How I Got My Baby to Put Herself to Sleep
If you’re expecting, have a newborn at home, or even if you’ve been at this mom thing for a few months, chances are you’ve wondered if you will ever enjoy a full night’s sleep again. After feeling like we were off to a great start with sleep, things did a 180 when we were hit by the 4 month sleep regression. We had some really rough days and nights and now understand how sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. Today, I’m going to talk about how we struggled with sleep, what we did wrong, what worked for us, what we’re still working on, and what changed over the past few weeks. This post might be a little all over the place since I’m recapping 5 months of sleep, so bear with me.
Let’s start at the beginning.
I felt pretty prepared when it came to getting my baby to sleep. I was a nanny for years, read this one baby book, took Taking Cara Babies course, and had a SNOO. The biggest takeaway from Bringing up Bebe was to pause and not pick baby up right away when she starts crying, so from the beginning, I always gave Margot a moment to fall back asleep. Moms regularly message me about Cara’s course and the SNOO. I was very lucky that the SNOO was gifted to us by Happiest Baby, but I would say if it’s in your budget, that it is absolutely worth it as was Taking Cara Babies – her course was so helpful for both of us. We were getting those long stretches we hoped for and naps were going really well.
The newborn stage felt pretty easy overall. I’m not saying that to make other moms feel bad because it did not stay that way but if you’re struggling know that every stage is a season and things will get better and worse and better again. I got very lucky and had a great labor and delivery and didn’t have PPD, so aside from feeling a little sore, my recovery went very well. I was out to brunch when Margot was 5 days old and was hosting brunches (easy ones – I need to do a post on that soon). It was not at all what I expected those first few weeks to look like. Since breastfeeding didn’t work out (tongue tie and very low supply), Conor and I alternated night feeds but still got up to help each other every few hours. The lack of sleep was really fine for both of us. We expected it. We were ready.
Then Margot woke up.
It’s crazy how much you forget because it all feels like a distant memory now, but when Margot was 2 months old (maybe even earlier?) she became a pretty fussy baby. Sleep was fine because we expected to wake up each night, but if she was awake, she was typically unhappy. We were so in love with her but in all honesty, that stage was pretty hard on us. I remember going to meet my friend Katie at the mall. Her son Liam who is just a few months older than Margot was so mellow! Margot lost it, screamed to the point that she threw up all over herself (escalated in about 15 seconds), and once we were in the car heading home, I had to pull over on the side of the road for a half an hour to calm her down. I called my friend Gina because I just needed a friend to listen, and I held this little baby I loved more than anything and felt so awful because I didn’t have a way to soothe my own baby. A few weeks later, we tried to go to Alaina’s and Margot lost it the moment we got in our car. We gave up and went back inside. It never felt worth stressing Margot out for the sake of going out, and if she didn’t want to be in the car seat, we weren’t about to make her stay in there.
Margot’s mood got much better around 3 months, but this is when sleep went very downhill. At this point, Margot was sleeping in our room in the SNOO with the blackout shades and white noise. She went from sleeping 7-9 hour stretches at night to waking up every 1-2 hours, and screamed for a good 1-3 hours (screamed!) every night before falling asleep. It was so sad and upsetting to watch, and as her mom, not being able to fix it felt terrible. I was so grateful to have a healthy baby but hours of screaming before every nap and bedtime and a lack of sleep will take a toll on you. The wake-ups felt so awful not because we were getting up (that’s expected) but because she was upset and we couldn’t soothe her with anything but a bottle which was not what we were “supposed” to be doing.
I scheduled a phone consult with Cara who gave me some great advice that I applied to what we’re doing now, but looking back, I think Margot wasn’t ready to sleep and that there wasn’t anything we could have done to fix it. At this point, she was about 4.5 months old, and I had a feeling she wasn’t taking comfort in being swaddled in the SNOO any longer. I was alternating between the SNOO and the merlin sleep suit to slowly help with the transition from the SNOO.
