How to take advantage of a parent's absence to reset sleep habits?
June 14, 2012 7:50 AM   Subscribe

My partner, who usually nurses our son to sleep, is leaving town for a week. How can I use this opportunity to work on my son's sleep habits?

My 11 and a half month old son, though he is perfect in every other way, isn't the best sleeper. Here is our usual routine: He takes a bath right after dinner, then we get him into his pajamas and read a few books to him (if he's in the mood for it and not cranky). Then my partner nurses him until he falls asleep, and she eventually co-sleeps with him and nurses him two or three times during the night. Sometimes, he doesn't fall asleep so well, but we seem to be mostly past that particular problem, as long as he only has one nap during the day.

He also goes into his bath cranky, almost every night. He seems to be getting tired right around the time we have dinner at 6:30ish, and he doesn't eat very well. He nurses right when he gets home from day care at 5-5:30ish.

We would like to get to a point where he can get to sleep on his own, and we would like it if he didn't nurse two or three times (or more, sometimes) during the night, because my partner is chronically sleep deprived. At this point, he doesn't physically need those feedings at all (though we worry he doesn't drink enough at day care). We would also like our evenings not to be so cranky.

Since my partner will be gone, this seems like a good opportunity to start working on these (related, probably) issues. I know it's not going to be easy, but my week probably isn't going to be easy, anyway, since I do not have the +1 Boobs of Sleep, and he's going to be out of sorts just because she's gone and I'll be the one sleeping in his room at night.

How do I do this? Should I have a strict schedule every night? Should I feed him dinner earlier? Should I read the same books to him each night, or do you think that matters? Should I chase him around the yard for an hour after we get home to wear him out? I'm sort of kidding, but I imagine there will be some park-going this week to make sure he's been outside a lot and is truly tired.

I guess I am looking for sleep training advice plus some general advice about how to get through our evenings in the best way possible and start dealing with the sleep issues plus crankiness (which I believe is from sleepiness). I imagine some of this will be resolved if I feed him earlier, but I am a little nervous about trying to get him to bed earlier, given that he's sometimes hard to get to sleep anyway. If he's inconsolable, I may just put him in his crib and sit next to it (I'm not sure I could leave the room).

Any help and advice is appreciated, particularly that targeted towards taking advantage of this week to reset some of his sleep habits. Thanks!
posted by hought20 to Human Relations (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
When does his day start and what naps does he take during the day?
posted by three blind mice at 7:59 AM on June 14, 2012

He gets up at 6 almost every day, or within 15 minutes of it on each side. He is down to one nap each day, usually from 11 to 1, or thereabouts. Taking just one nap a day is new, though, so he will still occasionally have two naps. His nap length varies, too.

The nap is at daycare, so we don't control it. On weekends, with us, he tends to take a nice long 2-3 hour nap in the middle of the day.
posted by hought20 at 8:02 AM on June 14, 2012

I'd try to approach this by breaking it down into separate little areas to tackle. You will probably not be able to address them all in a few days, but focusing on one or two will likely get you some progress.

1. The first thing I wonder about is his bedtime. If he's already cranky and out of sorts at 6:30, it may be that he needs to head to bed a bit earlier. It makes no sense, but overtired kids actually have a harder time falling asleep sometimes. I know this is totally easier said than done with work schedules, but something worth considering.

2. It sounds like you have a pretty solid routine for pre-bedtime so probably not any need to rework things drastically there.

3. The fact that he's nursing all the way to sleep might be working against you. Your partner could nurse him to soothe him, but put him in his bed when he's drowsy but not quite asleep yet. This will give him some skills to be able to settle himself to sleep without nursing. While she's away, you'll be doing a bottle or cuddle or something in it's place, so this is a decent target. Maybe take this part over for a while even when she's back?

4. He's needing someone to be co-sleeping with him all the time to sleep. You could try being in the room but not directly in contact with him when he falls asleep. Gradually move yourself farther away from the crib as he gets more comfortable settling to sleep on his own.

5. You replace some of the overnight feeds with a bottle or cuddle instead. He gets that someone is there to comfort him, but it doesn't have to be the magic boobs. Again, this could be something that would be easy to target while your partner is away.

6. You might also talk to your daycare about the nap situation. It sounds like he wants a longer nap during the day, but is not getting it except on the weekends. Maybe they can tweak something there to let him sleep for a bit longer.
posted by goggie at 8:21 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

If he's tired at 6:30, try to put him down at 6:30.
posted by purpleclover at 8:25 AM on June 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

That seems like a long day for a not quite one year old and maybe he's more overtired than not tired at bedtime.

(My other thought, hought20, is are you attempting to do this whilst your old lady is away because of why? But that's not your question, so I leave that except to stay that ganging up as a team to defeat the little bugger is generally the surest path to success for the adults.)

