Although the first three months of being a new mom are pretty hazy for me (lack of sleep will do that to a person), I will always remember how incredibly difficult it was to get Winston to sleep. Put him down in his crib? FORGET IT. Vibrating bassinet that was supposed to soothe babies to sleep? HA, NOPE. We tried every. single. thing. Swaddling, having him sleep in his carseat on the floor, propping up his mattress, nursing him to sleep then transferring him – nothing worked.
Now, at almost eight months old, he is a champion sleeper, who actually prefers to sleep in his crib. So what changed?
Part of it, of course, is that he “grew up”. We survived the fourth trimester, he grew out of his colic and acid reflux, and started to be a happier baby in general. But the main difference came from me purchasing, reading, and implementing the guidance found in Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Dr. Richard Ferber. Here’s our full sleep-saga, and how the Ferber method worked for us.
[[Side note: I’ve broken this post up into two parts, because it is long. I’m including a lot of (possibly unnecessary) background information about what our life was like before sleep training. If you don’t care about this stuff, go ahead and skip to Part II. I’m including it, however, because when I was desperately scouring the internet for every bit of baby sleep advice I could find, there never seemed to be a “before” story. Only “this is what we did and it’s great!” I would read those and think, “Yeah, but my baby is a bad sleeper. Like, a REALLY BAD sleeper. What worked for you would never work for me.” So I’m here to say that the transformation in Winston’s sleep habits has been nothing short of miraculous. Every baby is different, every family is different, and what worked for us may not work for you, but it’s at least something to consider.]]
I know we all hear stories about moms who have babies that are great sleepers straight out of the womb. Maybe it’s our friend, or someone we follow on Instagram, or a coworker, or just a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend. Moms at play dates who are freshly showered, without bags under their eyes, who have that “I got amazing sleep last night” glow, because their baby started sleeping six-hour stretches at the young age of two months.
I did not – I repeat, DID NOT – have one of those babies. I don’t think most moms do either. The amount of baby sleep books and internet articles prove that most of us are in the same boat, frantically searching for any advice we can find on how to convince these tiny humans that sleep is good for them. If you’re feeling hopeless and stressed out, like I was, that your baby will never sleep, you should know that you are not alone. And your baby will sleep, eventually.
About a month after he was born, we had tried everything we could think of to get Winston to sleep in his own space (see above). We were desperate and sleep deprived beyond belief. We abandoned the idea of a bassinet next to our bed, decided to ditch the fancy co-sleeper we had purchased, and finally gave in to the only way he would ever sleep – in our bed nestled against me (see tips for safe bed-sharing here). It worked. Everyone got more sleep.
Rather than fighting to get him to fall asleep, then waking up and getting out of bed every three hours to feed him, then fighting to get him to fall back asleep, he slept cuddled in my arms and nursed as he was hungry. I could wake up briefly to help Winston latch, then fall right back asleep. Winston was able to nurse himself to sleep and went from screaming like a banshee every three hours to barely making a peep all night. I stopped worrying that Adam would fall asleep at the wheel while driving to work in the morning. Angels sang. It was the perfect solution.
Until it wasn’t.
Fast-forward three months. Winston was four months old, and all the pediatricians, baby books, and internet authorities (whoever they are) agreed that babies should be sleeping longer stretches at night – up to six hours. Well, Winston apparently did not get that memo. His “long” stretches were more like two hours. Most nights, I was lucky if I could remove my nipple from his mouth at all. He had found his all-night boob buffet, and he was not about to give that up. I was tired and frustrated with going bed at 8pm every night since that’s when Winston was ready to sleep. I wanted my own space back, but all the advice we found said that he was still too young for sleep training (especially because he was five weeks premature), and he screamed bloody murder if we even so much as looked at his crib.
So, we moved him to his rock and play swing and that worked! The rocking motion soothed him to sleep, and once he was away from me and my boobs, he realized he didn’t actually need to snack all night long. He started sleeping for five- and six-hour stretches. We knew the swing was a temporary solution, but figured it would buy us a few months until he was old enough for some formal sleep training at six months old.
Well, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”, as the quote goes. Winston learned to roll over at four months old, and it wasn’t long before he was trying to roll over in his swing. Even though we strapped him in, he wiggled and squirmed enough that he could loosen the straps. His swing was no longer a safe sleeping situation.
Terrified that our child would hurt himself (or worse) in his swing, we had no choice but to move him to his crib. And so, when Winston was five months old (only four months old, adjusted for his gestation age), I purchased what I now believe is maybe the most misunderstood and misinterpreted book about child sleep training.
Check out Part II of this post for an explanation of what the “Ferber Method” is (and isn’t), how we modified his sleep training to fit us, and why I think Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems is an incredible resource for parents.