Hush little baby....please, oh please, oh please
September 29, 2012 1:05 AM   Subscribe

Why won't our 6.5 month old baby sleep?

Baby brambory is 6.5 months. He is delightful - an enthusiastic smiler, very keen to explore, loves cuddles from any arms he can wiggle himself into. His sleep is less delightful and (oh god) it seems to be getting worse.

Currently, he has his bath and we normally get him to bed around 7.30. He's then up and down all evening, with multiple wakings until 12 (most of these are replacing the dummy situations, though he does take a feed during one of these). At 12, he wakes up and is impossible to settle for a few hours. Once we finally get him down (around 2 or 3), he'll sleep until 8 with maybe one waking. He seems to be getting harder and harder to settle in the evenings and this 2-3 hour stint in the middle of the night is seriously harming the morale in the household.

Settling him is really difficult - we used to put a hand on him in his cot, he'd give his dummy a few vigourous sucks, and then he'd be down for a few hours. This isn't working any more. He'll scream for hours if we do this. Currently, the only thing that is working is to cuddle him, he sucks his dummy, we slowly put him down in his cot. He snuggles in, maybe drifts off, maybe cries again (necessitating another cuddle). Even when we get him to sleep, a few minutes later, he's crying again.

Mr. brambory thinks it's his stomach and he has always been a windy, colicky little chap. I'm not so sure, but he doesn't seem to want milk, his dummy doesn't really put him to sleep, he often does his brief sleep and cry thing even when he's being held. We've tried more blankets and less blankets. We've let him cry for 5 minutes both in the room and not in the room and he just gets hysterical. Possibly relevant, I coslept with him until 6 months, but now he's in his own room.

We are stumped and exhausted. Any advice on what's causing this unsettledness at night? If you had a non-sleeping baby, what did you do that worked?
posted by brambory to Health & Fitness (36 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Well, just a guess, but is he maybe teething? Sleep problems are a pretty normal side effect. Coincidentally, 6 months is a very common age for a sleep regression. You can try all the usual teething tricks, and some might suggest undoing any new bedtime routines until you get over this hump, but unfortunately this is just one of those things you might have to live with for a little bit. Does he have nap time too? Making it earlier in the day may tire the kid out in time for bed. Or later to keep him asleep later?
posted by asciident at 1:29 AM on September 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Maybe he's teething?
posted by spunweb at 1:46 AM on September 29, 2012

I think there's a big jump from cosleeping to not even being in the same room. Is there a way for him to still be in his own bed/cot but in the room with you?
posted by geek anachronism at 2:16 AM on September 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

You note that he is "a windy, colicky little chap" Is it possible that he is allergic to milk and it is giving him tummy aches? Check with your doctor for advice about substitutes such as Soy based formula. Also, try changing his bath time to morning instead of evening. The advice above about bringing his bed back into your room is worth following. Almost anything is worth trying in order to prevent sleep deprivation for all three of you.
posted by Cranberry at 2:26 AM on September 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Is he eating solid foods during the day? You might discuss foods with his pediatrician.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:59 AM on September 29, 2012

Solid foods didn't make a difference for us. There was no milk allergy, no colic, and she wasn't teething. She just refused to go to sleep, and when we did finally get her to sleep she would wake up after an hour or two. Sometimes four or five times in a night. I was a wreck.

On our ped's advice we enforced a stricter bedroom routine, made sure to keep waking and sleeping hours as consistent as possible, and provided enough activities during the day that she was genuinely tired by the time bedtime rolled around. We also, and I know this is controversial, cried it out. There wasn't anything wrong with her, she didn't need anything, but she knew that if she woke up and demanded attention she'd get it. Once we stopped responding the same way, she started to self-settle. If she woke up in the night, she'd babble to herself or play with her blankets in the crib and then just put herself back to sleep. But this didn't happen for us until she was almost 11 months old. It was a rough time.
posted by 1adam12 at 4:14 AM on September 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Add some white noise? I'm betting on teething too; the second jr tigerjade was a champ at sleeping until the teeth started. We depended quite heavily on frozen chew toys, anbesol and Advil during those months.
posted by tigerjade at 4:14 AM on September 29, 2012