A two hour mid-day nap seems long. You do control that. You just have tell the folks at day care how long he should nap. Maybe begin by dialing that back by 30min to begin with? I also think you are right to try and feed him earlier. My kids have always needed a period of playtime after dinner for the food to settle and for them to wind down.

My kids have always done best with a rigid sleep schedule. Up and 7 and down at 7. They are not always tired at 7PM, but the basic 12 hours on 12 hours off seems to work best.

I don't think it matters what book you read.

You have a tough parent situation - it is obvious that you want to spend as much time as possible with your son while he is awake - but you have to balance this against his need for sleep and this means maybe an earlier sleep schedule for him.

I am sure others will leave better advice. Best of luck to you. Hang in there. It does get better.
posted by three blind mice at 8:27 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think your idea of feeding him dinner earlier (and putting him to bed earlier) is a good one. If you're trying to put him to bed once he's super duper tired, his resulting grumpiness could be making it hard for him to fall asleep. He may be "over tired". We went through a similar phenomenon when my son transitioned from two naps to one recently (he is 15 months old now).

As for keeping a strict schedule, I'm not sure how necessary that is. Especially since your son is not consistently skipping the second nap, yet. I would watch him carefully and if he seems extra tired, be responsive to that and let him go to sleep! Within that framework, it might be worth while to keep to the same *sequence* of events rather than the exact timing.

I haven't found that it matters which books I read to my kid. I usually let him pick the books he wants to read.

My impression from your post is that you would like to stop co-sleeping soon. I personally was not comfortable with cry-it-out, so I did this fairly slowly, but it worked. (Or maybe the kid just did whatever he was going to do anyways and I am erroneously taking credit.) I did it in stages:

First, I worked on teaching him to fall asleep without nursing. This just meant that I disengaged him when he was sleepy but not fully asleep and let him fall asleep in my arms before putting him in his crib.

Once that was solid, I worked on putting him in his crib when he was just slightly awake so he would fall asleep there instead of my arms. The idea is that if he wakes up in the middle of the night, he will be familiar and comfortable with the feeling of being sleepy in his crib and falling asleep there.

If he woke up in the middle of the night, I tried just picking him up instead of picking him up and offering to nurse.

Once he was used to not nursing at wake-ups, I started responded to wake ups by just patting him on the back instead of picking him up. Right around that time, he started sleeping through the night, from 7pm to 6am. He would still have the occasional cry-out, but he would settle on his own.

Good luck to you both! Chronic sleep deprivation is the worst! But it will end.
posted by pizzazz at 8:35 AM on June 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

hought20's partner here:

The reason why we want to do this now, while I'm gone, is because he's likely going to be crying and upset a bunch anyways, we may as well try to channel this into healthier sleep patterns. I am completely onboard with this, we are working on this together.

pizzazz - thanks! That seems like a great roadmap for us to follow. Neither of us are comfortable with crying it out. And I think part of the co-sleeping for us is me being lazy. It's so easier for me to just stick a boob in his mouth at night rather than get up and deal with him in the crib.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 8:39 AM on June 14, 2012

Prepare his dinner in the morning or the night before so that you can feed it to him as soon as you get home at the end of the day. Bath at 6, bed at 6:30. Then the two of you have the rest of the evening for a real, grownup dinner and some time together, and he gets 12ish hours of sleep every night. I think that's the best solution for this stage of his development and for your sanity as parents and as a couple.
posted by decathecting at 8:59 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, your kid is over tired and that's causing half your problems. Also, at that age, he should be sleeping without eating through the night. Don't worry about the drinking enough during the day, right now he has no reason to do that because he is getting a bunch at night. It's rough, but you need to move his bedtime up. My oldest wouldn't sleep any later, no matter how tired he was (still won't mostly at 3), so we had to get him down early each day even though that limited the amount of time we had with him each night. He would get cranky and crazy energetic when he was over tire and would be a nightmare to put to sleep. At about 10 months we were nursing to sleep at night and having similar amounts of wake up nursing (though we didn't cosleep) when we finally said, "ENOUGH!" and read this book. Within 2 nights he was sleeping through night (no nursing) and going to sleep without nursing. It was FANTASTIC, totally worth the couple nights of worse sleep for us. It can take longer but it was fantastic.

In general the technique is gradual leaving. The first night you put baby down drowsy but awake, and stay by the crib (in a chair), patting, shushing, singing, whatever it takes, but don't pick the baby up (unless he gets hysterical, even then you calm and put down, again, drowsy but awake). Once baby falls asleep you can leave. Repeat every time they wake up (no nursing). After a couple days you move the chair away from the crib so that you can still sing/shush/talk, but no patting to help them sleep, and then you gradually move the chair further away every couple of days, until they have learned to put themselves to sleep. Once they figure that out, when they wake in the middle of night they can get themselves back to sleep and no longer need the nursing to do it. It seems so much easier just to nurse them, but at some point you realize it just is way more work than it needs to be, which seems to be where you are.

