Monday, July 25, 2011

Baby Is Sleeping ... Through the Night

Knock on wood, but for the past six weeks, John has been sleeping through the night. That's right - from about 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. or so, John sleeps soundly, save for the amazing nocturnal gymnastics that can move him from one end of the crib to the other.

How did this happen? While I'm not delusional enough to think it was all Tom and I, it did take some work - and a plan. But I also know we were lucky - really, really lucky. In fact, I'm pretty sure our current blissful state of restfulness is about 80 percent luck and 20 percent us.

From the moment John came home from the hospital, we made a conscious decision to keep him in the main flow of household traffic during the day - even during naps. When he woke, we would feed him, play and then watch him nod off again. As he got older and the periods of wakefulness increased, we increased the amount of time we played, socialized and engaged in things like tummy time.

At night, things changed. Feeding, rocking, and back to bed all happened in a dark, quiet (save for his white noise machine) room. Any talking at all in the first few weeks was done quietly. The middle-of-the-night feedings were all business - food, diaper change, rocking and back to bed.

I do think that this had a great deal to do with John not really getting his days and nights mixed up. By a month, he was sleeping from 10 p.m. to about 3 a.m., having a quick feeding, and then waking again around 6 a.m. for another feeding. When a colicky period hit, we noticed that working to get him in bed earlier mitigated a lot of screaming, so the bedtime routine began in earnest. A 6 p.m. bottle is usually followed by a story with Daddy, talking, and singing, then another bottle around 7:30. By 8 p.m., our little man is rubbing his eyes and looking longingly at his crib, where his cool aquarium soother and his colorful mobile full of animal friends are. We lay him down, get his "friends" going, and listen to him talk to them for another 15 minutes. Then, silence. A quick check reveals that John is not only out, he's out with a smile on his face.

I have to admit that the first time I woke up at 5 a.m. and he was still asleep, and I realized I didn't get up to give him a feeding, I was actually terrified. I jumped up out of bed and ran to the room, with my bewildered husband following. "He never woke up!" I said, and then peered over the edge of the crib with many, many mommy thoughts running through my head.

John's eyes popped open, and he grinned, as if to say, "Mom, that was the BEST sleep ever." He then devoured a bottle and began rather boisterously jabbering away.

And that's how it's been ever since. On a rare night, he'll wake up around 2, and want another bottle. Once again, we're all business, and he's generally asleep by the middle of the bottle and the feeding becomes a dream feeding.  But every morning, around 5 or so, we can be counted on to hear him talking in his crib, and we can count on a big grin when we go in to check on him.

Through the rest of the day, he will have a few cat naps, with one large, 2 hour nap in the morning, and another 2 hour nap in the afternoon. The rest of his day is filled up with tummy time, playing, singing and covering Mommy's shirt with drool.

I know what works for one child won't work for another. Our basic plan came as a mashup of several books about healthy sleep habits for babies, including "Happiest Baby on the Block," by Dr. Harvey Karp; "The Baby Whisperer," by Tracy Hogg; and "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child," by Marc Weissbluth; as well as a little Dr. Sears and "What to Expect: The First Year," thrown in.  When things got a little rough (like the emergence of the colicky period), referring to those books helped us modify what we were doing to accommodate. We also recently referred to them again as John began teething.

But what about you? When did your child (or children) begin sleeping through the night? What books did you refer to? What tips would you give parents who are having a hard time getting their child to sleep through the night?

Bethany Erickson is the wife of Texas Health Resources web editor Tom Erickson and new Mom to a four-month-old baby boy.

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