An update on sleep

I’ve kind of settled into this life of little sleep. It has been 9 months and 1 week since I slept through the night. No, that’s not true. There was a while there when Avery was 5-6 months old that I demanded we bed share because the dreaded 4 month sleep regression had destroyed any possibility of putting my baby down, anywhere, without my body next to hers. During those weeks I slept a lot more back-to-back hours, but she was also waking up for the day at 4:30am. 
Here’s where we are now, at 9 months and 1 week, in a nutshell. 

7/7:30pm. Bedtime routine, then I nurse her to sleep (with a lullaby) on the floor of her room, on her crib mattress. 

8:30-9:30pm. At her first wake up of the night, about an hour to two hours later, I lift her mattress into her crib with one hand while holding her and Benny (her chosen Lovie) in the other, and I nurse her back to sleep in the chair before putting her down in the crib. 

We start the night on the floor because she is a lot more sensitive to wake ups early in the evening. By the time she has been sleeping for an hour or two, her wake ups are a lot quicker to manage and she settles in the crib a lot easier. I feed her at her first wake up even if it’s only an hour later because she wants it. It seems like her body wants to stock up for the night ahead. 

So by around 9:30-10 I am done my shift, and I am free to go to sleep (free does not equal able). My wife handles most wake ups from 10 – 1 by rocking. These wake ups are usually easy to deal with. She wakes crying but it’s only a couple of minutes of reassuring snuggles before she’ll stay asleep for the crib transfer. 

Of course, every time she wakes for my wife, usually 1 to 3 times between 10pm and 1am, I wake up. Occasionally my wife calls me in because Avery tries to nurse on my wife’s shoulder and we offer her milk. It’s usually just that she wants me to hold her, though. 

At 1:30am she wakes for milk. 

At 2:30am she wakes and I try rocking her but my legs are too weak from the tiredness and I feel nauseous and I have to sit. She is asleep on me and I fall asleep before I can get back up to put her in the crib. 

3:30am rolls around and she wakes again, this time in my arms in the chair. Oh fuck, I’m still in the chair. I rock her and put her in the crib and go back to bed where I find the cats have stolen my side of the bed and I am too tired to move them so I teeter on the edge of the bed, usually with no blankets. It’s so silly what the sleepy brain makes you do. Why can’t I think to just move them? 

4:30am she wakes and I waste no time bringing her into our bed with me for the best 1.5 hours of sleep I will have all night. I lock the cats out of the room so they won’t wake her by begging for breakfast. She sleeps next to me until her natural wake up time of 6am. 

Ocassionally we get a 3 hour stretch that happens totally out of the blue, always in the very middle of the night. The other night she slept from 11:30pm until 3:30am. 

I try to really pay attention to the progress we’ve made rather than focusing on how far we have yet to go. Although she still wakes a lot, there was a time when we COULD NOT put her down in the crib. No matter how long she had been sleeping for in our arms, a transfer would lead to SCREAMING. Now she responds well to crib transfers most of the time, and even pushes off of us at least once a night asking to be put down while still awake. On these rare but hopeful occasions, she rolls over and goes to sleep with a light back rub. That’s amazing progress. 

Although I would still love to bring back bed sharing, I’m kind of sneakily integrating bedsharing into the 4:30am wakeup when I’m just too tired to be up with her. That’s good enough for me right now. It’s nice to have our bed to ourselves for the first half of the night so we can watch tv and talk (and even have sex, TWICE, for the first time since part way through my pregnancy).  

I can see her growing up before my very eyes, and I can see her sleep abilities maturing, if I look really, really closely. Or rather, if I look at the big picture. I’m confident that another sleep update post a few months from now will look even better. 

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The Lullaby as a family heirloom

I’m talking about your every day, run of the mill, possibly out of tune (but it doesn’t matter) lullabies. They don’t have to be anything fancy, and they may be the same songs that many other families sang and cherished as their own. But there is something very meaningful and sentimental about these songs. I love the way a lullaby can be passed down from generation to generation like a family heirloom. 