Good luck!
posted by katers890 at 9:07 AM on June 14, 2012

If you want, you don't have to do a daily bath. You can wipe down face and hands with a warm cloth after dinner, do the diaper area at the point you get him into PJs, and save the shampoo and soak for the weekend. It's less time, and as a bonus, less drying for baby's skin.
posted by xo at 9:11 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

pizzazz's easing into disengagement sounds great. My wife and I are actually facing the same sleeping habits with our little guy who's almost 10 months old and has a similar sleeping habit, except I usually rock him to sleep in the evenings, and then mom nurses him back to sleep when he wakes up in the night. Our pediatrician told us that 1) he should be OK with being put in bed while still awake and falling asleep on his own, and 2) he shouldn't be nursing in the middle of the night.

I picked up Sleeping Through the Night (Google books preview) at the library, and I skipped ahead to the chapter on bedtime struggles and night wakings, which says at 6 months, most babies are capable of sleeping through the night, though many babies have negative sleep associations, and require parental input to go (back to) sleep. Anything you do to put your baby to sleep is associated by your baby as being required to go to sleep. In short, you should be able to put your baby in his or her crib or bed while they're tired but still awake, and they should be able to fall asleep on their own.

Our pediatrician's suggestion at the 6-month checkup was to get something that attached to the crib that our son could play with when he woke up in the middle of the night (which everyone does, but babies might not be able to go back to sleep on their own). We didn't do that, because all the crib-side toys we saw had obnoxious, long songs that we didn't really want to hear in the middle of the night.

Sleeping Through the Night has a four-step program, of which you're doing three. 1) set bedtime and stick to it as best as you can, 2) make a bedtime routine, 3) create a bedroom environment, and 4) put down awake.

Most children cry for about 45 minutes the first night, an hour the second (clinical term: "extinction burst," meaning it's a last fight before giving something up), and the third night will be down to about 20 minutes. The book says you can sooth your little one, but don't take them out of bed, or if you do, sooth them but don't put them to sleep.

I just read this a few hours ago, so I haven't had a chance to try this out. I think we'll try pizzazz's method first, because that involves less crying.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:15 AM on June 14, 2012

xo: If you want, you don't have to do a daily bath. You can wipe down face and hands with a warm cloth after dinner, do the diaper area at the point you get him into PJs, and save the shampoo and soak for the weekend. It's less time, and as a bonus, less drying for baby's skin.

This was also something our pediatrician suggested. He noted our son's skin was a bit dry, and when we said we bathed him every other day, our ped said that at this age, a wipe-down is sufficient for daily cleaning, and we should be putting lotion on our son after bathing him, to keep him from getting dry skin.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:17 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

So I had a very similar question last year, when we wanted to stop nursing to sleep / cosleeping, though I wanted a slow transition and we didn't have a specific situation where mom would be gone like you have. There were a lot of ideas in the thread, and what I wanted to try initially didn't work, but I did update the thread with what we ended up doing, and it worked great.

Our son was about a month older than yours, so yours might be ready for it too. We basically went from nursing to sleep/cosleeping to sleeping on his own in one night. That first night was hard, but he got it right away and has been falling asleep and sleeping on his own ever since. Pick up a copy of the Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight at your library.

Good luck!!
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:22 AM on June 14, 2012

I asked a question similar to this one earlier...perhaps you will find the advice there useful? Good luck!
posted by handful of rain at 9:25 AM on June 14, 2012

The earlier bedtimes and making bath every-other-nights both sound like good ideas.

Routine is good, but I don't think it needs to be at the level of reading the same book every night.

Also, to go against the grain, this might actually not be too bad. Maybe the first night, when the "mommy is gone" concept isn't real clear, he might really kick up a fuss. But after that, he might just realize that doesn't work and settle down pretty quickly.

Around the one-year-old is not a bad time for this. They're well into the "self-soothing" zone, but not quite into the Toddler Iron Will of Death zone.

Hang in there!
posted by pantarei70 at 9:27 AM on June 14, 2012

I want to echo that you can do away with the nightly bath, unless you really like that part of the ritual. We do a hands/face wipe down after dinner every night (and sometimes legs if needed), and bath is every couple of days or so.

When our son was that age the only thing that worked for bedtime was putting him in a pack & play and having daddy lie down next to it pretending to sleep. Son is a huge copy cat and would immediately lie down, and he fell asleep on his own pretty easily from there (now staying asleep, that is not where he is a viking....). For a few months we did this ridiculous pack & play & pretend routine right in the living room, once he was asleep we could watch tv and do whatever, it didn't make a difference. He'd wake up a few hours later and we'd trundle him up to bed for co-sleeping. After a few months of that we transitioned to starting him in the pack & play, but in our bedroom instead of the living room. Then we moved onto starting him in his crib after a few months of that. He's almost two and is just now having a few nights a week of actually sleeping through the night, so I'm not sure I can wholeheartedly recommend this routine, but it worked for us to take the screaming out of our nights.