Have you tried swaddling? The fact that cuddling is helping settle him down suggested to me that a tight swaddle might make him feel more secure.
posted by deadcrow at 4:45 AM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you had a non-sleeping baby, what did you do that worked?
Cosleep. I mean, if cuddling stops the crying, why not cuddle? My daughter, after the first 6 weeks, would never fall asleep when not cuddling (&nursing). I was sick of trying to put her down in her crib and have her wake up and doing it all over again...Now she sleeps in bed with us and everyone's happy. Instead of waking up to a screaming baby in another room in the morning, we wake up to a smiling one cuddled in our arms. The night-wakings keep happening but they're not big dramas anymore, often I sleep through them. You know, the more I talk to people who have babies, the more I get the impression that babies sleeping in their crib peacefully and happily is a fiction. Most of them are scared when alone. Seconding that this sounds like teething, which explains the need for more cuddles (and Advil, maybe).
Another option at this point would probably be some kind of sleep 'training' aka letting the baby cry progressively longer periods til she gives up. (Not my idea of how to treat people that are part of my family, but YMMV). Sleep training doesn't help if the problem is teething pain, though.
posted by The Toad at 4:46 AM on September 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

There is not necessarily anything wrong. Some kids just are like that. Ours started waking up constantly at 6 months as well. Yes, it did get worse. And worse. Cosleeping didn't help me (just can't stand being crowded in bed, and she never liked nursing while lying in bed). She was in our room, though. We tried everything.
Finally as a last resort we tried a type of Ferberizing and that did the trick at 11 months.

Looking back I would probably try putting her down and not picking her up again while staying in the room ( instead of leaving). I also would have done this a lot earlier. That's four months of frustration and worsening feelings towards my husband and child that I will never get back!
posted by Omnomnom at 4:59 AM on September 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

(With (Ferberizing I meant sleep training!)
posted by Omnomnom at 5:02 AM on September 29, 2012

My son's sleep went to crap at 6 months. My guess is that it was developmental leaps for him because he started sitting up right around then and just generally becoming more engaged and aware of his surroundings outside of who was holding him. He had been sleeping in the pack n play in our room until then and slept for pretty long stretches since about 8 weeks. Then it was like a switch flipped and he wouldn't sleep longer than an hour and a half and oh god it was awful. That's when we started bed-sharing because it was the only way my husband and I got any sleep. He's 2 now and has been sleeping at least half of the night in his toddler bed since about 17 months.
posted by chiababe at 5:05 AM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

How are his naps?

Is he in daycare?

How flexible is his bedtime? Is it a work schedules thing or is there wiggle room?
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:32 AM on September 29, 2012

Lots of possibilities, but maybe a sleep association problem now being compounded (you say it's getting worse) by the development of object permanence. The pacifier is almost definitely part of the problem, and will be until you take it away or he can plug it back in himself.

Even if you're anti-cry-it-out it is worth reading the first few chapters of Ferber to understand the basics of baby sleep and the concept of sleep associations.

And this is good background on object permanence:

This is also a useful resource:

Sleep is in part a learned skill, and some babies need more teaching than others. If this is what's going on, there are many options on the spectrum of no-cry to close-the-door-and-plug-your ears (Pantley, Baby Whisperer, Ferber, Weissbluth, others). For any of these, consistency is key.

Before launching into anything big, though, I might try, as an experiment, taking away the pacifier at bedtime. Baby may fuss for 15 minutes and then sleep better than you've ever seen. Or not, in which case you study up on baby sleep and come up with a plan that works for your family. Good luck!
posted by frescaanddietcoke at 5:52 AM on September 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Every baby is different, but we turned our nightmare 6-month-old into a great sleeper by following these basic principles which I think apply to babies like ours (yours sounds like he's in the exact same sleep patterns as ours...)

1. Tired babies are harder to put to sleep.

a. Put them down for naps before they get sleepy. Make naps a priority. Be the neurotic parents who can't do anything if baby might be sleepy at that time. At this age, put him down about 2 hours after his last wake, or if he looks even the tiniest bit zoned out, or if he whines, or if he looks at you funny. He's probably really sleep-deprived, just like you guys are, and that's why his sleep is worsening. Ha ha ha oh god this is so horrible. I feel just awful for you. Hang in there. Anyway.

b. He might not be crying because you're doing anything wrong but because he's sleepy and miserable and can't sleep. So don't take crying or him being upset as a sign that you're doing something wrong. Sometimes it just sucks to be a baby.