I have very strong memories and a subconscious emotional reaction to the lullaby my mom sang me when I was a baby/young child, and I sing the same lullaby to my own baby now at every nap time and every bedtime. 

My dad sang to me too, but he sang a lot of different songs, and he played his guitar for me, and he played relaxing CDs for me. I have emotional reactions to some of the songs he used to sing as well, but they were something different than The Lullaby that my mom used. From a psychological perspective, a Lullaby is used (intentionally or unintentionally) to condition a sleep response. It is used repeatedly at sleep times to cue that it’s time to sleep, and eventually hearing that particular lullaby will make the child feel sleepy. I have to think that such a deeply conditioned song would stick around in one’s memory and continue to evoke an emotional response later in life. Interestingly, it may also trigger a sleep response in me – I yawn my way through it when I sing to my baby the lullaby my mom sang to me as a baby. 

Avery now reacts instantly to our lullaby. She relaxes, closes her eyes, and her arms stop flailing as she rests her hand on me while she nurses to sleep. 

In case anyone’s wondering, my family heirloom lullaby is All The Pretty Horses. Side note: old lullabies like that tend to have subtly disturbing lyrics. A quick Wikipedia search of this lullaby suggests that the song was originally sung by Africans slaves who couldn’t care for their babies because they had to care for their masters, and some versions make reference to buzzards pecking out their eyes. We don’t sing that verse…. 

What lullaby has a special place in your memory? Do you have a family heirloom lullaby? 

3 Things on a Wednesday 

  1. We were all sick, all weekend. My wife took a sick day on Monday and it allowed me to take 20 minutes to get some garden weeding done and another 20 minutes to have a BATH!! (it has been so long since I’ve soaked…). But it’s true what they say, mothers don’t get a sick day. My wife is a mother too, of course, but being a salaried, Mon-Fri employee means she’s entitled to actual sick days. I see it from both sides – fair, because she has to rest up to be able to function to earn a salary, but fucked up because I have to function to keep a tiny human alive 24/7. Oh, modern family dynamics, how isolating and unrealistic you are. Despite the fact that I don’t like people that much, I sometimes wish we were raising this baby in a commune of hippy women. 
  2. Avery has been chatting up a storm, mixing consonants and playing with new sounds. My favourite is “Gah”, which we are trying to associate with “cat” (that would so be our child to say “cat” as her first word), and “Fuh” which kind of sounds like she’s trying to swear. Interestingly she has said “dada” a bunch of times, but she hasn’t yet been exposed to that as a word, so it’s just a random connection of sounds for her. 
  3. We are re-assessing our sleep plan. WTF else is new. My wife and I have struggled to get on the same page about infant sleep from the beginning, and I have avoided having conversations about it because I don’t want to have to face doing something outside of my instincts. I’m an attachment parent, turns out. Never would have expected it of myself. My wife’s philosophy is to let her know that we will always be there for her if she needs us (so no CIO, thank god), but to also show her that she doesn’t need us (so let her figure out how to get herself to sleep through lots of picking up briefly and putting back down). I like this philosophy, in theory, but it makes me sad to put it into practice. It might be more an emotional barrier on my part than an actual concern for Avery. I love sleeping next to her, feeling her breath, smelling her baby smell, and feeling needed. I love it so much that when we agreed to stop bed sharing at 6 months, I accepted my fate for the next [upwards of] 2.5 years as sleeping in her nursery chair with her in my arms. So now the plan is I won’t wait until I’ve nursed/rocked her for 20+ minutes before transferring her back to the crib (trying to ensure a deep sleep and sound-asleep transfer). It’ll be a pick up to comfort (the hand on her chest just aggravates her more now) and right back down once she is calm. My wife is also going to take over the first shift of wake ups that happen after we go to bed around 9:30/10 and I will start my shift around 1am so my wife can get some back-to-back hours of sleep before work. Evening wakeups are on me because that’s a big guzzling nursing time for her, like she’s trying to stock up for the night. 