Also, dinner may be a bit late for him. Just as an anecdote point, we do dinner around 6, jammies, wind down, stories around 6:30, and aim to get him in the crib between 7-7:15. He wakes up at 5-5:30 am, though.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 9:28 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

People will provide good advice. They’ll tell you about whatever appeared to work for them, you'll try it, maybe it’ll work, or maybe the kid just decided to change on its own. All your ideas and plans for the kid will be ignored by the kid and the kid will do whatever comes naturally, because it’s a kid and not a robot that you can reprogram (that reads really nasty, I don’t mean it to be). Just keep trying things, one of those things will agree with the kid and that’ll work, until it doesn’t.
posted by Blake at 9:30 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think boobs gone first (I assume you're totally weaning on this trip. BRING A HAND PUMP to get over the initial pressure), then cosleeping later.

I think it'll be too much at once that mommy's gone, boobies are gone, and no more cosleeping.

When I returned home from my nightweaning trip, I found that wearing a bra and a shirt sent a message no more boobies, but snuggles are great.

Once he's okay with no more boobies, THEN figure out your cosleeping transition plan.

PS, mommy being away for a trip is great for weaning, but not a great time to change routine.

PPS, IMHO an under 1 should still be taking 2 naps a day.
posted by k8t at 9:53 AM on June 14, 2012

Earlier bedtime would be an excellent experiment for the week. At that age, my now-19-month old had a very similar routine, except he was going down at about 7 at the first sign of crank. Two or three wakeups in an 11-12 hour period aren't quite as painful, and he was way more cheerful during the day. Dinner's at about 6, we get home at 5:30, so fancier meals are for the weekends. Baths twice a week unless he was absolutely filthy.

pizazz's advice is very close to what we've done, though we're still at the reducing night feedings phase. But although we've been encouraging better sleep habits, honestly the thing that seemed to work the best was him getting older. At a year he was mostly getting up three times a night, now it's almost always once, and that one getting later and later.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:54 AM on June 14, 2012

PS w/r/t baths, I think we are at the other extreme, but we only do baths once a week or if it's very clear he needs one, otherwise just wiping hands and face with a wet washcloth after dinner every night the extent of our nightly cleaning routine.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:36 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Partner again:

I was against putting him down earlier, since he doesn't seem sleepy, but given everyone's advice, it seems like that's really what he needs. I love pizzazz's no-cry transitioning advice, but that doesn't work with me out of town. We may try that when I come back, if things are still the same.

Our original plan seems very similar to the Sleep Lady's book that everyone is recommending (my partner sitting next to the crib and comforting him while he cries) because it's likely that he'll be crying for me (well, my boobs) anyways, and there won't be much my partner can do to help. He loves boobs so much.

(And fwiw, I don't plan on weaning during this trip, although it would be a good opportunity. I'll be pumping and dumping while I'm gone, although dear god, that's such a waste of milk. I don't think he's ready for it, and although I'm willing to stop co-sleeping, I'm not ready to give up sweet booby-snuggles with him either.)
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 10:58 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you would prefer to not pump-and-dump, you could join Milk Share or a similar community. I donated my extra milk to a person who had a double mastectomy. I was happy that the milk didn't go to waste.
posted by mingshan at 12:18 PM on June 14, 2012

Yes! Donate your milk! Two others are Eats on Feets and Human Milk for Human Babies -- if you're on Facebook, you can search and join your local network to offer milk.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:53 PM on June 14, 2012

If you're only on this work trip for a few days, pump and dump. The world won't end. (Sorry people.)
posted by k8t at 2:01 PM on June 14, 2012

Well, I will be gone for a full week, so I think I will try! But I won't beat myself up if I do have to dump it.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 7:11 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thanks so much, everyone! I am not quite sure what I am going to do yet, but I am leaning towards trying the Sleep Lady thing. Whatever I do, I think I'll decide by Monday and stick with it, whatever it is. It really will be healthier for the little dude to be able to get himself to sleep, and to sleep through the night. It can't be fun for him to almost reach a meltdown every night before he sleeps.

(These are the things I am telling myself so I can endure his crying without picking him up or giving him all of the crackers or whatever it takes to make him happy.)

This is going to be an... interesting week.
posted by hought20 at 4:42 AM on June 15, 2012

I highly recommend you check out Lullaby Sleep Training, located in your area, not just for the short term but for the long term of getting your son on a good sleep schedule and getting you and your partner the much deserved rest you need!
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 8:31 AM on June 15, 2012

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