2. Early bedtimes are really important.

a. He should have as early a bedtime as possible, like 6pm or even 5:30 until he catches up on his sleep. When he gets better sleep he can be more flexible and go down between 6 and 7 with the occasional later bedtime if there's a special event. Babies and young kids usually sleep best, deepest, and easiest in the first half of the night. Why? I don't know, they're weird and it's science. But it's generally true. If you can't do this due to work or daycare schedules, that's totally understandable. Try moving the bath to the morning, or spot-washing him until you have more time on the weekends. If possible, ask his daycare to feed him dinner so you can put him right to bed when he gets home. Early bedtime is just so important and the number one thing that helps our son sleep.

b. Keeping him up later probably won't make him sleep longer. Sorry. The early bedtime leads to better sleep which leads to later waking. If our son gets sleep deprived he starts waking up at 5am (FML). Otherwise we get to sleep in until a luxurious 6:30 wake-up. This sucks but putting him to bed later isn't going to change it.

3. Let him self-soothe if you think it will help

a. This is super controversial, but some babies do better once they figure out how to get to sleep on their own. Ours certainly did. How you do this depends on your personality and the baby's personality. I night weaned and let my partner take all the night wakings for a while, which helped (the boob is distracting I guess). Gradual, in-room crying didn't work, and when we tried check-ins he was just getting frustrated. This is totally different for different babies, though. We eventually did extinction CIO for bedtime and night wakings, and it worked. I don't actually remember it very well, but we let him cry himself to sleep at bedtime and then when he woke in the night, we went to check on him and then once we were sure nothing was wrong we let him cry himself to sleep again. MIRACLE. He started sleeping 12 hours straight with no wakings. We got our life back, basically.

b. If you do let him cry or otherwise change his sleep routine, pick either bedtime or naptimes, and keep the other the same routine-wise. They don't learn the same for bedtime and naptime, oddly enough, so if you do CIO and it works for bedtime, it will not necessarily work for naptime. Doing both at once is going to be really hard on everybody.

4. Your mental health is important too

a. People like to guilt trip parents with horrible things they're doing to their children's psyches by letting them cry or not holding them 24/7 or whatever. Well, maternal depression and anxiety are strongly linked to depression an anxiety in the kids, whereas letting the kid cry for a little bit at bedtime is linked to jack shit. Seriously. I say this not to make anyone feel bad, but to remind you that your child's mental and emotional health are so intertwined with your own that taking care of yourself actually benefits your baby.

b. If you can, take a night off and go to a hotel room. We basically did this by switching off, with one of us taking the baby all night and the other one sleeping with white noise headphones in, but a hotel room would have been way better. If you have a trusted caregiver or family member who is experienced with babies and who will not chicken out at 2am, ask them to take him for a night. He will be fine. In fact, he will be more than fine, because his parents will be maintaining their sanity and yay for everyone.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:08 AM on September 29, 2012 [29 favorites]

Welcome to 6 month olds! We are there with you, I just spent 2 hours up with my own 6 month old today. Teething can definitely be an issue, if yours is drooling a lot and chewing on everything, give some tylenol or advil, see if that helps calm down the sleeping. Another option could be an ear infection, the pain from those are worse when they are lying down (especially at night).

But at 6 months old is really when you need to start the sleep training (we were going to start ours last night, but my 6 month old has a cold, which makes it worse). We love the Sleep Lady's system. We used it on our first and it worked like a charm, went from sleeping just like yours (and mine currently) to sleeping through the night in one weekend (note, he was a bit older, so it may take longer) and next weekend our 6 month old is getting the same treatment.
posted by katers890 at 6:12 AM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is completely normal for babies' sleep patterns to fluctuate the first couple of years, typically with more frequent night wakings during milestones or teething. We just went through massive sleep issues at 6.5 months when he was learning some major developmental milestones (standing, crawling). It took about a mOnth to get through it. To help deal with sleep issues in general, we put him down in his crib until either I can't keep him asleep during the transfer from cuddles to crib or I'm too tired to nurse sitting in the rocking chair. At that point he comes to bed with us. I would go insane if we didn't cosleep. Tonight is the 3rd night in a row he's had fewer than 4 wakings. Every baby is different. What works for some families does not work for others. YMMV.

You are not alone.

It gets better.
posted by HMSSM at 6:13 AM on September 29, 2012

The young rope-rider speaks the truth. Our usually-great sleeper had a nightmarish week around 5.5 months where he would wake up at 2 in the morning, scream for two hours and fall back asleep exhausted.

The solution that worked magic was to put him down for bedtime earlier. We moved his bedtime an hour earlier to 6pm, and everything snapped into place. This also helped him nap better during the day, strangely.

And unfortunately there is a period when they lose the pacifier but aren't coordinated enough to find it and put it back themselves. That one he'll just have to grow out of.
posted by Liesl at 6:19 AM on September 29, 2012

A couple of ideas, based on family experience. Do you eat dairy? Sometimes colic can be caused by a nursing mother eating dairy, which doesn't agree with the baby's stomach. Try cutting out dairy.

Also, have you tried just leaving him to cry for a few hours, to see if he learns to self-soothe? Sometimes a few nights of brutality are necessary to sleep train the kid.

Good luck.
posted by Dasein at 6:21 AM on September 29, 2012

You know, the more I talk to people who have babies, the more I get the impression that babies sleeping in their crib peacefully and happily is a fiction. Most of them are scared when alone. Seconding that this sounds like teething, which explains the need for more cuddles (and Advil, maybe).

This might be selection bias because people with similar parenting ideals tend to cluster together and possibly people aren't willing to open up to people who think they're being cruel or scaring their baby.

Our baby sleeps peacefully and happily in his crib for 12 (now more like 11 as he's getting older) hours a night, unless he's sick. He also naps there. He's not scared at all. Half the time we wake up in the mornings to him babbling and chatting to himself while cruising around his crib. Half the time we wake up to a hungry baby, but that's nothing to do with his crib.

I guess he could be some kind of method actor baby, but I seriously doubt it.

FWIW most breastfeeding parents that I know have babies who go to sleep in their crib and then come cosleep after the first night waking, which is about 3 or 4am.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:23 AM on September 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

This is what worked for me. Put them to sleep on their stomach. Yes, I know of the warnings but I was a wreck. A wreck...and had to do something to keep myself sane. Sleeping on their back made them sleep lightly and wake easily. On the stomach, my older one went from napping 45 minutes at a time to 2.5 hrs. I cleared the crib, took out all worrisome articles--stuffed toys, etc--and put them down on their stomachs from younger than your son is now until the present day. I can't recommend it enough (realizing that YM (and comfort level) MV).

Good luck.
posted by Ginesthoi at 6:25 AM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

We bought a pacifier buddy for our baby just in time for her to decide she didn't want a pacifier any more. Still, it worked better than the soft rattle wedge we were using up to then so we didn't have to keep waking up to return her pacifier. We bought this Pacifier buddy although the WubbaNub gets good reviews too.

We also had good luck with sleep-gro sacks, those zip-on outfits. My absolute favourite is the Love To Dream one, but when she outgrew that, we just bought a cheap one from Ikea. It gives some of the comfort of a swaddle and helped her settle easier than blankets.

You might try a small mattress on the floor next to your bed for a compromise - you still get your bed back to yourself, but you don't have to get up and go to another room to calm him, and sometimes just being able to hear a sleepy parent going hush-hush is enough to settle them.

Is he actually tired at 7pm? Some babies just have different natural sleep times, and it might be easier to adjust to his rhythm if he's only sleepy after 9-10pm.

Another option might be to put him in a sling after his bath and just carry him around for an hour or two until he is truly deeply asleep and settle him in the crib. I nurse or bottlefeed my daughter to sleep and the only argument against it seems to be that it becomes a habit, which is duh, great - she nurses expecting to go to sleep.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:02 AM on September 29, 2012

On preview - seconding Ginesthai on putting them to sleep on their stomachs. The nurses at the NICU did that for babies having trouble sleeping, because they were hooked up to monitors anyway, and when mine is particularly fussy, she falls asleep fastest on a parent's chest. We will put her to sleep on her stomach, with a parent sitting next to her, and then once she's fast asleep, gently roll her over onto her back.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:05 AM on September 29, 2012

We also had a sleep shakeup at about 6 months. Previously, she'd sleep happily for a 6-8 hour stretch, wake for a feeding and go back to sleep for another 3-4 hours. And then suddenly she was waking up every 2-3 hours and requiring an hour or more of rocking and soothing to get back to sleep (and a very careful dance of laying her back in the crib without disturbing her).

