Please, please, please, please, please sleep.
June 9, 2014 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Our 6 month old has never slept well. The sleep deprivation is destroying me. Is there anything we haven't thought of? Anything else we can try?

He's 6 months old. A big, healthy boy. Happy, easygoing, easy to take places - he has a serious appetite for novelty. Charming and sweet. EXTREMELY energetic and active. A really easy baby, during the day. Never had colic, never cried much at all. His family loves him very much. While his father and I are at work (I have a very flexible schedule and spend as much time with him as possible, working at home when I can), his grandparents (both sets, alternating) care for him.

On a great night, he wakes twice to nurse and goes back to sleep right away. On an average night he wakes maybe 5 times, and sometimes quite difficult to settle, waking after 5 minutes several times in a row before he's back to sleep for good. On a terrible night, which is maybe 30% of them, he's up for hours in the middle of the night and is almost impossible to settle the rest of the time, waking 10-15 times. He won't nurse (pushes breast away), he doesn't want to cuddle (tries to climb out of arms), but he won't lie down or be put down - the ONLY thing that works is walking him very briskly. Sometimes even after he's been deeply asleep while walking for 20 minutes he wakes up the instant we try to put him down. He wakes for the day between 5-6 AM.

Once a few weeks ago he slept 6 hours (actually he woke after 3 and put himself back to sleep). A few days ago he slept from 11:30-5:00. These are the two longest stretches of sleep he's ever had.

There is no pattern that we can discern to his good and terrible nights even after analyzing everything we can think of. They come and go and it's absolutely maddening. Teething does seem to make things worse, but his sleep has been terrible in various shifting ways since the day he was born.

Co-sleeping DOES NOT HELP. He flops around between us and gets mad that he doesn't have room to roll and sprawl - after tossing and turning for a few minutes he'll wake up and cry. He doesn't want to be cuddled. Having him in our room was convenient for us, but we kept waking him up, so now he's in his own room.

He generally naps 3 times a day. Until a month ago, his naps were always 40 minutes long exactly. Now they vary from 35 minutes to 2 hours. There is no pattern whatsoever that we can determine, either to the length of his naps or how his naps affect nighttime sleep. His first nap is 2 hours after he wakes up (so, usually starting at 7:30 AM), the second is about 2.5 hours after the first, and the third is about 2.5 hours after the second. If he's not awake for 3 hours before bedtime he has a very hard time falling asleep. We sway to some music, then sing his special song, and then put him down in his crib for naps unless we are out and about, in which case he may nap in his jogging stroller or more likely the Ergo. He virtually always goes down awake. Maybe 50% of the time it takes more than one attempt to get him to got to sleep but it's usually not too hard.

Sometimes he wakes up peacefully and plays around in his crib before calling out. Sometimes he wakes up and fusses immediately but is happy to see us when we walk in. Sometimes he begins screaming in his sleep - eyes tightly closed - and needs to be bounced and walked (and possibly even taken outdoors) before he will wake up, but when he does he calms right down. There is no pattern to the type of wakeup we get.

So what have we tried?
1. He's had an iron-clad bedtime routine since he was 2 months old. Books, singing (special bedtime song) and cuddling, bath, nursing, put down awake in his crib. He used to be put down awake in his co-sleeper in our room; his sleep was NOT better at that point. He goes to bed at 7:30. We NEVER alter his routine. Virtually every night he goes down awake and puts himself to sleep. Despite this, his sleep is unbelievably bad.

2. After extensive experimentation, to the best of our knowledge, he is not too hot or too cold. His clothes do not hurt him. We have tried multiple brands of both cloth and paper diapers.

3. His room is dark (blackout curtain) but not pitch black.

4. There is soft white noise (sound of waves) playing in his room.

5. He has a lovey. It helps (he cuddles it when he falls asleep, and clearly likes it) but obviously not enough.

6. He takes a pacifier only very inconsistently. It almost never helps. He pulls it out and plays with it, banging it on the crib bars or throwing it on the floor. Usually we do not even give him one. He doesn't suck his thumb.

7. Once, we left him alone for 10 minutes to see what would happen. He fussed for 3 minutes and then cried for 7 minutes before we went to get him.

8. I have tried removing ALL common allergens from my diet for several weeks (basically eating nothing but rice, fruit and veggies). It made no difference.

9. We've tried BioGaia baby probiotics. No clear result.

10. We've already looked into hiring a sleep consultant - we can begin on June 23.

11. We've talked to the pediatrician; our son is perfectly healthy as far as we can tell. His development is great; he sits independently, creeps, babbles, etc. He's VERY tall for his age (father is tall).

12. He eats solid food now, cereals and fruits and veggies. Seems to really enjoy it and we know he's taking in a fair bit from his diapers. Hasn't helped him sleep.

There are probably more things we've tried that I've forgotten right now. I am so sleep deprived that I feel like I'm drowning. It breaks my heart that I'm so tired I can hardly enjoy my sweet baby, and after the tantalizing periods of several days when he does sleep well, it's even harder to return to this ugly dazed zombie state that I hate. I have already given up everything I can give up: all of my free time, my exercise time, non-essential chores, social opportunities, even work opportunities that would be good for me. I go to bed at 8:15. My husband does a LOT of nighttime parenting, and he's also very tired, although as the non-nursing parent it's not quite as bad for him. We don't want to leave our son to cry, but we can't go on this way. Is there anything else we can do? Has anybody else had a baby with sleep THIS poor and this inconsistent? (We're not talking about a few wakings to nurse here - that sounds like heaven.) What did you do?

Help me. Please. This is hell.
posted by Cygnet to Health & Fitness (84 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried letting him cry it out? If he's already trying solid food, he's got enough in his stomach to last him all night.
posted by Oktober at 9:21 AM on June 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

My pedi recommended a gentle cry-it-out approach at just that age for our terrible sleeper. I did not take her advice, which I sincerely regret, and went on being a sleep-deprived zombie until she was two. (No, no magic occured, we finally did cry-it-out and things got better.)
posted by chocotaco at 9:26 AM on June 9, 2014 [12 favorites]

I'm so sorry to hear how hard this is for you. From what I understand I was the exact same way as a baby and toddler. I would never nap and rarely sleep. But I was healthy and fine. My parents suffered in a way that sounds similar to your suffering. In the end babies are just small humans (profound, I know), and like us some sleep easily some do not sleep easily.

I think at this point (since you have already had your child examined by a doctor) you need to start prioritizing your own mental/physical health. I don't mean that you should ignore your baby, but that you need to figure out ways to take care of yourselves. For example, maybe you have your parents/family take care of your baby for one night, and you and your husband catch up and have a sleep marathon. This might not feel right at first, since you want to always be there for your child, but you really need to understand that not only will your baby be fine, but that you need to take care of yourselves. Or perhaps you and your husband alternate nights sometimes. Something that lets you catch up.
posted by jjmoney at 9:27 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

7. Once, we left him alone for 10 minutes to see what would happen. He fussed for 3 minutes and then cried for 7 minutes before we went to get him.

There's your problem. Once. And only letting him cry for 7 minutes before giving in.

Tonight, when he wakes up and starts crying, let him cry. You know there is nothing wrong with him, nothing that will hurt him. Let him cry until he stops and goes back to sleep. The next time, do the same thing. Stick with this.

You've basically trained him He's basically trained you that when he cries, you'll come to him. You need to break that connection. Because it's well reinforced, it may take some time. Could be a week, could be a month. But it will work.

Yes, 20-30 minutes of crying, or whatever, will keep you awake, too. Get earplugs, read a book, but don't go to him.
posted by beagle at 9:27 AM on June 9, 2014 [33 favorites]

Try fewer naps. 3 sounds like a lot of naps to me. Try cutting down to two naps and then one nap a day. Not all kids need multiple naps. Mine didn't.
posted by Kangaroo at 9:27 AM on June 9, 2014 [17 favorites]

It's simplistic but I did cntrl-F "swaddle" and don't see it. Have you tried swaddling? For us it was the absolute difference between sleeping and not for our first son. Second, not so much, but maybe that's the ticket to sanity for you?
posted by dirtdirt at 9:27 AM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

7. Once, we left him alone for 10 minutes to see what would happen. He fussed for 3 minutes and then cried for 7 minutes before we went to get him.

What we did at... roughly the same time as this? Maybe? This was like 2 years ago... is this:
1. Leave him to cry for 1 minute.
2. Go back in, comfort until he's calm. Put him back down.
3. Leave him to cry for 2 minutes.
Keep going until he falls asleep for good. I think we nearly hit 20 minutes the first night. Use a stop watch! 7 minutes of crying feels like 30 sometimes.
Next night, do the exact same thing, but start at 2 minutes.
Next night start at 3 minutes. And so on.

