Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sleep "Schedules"

Disclaimer: Let me start by saying that all my ideas on parenting are based off of what works for us. Every baby and every family situation is different so please don't think I am/would judge you if you do things differently than I do. In return I ask that as long as my methods produce a happy, healthy, respectful and kind child please do not judge me. I love discussion and ideas and it would make my week if everyone who read this put in their own 2 cents, just keep it nice. :) Now back to your regularly scheduled ramblings.

I don't know how many moms are out there reading this, but is there a way to make a baby sleep if they aren't tired and don't want to? When Audrey was tiny I didn't care much, I let her set the schedule and the one she picked worked great. She would only nap if I was holding or wearing her, but I loved the closeness and she slept for 12+ hours at night with just a couple of well spaced feedings so I had plenty of time for sleep, work and even leisure.

This worked really well for the first several months, but as she got older she started sleeping less at night. This meant that I no longer had time to get stuff done at night after she was in bed and in many cases I didn't have time to even get enough sleep. It was time for her to learn to nap on her own. I tried a bunch of different things and after a lot of trial and error she got to where she would take several 45 minute naps in her crib during the day. I tried everything from a schedule where I let her CIO (bad idea for us) to rocking her to sleep and holding her until she was deeply asleep before setting her down. In the end what worked best was to nurse her when she was tired, and then swaddle her, lay her down and pat or rest a hand on her until she fell asleep. At that point we could leave. I am not going to lie and say this is a "no tears" method because we have a very stubborn little girl. However, there were far fewer tears than most other methods while at the same time allowing us to set some firm boundaries. As she has gotten older she has gotten to the point where she will go to sleep without the swaddle, without nursing, without a pacifier and without a hand on her at least some of the time. She will rarely go to sleep without any of them, but we can normally dispense with at least a couple of those as long as she is actually ready for a nap. She is also moving towards longer, less frequent naps which makes it a lot easier to get things done.

The biggest question that remained once she had learned to go to sleep in her crib at naptime was how to decide when naptime should be. After watching her closely I tried putting together a schedule based on when she seemed to need a nap and that worked really well, until it didn't. It was great to be able to look at my watch and know that at 9am it was naptime. I could plan around her naptimes really well so that we would be home and not in the middle of an activity. The schedule made napping convenient, it was great. Then one day she didn't go want to go to sleep, she wasn't tired yet. She fought sleep and I fought with her for 45 minutes before she finally went to sleep and she only slept for 30 minutes. I was tired and frustrated and didn't know what to do, but I stuck to the schedule. She was tired before her next nap, but I kept her up, but by naptime she was wired and didn't want to go to sleep despite being exhausted. She finally did fall asleep, but slept so long that it was less than an hour before her next scheduled nap when she finally woke up. I gave up for the day, but kept trying to use the schedule for the next couple of days until I realized that the reason it wasn't working was because her schedule had changed and mine had not. After that I tried just following her cues. This is working pretty well for us as long as I am paying attention to what she needs. The best part is that because she is only going down when she's tired (whether she wants to or not) we don't fight her quite so much and going down easily is becoming more of a habit. Also, because I have to be watching her instead of the clock I am getting better at seeing the really early warning signs of her being tired so I can readjust my day accordingly. Also, it has taught me to really watch how she's doing and gotten me thinking about what contributes to her waking up or going to sleep at a given time. This has made figuring out the best bedtime easier too, and the right bedtime helps her sleep in longer.

For us the sleep thing is a work in progress, but by following her cues we have (mostly) been able to find things that work for everyone. Also, as time progresses she gets better and better at sleeping when it works for us. Yesterday, for example, she took two naps and then slept from 8pm through 7:30 this morning only waking up twice. Here's to hoping that today goes as well.

For all the moms (and any dads) out there, how has the sleeping thing worked for you? What problems have you encountered? What solutions did you find?

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