After a recent letter to K. where I mentioned that “Cry it Out” simply does not fit in my toolkit, I was asked what IS my toolkit. I will be updating this constantly as my toolkit is always changing.
Much of the desperation of “my child will not sleep!” comes from expectations. So the first tool in my toolkit is clearly understanding my own expectations. I do not expect a child to sleep until they have finished cutting their two year molars. They are going through rapid emotional and physical development. First they need to eat constantly and are at a high risk for SIDS where deeper sleep can be dangerous to them. Then they are cutting their teeth and figuring out how to incorporate solids into their lives. They are becoming more mobile. They are shuffling their sleep patterns around as they eliminate naps and sleep in different ways. The first two years I expect a LOT of periods of sleep regression and my goal is to make sure that my child is well rested and to observe them.
Many kids will sleep well far earlier than two years. Some will not sleep well until after two years. This does not mean “I will suffer through two years of absolutely no sleep whatsoever”. It means that sleep will be interrupted to various degrees, and I accept that and expect to have to come up with ways to deal.
Understanding why my baby is suddenly waking up after periods of sleep is critical for me. I understand that my baby will wake up often during growth spurts, that she will wake up often when she starts to cut teeth and that depending on how she cuts teeth it may be a “two weeks on, two weeks off” thing like it has been for my older two.. Or it may be constant if her teeth alternate. Understanding that she will become more needy at night just before she gets sick is another thing. Regression usually shows its cause within a week. If it lasts for longer than a week without showing its cause, then I take it as a sign that something needs to be adapted within our routine. Understanding the reasons why sleep regression will happen is my second tool.
The third tool in my toolkit is observation. I’m big on babywearing because it lets me observe what things wake my child up and what things do not wake my child up. Babywearing taught me that when my daughter hears a loud familiar noise that she has frequently heard while safely held, she will no longer startle or wake up when she hears the noise. I noticed this because when she would startle in the wrap when I ground coffee she would quickly settle without crying. Then she eventually stopped startling when she heard that particular sound. Now if she is napping in the other room and she hears that sound she will sometimes startle slightly but will fall back to sleep.
Observation taught me that if she is in a position that makes her startle reflex less of a physical movement, she is less likely to wake up from it or find it upsetting. For her, this is either with her arms contained in a swaddle, on her belly (which is not safe for sleep), or on her back with her hands up near her face. If her arms are down by her side or on her chest the startle will wake her up. This varies by child, as my middle child was very different. (I lacked a toolkit with my first for the newborn phase.)
Observation has taught me that I can tell when I can safely transfer her from my arms to a new sleeping surface. When she is ready her breathing will be slow and steady and when I unlatch her her mouth will stay slightly open or quiver as she sleep-nurses. Her body will be limp and when I stand up she won’t squirm or arch her back. If I put my thumb into her hand she won’t grasp it and her arm will be limp. If I move her before this point she usually wakes up within 10 minutes.
Observation has taught me that if I first ease her onto the bed next to me in the same position that she will be in her own bed and then let her lay like that for 5-10 minutes before I move her, she is less likely to wake up quickly from disorientation.
Observation has taught me that when I put her down on a new surface, if I lower her slowly with her arms crossed over her belly and then keep my hand on top of her arms for a few moments before gently moving her so that her hands are up over her shoulders next to her face.. She’s less likely to wake up or startle.
I don’t have “a technique”. I try many different things and I watch how she reacts and try to understand what it is that wakes her up.
Observation tells me that she sleeps best when there is noise and light, as if she is most comfortable when there is someone on watch. Observation tells me that she might do well with a nightlight and a white noise machine. Although I’m not sure if I want to use these things or wait a while longer to see if that need passes.
Observation tells me that she sweats if she is too warm and then wakes up because her sheets are wet.
Observation tells me that she likes to be warm. But not too warm.
Observation tells me that she likes to have her legs uncovered, her upper body covered in a long sleeved onesie. Observation tells me that she MIGHT like having socks on. Which I will try tonight.
Observation taught me that when it’s warm in the room she sleeps best with her upper body swaddled in the 100% cotton gauze wrap that I wear her in during the day (with the end tucked under at the bottom. Inescapable and won’t ride up over her face). If it’s cooler then she sleeps awesome in a woombie or swaddled inside of a blanket and then wrapped in the wrap.
The more ways that a baby learns to soothe, the easier the baby will adopt new soothing methods.
My daughter soothes with motion, sound, touch and nursing. She has specific patterns that she goes through where she will make certain sounds if she is going to settle back to sleep by herself vs if she will escalate and need comfort. I can tell within 30 seconds if she needs to be picked up. Allowing her to escalate to full on crying will make it take much longer to settle her.
When I pick her up if she’s rooting I nurse her immediately. If she’s squirming I try pushing her legs up to her chest first to see if she’s fighting off gas. If that doesn’t work I pick her up and bounce with her held up against my chest and use her particular pattern of “Shh” ing. (rapid, loud, near her cheek pointed in the direction of her nose. A very different pattern from the one preferred by her older brother which was a slower more varied Shh with a softer hiss above his ear.)
My children have universally preferred to be held upright. My middle child liked to be held with his head nestled against my collarbone. My daughter likes her head to be above my shoulder- first pressed against my face and then as she falls asleep she likes to put her head on my shoulder. When she fusses in her wrap I actually have to lift her up so that her face is up against mine.
Cross training makes us stronger. “Daytime crosstraining” helps my kids learn to sleep by the things that they do when they are wide awake and in a good mood. I put my daughter down in all the different places that she will sleep. Move her around a lot for naps, respond to her immediately when she cries or stirs, respond with a smile rather than concern, talk to her while she’s separate from me, carry her when she needs to be carried, and use naptime to observe her sleep patterns and when she sleeps better/worse, what makes her startle, etc.
Coping techniques is a big one. What helps you cope will depend on you.
I drink coffee and make use of the 500mg/day allowance. I find that shots of espresso are more effective than cups of coffee as they are more concentrated and actually contain less caffeine than a cup of coffee and so I can have more of them. Keep in mind that caffeine as a coping strategy can backfire miserably if you have a child that reacts poorly. If you suspect that your caffeine intake is causing sleep issues, go off of caffeine for a couple of weeks and evaluate.
I take B vitamins first thing in the morning. I take Jarrow’s B-Right brand.
I drink a lot of water, when I’m dehydrated I feel tired and am prone to headaches.
Certain foods make me very tired, and if I eat large meals I become very tired. Instead I graze across the day and eat a lot of nuts, dried fruits, fruit, etc. When I follow my cravings for healthy foods I have more energy.
I have a wonderful partner who will let me sleep in on weekends. Except for when he needs to sleep in on weekends. We sort of touch base and see who is the most sleepy and try to balance the load. (*I did WIO with my first without this partner and it was less joyful. A supportive involved partner is critical no matter how you parent.)
I co-sleep when necessary, and do not co-sleep when necessary. We have a crib in our room. Sometimes she sleeps with us. Sometimes she sleeps in the crib. I know all of the ways to make co-sleeping safer and never fall asleep with her in an unsafe situation.
WHAT’S IN YOUR TOOLKIT?
What’s in your toolkit? I’d love to hear what other parents are finding successful or what they’ve tried that hasn’t worked, or even their discovery process.
Please remember that each parent has their own toolkit. Things that fit into mine may not fit well into yours. Or yours may contain things that I have not even thought of or that wouldn’t fit well into mine. I’d love to hear what fills your toolkit, let’s keep the comments section civil though and remember that we all love our babies and are trying our best. Talk about YOUR experiences without stepping on anyone else’s parenting. If questions are asked, feel free to answer. But try to answer in a gentle way- speak like an AP parent, not like you are debating.