What worked for us was biting the bullet and sleep training. We did a version of cry-it-out -- not complete extinction, but not really Ferber either. I can tell by her cries when she's really upset and winding up and when she's just fussing and wants one of us to come be with her. If her cries were the latter, I'd let her cry for up to 10-15 minutes (but after the first few nights, it didn't take much more than 3 or 4 minutes). If she was really upset or uncomfortable, though, I'd go up after 2 or so minutes -- usually she was in pain (teething) or couldn't breathe (lots of spring colds around here), or if it was later in the night, hungry. It took about four days (and a few refresher days after the first ten or so days), but she's back to sleeping more or less through the night at 10 months (we get an 8-10 hour stretch, she eats a very small bottle which we are trying to phase out, and then she sleeps another 2-4 hours, going more or less 7 to 7).

Every baby is different, of course, and the method of sleep training we used worked for us but may not work for you. A friend of mine had no success with traditional cry-it-out and used the Sleep Lady system instead. My kid would have been IRATE if I were in her room and not interacting with her, so that was never going to work for us.

Anyway, rest assured that you are NOT alone and that this is totally normal. But now that this shakeup has started, it's really the optimal time to start teaching your little one how to sleep -- as others have said, it's not something babies innately know how to do and, like everything else, it's your responsibility as a parent to help him learn.
posted by devinemissk at 7:11 AM on September 29, 2012

So it's only been 2 weeks since he's coslept with you? Have you tried a blanket that smells like you, as opposed to a totally clean and laundered blanket? How about those devices that mimic a mother's heartbeat, or some other kind of white noise? Does he have a night light or some ambient light from his door being cracked? Has he started to crawl yet?

If you're nursing, the culprits with my son were if I ate anything with onions or broccoli. If he's started eating solids, make sure the foods are not too fibrous. My son wouldn't touch pears or green beans, but he loved baby oatmeal, banana, and steamed sweet potatoes. If he had gas, I would lay him on his back and gently do the bicycle movement, or hold him on one arm face down, with his head on the crook of my elbow, facing outward, and my hand supporting his leg. Sometimes if they do feed before bed, they might wake up with a bubble and no way to get it out. He also loved baby massage.

But only two weeks after cosleeping is a lot to ask a little baby, either he might not be ready or he could be teething. It may take more time to get him used to sleeping on his own. Try the blankie with your scent on it and see if that helps.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:11 AM on September 29, 2012

Our little guy is 6 months old and a week ago I could have written your question. From 3-6 months he's been waking up every 1-2 hours all night, not napping longer than 30 minutes, etc. I've been a miserable wreck. Finally, we were so desperate that we decided to let him cry himself to sleep. Someone upthread mentioned, that's the site I've been using too. We started three nights ago: boob, bath, book, bed. I do the boob part, my partner does the rest.

The first night arcticbaby cried for 40 minutes and fell asleep. 40 minutes later he woke up screaming. We soothed him and left him to cry again. He cried for 30 minutes and then slept for three hours. Three whole hours! Then half-a-dozen more wakes before morning, as usual.

The second night he cried for 12 minutes and fell asleep. Stayed asleep for four hours straight, then all the wakings before morning.

The third night he cried for 20 minutes and fell asleep. Woke up 40 minutes later screaming. I soothed him and left him alone. He cried for five minutes and then slept for FIVE AND A HALF HOURS. This was amazing. Unbelievable.

When he wakes during the night I feed him and cuddle with him, sometimes bring him into bed with us. We really just do the sleep training for going-to-bed.

