Since our daughter was baptized last weekend, we decided to celebrate with a true test of faith: We were going to get serious about changing her sleep habits and nighttime routine.
In our Internet research, we found a lot of general advice, but very few play-by-play specifics on what other parents were doing to get their kids to go (and stay) asleep. While this may be a mundane post to some of you, perhaps some poor parenting souls will Google their way here and glean some pearls from it.
As I have previously outlined, Maddie’s bedtime routine would start around 7 p.m. We would feed her until she is sated, wrap her in a swaddle blanket, take her into her room and march around in circles chanting her name as she fusses1 herself into slumber. We then lay her down in her rock ’n play cradle as gently as possible so as not to reawaken her. She would usually reawaken anyway after as little as a few minutes or as much as a couple hours and we would have to repeat the process. Eventually, one of the times she was put down2 would do the trick, and she would give us a good 5-7 hours of sleeping through what’s left of the night. It’s not as efficient as the Sand Man, but it seemed to work, so we put up with it.
Throughout this time, I was often pushing for us to start putting her in the crib, or to at least lay her down in her cradle and just leave the room to see what would happen. Theresa always scoffed at this notion, knowing that Maddie would never stand for it and would simply scream until we felt guilty and returned to take laps again. If memory serves, we did try this once or twice and Maddie did indeed scream bloody murder.
By last weekend, she had already basically outgrown the swaddle blanket and snuck out of it multiple times a night, and the rock ’n play was similarly running its course, as we put her head up higher and higher to make her ever-lengthening body fit comfortably inside. Imagine what the other kids in the neighborhood were saying about her! Since she was mature enough to enter the Church now, I guess we figured it was time for her to start sleeping in a crib and stop being swaddled, too. Theresa had also done some more research on the subject of babies and sleeping, so we were getting more comfortable with the idea of letting Maddie cry it out a bit more on her way to dreamland. Technically, she cried it out almost every night anyway—the only difference would be that we would save our legs and back from having to carry her around her room as she wailed. After a particularly harrowing night of attempting to rock her to sleep on Saturday, we decided the time had come.
As soon as our out-of-town guests left on Sunday night, we tried out the new routine. Maddie was sufficiently fed and put down in her crib—sans swaddle—on her back. Jesus, take the wheel.
The first night was honestly pretty rough. Maddie was crying to herself for quite a while—probably about an hour and a half—with her hand providing occasional comfort in her mouth and her legs pulled up to her face. We also provided occasional comfort, entering the room whenever her cries got especially manic to put her on her side, pat her on the butt and chant her name.3
She finally fell silently asleep, but she awoke every two hours or so for a a little more feeding, a little more crying and sometimes a little more butt-patting. The next morning, I went to work, and Theresa dealt with the fallout. Maddie was incredibly tired and kept waking up and crying some more. Theresa fed her around 8 a.m. and then rocked her to sleep so that she could get some solid rest. Maddie stayed asleep until 10:45, ate again and then fell asleep on Theresa’s chest. She finally woke up around 1:00 and was smiling, which usually means that she is fully rested.
Little did she know, she was waking up to her four-month doctor’s appointment and a shot. Incidentally, she’s now 12 pounds, 5 ounces and 24.5 inches long. Her weight is in the 13th percentile and her length is in the 50th, while her head remains in the 98th. She’ll grow into it someday.
Best of all, the doctor approved of our sleep method from the night before and said that Maddie can now go 10 hours without eating, so this is the best way for her to learn how to sleep for longer stretches. She also said that we are free to try baby cereal, so now we have a whole other thing to start training her to do.
After Theresa got home, she waited until Maddie seemed drowsy4 and put her down in her crib, this time on her stomach. She was lights out after five minutes of butt-patting, and even soothed herself back to sleep when she stirred awake about 15 minutes later. Progress!
That evening, I came home to a Madeline who was relatively happy to see me and seemed fairly rested. We had some extended stretches of being in a good mood, and when she started to seem tired and fussy, Theresa fed her and put her down again. This time, she cried for a much shorter period of time to begin with and stayed asleep off and on for the rest of the evening until we went to bed.
It was a strange feeling to have an evening to ourselves as Maddie basically put herself to sleep. We binge-watched Saturday Night Live Christmas skits5 and almost felt like we were having a date night at home! We occasionally checked in on Maddie for some soothing, but for the most part she would just whimper for a while and then drift back to sleep on her own.
The next morning I was home from work, and she woke up pretty tired again. Theresa fed her and we put her back to sleep for a couple hours, and she slept until almost noon. This was a day of catching up on sleep for her, and she slept A LOT.
Around 6 p.m., she was getting tired, so we attempted to put her down for the night6, but this was too early for her bedtime, so she rejoined us from 9-11 p.m. to watch the inferior Mara Wilson version of “Miracle on 34th Street.”
She went back to sleep again around 11:30 with even less fussing and only woke up once to eat until 9 a.m. We made it through the wilderness!
Today’s schedule had Maddie nearly back to her normal napping/awake routine, each time falling asleep on her stomach within five minutes of being put down. When Maddie does begin to fuss, Theresa usually gives her 7-10 minutes of crying before she goes in to pat her back and shush her to sleep. Usually the crying stops before Theresa even needs to intervene.
Just now, she took Maddie into her room for a final feeding of the night and emerged from the room without a single whimper being uttered…by Maddie or Mommy. Is this Heaven?
Now I’m going to post this blog and spend the rest of the evening doing whatever we want.
Thank you, Maddie. You’re growing up so fast. In four short days, we shortened the bedtime routine from four hours to about 20 minutes. There’s of course no guarantee that this will last, but I do feel like we successfully responded to her sleep needs and made changes that have benefited all involved parties.
Despite my willingness to try this experiment, I remain shocked by how quickly she took to these changes. If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised.