The “Wait it Out” Toolkit

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.

EXPECTATIONS

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 REGRESSION

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.

OBSERVATION

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.

SOOTHING TECHNIQUES

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.

DAYTIME CROSSTRAINING

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

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. :)

  23 comments for “The “Wait it Out” Toolkit

  1. Christine
    September 13, 2012 at 10:21 am

    I love how so many of the things you said are things I use also. When it comes to transferring my little one to a new sleeping surface, the key is that I wait for her arm, which is usually up on my chest, to fall to the side, limp.

    • sarah
      September 13, 2012 at 10:26 am

      When our kids get older our test is to pick the arm up and drop it. If they don’t stir they’re ready for the moving. :p

  2. Ashley
    September 13, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Observation is huge at our house. We didn’t know there was another way to parent, so we were trying to get on schedules for everything. We quickly realized that our babe was not going to follow a schedule, however, she does have a routine. She gives cues for napping, eating and needing attention. Your blog helps me a lot with my expectations. I am not a patient person; I will easily admit that. I go back and read your WIO entries over again, so I guess I consider your blog a coping technique in itself! Another coping technique is support from AP parents. I need to be able to talk about the way my baby sleeps/eats without the judgement or criticism. This is huge for me. I really haven’t been the sort of person that needs confirmation of other women…until now. I guess it is very hard for me to hear how I’m doing it wrong/spoiling the baby, etc, so I need that support system reminding me it’s ok to parent the way I do. I do have friends who parent differently than I do, however, they are not judgemental. They are gunuinely curious about how we parent.

    I truly love your questions on here because it makes me think and evaluate what I am doing and why. :)

  3. Ashley
    September 13, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Also, sorry for my terrible grammar. My babe is having a little sleep regression this week! My brain is like molasses right now. :)

  4. Gail
    September 13, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Wanted to ask about the woobmie – we tried it with our little one, and I love the concept – but the opening seems really tight around her neck. I even tried the larger size, but found that it is only longer – the neck opening is still small. What is your experience?

    • sarah
      September 13, 2012 at 2:28 pm

      I have the larger size and can tuck four fingers into the opening. My daughter doesn’t have a neck with lots of rolls of chub though. Her issue is that she’s already almost outgrown the larger size in length. I tend to prefer the swaddle method that I use with the gauze wrap over everything else. Woombie’s cute and easy to use but there are some limitations with it.

      How many fingers can you put into the fabric around her neck if you pull the back of the fabric up against her neck when you put her in it? If it’s against her shoulders then it stretches tight across her neck. If I make sure that the back of it is touching the back of her neck, there’s more room. You can also unzip the top slightly so that the zipper is just below the tab if you have baby’s arms by her side in the woombie it’s a bit harder to break out of and you get the extra give at the neck. Watch to make sure baby can’t unzip it all the way though.

      • Gail
        September 13, 2012 at 5:24 pm

        Shes got a little chubby face, and even when she was a month old, I couldn’t zip it up – felt like it was choking her. So, I haven’t used it or tried it in a while. I left it a little unzipped once, but she snuck her hand up and out. So – I just swaddle her instead. I wish that the larger size had a larder opening – the concept is so great. :(

        • sarah
          September 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm

          Yeah, if it’s tight around her neck best to not use it. It’s a decent concept but it doesn’t work perfectly with my daughter even though it fits her.

  5. September 13, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    The biggest tool in my tool kit is to throw myself into the moment. So, like you mentioned in a previous entry, if I find myself rigid and resistant, I throw myself into the moment, admire my child, love my child, and before I know it we are much calmer.

    Surrounding myself with like-minded people is another huge tool for me. I have a mother-in-law who has similar beliefs about parenting, including WIO. When I am feeling defeated, I go to her. Or to this blog. Or to my internet friends.

    I also have an amazing husband who shares my beliefs and co-parents with me. He graciously puts my sleep needs before his own (and I make sure he does catch up), because exhaustion = a major dip in my milk supply.

  6. meredith
    September 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    Reading this makes me realize I don’t have a lot of tools in my tool kit. I’m a first-time mom of an almost four month old. He’s taken naps in his swing because I know that works, and he sleeps with me at night because I know that works. But reading this makes me realize I need to stop being afriad of trying new things. He is going to outgrow his swing very soon and he can roll over, so as soon as the swing is out the swaddle is out, too. I definitely need some new tools in my box.

  7. Brittany
    September 13, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    A good swing that moves side to side with an interesting mobile in the kitchen with lots of activity at the beginnning and close to no noise at the end. Usually with the stove fan on plus a white noise sound machine on my phone. The white noise machine on my phone has been a life saver!!! Bouncing the bouncy seat with my foot while cooking or nursing my toddler might get me a cat nap from my little guy. And lots of going with the flow. I have to not worry about tomorrow if today’s going well. Right now I lay down with my little guy 12 hours at night and during my daughter mid afternoon nap. My husband does a lot of dishes and laundry! I’m bored out of my mind sometimes but it’s what he needs right now. He won’t sleep unless he can feel me breathing and won’t nurse unless he’s well rested. He has food allergies and I’m still in the middle of figuring it all out though!

  8. Sarah
    September 15, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Brittany, I also spent several months in bed with my baby after it became clear that she simply wasn’t going to sleep for more than about 15 minutes without me. I watched a lot of TV and movies on my laptop. My husband also did a lot of laundry and dishes. My baby is now 20 months old and can sleep for longer stretches by herself although I still often need to settle her back to sleep mid-nap, and we continue to co-sleep and nurse a lot at night. It’s been hard, but I am not falling down exhausted during the day, and neither is she. I also have the reassurance that things will change because we went through something similar with her big sister, who is now 4 1/2.

    I have really embraced the WIO method for sleep because all of the solutions that I have considered seemed like more work than the status quo. I, too, have been afraid to try new things and have sometimes been pleasantly surprised to find that I didn’t meet as much resistance as I expected. In particular, setting some limits around nursing at night have been helpful, but not until my kids were about two years old.

  9. Meghan Sommers
    September 21, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    I am definitely still working on building my toolkit. I recently read “No Cry Sleep-Solution” and am trying to implement things from it… but even though I am trying to make gentle changes I feel bad because I KNOW that my (8month old) daughter would just assume spend all of her sleeping moments laying on my chest or being snuggled up against me. She doesn’t understand what other things I could possibly want to do besides lay in bed 14-15 hours a day!

    • sarah
      September 24, 2012 at 11:03 pm

      Hah, this is why I babywear. :) But yes, I do have other things that I need to do and a back that is not overly happy with long hours of babywearing. So I make sure to fill the meter with frequent snuggles and to respond to her when she expresses a need so that she can feel safe playing when she is willing and able.

      If you feel bad about the gentle changes that you are making, perhaps you feel that she isn’t quite ready or that you’re not quite ready, or you feel that your reasons for making the changes are selfish? Understanding the source of our bad feelings can help us understand why we need to either take a different route or why the things we are doing are good/necessary/not anything to “feel bad about”.

      A lot of my letters to my daughter and my sons are the result of my releasing emotions and examining the source of my feelings. Maybe you would find release in writing a letter to your little one?

  10. Gamze
    September 26, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Sarah,

    Great point about your back :-) I have been rocking my LO to sleep 5-6 times a day for about three months. As he is getting heavier it has been really hard on my back muscles and I ended up ordering a swing/bouncer of sorts to at least get him to sleep for naps with shorter rockings . It makes me kind of sad to do so because I love holding him but until he shows me another way of doing naps together we will have to cheat a little. Actually he gives me breaks when I really need them, for example he slept on the bed while side nursing this morning :-) but they are not often enough yet. He also doesn’t like wraps, bjorn or ergo so far or I am not good at them. I am hoping he’ll come around in time though…

  11. September 27, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    wow, I really needed to read this today! Mantras are a big part of my coping toolkit. Before bed at night, I tell myself, “Tomorrow, I am going to feel energized. Tomorrow will be a good day.” I also recently read that President Obama sleeps 4 hours a day. Another coping technique for me has been to tell myself, “Ok, if the President can govern on 4 hours, surely I can parent these 2 kids on 4 hours sleep.” If I get less than 4 (total, mind you…oh, to have 4 in a row!!!!), I let myself be grouchy.

  12. Bonnie
    August 12, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Sarah,
    I have to thank you for your blog, your letters, and the information you give to parents. I believe strongly in gentle parenting but friends and family do not and often comment on how I am “spoiling” my daughter. I find I have no one to talk to and can never complain about my exhaustion because my complaints or need for understanding are met with comments on everything I am doing wrong. My husband is my only supporter and I thank him often for doing everything he can to listen, understand, and give me sleep whenever he can.

    We co-sleep and lately I’ve been so exhausted because my daughter needs to sleep near me and it’s so difficult for me to sleep like that or she is latched for hours at a time each night. I know I am doing what is best for my daughter but sometimes I feel like I need to find gentle ways to help her sleep for longer stretches, on her own but them am at a loss for how to do that. I’ve noticed that more and more she cannot sleep without touching me. Even if she’s not nursing through the night (which she often does), she needs to be in the crook of my arm and have her feet up on my leg or stomach, or she will wake up or root around for me until she gets frustrated and cries out for me. I don’t mind waiting this out until she is able to sleep independently. I thought I wasn’t actively helping her sleep on her own but your toolkit made me realize maybe there are certain things that I do or that I notice when I do try to put her in her crib. (I try for some of her naps and always try to start the night with nursing her to sleep and putting her in her crib which is next to our bed). I know her feet get really hot so I put her in a long sleeve onsie without a swaddle or wearable blanket since it’s summer. I move her at certain times and in certain positions and sometimes I can get a half hour or an hour with her sleeping in her crib, but she always ends up back in our bed because that is how we get the most sleep. What I need to hear is that if I do Wait It Out until she is ready to sleep on her own, that it WILL happen. Do I NEED to actively try different things to make her sleep or will it happen naturally without any type of intervention? I feel like the most important thing is that my little one gets sleep. So, for example, if for her naps I try to nurse her down and then move her to her crib, she will possibly sleep for 30 minutes but if I hold her on my lap and let her sleep, she can sleep for an hour an a half or two hours. So sometimes, I just give in and hold her. Is this detrimental to her or is this just a developmental stage that she will move past at some point? I really don’t know and just need a like minded parent to tell me that I’m doing ok. Sorry if this isn’t ok to post here. Thanks for any help or words of wisdom from someone who has been there.

    Bonnie

    • Yiskah
      December 4, 2013 at 9:22 am

      Bonnie, I’m in the exact same boat. No advice for you, just commiseration

    • linseyis
      May 6, 2014 at 12:00 am

      Hi Bonnie,

      Don’t know if you’ll get this, but I’d love to hear how this turned out for you and your little one. I’m in the same boat with my 4 week old. After nearly two weeks of not sleeping, I am sitting/laying with him to ensure he sleeps. We get 30 min if I move him somewhere on his own. I’d love to hear what transpired for you guys!

  13. sarah r.
    November 4, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    I just found your series of WIO posts and I’m in love. It matches my philosophy of child development/AP style/sleep.
    … my daughter is quite a bit older than yours (19 months) and I find myself using my toolkit on a daily basis.
    how’s your baby girl doing now, a year after this original post was written?

  14. Christi
    August 18, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    First off Sarah…I have to compliment you on how well you know, recognize, and observe your baby(s)! I am amazed at how you are able to put this all on ‘paper’ and share it with us. You have inspired me to write my observations of my son in my journal. I see various things, yet have never written them down.

    Thank you for sharing your philosophy, tools, and thoughts. I’ve spent today crying b/c in my heart, I just don’t have buy in with the CIO and controlled crying,etc. Like you, it goes against every momma instinct God gave me. I was at a loss of finding anything on the internet that supported my desire and developing philosophy towards helping my son. After reading a few of your blog posts, I have tears of joy, I feel ‘seen’, and now at peace b/c your blog is now a new tool for me! (and sharing it with other mommas and my husband). ThANK YOU!

  15. Ania
    January 10, 2017 at 1:07 am

    My sister has been telling me to use a gentle CIO method (??!) which means letting my son to CIO a little. I could not do it. I breastfeed and rock him to sleep for as long as necessary. Every child is different and has different needs. Love your article. I no longer feel abnormal ;D

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