Four Pillars of a Bad Night’s Sleep

Avery is sick. She is teething. She seems to be going through the 8 month sleep regression, and the 3-to-2 per day nap transition. We haven’t slept in days. 

The Sick

I think she must have gotten sick from the Tylenol dropper… Is that possible? We gave it to her last time she was sick, and let her suck on the dropper. In a tired haze, I put it back in the bottle without washing it. Last week we used the Tylenol again for a bad bout of teething. Now she is a Cranky Pants Sicky McGee. Her nose is a faucet and she wakes every 15 minutes because she can’t breathe/is uncomfortable. She’s in our bed again for the duration of the cold, but I spend most of the night sitting up with her because being upright helps her breathing. 

The Teething

She has been working on FIVE new teeth and two have fully broken through in the time she’s been sick. Her upper central incisors have been black and blue with bruising and one has finally come through, one upper lateral incisor has cut through and for once doesn’t seem to be receding back into the gum again, and I can see white points under the gums at both lower lateral incisors. 

The 8 Month Sleep Regression 

Before she got sick (for about a week and a half now) she started getting harder to put down in the crib again. Our 15 minute bedtime routine has returned to a 2 hour bedtime routine and I have once again lost my evenings. She wakes every 45 minutes again. We’ve been surviving and waiting for it to pass, but with the sick/teething drama it’s been harder to deal with. 

The Nap Transition 

Avery has always been a high sleep needs baby, and she has also always been a good daytime napper (although I’ve always let her nap in the Moby Wrap or on the boob). She had been on a great schedule for a couple of months: 8-9, 11:30-1:30, and 4-5. I think she’s showing signs of being ready to transition to 2 naps a day. The signs are: skipping naps entirely despite us spending an hour just laying in the dark at each scheduled nap time; shorter naps, from 1-2 hours to 30 minutes; especially fighting her third nap of the day but then falling asleep on the go at 6pm, which messes up bedtime. 

I hope she feels better soon and finishes with those teeth soon. We’ve learned that we can deal with sleep struggles, but we really didn’t need the extra crap piling on to already shitty sleep. 

Avery’s 8th Month

Guys, Avery is 2/3rds of the way through her first year. I know how often new parents are warned, “it goes by so fast,” but holy hell, I think time is speeding up with every passing month. 
New This Month

         Mobility/Gross Motor

  • Crawling is on the horizon. She scoots forward and backward on her tummy. She gets up on all fours and sways. She spends more time voluntarily in Cobra position than on her bum now. 
  • She likes to hand her toys to us, she reaches into her toy basket and pulls out what she wants, and she shakes her shaker to the beat.
  • She gives HUGS. Heart melting, arms around you hugs. She’ll reach over and wrap her arms around us, lay her head on an arm or shoulder and gaze up at us with a smile. 

        Health

  • She has been teething on and off for the last 2 months, but no new teeth yet. Gums swell and white tooth tips poke through and then recede. 
  • Still battling eczema. Her body has been pretty much free and clear since 6 months, but her face and forearms were really bad (and constituted yet another trip to the doctor) through her entire 7th month. Now, with the help of a higher dose of corticosteroid (that we weren’t 100% comfortable with), her skin is usually a lot less inflamed. If we discontinue use of the higher dose of steroid, though, it flares right back up again. Not ideal, since it’s for temporary use only. 
  • First cold. It lasted 4 days and although there were some tough times to get through, she was super brave through the experience. 