I think it was after about a week? or 10 days? where we didn't have to do this any more, he'd go off to sleep himself in under 10 minutes.

This method is (by my own reckoning) teaching you to leave him to cry as much as it's teaching him to go to sleep on his own.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: this worked for us, may or may not work for you. This applies to everything people will post in this thread so do not feel disheartened if something you try doesn't work.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:28 AM on June 9, 2014 [16 favorites]

Also swaddling, yeah (with STANDARD DISCLAIMER as above).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:29 AM on June 9, 2014

When he wakes at night, what is his mood like - fussy, angry, tired, or just "wakeful"?

One preliminary thought: I see from your profile that you're in the Eastern U.S., which means that Lil' Cygnet was born at the beginning of The Winter From Hell. I'm not sure how much "outside" time he may generally get (I myself was a bit of a homebody after Wee Thumbscrew was born), but you MAY wish to take him outside for a few hours during a sunny part of the day, just to see if it helps adjust his circadian rhythms.

Also, on preview, agreeing with everyone else who's suggested trying some variant on crying-it-out. It's SO VERY HARD, especially for first-time parents, but you're doing both baby AND yourself a favor: you're helping him develop self-soothing skills AND you're getting yourself to a point where you can get enough sleep to function and enjoy life (and your baby) more.
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:30 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Swaddling - he was swaddled every day until he learned to roll back to front at 3.5 months. There is no force on earth that could keep this kid on his back at this point, so we can't swaddle him.
posted by Cygnet at 9:33 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

FFS. My first child was like that, I never did cry-it-out, she's three and she sleeps in her own bed perfectly fine now (aside from illness or the random midnight potty-trip). CIO is not the inevitable evil.

On the other hand I did suffer through a lot of what you're describing for the first year. My main thought is, he's definitely sleeping too much during the day. Both my kids took two naps at that age, they were long past the "wake-then-sleep-then-wake-at-random" newborn phase by then. So less naps for sure. Longer periods between sleep. More food/milk before bed - have you started solids yet? That helps. If my kid is/was stuffed before bed, he/she slept longer.

But overall some babies are better sleepers than others. My second one is soooo much easier, I can literally change his diaper and move him around while he sleeps and he doesn't even notice.
posted by celtalitha at 9:34 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Outside time - he's generally out at the park for at least a couple hours every day. We take him to playgrounds and he loves to sit and play in the grass. He's been going out every day since he was 2 days old. We do almost all our errands with him because he loves to be out and about.

Mood at night - totally variable. Sometimes he wakes up terrified and screaming, sometimes just a teeny fuss to let me know he's hungry, sometimes wakeful and playful, sometimes confused and whiny and exhausted.
posted by Cygnet at 9:35 AM on June 9, 2014

My son was similar with the napping and sleeping. At around 7 months he just decided to start sleeping through the night. A normal night is 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep (7pm to 7am) and it's been that way for 9 months.

Be patient, it will work out.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:36 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Coming back to say that I like EndsOfInvention's variation on my suggestion of just letting him cry it out. I'm suggesting cold turkey, EndsOf is suggesting a gentler phase in (though I think you could proceed in 2-3 minute jumps rather than 1 more minute per night). And, seconding that it's you that's being trained here, as well as him.
posted by beagle at 9:37 AM on June 9, 2014

He's sleeping an average of 2 to 2.5 hours during the day - do people really feel this is too much?
posted by Cygnet at 9:37 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some important tangential advice: until you get this figured out, you and your husband should take turns: First night he takes care of the baby whenever it wakes and you get to sleep through the night uninterrupted. Second night you take care of the baby whenever it wakes and he gets to sleep through the night. Etc etc.

This won't help your son's sleep (others have addressed that) but it will stop you from losing your mind in the mean time.
posted by alms at 9:38 AM on June 9, 2014 [10 favorites]

My second kid was a lot like this. She was ON THE GO all the time. At 10.5 months, we went to the ped and asked for help.

I was very much against CIO. My ped recommended I sleep as far away from the baby and put my husband in charge. First night, she was a demon. Seriously. Second night, she fussed on and off but slept more than she had any day previously. Third night, she slept "normally."

She loves me more than the Earth and the Sky. Sometimes you have to do what is best for the kids. I promise my daughter doesn't remember 3 nights of CIO.
posted by heathrowga at 9:39 AM on June 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

You are going to get a lot of advice about it being time to let him cry it out, and I understand you may be uncomfortable with this advice, but I remember this time, even though it has been years. I was this tired, and it was very difficult to function or think clearly and I wish, so very much, someone had given me this advice. You have to try it, whatever method you choose, for at least a week. Whatever you and your partner agree to try, be on the same page and support each other. What works for one child may not work for another, but here's our story for what it is worth: It took three days. The first night was 20 minutes of crying, the next night was 7, the third night was 3 minutes, and then after that she slept, that's right, she didn't wake up for hours a time anymore (she also only wanted to be walked around). She was a little older, about 8 months, but similar enough in age I think to be of help. I still nursed one or two times a night for a while, but my god it was like I finally woke up. Do this for yourself, for your family, you may cry along with your child, but try it for a week.
posted by dawg-proud at 9:39 AM on June 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

Bah, you said he is eating solids. Regardless, make sure he's full before bed.

2-2.5 hours isn't a lot, but three separate naps is too often.
posted by celtalitha at 9:39 AM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Does he eat anything other than milk yet? Back when my kids were babies a long time ago doctors recommended starting solid food quite a bit earlier, as early as three months if I remember correctly. I found that feeding them in the evening helped them sleep longer. With one of them I had to do the let him scream thing, he stopped crying after three or four nights.
posted by mareli at 9:41 AM on June 9, 2014

Regarding the amount of nap time, it is maybe a bit long, but really I agree it's maybe that 3 naps are too many. As I said before different children need different things, but I believe that this may be the age to think about transitioning to two naps instead of three, with the thought that child is waking up from second nap earlier than now (more time between nap and bedtime).
posted by dawg-proud at 9:43 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

1) Is he really rolling when he's swaddled well? Generally, even babies that can roll over can't when well swaddled. I strongly recommend a Miracle Blanket; much easier to get it right than with a regular blanket.

2) If you're going to do cry it out, decide BEFORE what you are going to do. You aren't going to make good decisions at 2:37 am. Then do it - with adjustments within reason. Otherwise you (well, we) just start giving in inconsistently, which isn't is as helpful as a consistent action. Are you going to wait 20 minutes? 30? Two hours? Five hours? And yes, he very well might cry for many many hours the first night, and second, and third. I hope he won't, but he might. Are you going to go in to reassure him every 15 minutes? Or not? (Though you might have to adjust based on his reaction - we found that the "reassuring" made things worse.)

It will work, but it is really hard.

Not doing it is also really hard.

Good luck.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:43 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you want to tackle "CIO", get the Ferber book and use his chart. It makes it so easy- it breaks it down by the minute how often to go in for checks every night. This is helpful because 2 minutes of baby crying feels like 30; using an actual timer is comforting because you realize your kid is very unlikely to die in the 3 minutes between this check and the next one.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:43 AM on June 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

We resisted cry-it-out until 9 months, but nothing else worked. Coming back in after a few minutes only riled him up more, so we had to go cold turkey. The first night, he cried for 40 minutes, 20 minutes, and 15 minutes. The second night, twice for 10 minutes. Third night, maybe 5 minutes in total. He's now 14 months and occasionally still throws us a wild night, but things have been much, much better since the cry-it-out. I think we saved both him and us a lot of suffering in the end.

Something to consider is the total number of hours he spends in bed, either napping or during the night. At his age, I believe it should be in the 12-14 hour range. If you're exceeding that, it may be time to go down to 2 naps. I think it happened around the same age for us.
posted by Behemoth at 9:43 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, friend, I remember that feeling so clearly, where the world is all muffled and nightmareish and cloudy because you just can't rest. It's so hard. So hard!

My daughter is a year old and we finally decided to sleep train her at about nine months. She's a tiny little thing, and was exclusively breast fed until she started some solids at 11 months, and I was terrified that she wouldn't be able to make it through the night without nursing. Or that she would because we made her and then she would fall off her weight gain curve and the pediatricians would arrest us, or something. But we finally, finally had had enough and (librarian that I am) I did a boatload of research on how to do this without torturing Norah, my husband, or me. We follow a lot of attachment parenting principles, and we've both got a history of neglect, so this was such a hot button issue.

