Brace yourself, this is a long one…
I am obsessed with sleep. I think it’s pretty fascinating all the things your body goes through while asleep and the amazing impact sleep has on your brain. I became intrigued with sleep when I got pregnant. Apparently, how your baby sleeps can be a big topic in the parent world. Naturally, I started reading several books about sleep and babies and realized that I planned to make sleep a priority when Asher arrived.Asher started sleeping five to six hour stretches from 10:00PM until about 4:00AM when he was six weeks old. I know that babies have predispositions, but I believe Asher’s sleep habits are from the tools I learned from the book On Becoming Baby Wise. Asher now sleeps from 7:30/8:00PM until 7:30AM with a dreamfeed at 10:00PM. Occasionally, he wakes in the 5:00AM hour hungry, which I believe happens on days he gets a bottle for a feeding or two. Of course there are all sorts of things that wake baby up in the night, so I would be an ignoramous to say that he never wakes up in the night or never will wake up in the night. Ha! Bring on the teething!
I had a few friends recommend On Becoming Baby Wise, a book I had already read and felt connected to. I had read the other popular “sleep” books–Baby Whisperer, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, The Ferber Method, and No Cry Sleep Solution–but Baby Wise seemed more like my kind of philosophy.
I should say that if you don’t know already, there is a lot of “controversy ” about Baby Wise. I will address how I feel about that in another post. So, if you’re looking for the juicy pieces, you can read it later. Also, Baby Wise isn’t just about sleep. There is a whole series of Baby Wise as your baby progresses–PreToddler Wise, Toddler Wise, Child Wise, etc. that address certain aspects of parenting through particular stages.
I knew there were certain things I did not want to become a habit with Asher before he was even born.
1) Didn’t want him to have to be nursed/fed to fall asleep (for naps or for bedtime).
2) Wanted him to be able to fall asleep on his own in his crib.
3) Didn’t want to have to be nursing him sporadically, leading me to never know if he’s hungry or if something else was wrong.
4) Wanted him to be able to take necessary naps during the day to help his development and alertness.
5) Didn’t want him waking in the night two to three times needing to be fed (at least once he was up to birth weight).
When I read Baby Wise, I felt like they had several principles that tied in with my parenting ideals. Let me explain some of these principles that connected with my thinking. I will use BW for Baby Wise. I would be crazy to try and summarize everything in the book here for you. I will pull part of the summary of the book from the back cover, though :
“Babywise is an exciting infant management plan that successfully and naturally helps infants synchronize their feeding, waketime and nighttime sleep cycles.”
Baby Wise is Parent-Directed Feeding (PDF). According to BW, “PDF is the center point between hyper-scheduling and the re-attachment theories. …enough structure to bring security and order to baby’s world, yet enough flexibility to give Mom freedom to respond to baby’s needs at any time…” (p 43). Part of the principle of having a feeding and nap routine/schedule for baby is to provide baby with the optimal sleep and optimal wake time. BW says “Optimal sleep is tied to good naps and established nighttime sleep. These advanced levels of sleep are the end result of consistent feedings. Consistent feedings come from establishing a healthy routine” (p 43).
So, I would use somewhat of a schedule to feed Asher during the day, helping him obtain the calories he needs during the day, for when nighttime came, he would be able to sleep through. However, part of this routine requires that I provide Asher with the opportunity to achieve optimal sleep during the day to keep over-tiredness from setting in. By having set naps during the day between feedings, he is most alert when he is awake. Again, this does not mean that if Asher is clearly hungry, I don’t feed him until the next set time. You always feed a hungry baby. (That’s what’s so frustrating about critics of BW is that they think you aren’t supposed to, but again, I’ll save that rant for the other post.) BUT by helping Asher synchronize with amount of time between feedings to eat, play, then sleep, I can use the clock, his hunger cue, and my own parental assessment to decide how to address whatever comes up during the day or night. If I feed Asher when he wakes up, and have his metabolism trained to do so, then after we eat, we play, and then when I put him down for a nap, and he begins to cry, I can most usually rule out hunger and move on to helping him with what he needs. BW recommends that you have a consistent start time and bed time to your day (first and last feeding) and then plan for so many feedings in between those two times, based on your baby’s needs. This is a process that takes some time, but I am the kind of person that likes to plan, so working with Asher to accomplish this was right up my alley. I would pick times that I felt worked best. BW recommends starting with 3 hour intervals, but you can have 2.5/3.5hrs if that seems to work best for baby. A quick side note, BW does not recommend worrying about any of this until after about the first two weeks, especially until baby is up to birth weight. All you strive to do is get full feedings in with a feed, play, sleep pattern. They even say to not bother looking at the clock!