I've never been a cry-it-out advocate, but when I got desperate I gave it a shot and it works for us. During his crying periods I have to put headphones on and busy myself with housework or something, but my partner stays alert to listen for trouble. It feels awful letting him cry, but I remind myself that doing what is best for baby even when it's difficult makes me a better parent.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:22 AM on September 29, 2012

Thirding everything The Young Ripe-Rider wrote. We also had a terrible sleeper, and after reading a billion books and almost getting hit by a bus from exhaustion, here's what we did:

1. Spent 2 weeks rigorously enforcing a schedule and nap and sleep routines. We used Weissbliuth's book for reference, and I nursed her to sleep as needed. We also maintained consistency in her room with white noise and lowered curtains.

2. Ruled out all medical issues (apnea, reflux, etc.)

3. Used Ferber. It took forever to get her to fall asleep the first time, but then she slept for six hours.

Sleep training, quite honestly, sucked, but I think it may have saved my life. I'd always assumed that I'd be one of those co-sleeping parents, but it turns out that my kid thinks that mommy = awesome, and every time she went into a light sleep cycle and sensed I was there, she was all "Yay! Let's nurse and at for hours!" Waking up every 45 minutes for six months was not good for either of us.
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:01 AM on September 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Moving him from co-sleeping to his own room might have inspired some insecurity or dissatisfaction. I agree some sort of intermediate sleep location might be helpful.

Have you thought about a sidecarred crib or toddler bed? My 11-month-old has a toddler bed that's pushed up to the side of and level with our bed, and that works pretty well for us. We are less frequently subjected to her baby acrobatics and she can stretch out and sleep peacefully, but she also has easy mama (boob) access if needed and I don't have to get out of bed to tend to her.

But also, this sleep pattern in babies is really common and sometimes the only way out of it is through it. He will sleep better in the future.

4. Your mental health is important too

That's definitely true, but it can be an argument for co-sleeping just as readily as it can be an argument for Ferber/extinction crying/etc. Ultimately, I don't think sleep training or self-soothing or (avoiding) bad habits are particularly important as abstract goals. Find something that works for your family and do it.

This is my favorite article about baby sleep. I have found it very helpful and comforting over the last year.
posted by thirteenkiller at 1:03 PM on September 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Every human has different sleep patterns. Babies sleep between 12 and 16 hours, and you can't totally control when those hours are going to be. But remember: that's what you have. If he sleeps eight hours during the day, you won't have more than eight hours during the night, and maybe you'll have less.
A crib in your bedroom is a good idea, separating early is a strain you don't need.
rituals are good: listening to the same music while feeding, giving the same kisses. Don't compromise. A strong schedule will eventually work for everyone.

If you have a lifestyle which isn't really compatible with a fixed schedule, you need to embrace this, and figure out how to deal with having a child in this environment. Our first child grew up on building sites and exhibitions. She still has sleep issues. But we did manage to set up some basic rules which gave her a rythm of sleep and a sense of security. We spent a lot of energy maintaining bed-times and rituals (one of which was listening to Coltrane).
posted by mumimor at 2:33 PM on September 29, 2012

We have had lots of sleepless nights with our babes. Very similar experience to you around 6 months. When things were quite bad we had a midwife come to visit. She just really made it clear how much little babies need us in the first 2 years of life. We weren't up for co-sleeping so she suggested a single bed in the babies room, right beside the cot. When the baby wakes you can just roll over and cuddle/massage their belly by reaching through the bars, without even opening an eye. The baby isn't having to deal with being in and out of the cot or in and out of arms, so gets more used to going back to sleep in their cot. They get their comfort from Mum/Dad in their own bed, which is useful if you want to go back to your own in a couple of weeks. All the benefits of co sleeping, without the kicks to the head. Night weaning also helped with settling down tummy and gut action, as well as removing the expectation of a nice warm boob at every wake up.
posted by bingoes at 4:30 PM on September 29, 2012

If you aren't opposed to thumb-sucking, you might try teaching baby to do that. Thumbs don't get lost.

Also agreeing with all the recommendations for teaching baby to sleep solo. It's a great gift you can give.
posted by lakeroon at 5:54 PM on September 29, 2012

I want to join those saying it sounds like it's time to sleep-train. I easily could have written this very AskMeFi three months ago. Instead, my wife and I just dealt with this for two months. It was awful. He'd sometimes have an OK night—very rarely a good one—but most were just awful. Finally we couldn't take it anymore, and decided we'd use Dr. Sears' method, where we'd leave him for a few minutes, return to soothe him, leave again, and repeat over longer intervals. We girded ourselves for a tough weekend. And it was—it sucked. We learned pretty fast that it really, really upset him to see us again, so we went the Ferber method (to my wife's horror) and just let him cry. We used a video monitor to keep an eye on him.

