eliminating sleep props at 7 months


This post is all about baby sleep, so move along if the topic bores you to tears. When I took this photo on Sunday afternoon, I had no idea it would be the last time I would nurse her to sleep in our bed, but that night I decided to stop cold turkey. 

I have been nursing you to sleep for naps since we got home from Hawaii (or...your whole life?) but I realize that what you need from me is consistency. You need to nap in your crib during the day because it's where you sleep at night. And my job is to teach you how to fall asleep on your own, so when you do rouse, you can find your way back to dreamland without me. Nights have been challenging for the past six weeks or so. Mornings too—you're an early riser and it's been hard getting out of bed so early after a night of fractured sleep. It's impossible to be the mama I want to be when I'm depleted, which is how I knew we needed to make some changes. Getting you down for your naps was the easy part, I would just lie down and nurse you and you would fall asleep (most of the time, sometimes you wanted me there with you longer than others). I realized that I was holding onto nursing you to sleep in our bed because I liked it. I liked cuddling up with my baby three or four times a day, who wouldn't? But I'm learning that this whole motherhood thing isn't about me. It's bigger than me. It's about setting aside my ego, expectations, and desires and doing what's best for you. 

When you were 4 months old we sleep trained by putting you down "drowsy but awake" so you could self soothe, and for about 6 weeks it worked great, you went down fairly easy and would only wake 1-3 times a night. I would nurse you each time you woke and you went back down easy. But then around the 5.5 month mark, bedtime started taking longer and longer. You would cry, I would go in there and pick you up, either nurse you or bounce you, put you back down, tiptoe away, cross my fingers, and repeat up to 5 or 6 times. A handful of nights your dad would get you back down successfully, but more recently, when he picked you up you would cry harder than I have ever heard you cry, and I couldn't help but go in to rescue you. 

Around 6.5 months I realized the drowsy but awake thing wasn't working for us, and that if I nursed you a little longer, until you were OUT, then I could put you down and you wouldn't wake up (for a couple hours at least. Ha!) I also decided it was time for a bedtime routine: bath, coconut lavender oil massage, pjs, nurse to sleep. This worked great for about three nights, and then you started waking up every two hours. I knew you didn't need to eat that often, but I didn't know how to get you down without nursing you. Or I was too tired to let you cry yourself back to sleep and eventually I would give in and nurse you. If I tried to soothe you without nursing (i.e. pick you up and bounce you) you were PISSED. Around this time you also started rolling onto your belly and getting stuck. You would scream until we rescued you. That lasted maybe three weeks or so and was rough.

I looked into the Sleep Sense Program, which had been recommended to me multiple times. I liked the common sense logic of babies needing to be taught to fall asleep instead of being tricked into sleeping by using "sleep props" (nursing, rocking, etc.) and the gentle approach of letting them self soothe by sitting in the room with them, but not picking them up. When I read the following passage in Dana's ebook, a lightbulb went off in my head: "If you are trying to break a nursing/sleep association, don’t give into her demands and nurse her to sleep. You’ll only teach her that if she cries long enough, she’ll eventually get what she wants." This is something I really wanted to avoid.

Sunday night was the first night I decided that if you woke before 2 am I wouldn't nurse you because I knew you didn't need to eat. After 2:00 I would nurse you, and then if you woke up again, I would let you cry for 10 minutes, and then I would sit on the floor in your room, shushing you and letting you know you were okay, laying you back down when you sat up, but NOT PICKING YOU UP. It worked. You didn't wake up until 2. I nursed you, put you back down. At 4 you cried for 10 minutes, and quieted down when I went into your room. I sat on your rug, and within 15 min you had put yourself back to sleep.

The next morning, daddy handled your first nap while I went to the pool. You cried for a while, then he sat on your floor and read to you, when that didn't work he walked away, and then you fell asleep and slept for 45 min, your usual. That afternoon you slept for close to two hours, and went down again for a later nap. The next day was a little rockier, even though you slept in until 7:30, there were tears at nap time, short naps and unhappy wake ups, but I stayed consistent even when you woke up at 12:30 and 1 am (one of those times you cried for a few minutes, and after you had quieted down I went in to check on you you were asleep sitting up!). I nursed you at 2:30, sat with you at 4, and you slept until 6:40. This morning you went right down for your nap with only a few whimpers and have been sleeping for over an hour.

I think it took enough trial and error and inconsistency to realize what wasn't working for us, and then once I read about this gentle approach to sleep training that made sense and that I knew could work for our family, I just had to decide to follow through with it. We're going to stay the course, fingers crossed everyone is sleeping better before wedding season!