We went with Ferber because that method allowed us to set intervals for comforting. So, we took all the disparate pieces we already had in place (set bed time, general routine, long neglected cow lovey named Moo) and put them together. And the first night, we let her cry for five minutes before we went in. A week from that, we would let her roll around and fuss for 30 minutes before we went in to see what she was on about. Lately, we sing to her cows (Moo and Chocolate Moo) and pop her on her tummy and tell her that we'll be back in 30 minutes if she needs us. Sometimes she does. Sometimes she cries and settles down. Sometimes she sings a weirdly charming tuneless baby song and settles down. Sometimes she stands up, reaches the diaper basket and knocks the whole thing on her head. Instead of treating sleep as some monolithic thing that has to be right every time, we just kind of roll with it, knowing that each day isn't necessarily indicative of the next.

Two things helped me. The first one is that our pediatric nurse reminded us that babies sleep through when they're ready. There aren't, she said, a lot of stats that really prove that the introduction of solid food make a huge difference. "When she's ready," our sympathetic nurse said, "she'll do it. And you will be SO HAPPY." The other thing that helped me so much was that my very nice husband suggested that I do some extra pumping so that he could do a couple of night feedings. I got three full nights of sleep in a row and I was like a completely different human being. I recognized myself again, and I sat so much comfortably in my new life after a little rest.

Norah is just over a year old. Last night she woke up twice to nurse for an HOUR each time. I'm a little tired today, but I'm not overwhelmed because I know that last night doesn't mean that this is forever. Baby stuff is always temporary.

Message me if you need a hug or some support. I swear that Norah loves us even more now that we've helped her learn to get some good sleep. You got this!
posted by Pardon Our Dust at 9:44 AM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Our pediatrician told us that a baby should be able to sleep "through the night" (8-10 hours) once they hit 15 pounds or so. Just because he's waking up doesn't mean he needs to eat.

CIO is definitely one method to consider as noted above. Our daughter was a great sleeper until she was about 2 years - then she suddenly wanted to stay up, would cry nonstop when we put her down, etc. We did the modified CIO as detailed by EndsOfInvention and now she knows that bedtime is bedtime and that she should put herself to sleep.

But I also notice that you say he will sleep well in the stroller or the baby carrier - perhaps it's lying flat (back or stomach) that's the problem. Has you pediatrician ruled out acid reflux? Many babies have it and although most grow out of it quickly, some don't. Our son had terrible reflux for his first 6 months, to the point that we were giving him Mylanta after every meal and an extra dose before bedtime to prevent waking. We also slightly elevated one side of his crib mattress (only about a 10 degree incline) so that gravity would help. He likes to crawl around his crib in all directions, but will naturally orient himself head-up when he finally settles down.
posted by trivia genius at 9:46 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

On getting help - My husband often takes as much of the night as he can. I can't sleep all night because I will wake up in pain and need to nurse or pump. On a really bad night the ONLY way to get our son to sleep is to nurse him lying down so he doesn't have to be transferred, and that requires that both of us lie in bed to keep him from rolling out. So, on the worst nights, there's no way for me to opt out at the moment, although my husband gives me a break on better nights. My parents have offered to take the baby for a night, giving him pumped milk, and I think we may take them up on it this weekend. Our place is tiny; I think we may have to sleep elsewhere if this is going to work, but the thought of it breaks my heart.

Reflux - he has no reflux symptoms. He spits up maybe once a week at this point. No silent reflux symptoms either; we know what to look for. We've tried elevating his bed anyway, and it didn't help. I guess he could still theoretically be uncomfortable lying down - it certainly looks that way sometimes!!
posted by Cygnet at 9:52 AM on June 9, 2014

nthing Ferber. We didn't want to do it at 6 months because our daughter was only about 5% for weight, but by 13 months we literally couldn't take it anymore. In our case it took about 4 nights, and the first night it took hours (going in to comfort her every 3-5-7 minutes or whatever it was.)

It was hard. But it was wonderful. She has reliably slept through the night since, which is better FOR HER TOO.
posted by kestrel251 at 9:54 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I did the Ferber style check and console method mentioned above, worked great, improved things hugely in just a few days exactly as above.

I highly recommend you try it. It's just my personal opinion but I can't see how having depressed, miserable zombie parents is better than going through a few nights of sleep training. Sleep training is hard though and I won't minimize that. I strongly recommend you leave your house and let your husband do it if he can handle it, especially just the first two nights.

Good luck. Hope things get better soon. If that method doesn't appeal to you maybe try reading the No Cry Sleep Solution. I didn't like the book but maybe you will - I know others who have. And by the way, you don't need a baby who can't roll to swaddle him. You can get a Woombie on Amazon, it's kind of like a Miracle Blanket, really easy to use and nigh impossible for any baby who can be zipped into it to bust out of. My baby loved it because flailing around in her crib was very distracting for her. We used it until she outgrew the "mega baby" size! They aren't cheap though.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:02 AM on June 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I know swaddling isn't an option, but have you tried any of the interim movement-restraint outfits? We moved from a swaddle to the Magic Merlin, and had a lot of luck getting my daughter to sleep for long stretches of time in it--it stopped the startle reflex from waking her up, and when she did wake up, pulling her arms to her fact was *possible* but difficult, and she would sometime soothe herself back to sleep trying to reach her hands.

I see you are in Cambridge. I'm just across the river in JP, and my daughter has outgrown her Merlin suit... message me if you'd like to use mine!
posted by Mayor West at 10:02 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Swaddle him tightly, sand then wrap another such blanket around your own head to cover your ears because he's gonna be pissed. Do it in increasingly-long intervals, and you'll get there. (This worked on all four of our kids.)

I was also going to suggest reflux, but you already checked that. So yeah, I will vote for tying yourselves to the mast and pushing though. It'll suck, yes, but it's so worth it in the end.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:10 AM on June 9, 2014

Up until recently, my 9-month old was still nursing 2-3 times at night. We co-sleep and he likes to cuddle, so it wasn't anywhere near this bad. However, finding the right pacifier has made a huge difference in getting him to sleep through the night.

We read Ferber and he recommends ending night nursing before moving to the crib - but this was easier said than done. He never took to a pacifier or sucked his thumb and was pretty much incapable going back to sleep without nursing. But on my doctor's advice, I went to Target and purchased a pacifier from each brand. Once I popped a Mam 6 month+ paci in his mouth, he was perfectly content. Now, he still wakes up once or twice at night, but I just make sure he has his pacifier and rub his back and he's fine.

Good luck!
posted by galvanized unicorn at 10:13 AM on June 9, 2014

Pacifiers - he initially rejected all of them. We tried 6 brands until we got one he would take occasionally. We've tried Dr. Brown's, Nuk, NaturSutten, Soothie... and two more, I forget the names. Both latex and silicone. Never tried Mam though.

Swaddling - by 8 weeks he got out of the Miracle Blanket in about 5 minutes so we had to stop using it. We also used muslin swaddles, Summer Infant swaddles, and our favorite was the Halo sleep sack/swaddle. However, yes, he can roll while tightly swaddled, and since he now prefers to sleep on his tummy, I think it would be dangerous :(

No Cry Sleep Solution - we read it a few weeks ago; we've tried everything in the book already. Doesn't seem to help.
posted by Cygnet at 10:17 AM on June 9, 2014

I think you should take your parents up on their offer, not because it will solve the sleep issues, but because you are too tired to think straight and need time to breathe. Then talk to your husband about what approach you want to take. Also, if it will work for the two of you, allow him to encourage you to stick to your plan when you're wavering in the middle of the night. You could wear headphones to help, or leave for a while. I tried that, but somehow felt I needed to hear and know what was going on, just do what is best for you as a family.
posted by dawg-proud at 10:21 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you use white noise? I'm not talking a Sleep Sheep, I'm talking an adult high-quality machine? Made a HUGE difference for us.
posted by handful of rain at 10:23 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree that he might be taking too many naps (which is not the same thing as too much sleep) during the day. My daughter was taking two naps a day at that point, about an hour each, and sometimes a 20-minute catnap, so she was getting about the same amount of sleep but in different chunks. It seemed to make a difference; she slept okay through the night at that point.

We did Ferber's CIO method at 10 months - she had been a great sleeper then started waking up every 45 minutes for a month or so and we were so sleep deprived we couldn't drive safely. It was awful for a few days and rough for a few weeks, but WOW. Totally worth it. (I was 100% against CIO before that, but I was seriously at the end of my rope.) She's a pretty good sleeper now (at 20 months) but one thing that no one has really mentioned - if you do end up doing CIO, just know that it will work - but things change. Growth spurts, teething, illness, just having a bad night - all of these things will happen to a sleep-trained baby, and it doesn't mean that you or the sleep training have failed. Just like we sometimes have a bad night, babies do too. You'll be much more equipped to deal with it when you're getting enough sleep on a regular basis, but also know that it's coming and it's okay to bend the rules when needed but you do need to be pretty consistent and strict on the whole, including holidays, vacations, etc.