I still have the notes here on my Mac's desktop:
8:19 PM: Put him down for the night.
8:24 PM: Not crying, standing up. Left him alone.
8:28 PM: Went in.
8:40 PM: Went in.
8:52 PM: Basically asleep, but still half standing.
9:03 PM: Fell down and hit his head. Went in to comfort him. Held him for ~90 seconds, lay him down again. Cried for 10 seconds, then sleep.
10:56 PM: Woke him to breastfeed him.
11:12 PM: Put him back in his crib.
12:38 AM: Woke.
12:39 AM: Went in.
12:54 AM: Went in. It made him cry harder.
1:06 AM: Went in to lie him down (he was standing, possibly stuck). He cried harder, stood right back up.
1:14 AM: Still standing, falling asleep on his feet.
1:36 AM: Still standing, went in to lie him down. He cried harder briefly, stood up again, but just partway. Stopped crying within a minute.
1:45 AM: Slouched down gradually until finally asleep.
3:15 AM: Woke him to breastfeed him.
3:32 AM: Put him back in his crib.
6:51 AM: He cried. Let him wake for the morning.
And then, two days later, it was this good:
10:30 AM: Went down for a nap, cried for perhaps 30 seconds.
11:50 AM: Woke himself up.
2:15 PM: Fell asleep in the car.
2:40 PM: Woke up up arriving home.
3:30 PM: Put him down for a nap.
4:10 PM: Tried to lie him down.
4:14 PM: Fell asleep.
5:30 PM: Woke him.
8:07 PM: Put him down for the night.
11:10 PM: Woke him to feed him.
11:22 PM: Put him down, he cried out just once.
3:15 AM: Woke him to feed him.
3:31 AM: Put him down. Cried for ~2 min, slept.
8:00 AM: Woke himself up.
The following day I stopped taking notes, because they were so boring. We'd lie him down, he'd go to sleep. Maybe he'd wake and cry for 10–30 seconds, but he'd put himself back to sleep. In the intervening five months, he's learned to put himself back to sleep really well.

Baby brambory falls asleep in your arms, then wakes up in his crib and freaks out. Have you ever woken up in a place that is definitely not where you fell asleep? How did you feel? Now you've got to teach him to put himself back to sleep when that happens. Expect a really crappy 2–4 nights, and then awesomeness from there on out. It doesn't work for all babies, but it sure works for a lot of them.
posted by waldo at 7:22 PM on September 29, 2012

Regarding being a windy, colicky little fellow, have you tried different bottle and nipple types? Some are designed avoid the little ones sucking in (too much) air when they drink from a bottle.

First, I'll recommend the blog My Baby Sleep Guide, in which a parent writes their experiences with her two sons, including reviews of sleep-related baby books, often comparing the different suggestions and details in the books. For example, nap lengths for babies of all ages, from four different books.

Following up with others' comments on self-soothing: on the gentle end, you have The Sleep Lady Shuffle, to the more extreme cry-it-out. With the Shuffle, you or your partner will sit by the cot or bed of the little guy, being present but not engaging beyond occasional touches and shushing for reassurance. Every three days, the present parent moves a bit farther back, gradually getting your little one comfortable with being alone.

This is great, if your little one is comforted by your presence and doesn't demand to be held, as it was with my little guy. Our problem was that he's able to stand, so when we put him down, he'll roll over and stand at the crib railing, wailing away. Pick him up and hold him, and he'll stop, so he's clearly not in pain or even that miserable. Crying gets attention. If all-out cry-it-out sounds too extreme, you could also try the limited cry solution, checking in only after 3-5 minutes of continuous crying. Otherwise, prepare yourself for some nights of terrible crying, and focus on the fact that it will get easier after he can self-sooth.