A few days before Thanksgiving, Margot stopped screaming before going to sleep. We didn’t change anything – she just stopped. I think she was just adjusting to life after the regression (read more on that here.) Even with middle of the night wake-ups, it felt like a weight had been lifted. Bedtime was peaceful again.
We hit a major wall and in desperation, hired a sleep consultant in Chicago. She was a very nice person but that night was misery, and it 100% did not work for us. I was advised to stop rocking her before bed, which was how she fell asleep. I knew that needed to happen. Cara had said it time and time again: put baby to bed drowsy but awake but we were desperate after all that screaming and let her fall asleep in our arms. But cutting rocking, the SNOO, turning off her night light, going from the merlin suit to a wearable blanket, and just putting her in the crib and sitting by her to soothe her with my voice and touch every 10 minutes was so heartbreaking. The only thing she got to keep was her white noise. Two hours of screaming (on and off) was terrible. I cried, picked her up twice because I felt like I was torturing my baby (I know that sounds extreme but it felt so bad), and she eventually fell asleep, then woke up screaming 10 minutes after the consultant left. I rocked her to sleep that night.
I am not an expert, but I know my baby. I knew she wasn’t ready for that much change and ultimately, had 2 goals for her. 1. For bedtime to be a peaceful, enjoyable experience. I hated that the last moments of her day involved screaming and being upset. 2. To get her sleeping through the night for her and for us. Margot always sounded so unhappy when she woke up at night and it felt like there was nothing I could do to help. Worst feeling ever and we were all exhausted.
So we gave it a go on our own early last week, when Margot was 4 months and 3 weeks old. We kept the same routine every night of books, bath, bottle, rocking her, and going to bed. It was always our goal to get on an eat, play, nap schedule, but Margot would wake up, refuse her bottle, want to play, and wouldn’t eat until she was supposed to go to bed. She’d then fall asleep with her bottle and we’d put her in her bed asleep.
I put Margot down drowsy but awake in her crib with the merlin and let her fuss for 5-10 minute increments, but went in sooner if she sounded truly upset. Sometimes, right away. If she had gotten really upset, I 100% would have picked her up. I did not follow a 10 minute rule and went in if she ever sounded upset. The first night, she fussed on and off for an hour and 20 minutes but stayed pretty calm overall. Then she did it. She fell asleep! We planned on just soothing with touch and our voices for the rest of the night but she sounded really upset when she woke up, so I picked her up and let her sleep on me. It was what she needed and I wasn’t ok letting her scream. The next day, our nanny Silvia (who we love dearly) put Margot in the crib with the merlin. We were all on the same page and Margot took shorter naps, but she started falling asleep on her own with just a little fussing. Again, it was 5-10 minutes of fussing before soothing (rubbing her stomach, offering a pacifier, and talking to her), but we’d go right in if she sounded upset. That laid the foundation for great sleep that night, and she went to sleep pretty easily on her own.
She started getting better sleep, could be soothed without a bottle during the night, so she’s started eating closer to when she wakes up, and is on more of that eat, play nap schedule now.
Looking back at the last week, it took Margot an average of 21 min to fall asleep on Tuesday, 15 minutes on Wednesday, and 3 minutes on Thursday night. Day naps have been going pretty well, and she’s getting really good at falling asleep on her own. We still have a ways to go, but we’ve made so much progress, and Margot has been a much happier baby.
The Nanit monitor was a splurge, but I’m so happy I bought it. Being able to look back at how long she slept, how long it took her to fall asleep, and how many times we went in to soothe her, has been really helpful. Here are our insights from week 1 of sleep training.
We are still working on getting Margot to sleep through the night. She wakes up a handful of times each night but is getting so good at putting herself back to sleep. One of us usually goes in there pretty quickly because a pacifier and lovey always helps soothe her right away. We use this breathable one and keep it tied in a knot so she can’t cover her face with it. The biggest and best change for me as a mom is to not see my baby upset. I am all for a slower approach, even if it means Margot waking up each night because turning things upside down and letting her scream for a few nights didn’t feel right for us.