(Also, I know it's uncomfortable, but if you want to not nurse or pump at night, you can train your body to do that. Continuing to release milk at that time will ensure that you keep making enough milk to release at that time. It shouldn't affect the rest of your supply to wean down the night feedings/pumpings gradually. But it does make for some uncomfortable and sleepless times, so you might want to get it over with at the same time as CIO, if you go that route.)
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:25 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wasn't going to do any sleep training, but at 11 months we finally followed the Sleep Lady program because I was just so frustrated and exhausted. My son was a bit different from yours in that he was never able to fall asleep on his own before that (had to be nursed/rocked to sleep for naps and bedtime). Sticking through this plan seriously sucked, but after a couple weeks his sleep got SO MUCH BETTER. While you might not have to do this at bedtime, you might want to give it a shot for middle of the night wake-ups. I still nursed him once at night (so long as it was after midnight), and you can do that too. The whole point is just to get baby used to getting back to sleep on his own.

The crying was really, really upsetting to me (as the bedtime parent), but since I was sitting in the baby's room with him, it felt less cruel than just leaving him to cry it out and him wondering if he'd been abandoned. I also moved away slower than the book advised since that's what worked for us.
posted by Safiya at 10:26 AM on June 9, 2014

1) Too many naps! Go down to two naps.

2) Cry it out. Read the book, steel yourself, and the pain will be over in a few nights. It's not punishment, it's a kindness for everyone, including your child.
posted by barnone at 10:29 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry you're going through this. I've been there, and it's awful. It's not the environment, or the naps. It's your kid's temperament, and you have two choices:

1. Wait it out as long as you can. I've seen it snap into place without intervention, and I've seen 3 year olds who still have problems. It's really impossible to know what will happen with yours.

2. Do some variation of cry it out. Read Ferber and Weissbluth (fwiw, I find Weissbluth's sleep requirements more accurate for infants and Ferber's better for toddlers).

That's it. I was very pro-co-sleeping and anti-cry-it-out. I tried EVERYTHING. Then I almost walked in front of a bus out of exhaustion. We did CIO and I slept again. Life became so good I now have another baby:)

And I have to say -- my second was a champion sleeper and didn't require any sleep training. She is her own person, but in terms of confidence, attachment, all the things that attachment parenting is supposed to promote? There is no difference between them. None.

If you chose not to CIO, then that's fine. Work on ways to mitigate. Hire a baby nurse, take shifts, etc. But don't think that you're suffering through sleep deprivation for your baby's sake. It'll be for you, so you can be the parent you want to be. Which is a completely valid reason not to sleep train! But don't get caught into thinking that it's a failure if you do. It isn't. Baby will be fine (and sometimes better, if he's fussy out of sleep deprivation like mine was).
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:31 AM on June 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Have you tried leaving on some very gentle background music all night (instead of just when first going to sleep)? Probably worth a try. Also how about adjusting the ambient light (lighter and darker) to see if that helps. Also how about some sort of teddy bear / stuffed animal? Is it possible he's too hot or too cold? My child was and still is warm without a blanket, or with a very light blanket or sheet, for most of the night and only gets cold around 4 or 5 am. I think a lot of kids generate a lot of internal heat on a cycle like that. As for the cry it out thing, yes some people advocate that method, but if you are not comfortable with it, then there's no reason you should feel you have to do it.
posted by Dansaman at 10:38 AM on June 9, 2014


My first was like that. Nothing worked. Nothing. We tried everything. We'd get these random nights of great sleep and we just got used to napping on the weekends.

He was 3 before he regularly slept through the night.

I hate to break it to you, but many kids are like that --- and the idea of any kind of sleep training working is laughable to me after two children with very different sleep patterns.
posted by zizzle at 10:41 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Our daughter didn't sleep. My wife was starting to fall apart after about 6 months, kinda like you.

We Ferberized her. It worked. Not easy. My wife thinks it might have taken a couple weeks before it took, but it did work.
posted by mattu at 10:56 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ceiling fans are pretty hypnotic at that age and provide some white noise.

If you are not sleeping and Boy is not sleeping, why lie in bed thinking about sleep? Get out of bed. PBS was running Teletubbies late at night when I needed it and that show is also intriguing to adults at 3 am.

You got stars, or a moon or a street light? Wondrous things to walk beneath. You have to present them as wondrous things. Get that little mind whirring so fast that it must sleep. 20 minutes. You'll both be sleepy.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 10:59 AM on June 9, 2014

Mr. Yuck, We actually tried taking him outside for a moonlight walk last night. It hyped him up. He was WIRED for 90 minutes after that, he just found it so exciting. :(
posted by Cygnet at 11:00 AM on June 9, 2014

Six months is a bit young, but this: "Sometimes he begins screaming in his sleep - eyes tightly closed - and needs to be bounced and walked (and possibly even taken outdoors) before he will wake up, but when he does he calms right down." sounds exactly like night terrors. It's a hiccup in the transition between deep sleep stages (I think the pede said), and most children outgrow them as their brains mature. Children become hysterically upset, inconsolable, and cannot be awoken because they're not having a nightmare or waking up; they're in a deep sleep stage. It is horrible, terrifying, and awful for parents, but the children do not remember night terrors and are not upset by them. Generally the pediatrician will tell you to NOT attempt to wake up your night-terror-having child, as it's difficult (or impossible) to wake them, and if you succeed the child is disoriented and takes longer to go back to sleep. (I can't leave my sobbing, terrified, dead-asleep child there alone when he has night terrors, but I do no longer try to wake him from them and just sit by the bed suffering and waiting for it to be over so I know he's okay before I go back to bed.) Ask your pediatrician whether these are night terrors. I know it's unlikely you'll just ignore them and go back to sleep because they suuuuuuuuck and make your adrenaline race, but at least you don't have to panic, get him up, walk him, go outside, etc. ... you can just wait anxiously for it to subside on its own.

We also did modified CIO with one of our kids ... we didn't pick up to soothe or wait until he was fully calm, we just spoke calmly and rubbed the baby's torso (whichever side happened to be up) and left after a minute or so, so he knew he hadn't been abandoned but we were going to get him up. We did the graduating time -- 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes ... It took us maybe 4 or 5 days, and I don't recall we ever got past the 30-minute checkin (so like an hour in total of crying the second night, which for us was worse than the first). Queue up some good movies because that time crawls like whoa.

BTW, a baby's sleep cycle is about 45 minutes, so a 40-minute nap means he's coming up into the shallow sleep near waking and waking up then. It is perfectly normal, and if he's waking up 45 minutes after going to sleep at night (or during the day when you think he needs a longer nap), give him a little time to soothe himself back to sleep, especially once you've got the sleep training underway. Helping them learn to sleep through that 45-minute mark and not come all the way awake is a big milestone and helps them sleep longer at night.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:15 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you have a baby swing? Maybe if you want to try something before cry it out, you can see if he wakes in the night, putting him a baby swing for a few mins calms him down?
posted by WeekendJen at 11:20 AM on June 9, 2014

Caveat - I don't have children, but I've babysat a bit and the swing really is like a sleeping pill.
posted by radioamy at 11:40 AM on June 9, 2014

Thanks everybody. As you might have guessed, we really, really, really don't want to do CIO but as the comments suggest, we're not sure what else we can do at this point.

Our son doesn't seem to be waking for any of the reasons CIO-criticizers suggest. I've read dozens of scientific reviews and informed opinions about the dangers of CIO - they all suggest that babies are crying because they want to be in contact with their parents in one way or another. But our son doesn't want a cuddle. Sometimes he wants to nurse, but not always, and once he's gotten upset he REFUSES to nurse. He's not soothed by our presence, as far as we can tell. It's baffling and sad and makes us question what we're doing wrong a million times a night.

(During the day he's super happy and gives us giggles and grins all day long. He cackles and bounces ecstatically when we come home. It's easy to make him laugh and we take him everywhere with us. He just doesn't seem to want comforting when he can't sleep. Trying to cuddle up to him to "make him feel safe" just makes him pissed off that he can't move.)

Did anybody else have a child like this? What do you make of this behavior?
posted by Cygnet at 11:54 AM on June 9, 2014

At a total guess, I think that your son needs to learn to "self-soothe", and that your efforts to help him might be just over-stimulating him. Babies are different, and attachment parenting stuff works great for some, and not great for others.