Also, if you do happen to find something that you can do to sooth him now, think about how he'll be months from now, when he's stronger and can stay awake longer. Trying to teach him to self-sooth then is a lot more work, as your son might do things like thwack himself to stay awake. That's just one of the things my son does. He's 13 months old, and is wonderful, but we're still battling with him on the topic of naps and sleep. Schedules have made it easier to rock him to sleep, but we're still rocking him to sleep, and on occasion he'll wake up in the middle of the night and can't get himself back to sleep.

A few tips and thoughts for the self-soothing route, however you go:
1. get a "lovey" - this can be a blanket or toy, which your little one will come to associate with sleepy time, and can hold and play with for comfort. You can build a bond by getting a toy or blanket and making it part of the bedtime routine, playing little games with the toy and your son, things like that. Or if your son takes interest in a toy, use that.

2. set a schedule and stick to it - the schedule can be flexible, but it should apply to meals, sleep routines and sleep times. As the young rope-rider mentioned, you should do all you can to get your little one enough sleep now, as a well-rested baby is a lot easier to deal with.

3. at 6 months old, most babies don't need food in the middle of the night - if this isn't really comforting your son, don't feel like you need to get him fed at night. You can talk to your doctor if you have questions about how your son is doing, feeding-wise.

4. setting your baby on his back may make him feel like he's falling - because of this, you can try laying your son on his side. I've read that lying on their left side feels more comfortable/natural, and that seems to be the case with my son, when we lay him down in his crib.

5. partial swaddling may be comforting - we've swaddled our son's torso and legs since he was old enough to pull his arms free from the full-body swaddle, and that seems to make him happy. Perhaps it is just another thing to signal that it's really nap time, or maybe it keeps him from wiggling around and keeping himself awake.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:14 AM on October 1, 2012

More thoughts:
6. "lovey," continued - if you do find something that your little guy likes to cuddle with, make sure it's easily washable, and easily replaceable. Even if you can replace it, you may want to buy a second one once he's attached to the first, and start switching them out every week or so, ensuring that the replacement is accepted. Otherwise, the first may wear out or get lost, and the new one is not seen as suitable replacement.

7. make the bedroom and the cot or crib a positive place - when it's not bedtime, play with your little guy in his bed and bedroom. Otherwise, the bedroom might be seen as a place where he's abandoned.

8. make sure his bedroom can be dark, but not too dark - as others have mentioned, a night light is a good thing. A dim light can help your little guy recognize where he is when he wakes up at night. But during the day, he may like it darker than at night.

9. find a way to interrupt your baby's crying, if he's sobbing and won't be soothed - my little guy would wake up in the middle of the night and start bawling. He wasn't hungry or hurt, but he was worked up. I would hold him to my chest, with his chin or cheek on my shoulder, and one hand on his neck, the other supporting his bottom. Then, I'd do squats, dropping down quickly and rising back up. After a time or two of doing that, he'd stop sobbing, so I could resume rocking him and soothing him. This now helps to make him hold onto me, when he's tired and it's his bed time but wants to crawl around. I also hold him to my chest and bounce on my toes. Another parent told me that she bought a small exercise trampoline, making it easier for her to bounce her child to sleep.

10. a child at motion won't sleep as deeply as a child laying still - even if you can get your son to sleep by rocking him, pushing him around in a stroller, or driving around with him in his car seat, he will need to be still to rest well. The Sleep Lady mentions parents who drive around until their kid falls asleep, and then they stop the car somewhere, and the parent works on their laptop while the kid sleeps in the car seat for a while.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:43 PM on October 2, 2012

And final follow-up thoughts:

11. avoid creating an association between food or the bottle and sleep - feed your little guy with enough time for him to run around before naptime, and you can give him a snack or a bit of milk right when he wakes up, further distancing any association between sleep and food.

12. make a little getting up routine - similar to going to bed, if getting up is an event, it can help to define bedtime and naptime. When it's time to get up, open the windows and make the room nice and bright, and you could offer a small snack.

A number of these ideas come from The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight: Gentle Proven Solutions to Help Your Child Sleep Well and Wake Up Happy. Unfortunately, she skims over what to do if your kid finds your presence agitating instead of soothing, but I like most of her other suggestions.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:24 AM on October 3, 2012

Thank you so much! Especially the young rope-rider. We now have a baby who only wakes up once or twice during the night and it is heavenly.
posted by brambory at 6:35 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

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