Obviously, if Asher eats, plays and naps, but only naps for 45 minutes, then he probably wont be hungry again (unless it’s a growth spurt), so I would train Asher to nap for roughly certain lengths. BW recommends naps be 1.5-2.0 hours about three times a day, depending on your baby’s needs and baby’s ability to stay awake and of course this changes as baby gets older (p 118-119). This leads to a big discussion on discovering your baby’s optimal wake time–the time he wakes up from the nap until he falls back asleep after his eat/play time. The closer you are to a baby’s optimal wake time, the more likely he is to take a good nap. Keep a baby up too long, then they most always will take short naps. Sometimes naps can be a typical 45 minutes and you’ve done everything you can to help your baby nap longer. You continue to troubleshoot and just roll with it in your daily routine with baby. You learn to be flexible within your routine. Also, BW does say that if baby wakes early from a nap to first always treat it as a hunger issue. If baby isn’t hungry, then you move on to more deductive reasoning–was he up too long before, was he not up long enough, was he overstimulated, did the dogs wake him up, etc. What if he wakes up mid-nap and is crying and not hungry? I can tell by his cues he is clearly overtired from whatever we were doing before. This leads us into BW principles on crying.
BW does not say that if your baby is overtired or hungry and wakes mid-nap, then the parent should let them cry it out (CIO). I think there are many misconceptions about this, mainly because people either don’t read the book entirely or only takes bits and pieces. By choosing BW, I feel like I know Asher’s cries pretty well. (Any parent mostly feels the same, no matter what parenting style they choose!) When he wakes mid-nap and is hungry, I can tell. When he wakes mid-nap and is only stirring because he is sleep transitioning, I know to leave him be. When he wakes and is crying because he is over-tired and I can tell that he wont be able to go back to sleep, I intervene. When you get into the next book BW for five-twelve months, they discuss more in depth about possible times to let your baby cry it out, how to handle that, and how long, etc. In their first book, they recommend giving baby a little time and see what you can deduce from the situation before intervening, and of course, sometimes no intervention is needed. However, for younger babies 0-4/5 months, letting them cry it out mid-nap is not really teaching them anything. So, why do it? That’s one thing I love about BW is they direct the parent to always ask why are you doing what you’re doing and what are you hoping to teach the baby and is what you’re doing something you plan to continue? Meaning you should try to start as you mean to go. So, when would I let Asher cry? When he went down for naps. After about three to four weeks of always always having to be held to fall asleep, Mike and I decided we needed a new strategy to help Asher sleep. BW gave me the wisdom to be able to let Asher cry to fall asleep on his own in his own room in his own bed. I knew he had been fed, his diaper had been changed, he had special time with me and Mike already, we sang and cuddled and rocked some before nap. After the sleep routine, I wanted him to be able to learn to sleep on his own. Again, this is why learning your baby’s sleep cues and optimal wake time is important. The closer you are to those windows, the less fussing and crying baby will be when going down for a nap. I also realized that it worked better for me to keep track of how long he was actually crying. When you are listening to a baby cry, it sounds like it’s lasting forever, but in reality, it might only be three minutes. Asher hardly ever cried more than ten minutes when it came to going down for a nap or for bedtime. If it went longer than 15 minutes, then I intervened, especially if I felt his wake time was too long. It took us about one week, but Asher eventually got the hang of things and he now goes down for naps (if within his optimal window) like a boss.
When I leave Asher with a babysitter, I can easily lay out what will happen when. I can even predict the possible “kinks” that might happen. When we go out or travel, and our routine gets tweaked, I love that I have a routine I can come back to when we’re home to get us back on track. Keeping naps a priority does mean that sometimes we have to say no to things, but I’ve seen Asher overtired and it’s not always worth it to say yes. I think it’s good to push him and mix things up from time to time, but that is not a norm. I struggle some times when I feel like people criticize me for not keeping him up all the time but I’m learning to deal with that. I know that I believe in what I’m choosing for him in his sleep routine and I’m the one who is with him day in and day out and feel the struggle when we don’t sleep well.
This kind of philosophy works for Mike and me. I like the idea of helping Asher achieve good sleep in the day to be happy and alert when he’s awake! I like using a routine to help me know when to feed Asher. Routine helps me parent Asher. I am a person who needs structure. By having structure, I feel like I am able to function best as a parent. Does this mean everyone needs this? Absolutely not. Does this mean that everything in Baby Wise works? Not for everyone. Are there flaws? Of course. If there is anything I’m learning as a parent, it’s that there are so many different ways to accomplish the same goals for your family. If you thrive as a parent doing something a certain way and your baby is thriving and healthy and happy and your family is happy, then who am I to say you need to change your ways? Who am I to say that your choice is not as good as mine? Sheesh. That’s Ridiculous.