I really, really, really hear you on how much you don't want to do CIO, and I felt just the same way. But as someone who's gone through this, I would really urge you to give it a solid, committed try. For maybe two weeks. Think about your plan in advance, use a timer, be ready to have it feel very stressful and get worse for a few days. We did a sleep consult where the consultant (who works with astronauts!) said that if there's no improvement by day 4, call it off, it's not working. I found that a very helpful metric. (not resolution by Day 4, just some small improvement.) Think about like this, what you're doing now isn't working. You're all tired and upset. You've given this approach 6 months. Give him two weeks to figure it out for himself. (I personally like the Ferber method with going in at set intervals, but YMMV).
posted by chocotaco at 12:12 PM on June 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

Did anybody else have a child like this? What do you make of this behavior?

Yup. My oldest was hell on wheels. Every minute of every day of the first 12 years of his life had to be arranged around making it possible for him to sleep. I am not a fan of cry it out. I won't suggest you do that. He had/has a long list of issues, including health issues, some of which I have no reason to believe apply to your situation.

But I will suggest that your description looks to me like the one thing you have not considered is this: He sounds like a bright kid who is getting inadequate mental stimulation. Bright folks often have trouble falling asleep. They often do things like read in bed at night or do crosswords puzzles in order to sufficiently mentally tired to be capable of sleeping.

The challenge is "how do you get mental stimulation for an infant?" I think brisk walking is helping because it probably shows him around visually, getting him some stimulation. I think taking him on errands is likely helping. It gets him visual exposure to a larger world. I used to put my oldest in his carrier backwards so that he was strapped to my chest but facing outwards and looking at the world. When he woke up in the middle of the night and could not sleep, I walked him around the apartment and showed him everything I could think of to show him until he got tired.

When I took care of my infant niece, also a bright baby, if she didn't go down in 20 minutes or less, I played with her. Her mom had more money than I had, so she had more toys and what not and it was a bigger house, which helped me find ways to get her mental stimulation, enough to sleep. She had been born early and had been a big challenge for her parents, sleep-wise, until I came for a month and taught the kid to sleep. They changed their routine to follow things I had done because it made their lives so much easier.

When my oldest was a toddler, he sometimes sat up screaming in his sleep after about an hour in bed. I went to the library and checked out a book on sleep issues in kids. Most of it was drivel and I already had a better handle on most things. But I did learn that this specific behavior is called "night terrors" and it did help me realize this occurred on nights when he was physically exhausted but not mentally exhausted. In other words, he was physically tired enough to sleep in spite of not being mentally tired enough to sleep. The result: A mind run wild, trapped in an unconscious body. I made sure to stop letting him get that physically exhausted and worked harder on getting him the mental stimulation he needed and it never happened again.

I strongly suspect the main issue is your baby is bright and basically bored. It is a challenge to get an infant better mental stimulation. This type issue typically gets way better in bright kids when they learn to read. In the mean time, toys, walks, play-time etc are likely your best hope.
posted by Michele in California at 12:13 PM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't have a lot to contribute, our boy sounds much like yours (active, active, active, happy, exploring) but luckily he does like to be cuddled at night, so cosleeping works for him/us.

But just wanted to say he does love the mam pacifiers, unlikely to revolutionize anything but an easy thing to try.

And fewer naps. I can't remember where we were with naps at 6 months, but we had to go down to one nap (ideally under 2hrs) at about a year bc otherwise he was tough to get to sleep and likely to wake up a lot in the middle of the night. That seemed early to go to one nap, and it does mean he has a little more tired/grumpy during the day but it's totally worth the benefit at night.

Also, probably not helpful but, we weaned early (9-10 months) because my milk dried up bc I was pregnant again, and that made a big difference in how long he'd sleep at a stretch. He'd still wake but a lot less.

Best of luck.
posted by pennypiper at 12:23 PM on June 9, 2014

I concur with a couple other posters - let the little guy cry it out. You know he's not hurt, you know he's safe; you've got to retrain his expectation. Make a 10-day commitment to let him cry, and just see how it goes. You can do it!

And good luck, no sleep = no fun.
posted by flyoverme at 12:43 PM on June 9, 2014

Oof, you have my sympathies. My son was really hard on us his first six months, so I think I know where you're at.

You say "iron-clad bedtime routine" like that's a good thing. Try loosening up the reins on that and just putting him down when the tiredness is obvious. Same for naps. Let them happen when needed rather than scheduling them for specific times of day or after specific events.

My son also had night terrors. Don't wake your son. Just let them happen. They pass.

He also did not want to be touched when we were trying to put him to sleep or when trying to induce calmness before bedtime. But we held him anyway and he quickly came to love it. Turns out that he needed to be cuddled, even if he didn't want it. I'm glad even now that we stuck it out. When he would go rigid and push himself away, as if he was trying to leap out of our arms, it would have been easy just to put him down. But it wasn't what he physically needed, regardless whether it was what he thought was best for himself. He's a baby. He doesn't know. He's just unhappy and much of his physicality is a reflexive, instinctive response and not based on knowledge of his true needs.

I also want to endorse some other suggestions: fewer naps and a lot more free play.
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:54 PM on June 9, 2014

Cygnet: "they all suggest that babies are crying because they want to be in contact with their parents in one way or another. But our son doesn't want a cuddle. Sometimes he wants to nurse, but not always, and once he's gotten upset he REFUSES to nurse. He's not soothed by our presence, as far as we can tell. It's baffling and sad and makes us question what we're doing wrong a million times a night. "

You are doing nothing wrong. Babies are all unique people and while many, many of them want their parents for better sleep, plenty don't -- and six months old is plenty old enough for him to have an opinion on that. We had both our kids in a co-sleeper next to our bed, and one of them stayed in our room for six solid months. The other one -- who is by far my snugglier one who needs far more human touch -- wanted to be IN HIS OWN ROOM when he was three weeks old. He just couldn't STAND sleeping with us right there making noise and disturbing and distracting him, and as he got more and more tired he would cry and cry from exhaustion and demand parental attention but the parental attention would keep him awake and he'd cry and push us away but then he was tired and cried so we'd come comfort him but then our comfort would make him unable to sleep and he'd push us away ... it was miserable for a while. (My theory is that because he is hyper-social, when there were humans nearby, he couldn't get himself to sleep because he'd keep himself awake to keep interacting with the humans, that being his favorite thing to do, even when he was well past the point of exhaustion, because babies are not so good at self-regulation. Sometimes when he was a baby and we'd visit grandma's house, we'd basically have to go in a closet to get him enough privacy that he could sleep.) Regardless of the reason -- and I have no idea what the reason is -- he was clear from very early on that he could only sleep if he was in a room BY HIMSELF.

He's a happy, well-adjusted preschooler now who loves us and always turns to us for comfort and just needs to go to sleep in a room alone ... even when he tries to con us into staying in with him so he can stay awake (which is now a nightly event as he is at that age when delaying bedtime is superfun even when it's for no reason).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:55 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I have a number of IRL friends with babies in the 4-6 month range, and participate in the 3-6 month baby cohort at altdotlife, and I haven't run across anyone with kids in this age range who say that 3 naps per day is too much. I have run across parents of kids a few years older than mine who are surprised at what baby iminurmefi is doing or not doing at his age; my impression is that once your kids are a bit older it's pretty easy for your memory to blur what happened at 6 months versus 8 months. (For instance, I'm pretty laid-back/non-anxious about potential dangers to my baby, as is his doctor, but I was told in no uncertain terms that babies should never be swaddled past 4 months and that's not something I would try under any circumstances once a baby can roll from back to belly.)

I have this webpage bookmarked as a handy guide to bedtimes, total sleep times, and number of naps. According to them, three naps at six months old would seem to be totally normal. I also find that Weissbluth has been pretty helpful and (at least seems) fairly evidence-based in his description of how infant sleep patterns develop. One common suggestion he has for a variety of infant sleep problems is to move bedtime earlier; in his words, "sleep begets sleep" so if bedtime is too late, the baby can be over-tired and that can lead to wake-ups in the middle of the night. (More anecdata but when baby iminurmefi gets over-tired he gets a kind of wired / energetic and DOES NOT WANT TO BE CUDDLED. It's hard because sleep is going to fix the problem but it's incredibly difficult to get him down when he's in that state.)
posted by iminurmefi at 1:08 PM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just want to echo the swaddling - that is better advice for a newborn in the fourth trimester, but at six months I'd be really surprised if the baby would tolerate that, let alone that it would be a safe way to go. I have a 3.5 year old now and an almost-three-month-old as well. We dropped my older son's swaddle right at five months, and at that time I realized I'd been using it longer than I really should have.
posted by handful of rain at 1:17 PM on June 9, 2014

This resistance to CIO even in the face of devastating sleep deprivation is very common.

Here's the thing: what if you are actively resisting something for a philosophical reason that is completely ignoring his evident needs?