         Nutrition/Baby-Led Weaning 

  • She drinks water from one of those 360° anti spill baby cups, just to wash down food when she eats lunch and dinner. She skipped the sippy cup with the spout – never did get the hang of it. 
  • Takes the bottle!!! We went 7 months dealing with her outright refusal to take the bottle, but we kept offering it (and kept having to dump pumped, expired milk down the drain  😢), and then one day she just guzzled a bottle down. Of course now we’re kind of outgrowing the bottle stage anyway… But it will be helpful for the two upcoming bedtimes Mo will have to do without me (because of evening work meetings…) 
  • She can eat most meals without getting food on the floor. Baby led weaning has done wonders on her pincher grasp. She’ll grab things like a single black bean and get it right in her mouth. And if we try to help her out with a spoonful she ignores it and prefers to feed herself. She eats everything we give her. 
  • We think she is starting to sign “milk.” we’ve been doing baby sign language from the start (about 4 months) and we’re eager to see when she’ll have the motor control to start doing signs herself. She doesn’t do the whole motion for milk, but she holds her fist out to us and seems very excited when I respond by letting her nurse. 

        Social

  • She and the cats are working their shit out. She grabbed a tail too tightly and the cat screeched at her, and Avery started to cry. Avery also cries if the one cat beats up the other cat, so I think she recognizes when a cat is being hurt or bothered and she doesn’t want that to happen. Since that interaction, she has been much more gentle. Still tries to grab them tightly if she gets too excited, but for the most part is happy to just watch them walk by. One cat even slept on her lap and she just smiled and sat quietly and enjoyed the moment.  
  • She has gotten over a lot of her stranger anxiety and separation anxiety (although I’m cautious about this one because I think it’s supposed to peak a lot later) and now lets almost anyone hold her if we give her fair warning. The only person she still seems to have a problem with is her 1 year old cousin… 

         Sleep

  • She sleeps in her crib at night now after spending most of this month sleeping with me on the floor mattress in her room. She sleeps for 1 to 3 hours at a time on her own now before waking and crying for me. 
  • Naps are good – predictable and easy (nurses to sleep and I do the ninja roll away, or bounces to sleep in the carrier). She has 3 naps a day: 8:30-9:30, 11:30-1:30, and 4-5. This was her naturally set schedule that we supported and nurtured, rather than enforced. We’re now getting her used to napping alone in her room using the old floor mattress trick. 
  • Yesterday she napped in her room for 2 hours while I got a  bunch of gardening done in the backyard with the baby monitor in my pocket. Definitely a first for that kind of independent nap in her room. 

        Likes

        • She still loves music class. She loves music and dancing outside of the class, too. When we dance around the house to oldies she kicks her legs to the beat, and when we clap for her, she slaps her knees to the beat. I really don’t care if she pursues music lessons as a kid or not, but she comes from a musical family and I know her grandparents in particular would love it if she continued to get enjoyment from it. 
        • Some of her favourite new foods this month have been: asparagus, trout, broccoli and meatloaf (omg she loved that meatloaf…). She’s a savoury girl. She makes a sour face at even the sweetest homemade apple sauce (which isn’t what I expected given that my pregnancy craving was lemons!). 
        • Thank god she loves sitting outside with us, just chilling in the back yard, playing with grass. She loves grass, and has already eaten some when I looked away. And some dirt. We’re going to be spending a lot of time in the back yard this summer what with building our chicken coop (and caring for chickens) and putting in a full garden this year that I didn’t have the energy for last year in my third trimester of pregnancy. 

