Let me paint a picture of my life about a month ago. Nine AM on a weekday. Elliott would have left for work, I would be holding the fort down at home. At about this time, Gil would already be fussing, refusing to be set down and unhappy in my arms. Nap time. After setting Lena up with something safe to do, I would turn to the task of putting Gil to sleep, an ordeal I well know could take 45 minutes.
I would take Gil into a dark room, swaddle him, nurse him, give him his pacifier, and then hold him to my chest as I started walking with a bouncing step, pacing the room over and over and over. Gil would almost always spit out his pacifier, arch his back, cry, and scream. I would keep working with him, shushing and rocking and pacing until finally — finally — he seemed to be asleep.
I would wait another 5 minutes, still bouncing and pacing, until I was sure he was really asleep. Then, ever so gently, I would lay him down in his co-sleeper cotand creep away.
Outside his room, I would have just smiled down at Lena and said, “Yes, Mama can play with you now,” when I would hear a snuffling sound.
He had woken up.
Sighing but not surprised, I would go back into the room and start the process over again. This time I would put him into the baby swing (conveniently located right next to his bed).
Another 30 seconds later I would hear the same impatient “eh-eh-eh” as Gil realized that he had been left once again. I would start the process for the third time. Finally maybe this time he would sleep.
I would leave his room, look at the time, and groan. Just 9:45 AM. How much of this day stretching ahead of me would be spent in this Groundhog Day drama? I was so tired of this and Gil was just 2.5 months old. When would he sleep in his bed? What was I doing wrong? Why wouldn’t he stay asleep? How long would I be using this swing?
Can any of you relate? Little did I know, hope was just around the corner…
— fast forward to 3 weeks ago —
“You’ve probably read enough about babies and sleep,” my friend Bethany joked, “but I wondered if you’ve ever read Secrets of the Baby Whisperer? It was helpful for me with my boys.”
I shook my head. “I haven’t read it, actually, and I’m desperate enough to try anything. I’d love to borrow it.”
I’m so glad I did, too. I’ve read a lot of books about babies, but this one was new to me. I was immediately captivated by the author’s cheery, conversational writing style, which made the whole paperback seem more readable than many more academic — but wonderful! — tomes. Also, almost immediately I found myself thinking, “Wow… maybe I’ve been doing this all wrong? I need to try this with Gil!”
I decided to put the book into practice one Saturday when I had Elliott around to help with Lena (and offer moral support!). Then I started doing 5 things:
1. I watched Gil for signs of sleepiness and then started the process of putting him down for a nap by his second yawn.
According to the book, there are three stages to falling asleep (yawning, a dazed stare, and then nodding off to sleep). I started watching Gil closely for signs that he was getting tired in the first stage, which included yawning as well as rubbing his eyes, turning his head away from stimulation, and becoming increasingly discontent. Then I counted the yawns and began the process of putting him to sleep by the second or third yawn. This way I avoided overtired screaming and — to my astonishment — he would fall asleep within 1-5 minutes instead of with 10 minutes of screaming!
2. I began to lay Gil down in his crib when he was drowsy, not fully asleep.
To do this, I would only hold Gil for a moment or two before laying him into his bed. Then, while he was still awake in his bed, I would gently hold his pacifier in his mouth, pat his chest, and say “shhh” until he sunk into a deep sleep. If he started crying, I would pick him up and soothe him again; as soon as he was calm again, I would lay him down. Gil actually seemed to like this and it made me wonder if all the rocking and bouncing I used to get him to sleep before was frustrating to him and keeping him up longer! Also, I think the transition of moving to his bed was more disruptive to him in a deep sleep than in a drowsy state when he could say, “ok, I’m falling asleep in my bed now” and then do just that.
3. I began to put Gil to sleep for the night around 6:30 PM.
Before I made these changes, Gil had been up and down until 11 PM each night. This is typical for a newborn that has no routine and no knowledge of the difference between night and day. But Gil was already 2.5 months, and every book says a baby should be going to sleep between 6-7 PM at that age. Gil still continues to wake up to nurse about every 2-3 hours, but he knows now (and learned quickly) that he must go right back to sleep after nursing at night. What a relief! Elliott and I have our evenings to ourselves again!
4. With the earlier bedtime, I also introduced a bedtime routine to signal the end of the day and to help Gil relax before bed.
Following the suggestions in Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, I began to give Gil a short bath and massage at 6 PM every evening. Gil LOOOOVES this time with me. He smiles the entire time and coos and just gobbles up all the individual attention. He loves the warm bath, he loves the massage, he loves the quiet room and me smiling down and singing to him. This has become a time that I look forward to as well. I watched this DVDto help me learn some infant massage techniques and I use this super-safe lotionon Gil’s baby skin.
Now I only wish someone could put me to bed with a bath and a massage every night. And going to bed at 6:30 wouldn’t be so bad either!
5. Finally, I stopped using the baby swing.
It was a bit of a relief, to be honest. Although I miss the 3-hour naps Gil took in it at one point in his earlier babyhood, I had begun to notice after about 2 months that Gil didn’t seem fully rested, peaceful, or content when he woke up from a nap in the swing. Also, the swing is an eyesore and has a large footprint in our home. I’m so glad to be rid of it!
We interrupt this program to admire the cuteness beside me right now…
And so there you have it. Big, wonderful changes around here! I have a little guy who actually sleeps in his bed now, who requires very little soothing before he sleeps, and who goes to sleep for the night around 6:30 PM. Such an improvement for this mama… and her baby! I haven’t said this about a baby book before, but I will say it about this one: Secrets of the Baby Whispererchanged my life.
Now lest I give you the impression that life with Gil is just peachy, please know that isn’t entirely true yet. He takes only short naps (30-45 minutes at a time) and that is so frustrating to me; I wish he’d sleep longer. I go into his room and do all I can to coax him back to sleep, but I’m rarely successful. Another frustrating thing is that he wakes up 3-5 times a night to nurse. I know this was a habit I established early by feeding him whenever he asked for it, but it didn’t bother me so much when he was sleeping next to me. Now that he’s sleeping in another room, getting up every 2 hours in the night to feed him is exhausting. I haven’t figured out what to do about it yet. In fact, I have no idea what to do about it. My books say I should soothe him instead of feeding him… but at 2 AM all I want to do is get back to my own warm bed as quickly as I can, not soothe a screaming baby for an hour! Other books say I should let him cry it out.
Do you have any ideas??