Would you "decide" it was time for him to crawl on his own or feed himself, and ignore the physiological and psychological evidence that he wasn't quite there? If you believed he should only eat ever 4 hours but seems to be starving every 3 hours, would you maintain your resolve to withstand the wails of hunger for the final hour before feeding on schedule? No - of course not. You would understand that the schedule should ideally be based around evident needs, right? Those arbitrary rules seem equally rigid for the wrong reasons, right?

From the outside, it really appears that you are wanting to believe in a method that doesn't fit his personality or developmental stage.

Ask yourself what you're honestly afraid of happening. Your current philosophy says his crying requires XYZ response because he has ABC feelings. Those responses aren't working. In fact, they seem to be making things demonstrably worse.

Why not try another protocol and see what happens?

Reframe "Cry it out" -- you're not letting him wail for hours when he has genuine needs, you're teaching him how to self-soothe and calm himself down.

I've heard this scenario dozens of times. Many of us have been raised to think that CIO = abandonment and abuse. What if your continued interaction with him is dragging out his discomfort? That every time you pick him up, and try to "soothe" his anxiety you're confusing him and not letting him reach his own equilibrium?

At this point...what do you have to lose? Nobody is sleeping, nobody is happy. Surely it's worth a 5 day trial to see if things improve? The key is -- you have to do it 100%. Get a book and follow the steps. Do not interrupt the process. Think of it as an experiment to recalibrate everyone's relationship to this sleep process. Follow the steps and see if it helps.
posted by barnone at 1:51 PM on June 9, 2014 [16 favorites]

I ferberized and kind of regretted it. I did it because I'd trained my daughter to fall asleep while bouncing her - for hours. If I had to do it again I'd probably just stop bouncing. Whatever. I regretted it because she was kind of traumatized during the day. Clingy and crying. It lasted, oh, two weeks.
It did work though.

In your case, given how independent he is at night, I think ferberizing might be a good idea, though.

Also, my daughter is three and can join me in bed whenever she wants, and life is good. Also, Sleeeeeeeeep.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:59 PM on June 9, 2014

Re amount of naps: 2- 2.5 hours of nap doesn't sound like too much to me, based on my experience with one kid. She's now 2 and still naps at LEAST 1.5 hours, usually 2 hours, and sometimes up to 3.5 hours (on the weekend, darker room than at daycare, catching up after a tiring week.) But she only sleeps 10-10.5 hours at night.
posted by kestrel251 at 2:03 PM on June 9, 2014

Re crying it out.

When my oldest was 17 months old and I weaned him from the breast and it was clear he had no idea how to sleep without nursing, I let him cry it out. He was not a fan of bottles and there was not going to be a new substitute for what he had lost. He threw fits for a month and then got over it. I knew exactly why he was crying and I was clear that letting him have a fit about it was the right thing to do. So it is not always inappropriate.

But if you do not know why the baby is crying or what the problem is, well, that's where I am not a fan. And, in this case, you seem to not yet know what the problem is. So I think the problem solving approach you are currently taking is still the appropriate course of action.
posted by Michele in California at 2:19 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Two things that I don't think have been suggested:

-- go sleep in his room. Put a king-size mattress on the floor -- a thick mattress topper is just fine for temporary use for most people -- give him room to sprawl, proximity to the milk/mom, see how that rolls. Worked great here; neither of us woke thoroughly enough to care on most wakings and were able to fall back asleep without fuss.

-- there's lots of advice to cut down on naps but I had better luck with 'sleep begets sleep.' Cajoling baby awake = frustrated overtired baby here, but letting the kid fall asleep in carriers all the time = easy bedtimes.

I disagree with the 'you've trained him, etc' -- your having a sweet little fusspot of a baby is not your fault; some of them are just built that way.

I would consider dropping the 'routine.' Because why not? It isn't working! I do think older tots can benefit from 'first bath -- then stories' sorts of flexible stuff so they know the expectations and can turn into young kids who are nice about getting done with the toothbrushing and pyjamas and so on, but I don't think babies give a crap, honestly. I know 'routine' is popular advice but it seems to stress out as many parents as it 'works' for.

I too had a risibly early bedtime for myself with a baby. If you are not working outside the home and can send your schedule to hell a bit -- here there was a weird phase of nighttime waking to just look around. For a little bit it was maddening -- so mystifying, why on earth do we want to be up at 3-4am? Then it became clear that nothing I did was going to change the status quo, so on the 'we're up for no reason' stretches I tried to enjoy myself. I got a glass of liqueur. I bundled us up and went out to look at stars. We read board books and looked for the rare car on the road below. Then the kid stopped waking up like that, and it turned out I missed the quiet hours with nothing else going on but the two of us, even if they did mean getting up very late the next day. But it is totally respectable for parents of tiny kids to get up late.
posted by kmennie at 2:19 PM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

CIO. Mine hates cuddling and cosleeping. I was going to be the perfect attachment parent. My son hated it! He loves sleeping alone. He is happy and still not a cuddly guy at 3. Babies are different.

A 6 month old who is in a familiar place won't think they've been abandoned. He'll be fine.

Also, the studies showing damage from CIO are questionable at best. Studies showing that infant mental health is directly tied to parental mental health are numerous and robust. TAKE CARE OF YOU! Your baby needs you happy and healthy and well-rested.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:12 PM on June 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also, frankly, I know a lot of parents for whom night waking and miserable cosleeping lasted well into preschool or elementary school. It doesn't necessarily pass, especially if you keep reinforcing it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:15 PM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

My son was awful. He is 8 now and sleeps fine. My next was way better. He is 3 and sleeps fine. We changed a few things but some of it was pre-loaded in their personalities. Mostly I just want to give you hugs.

1. Try a 2-3-4. I am surprised not to see it on a skim of things. First nap 2 hrs after waking, second 3 hours later after waking, bedtime 4 hours after. If that is 5 pm so be it. Keep nursing on demand but start making food offering times (solids or nurse) a bit predictable.

2. This is a health emergency for you adults. Seriously. Whatever you need to do to get sleep - including turning daytime care over to someone and you sleeping all day for a few days - please consider.

3. In grade one, you honestly cannot tell who was CIOd and who was not. We did not for reasons, including sheer fear, and sometimes I wonder why not because I got no medal or gold star, just mastitis. But I am also ok with how we had to learn.

4. Check out Ask Moxie on tension decreasers and increasers. This may make you feel better about your baby's (perfectly normal sounding) approach.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:40 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, I feel for you. And I get it, what you're feeling about him not wanting to be comforted at night. It's heartbreaking because it's so, so hard to suffer and suffer and not be able to at least cuddle him. My little guy was not a pacifier-taker, self-soother, good-sleeper, etc. etc. either. And I was so terrified that if I let him CIO, he would become distant and unattached and traumatized and all these horrible things, but He Was Fine. He was and is just the type who needs limits set for him, and I finally had to say, "Look, bud, we love you but we can't party and freak out all night just because you want to. Mommy will die if we keep doing this. It has to stop. We sleep at night." Your little guy might be the same.

However you have to do it, get a few good nights of sleep for yourself and your husband. Use the grandparents and a baby nurse and whatever. Do a bit of pumping, and yes, you will be engorged and uncomfortable but even just 6 hours straight sleep for 3 nights in a row will make a big difference and your supply will likely shift to accommodate more daytime feedings and fewer nighttime ones.
Read Troublesome Tots and skim Weissbluth and Ferber and Pantley and whoever else you want and pick some method of sleep training. Just skim them, spend like 4 hours total doing this and talking it over with your husband and figure out a plan and stick to it. You will need to sleep somewhere else for at least the beginning of the night for the first few nights of sleep training, so line that up while you're not sleep deprived too. When you have your plan lined up, sit with it for a few days and then try it. You can always stop if you feel that you or your baby are not ready. Good luck and lots and lots and lots of sympathy. This is really hard.
posted by bluebelle at 9:01 PM on June 9, 2014

they all suggest that babies are crying because they want to be in contact with their parents in one way or another. But our son doesn't want a cuddle. Sometimes he wants to nurse, but not always, and once he's gotten upset he REFUSES to nurse. He's not soothed by our presence, as far as we can tell. It's baffling and sad and makes us question what we're doing wrong a million times a night.

Hahahaha, yeah, no. He's probably just grumpy and cranky because he isn't asleep already (WHY ISN'T IT WORKING!?), and you interacting with him is just waking him up and making him more irritable.

Notice that - he DOESN'T want a cuddle. That's cool. Ferber it. Let him know you're around without interrupting too much. He doesn't want a cuddle. He wants to be asleep, he just needs to be left to his own devices enough to figure it out, without feeling abandoned.

I need to repeat that:
He doesn't know how to make himself go to sleep.