        Dislikes

        • Sharing with her cousin. Although she’s happy to hand her toys over to her Mo and I, heaven forbid her 1 year old cousin tries to play with a toy she’s holding… One of the books we’re going to read in an upcoming parenting book club meeting is It’s ok not to share. I’m really curious about this book. I was always a terrible sharer (and still am… I’ll stab your hand with my fork if you think you’re sharing my food), but it’s important to me that Avery learn to share because I think it’s a part of being kind and compassionate to others. 
        • Bedtime. Her bedtime routine hasn’t changed, but now when she gets to the pyjama part of the routine she starts crying. Then she’s usually happy to brush her teeth, but cries wildly again when it’s time to settle in the dark. Maybe she really understands that it means sleep time now, and she is fighting sleep? 
        • Putting her arms through sleeves. I’m paranoid that she must have had her pinky bent back a few times and has built up this association with putting sleeves on. We can’t get a sweater on without tears. 
        • Sour things. She isn’t a big fan of kiwi or pineapple or off season berries that are sour. She’ll eat them (this girl never refuses food…), but she grimaces through it. Hopefully as we come into fresh spring berries in our back yard and at the market she’ll like them. 

          Phew, this was a big update! She is developing so much every day now that the changes from month to month seem huge. And now we’re seeing more personality developments and big mobility milestones, which is even more exciting than the earlier months (although first smile and laugh were pretty epic).  I can’t even fathom what I’ll be writing about her this time next month. The changes are so individual to her unique personality and developmental trajectory now. It just gets better and better…. 

          Gentle Sleep Methods: The Floor Bed

          Catch the start of my Gentle Sleep Experiment here, and the summary of how my first attempt went, here.

          After an unsuccessful attempt at getting Avery used to her crib using a combination of no-cry sleep training and Gentle Baby sleep methods, I reassessed our situation.

          She sleeps like a log all night long while next to me in our bed. 

          She wakes in a fret all night long when alone in her crib. 

          I belong to the baby sleep camp that believes this is her way of telling me she legitimately needs me for comfort. And my parenting instincts are telling me to be there for her. I know there are sleep consultants and sleep trainers out there who would say that she just needs to get used to her crib and I need to allow her to protest and not give in. They would tell me that I’m not doing her any favours by forming “negative” sleep associations like nursing to sleep – how will she ever learn to fall asleep on her own?? I’ve tried to get on board with that perspective, but I’ve come to realize that those methods just don’t sit right with me. 

          So I’ve started using a new gentle method for getting her to feel more comfortable in her own room and in her own bed: The Floor Bed. 

          I now sleep next to Avery on her crib mattress on the floor beside her crib. She can nurse as much as she wants through the night, and she goes to sleep easily with a quick nurse and a cuddle after a good, solid, predictable bedtime routine with her Mo that lasts about 10 minutes. I try to leave her through the night when she’s deep in sleep, but I tend to fall asleep and not wake up until she needs milk again, so I haven’t been getting back to my own bed.

          So, the big question.

          Is it working?

          Yes, almost as well as bed sharing in her moms’ bed. She sleeps anywhere from 2-4 hours at a time. When she wakes up hungry in the first half of the night she nurses back to sleep easily and neither of us have to move. When she wakes in the second half of the night (2-6am) she is less easily comforted. I need to get up and nurse her in the chair, but then I can put her down on the mattress and can usually leave the room for a bit. I’ve also been able to have a few evenings back where she sleeps in her room on her own between her bedtime and my bedtime. The only evenings where this hasn’t happened, I blame teething. She’s working on 3 new teeth and until that Tylenol kicks in she’s super clingy and upset. 

          My favourite part of sleeping next to her still (or being able to lay down next to her when she calls me in the night) is the she has started to sometimes fall back to sleep by simply putting her hand on the breast as if to make sure it’s still there. Such a peaceful and easy way to make her content in the night. 

          Its been 2 weeks. I’d like to start working on leaving her alone in her room on the floor mattress and sleeping in my own bed. The challenge will be consistency when I am tired as f***. How am I supposed to just get her to sleep by laying next to her and NOT fall asleep myself? It takes 20 minutes for her to enter deep sleep, and it seems pretty instantaneous for me. By the time she’s ready to be left, I’m out cold. 

          I miss my wife and I really want to make my own transition back to our bed work. It’s a slow but steady process. 

