliably feeding 3-4 times a night AT LEAST up until the last week). I’ll nurse the baby after her last catnap of the day (usually between 5-6) and then about an hour later when she is ready for bed I will give her 6-8oz of formula (which she chugs like a frat boy). I know some people will say this is not a good idea, babies don’t need full tummies right before bed, my supply will suffer, yada yada yada, but it seems to be really helping her sleep longer stretches and it gives mama and her boobs a little break in the evenings, which I very much appreciate.
Change #2: Diet Cry It Out. So I was all ready and prepared to Ferberize in a month. We hadn’t been doing any cry it out other than maybe a couple of minutes to see if she settled on her own. For some reason I had it in my head that there were only two options out there, No Cry or Cry It Out. No cry was not working because it was taking 30-45 minutes of rocking to get the baby to sleep for all of her naps and bedtime and driving me slowly insane. Full blown Cry It Out honestly scared me, not because I think it hurts babies, but just because like any new parent, I get stressed out by my baby crying for extended periods of time. I was talking to my best friend about what she did with her first baby and she told me they would let him cry for ten minutes max, then go in and pick him up and settle him again, and repeat.
It was like the clouds parted and the sun shone through. It was my Oprah aha moment. I could let the baby cry a little, but I didn’t have to commit to a crazy strict and regimented Cry It Out method that required a stop watch and elaborate charting system (I’m not joking, the Ferber book literally has a detailed chart for you to fill out). I could go in and pick her up after ten minutes and not feel like I was failing. It seemed like a very reasonable middle ground, and it suddenly felt very silly to have thought there were literally only two ways to get your baby to sleep. Granted, ten minutes of crying followed by getting picked up might not work for all babies. Some babies might be really good at calling their parents bluff and keep crying in ten minute increments for hours. But for us so far it has really worked.
The first night I did it she cried for ten minutes almost exactly and then fell asleep for about two hours, which felt like a huge victory. The only time it didn’t work was the next day after I worked. I was exhausted. The baby was overtired by the time I tried to put her to sleep. I hadn’t been able to pump because of how crazy work was, so I honestly needed to feed her frequently that night just so my boobs wouldn’t hurt like crazy. The next night however, she cried for like a minute or two and then slept for SIX hours. Two nights ago she barely cried at all and slept for four hours. And last night, drumroll please, she cried for like 30 seconds and slept for SEVEN hours. I honestly am still in shock about it.
And really, those were the only two big changes we made. We have always done a bedtime routine (pretty much just bath, pajamas, and books, with the bath alternating every other night). Her sleep environment has always been good (sound machine, blackout curtains). So we kept up with those things. The only minor adjustment I’ve made is really trying to time it so she’s ready for bed around 7:30-8 (basically I just have to make sure her last catnap of the day doesn’t happen much after 6). That bedtime seems to work well at the moment.
We’ve also implemented our Cry It Out Light method for most naps (for some reason afternoon naps are her hardest and I still have to rock her to sleep for those a lot), and she has also started to do much better on the nap front. Her first nap of the day she goes down awake without crying more than a minute or two and has started consistently sleeping 1-2.5 hours. Which allows me to do things like write and do yoga and shower long enough to fully wash the soap out of my hair!
Let me reiterate that even though we made some changes, I know full well that the most important X-factor in all of this has been the baby herself. She was ready to sleep better and so she has started to sleep better with a little assistance from us.
Although of course as much as I was ready to have the bed back, I have now been the one having a hard time falling asleep. It’s such a parenting cliche, but it is really true that the first time your baby sleeps for a long chunk of time you are absolutely convinced they have stopped breathing and have to check on them periodically to reassure yourself they’re okay. I get why people buy those Owlet monitors now and spend hours staring at video monitors like crazy baby stalkers.
I also think I had gotten so used to sleeping with her curled up beside me, that it’s going to be an adjustment for me not to have her in bed when I fall asleep. I had a feeling it would happen, but I do miss having her there next to me, her warm little baby body snuggled next to me, her sweet baby smell and sighs throughout the night. Although right now at least she does spend the second part of the night in bed with us after she wakes up. We are going away in a couple of weeks for 5 nights and don’t want to go too crazy about having her sleep in the crib all night when she might end up in bed with us the whole time we are on vacation. But once we come home we will work on that hurdle of having her sleep through the whole night without a feed, or at the very least go back to bed in the crib after a night feed, which I know will also be a slow process that’s going to have as much to do with her readiness as what we do as parents.
I hope anyone reading this who is struggling with sleep will have faith that it can and will get better, because just a week ago it felt like it never would for us. And even with our little breakthroughs, I know full well things could derail at any moment. She could get sick or start teething or go through another sleep regression. Nothing involving a baby is magic or effortless.
But I’m starting to grasp that the hard parts of the early months, the sleep issues particularly, don’t last forever even if it feels that way in the foggy haze of sleep deprivation. In a few months I will probably look back on this time and marvel how much time and energy I spent thinking about all of this. And I also know that the first time she spends an entire night in the crib, I will do a little victory dance and then immediately cry and miss her desperately. Because parenting is nothing if not a giant and constant contradiction designed to mess with your mind.
Unrelated tangent: This is just an outright brag and not even a secretly disguised humble brag, but you guys, my post on Pregnant Chicken had been shared over 3,000 times. I am honestly in shock about that. I am so used to writing on this blog assuming pretty much no one was reading it (except for maybe my mom, hi Mom!), so the fact that 3,000 human beings not only read something I wrote about parenting but also shared it with their Facebook friends is just the craziest thing in the world. To everyone who has shared and who might be read this, thank you. It seems like such a small thing to share a blog post, but it means more to me than I can adequately express. And the comments both on that post and on this blog that have come lately are also just beyond my wildest dreams. The feedback I’ve gotten has pretty much 100% been from parents also going through similar issues and talking about how much they relate, and the comments have been warm and kind and generous. I was a theater critic briefly. I have some experience with online comments that are the opposite of kind and warm and generous. So for those as well, thank you. There is a lot about the internet that is scary, but it’s really a great thing when it allows strangers to connect and share stories and make each other feel like they’re not alone, especially when it comes to parenting a child and feeling hopelessly daunted by the whole endeavor. I read so many blogs for that reason, and I’m so happy this little blog can be a part of that kind of community.