I mean, they're infants. You wish you could tell them things like - You clearly want to be asleep. Protip: Closing your eyes helps. But you can't.
So, he needs to get bored with crying, because he doesn't know that crying is preventing him from sleeping. He really truly honestly doesn't know that yet.

Babies are crying because they're frustrated. You sometimes don't know why they're frustrated (but making educated guesses helps, and providing them amusing dialogue seems to lull my frustration at least). Point being, sometimes a parent is not the thing that will make them less frustrated.

This'll sound stupid, but for you, you need to release your own worries - so, voice his frustrations when he's crying. Create a little dialogue for him.
It is totally unfair that the universe won't let me sleep without closing my eyes! What's up with this gig, huh?! It's unfair mom!
You know that you're paying attention, but that it's not really about you, and it kind of releases that panicky feeling while you are quite consciously paying attention. I'd often spot small things that might actually be bugging babies - too hot, that's probably scratchy, here's a spot I'm trying to push at, so it helped for 'problem solving' too.

And hey, many of us have been there -
I was only a part-timer, I guess. But I just remember nights I'd have to hold baby in the crib, hunched over in a torturous position with my arms under him, patiently waiting for the point in about half an hour, if I was very very lucky, that I could discreetly slide my hands out - without waking him up. Good times. :P
During growth spurts he'd sometimes revert to waking every 2 hours. Every hour for a terrible couple of days after a bug. But he did at least get going to sleep down, because we let him know we were there, and not abandoning him, but left him to voice his anger and frustration at the universe for not letting him sleep, because, yes, it was very very unfair that he didn't know how sleeping worked, and that we couldn't tell him.
Point being. He's happy and loved, and at school now.

posted by Elysum at 9:23 PM on June 9, 2014

My baby likes sleeping on her tummy and never had a problem staying alive while sleeping in the Woombie (since she could roll, she wouldn't lie on her face and smother herself, in other words), but if it doesn't help him then don't bother with it.

In any case, just wanted to reinforce the many saying you are NOT doing anything wrong. Some babies don't prefer to cuddle to sleep. Mine doesn't. Trying to take her on red eye flights is kind of torturous because she cannot fall asleep on me. It's just too stimulating for her, even if I'm singing, swaddling, rocking her in the dark, doing all sorts of soothing-type things. She gets so sad and fussy when she is tired and can't get to sleep. I do think that's why your guy is grouchy in the nights as well when you try to cuddle him, because he knows he needs more sleep and isn't getting it. I also loved the Weissbluth book - the title says it all - "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" - children are happy when they can sleep as much as they need to sleep, and unhappy when they can't. Just like not all children will eat as much as they need to eat, not all children will sleep as much as they need to sleep without some help from the parents. That was the way I looked at it too. I was not doing sleep training to deprive her, I was doing it to help her to do what she wanted to do, to learn how to sleep when she wanted to. It wasn't anything personal that she didn't want to cuddle me all night - I know she loves me and that we're both the sun, moon, and stars to each other.

In short, babies want to sleep. Sleeping makes them happy. They don't always know how to achieve sleep when needed. Sleep training can help. I know after I sleep trained my baby I grew to love going in to get her in the morning, no more wake ups with fussing and crying - always wakes up after a great night's rest with a huge smile on her face and looking like a ray of sunshine. Wish her mama could do that as well as she does now….
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:59 PM on June 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I haven't read all of the responses... but out son was quite similar. He would scream like his arm had been lopped off, and when we would come into the room resist all attempts at comforting him and just cry and cry and scream and throw himself around the crib. So we figured, well he cries if we are in the room, he cries when we are out of the room, what have we go to lose by staying out of the room and seeing what happens?

Basically our own home grown version of cry it out. The first few nights, I kid you not, he cried for maybe 1.5 hours straight (yes I timed it). It was seriously hard but by then we were just frustrated, exhausted, and things were pretty grim so we toughed it out. After about a week it reduced to maybe 10 minutes, and after another week he would kick up for a few minutes before realizing we weren't going to give him any attention. Now (at 2) he coos and cahs and plays and babbles himself to sleep, rarely does he cry or scream (though it does happen from time to time). Now I always wait half an hour before checking if his diaper needs to be changed or what have you.

We also have a routine where, when he is meant to be sleeping, if we do go in to check on him, we only say "time to sleep" and that's all the words that we will say. We don't pick him up unless we need to (change diaper or sheets or whatever).

Doing this seriously saved my career and our sanity. Its hard, so so hard to listen to your baby scream and cry for 30+ minutes and do nothing. But, for us and many others, it works.
posted by Admira at 1:20 AM on June 10, 2014

Just a thought about co-sleeping and bedsharing: most parents I know who do it approach it with the mindset that your aim isn't to reduce the number of night wakings. In fact, among a lot of attachment-parenting oriented people, there's a lot of discussion about how night wakings, even many of them, are totally appropriate developmentally before a year of age, especially among breastfed kids (because milk is digested super quickly). The goal is, instead, to maximize the sleep that you get as a caretaker so that you don't have to get up and move into another room. You plop a boob in the kid's mouth without lifting them or fully waking either of you. For those who want the baby to sleep in a separate room, or are worried about the baby rolling, kmennie's suggestion of a floor mattress in the nursery pushed up against a wall so you can nurse lying down is pretty much the standard one. I also know people who sidecar a twin or toddler mattress to their adult bed to give the baby more space. But very few of them approach the general philosophy of it with the aim to extinguish night wakings, and most babies are going to wake often with a milk bar right beside them. That's normal! Developmentally appropriate!

Most bedsharing mothers I know also nurse their babies to sleep. You put a lot of emphasis on putting your baby down awake, on the bedtime routine, on discrete sleep spaces--I honestly suspect all of that is easier with bottle (especially formula feedings, because formula takes longer to digest) than it is with breastfeeding. There's a reason why parents used to put cereals in baby bottles and why first foods used to be carb-heavy baby cereals; carbohydrates slow down digestion and makes the baby sleep longer. Reaching for certain types of structure, like bedtime routines and separate sleep spaces, while also trying to feed your baby a quickly digested substance from your boobs, seems to me like it would exacerbate the problem, because it would mean that you, as the mother, have to get up and out of bed multiple times a night to feed the baby. It sounds completely exhausting.

All that being said, if it doesn't work for you, it doesn't, and that's completely fine. It's okay to realize that all sorts of parenting methods don't (and it's okay to not be okay with crying it out, too). But in your exhaustion and anxiety, it seems like you're letting the blame rest either on you and your husband--you're not doing enough, you're letting some need go unmet--or your baby, who is now a "bad" sleeper.

He's a baby. He's doing the best you can. And you're a wonderful, attentive, and caring mother. Neither of you is bad and neither is doing anything wrong. This time is hard, but it will pass. You are doing great.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:02 AM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know lots of breastfed babies who sleep through the night (meaning 6 hour stretches). Waking every two hours to eat is really not physiologically necessary at this age, your baby doesn't seem to be interested in eating or cuddling, and in fact, there are a lot of babies--not just parents--who dislike or have trouble with cosleeping past a certain age.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:17 AM on June 10, 2014

I know lots of breastfed babies who sleep through the night (meaning 6 hour stretches).

A lactation consultant of my acquaintance says that when mothers are polled, most put their babies to sleep in a separate sleep space--but wake up with the baby in bed. I know many breastfeeding mothers who fall asleep on the nursery floor with the baby. Sometimes babies sleep through the night, too (mine has, but only with hours of clusterfeeding), but two hour wakings are within the range of normal. Breastmilk takes 1-3 hours to be digested, so some babies will be awake and hungry, even if other babies won't. All variations of normal.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:37 AM on June 10, 2014

That being said, "roll with the night wakings" is not practical or easy for every family, particularly where the parents both work and need to be well-rested. If it doesn't work for you, it doesn't. I know some moms who top their babies up at night with an expressed bottle to reduce waking. That might help. I agree that letting your milk regulate at night by pumping in the morning and letting dad do a few bottle feedings should help too, even if it means withstanding engorgement for a few nights in a row. I know how awful the boob alarm clocks can feel, but the more nights you're feeding him every two hours, the more you're signalling to your body to amp up that nighttime milk production.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:53 AM on June 10, 2014

Bringing the baby to bed at the 5am waking to get a few more hours is vastly different from having everyone in the house miserable and up all night. I have no idea why the AP cosleeping ideal should be put above the baby's actual needs, which include a happy mother. Some babies do better by themselves. It isn't a formula fed only thing. We did the mattress on the floor thing and it was, frankly, ridiculous, considering that our son wanted his own space and slept a million times better once he got it. AP dogma is all well and good WHEN and if it works. If it doesn't, move on. Even if you're not working, your happiness matters. Yes, even after you have a baby. Possibly even moreso.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:58 AM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am in complete agreement with you. I was only saying that those who bedshare usually approach baby sleep from a wildly divergent angle, not from the perspective of sleeping through the night, but from the perspective of nursing on demand quickly to make it easier on the caregiver. I actually suspect that in this situation, with separate sleep spaces and a bedtime routine in place, reducing on-demand nursing and doing some sort of gentle sleep training would make more sense than having mom get out of bed every two hours to nurse the baby. Which sounds awful.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:09 AM on June 10, 2014

Yeah, I'd love to co-sleep. Unfortunately, it's not the case that he just wakes frequently if in our bed. He wakes up crying and REFUSES to nurse. There is absolutely no way I can just pop the boob in and go back to sleep. God, I wish. He pushes me away. We get up, we walk. We pace the halls. If it worked, you BETTER BELIEVE I would be doing it; it sounds so much more restful. He does fall asleep nursing sometimes, and sometimes falling asleep in our bed is the only way to get him to sleep, but he doesn't then sleep peacefully for a while. He flops around after 20 minutes or so and as soon as he runs into me he wakes up and cries. And won't nurse. Won't settle until I pick him up and walk around.