          Wish me luck…

          A Gentle Baby Sleep Experiment: The Conclusion

          I used gentle baby sleep methods to try to get my bed-sharing baby used to sleeping in the crib. Did I make it till the end of the 10 days I challenged us to? Are we sleeping peacefully with baby in the crib using only gentle methods? Here’s a re-cap of our 10 night challenge. 
          NIGHT ONE

          Asleep in our bed by 7, woke 4 times before 10pm. Transferred to crib at 10. Woke every hour until 5am. Putting my hand on her chest only worked once to get her back to sleep. Brought her into our bed at 5am, slept until 6:30.

          NIGHT TWO

          Passed out immediately upon nursing at about 6:40, slept in our bed until 10, moved her to her crib. Woke every 2 hours and I nursed her back to sleep. 6:30 wide awake and ready for the day. 

          NIGHT THREE

          Not a good night. It took 3 hours to get her to fall asleep and she nursed and kicked and punched me the whole time. Transferred to crib at 10, woke and demanded the boob every 45 -90 minutes.  Up for the day at 6:30.

          NIGHT FOUR

          I caved. Typical evening, only woke once before 10 pm crib transfer. Once in the crib, woke every 15 god damn minutes for 3 and a half hours. I had to pick her up and hug her for just a second to calm her and then she would go happily back into the crib, for 15 minutes. By 1:30am I caved and brought her into bed with us where she slept beautifully until 6:30am. 

          NIGHT FIVE

          Another terrible night. Went to sleep well in our bed and transfered well at 10. Then she woke every 15 min again. At 3:15 she went to sleep and stayed asleep until 5, brought her into bed with us, slept till 6:30. She woke underslept and cranky. 

          NIGHT SIX

          She was super tired so we let her go to bed early, asleep by 6. Crib transfer at 10 – she protested being put down in the crib for 2 hours. Lots of crying and rocking. Finally at 12:30 I got her to stay sleeping and she woke every hour until 5am, brought her into our bed,  slept till 7am. 

          NIGHT SEVEN

          Daylight savings time change. We adjusted her bedtime to 7:30 instead of 6:30 so she wouldn’t feel it. Transfer to crib took 3 hours (10:30-1:30). Any time I put her down, awake, drowsy or asleep, she immediately cried. Brought her into bed with me at 2am. I felt like it was cruel to deprive her of any more sleep that night. Woke at 7:30.

          NIGHT EIGHT

          Oops, I fell asleep during bedtime routine and neither baby nor I woke up again until 7:30am. Bed shared all night. 

          NIGHT NINE

          Transfer to crib took half an hour. Woke every 30 to 90 minutes. Woke for the day at 7:30 (loving the time change). 

          NIGHT TEN 

          Tried something new. Put her crib mattress on the floor in her room and I put her to sleep there at bedtime instead of in our bed. I stayed with her most of the night and she only woke when I went back to my own bed twice, briefly. Slept till 6, brought her back to our bed so I could get an hour or so of good sleep. Woke at 7:30.
          So did it work? No. Not at all. But we did come out the other side of these rough 10 nights with a new plan, thanks to feedback I got on the No-Cry Sleep Solution Facebook group. We’ll try the crib mattress on the floor of her room for as long as I can hold out in discomfort. 

          My original goal with this 10 day challenge was to get her used to sleeping in the crib. I hoped that if we just pushed through, she’d get used to it as a function of spending more time in it. We may have tried to bypass a necessary step: recreate the sense of safety/comfort that she currently gets from being next to me. The Lovie that we conditioned is not sufficient for her. 

          The goal now is to make her room a safe and comfortable place to sleep, with me there at first to make this association. We realized that she generally slept well alone in our bed between her bedtime and our bedtime, so we know it’s possible for her to be left alone to sleep. 

          Perhaps I’ll have another 10 days in me before caving… I know consistency is key, but it is very hard to be consistent with the things you do in the middle of the night when you’re exhausted. 

          Wish me luck.