This isnt a baby waking to eat. He actively refuses to eat much of the time. And while I would be thrilled to handle his current wakings in our bed, with nursing, not only does he wake considerably more - more than hourly - but it's not even easier because we get up anyway.
posted by Cygnet at 8:24 AM on June 10, 2014

Piping back in to say that yes, my child was like this. She'd wake up and squirm and fuss and cry. She'd tolerate being nursed for a few minutes, then pop off and grumble. As stated above, what she really wanted was to sleep, and she didn't know how, because I'd never given her a chance to learn on her own. You aren't doing anything wrong; your kid just needs a low-stimulation environment to sleep. It's his temperament.

Even after I sleep trained her, my kid still woke up twice a night (around 2 and 5) to nurse. And that was ok, because she'd actually nurse, then go back to sleep. If she finished nursing and didn't doze off, back in the crib she went. She'd usually babble for a few minutes and then to to sleep. At 9 months, the 2am feed went away, and we were sleeping from 7-6am.

Good luck. I think the hardest part of parenting for me was learning to truly see my children and respond to their needs, rather than doing what I'd always envisioned doing (RIE classes really helped with this). I wanted to co-sleep, but I got babies who preferred to sleep alone. One baby loved the carrier, the other squirms and wiggles because she wants to play with her toys instead of being confined. My first nursed well into toddlerhood; the second is clearly pity nursing now at 11 months. You get who you get, and you can't take it personally. Give yourself permission to be flexible and prioritize your whole family's needs, not just baby's.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:23 PM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

My brother-in-law tried CIO with his son, who had a similarly terrible sleep pattern, and he did not see results. The baby would cry full throttle for literally hours, and though they kept at it, there was no change. In the end, they set a very rigid bedtime schedule (which you already have) and the baby responded very, very well to it.I know that's not entirely helpful advice, but I just wanted to put it out there that some babies can just cry and cry. Good luck to you and your husband.
posted by possumbrie at 12:25 AM on June 11, 2014

Hi folks. Thanks for all of your advice.

We tried elevating the crib a lot, again, in case reflux was an issue. We had him double-checked by the pediatrician for any ear issues (none). We bought a bedrail and gave cosleeping another go. We had Papa go to the baby and walk him to sleep for the first part of the night so he didn't nurse quite so much and I could sleep with earplugs in. We got better/louder white noise, set up his humidifier, and tried MAM pacifiers.

A month later he was waking up more than ever, about 6 times per night on average. Sometimes he woke up every 40 minutes.

We're on night 5 of sleep training. We couldn't stomach straight up CIO so we've been in his room with him saying soothing words, but he must go to sleep without walking or nursing. Last night he woke up just twice for 5 minutes and put himself back to sleep both times. And he's spontaneously nightweaned himself, even though I was prepared to feed him once or twice. Feeling a bit hopeful.
posted by Cygnet at 1:54 PM on August 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh, and for any future sufferers reading this post:

-Our son never cried more than 20 minutes at bedtime. It's been 7 days now and he hasn't cried at all since day 4.
-On the first night he woke just twice, which was already a massive improvement
-For the first 2 days he woke up at 3:45 AM and couldn't get back to sleep after many quiet minutes of trying (laying down, eyes closed, getting comfy). We had sort of anticipated this because we know he has trouble sleeping in the early AM and we declared it morning at 4:30 when we felt he was just getting way too upset. We left his room for a few minutes then came back in and opened the curtains and turned on the light and pretended it was morning. After the first 2 days it hasn't happened again.
-Naps have been less consistent; he's put himself to sleep peacefully in less than 15 minutes (no crying) for 80% of his naps in the last 3 days, but two naps have been inexplicably miserable.

Oh, and it's day 7 now. Last night he slept 9 hours and 45 minutes without a peep, nursed, and slept just over an hour. This is such an unbelievably radical change from the kid who woke every 40 minutes the night before we started.
posted by Cygnet at 11:08 AM on August 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

Awesome! :)
posted by EndsOfInvention at 11:48 AM on August 8, 2014

I'm so happy and relieved for you.
Things will still be a challenge, he may slide back if he gets sick or ill, but if he's sleeping, then you also get a chance to sleep, and everything seems more 'surmountable'.

Take this opportunity to really try and get some rest yourself - there's probably a part of you dying for some time to yourself, but try getting a few nights decent sleep before appreciating the little bit of space you get at night when they're sleeping more solidly.

And hey, you weren't the first person with these worries, or even concerns about sleep training (sleep learning really, on the part of the babies), and you're not the last, and probably at some point down the line, you'll use it as base of empathy, compassion and experience if you're ever discussing it with someone else having the same issues.
posted by Elysum at 11:47 PM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

So, so glad to see an update and one with sleep in it for everyone. I've wondered several times how things were going. I encourage you to take Elysum's post to heart, it is inevitable that a cold or ear infection, etc. will lead to prior sleep patterns. It is also possible to have issues due to growth spurts, travelling, or no discernible reason, but you'll have some rest now to deal with tougher night(s). It's okay to do what you need to get through those events, it won't ruin the sleep habits he's formed. It also sounds like you're feeling more confident and I want to encourage that feeling, as it's easy to doubt yourself or feel like you're doing everything wrong, however you make this work for you as a family is the right decision for you and you're doing a great job of figuring that out.
posted by dawg-proud at 9:28 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Regarding confidence - In hindsight, we are now confident that our son was waking constantly because he had gotten into the habit of doing so. It was easier than we thought it would be to help him change his bad habit, probably because a) he wasn't enjoying it either, b) he was not super young and c) he had gone to sleep on his own many times, just extremely inconsistently. Since we now know it was just an unfortunate habit, and we never left him alone to cry, and he never cried very long, yes, it's easy to feel that this was right for him. But before we started, we couldn't be 100% sure he didn't have some concrete reason for waking constantly, so it was impossible to be confident that we were making the right choice. We did everything we could to ensure that he was healthy physically and emotionally before we started, but the huge downside of sleep training is that you can't know for sure, and once you start, if you want it to work, you can't stop. So while it was remarkably effective and painless for us, I still feel wary of sleep training and grateful we didn't encounter any trouble.

Thanks so much for all the kind words.
posted by Cygnet at 6:26 AM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here's another update, 2 months later.

After about 2 weeks, our son settled into a pattern of sleeping 8-9 hours, nursing, and sleeping another 1-1.5 hours more. Hooray! We still haven't had a single second of crying since day 4. He loves his crib now. And he wakes up HAPPY!

It took longer for naps to sort out. After the first several days he never cried again before naps, but he did fuss occasionally for a few minutes. (Now, we put him down and he babbles and cooes happily to his lovey for about 10 minutes before curling up and going to sleep.) After about 6 weeks, he started lengthening his naps, and now he tends to take 2 naps of 1-1.5 hours, and possibly a 20-minute catnap in the late afternoon. While we did expect him to go to sleep on his own for his naps, we never attempted to lengthen them because we were never sure whether he actually needed more sleep. After almost 9 months of waking up sobbing from his naps, he is finally... FINALLY... waking up happy. This is because he started waking up after 40 minutes, and then going back to sleep again. Hooray!!!!!

Also, for a baby who virtually never slept deeply for his first 8 months or so, he is finally slumbering soundly. He now sleeps through construction, parties, conversations, and even occasionally my attempts to wake him up. This is a kid who was awakened by even the tiniest noise from birth. (He was NEVER a sleepy newborn!)
posted by Cygnet at 6:17 AM on September 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

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