If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial. I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length. This is a reference book. Read only the topic of interest to you.
Can parents help young babies sleep better? Yes! Is it safe? Yes! (Blog Posts 24).
It started at just 12 weeks. Katie was so fatigued she would cry for hours, screaming completely out of control, scratching her head, pulling her ears. Holding her didn’t help, so it wasn’t hard not to pick her up—she screamed anyway. Instituting a new day schedule was easy. As soon as she started getting cranky, I rushed her to her crib to sleep. She would watch her mobile, and then sleep for hours at a time. The first week, she was so tired that she only stayed up thirty to fifty minutes at a time and slept three to four hours in between. The key for me was to get her down before she got really upset. The afternoon was when she was awake the longest, and then it was hard getting her to sleep at night. The first few nights under our new regime were the worst. Positive reinforcement from my doctor was important then. I had to hear several times that this “cure” was the best thing to do. The first night under our new strategy, my husband lay on the floor in her room (I guess to make sure she didn’t choke) while I sat crying in our living room. Finally, after forty-five minutes, Katie was quiet! Hurray! Each night she cried less and less, and I handled it better and better. After a week, her hysteria was gone! Sure, she cried a little sometimes, but now she was on a schedule. She napped two or three times a day, two to four hours at a time, and slept twelve to fifteen hours a night. Sleeping promotes more sleep, and makes it easier to fall asleep. It’s a catch-22. Writing down the sleep patterns helped, too. For one week I kept track of every time I put her down and every time I picked her up from her nap. At the end of the week I noticed a distinct pattern in her baby sleep schedule. She fell into it herself!
We used extinction with a twenty-minute limit at 12 weeks. Our little guy would cry in our arms for two hours before he’d finally fall asleep. We’d take turns rocking him in our arms, swaying back and forth. When we finally decided to just try it, we were surprised at how little he cried before he fell asleep—eight minutes! The second day was equally easy, but then he quickly learned the twenty-minute time limit and would cry up to that point. We adjusted the bedtime from 6:30 to 5:30 [earlier bedtime] and removed the time limit [no cap]. First night, he cried for two hours. It was awful! But after four days, the crying stopped.
Our son was colicky and sleep was nonexistent in our house for three months. He refused to go in the swing or the bouncy seat, and hated the car even more (and still does!). If he did sleep, it was after being rocked for hours and he was put down in his crib in a dead sleep. At 12 weeks we did graduated extinction because he had no self-soothing skills. Our goal was four hours of sleep, and it worked. Within five nights, he was sleeping through the night! We were shocked to say the least. It was an absolute miracle and the best thing we ever did. Everyone in the house was much happier, and we started to really enjoy being parents. For the first 3 months he was definitely going to be an only child. Your book Your Fussy Baby helped us tremendously!
I’ll never forget the night and early morning at about 3 months of age when Eric was so sleep-deprived he could not go to sleep. I tried everything—nursing, rocking, walking, bouncing, and singing. Eventually he did fall asleep while I pushed him around the house in the stroller listening to his favorite CD, only to wake up the second I tried to move him into his crib. The hours stretched on and Eric became more and more tired, overstimulated, and agitated. He began trying to pick the flowers off my pajamas. Though he seemed to want to go to sleep, he appeared unable to get there. I felt I didn’t have any choice but to put him in his crib, awake and crying. After about twenty minutes of crying, he fell asleep. He did best with his first midmorning nap, crying only one or two minutes, if at all, before going to sleep. The evenings remained the most difficult. The longest crying episode was twenty-one minutes. My husband and I would sit in the den holding hands, listening to the baby monitor, and engaging in self-doubt: “Does he need us? Are we bad parents for letting him cry?” We kept reminding ourselves that Eric was learning a valuable skill that would serve him (and us!) well for life. After about three days, we felt he had achieved success. He has been a terrific sleeper ever since. Now, at age 11 months, he sleeps from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. and naps twice for an hour or two. Everyone who meets him says he is happy, joyful, and alert.
We just utilized the total extinction method for our 3-month-old (13 weeks) son. It took three or four days (the first two days of which were quite difficult) but has been unbelievably successful and a lifesaver for our family and our son. At least in our case, 3 months old was the right time for him. Essentially he would only sleep tightly swaddled in his car seat with a pacifier. We had to constantly reinsert his pacifier every fifteen minutes or he would cry and wake. It was exhausting for both us and him, as his sleep was terribly choppy. We tried graduated extinction at various times from 8 to 12 weeks—waiting ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes before going in to soothe—but he would always outlast us. Last week at 3 months old we decided to utilize total extinction, and while extremely difficult emotionally, it has been an unbelievable success. The process took three or four days. The first night we put him to sleep at 6:30 p.m. and he cried almost ninety minutes—he had a second wind. It was heartbreaking, as most parents experience. He then slept until his normal feeding time of 1:00 a.m. but had several night wakings where we allowed him to cry. The second night he cried approximately sixty minutes. He woke only for his two feedings. The next night, we moved his bedtime up half an hour to 6:00 p.m. He cried for just five minutes and then woke only for his feedings. Last night he did not cry at all when he was put down! He slept his longest stretch of sleep ever—eight hours—then woke to eat. He had one second night waking to eat and then slept until 7:30 a.m. rather than the 6:00 a.m. waking he has been having. His naps are also now falling into place, and he is finally sleeping on his own, in his crib without a swaddle, taking three or four naps a day of one to three hours each. He goes down for a nap after an hour to an hour and a half of wake time. He is now going to sleep for naps and nighttime without any crying, and waking up cooing and smiling in his crib rather than crying. While it took several days and was emotionally very difficult (and perhaps not over yet), his overall crying has gone from constant to very infrequent, and he is sleeping wonderfully. When he is awake he is alert, smiling, and interactive. I am sure we will have to continue to reinstitute the technique as he grows, but it has been so worthwhile.
I have only one child, so my experience is limited to her. Based on our experience, at 6 weeks, all we were trying to do was survive. She was extremely fussy between 5 and 10 weeks. At the time, we felt that the best thing to do was soothe her and try to get the maximum sleep possible. Things were “messy” in the sense that we used swing, holding, the crib, extensive soothing—whatever worked that day/night. We made repeated attempts at drowsy but awake, but it never worked before 3.5–4 months of age. Ultimately, we felt it was more important that she get some sleep in those earliest months, so we did what it took. From my perspective, parents of colicky children should be prepared to be somewhat flexible until about 4 months. You can attempt earlier bedtimes or some extinction, but if things are really disastrous, abandon the effort and try again later. We knew it was time around 3.5 months because we were soothing more and she was sleeping less—it was like we were annoying her! I would add that dealing with colic is incredibly taxing, physically and emotionally. In the first 4 months, we were lucky to get four to five hours of consolidated sleep in a day. Most days, it was two to three hours. Add to that dealing with a fussy child almost around the clock, and you have a recipe for frazzled and distressed parents. I can certainly understand why many parents struggle with a post-colic sleep plan, as it can be hard to be resolute when you are completely burned out.
We had success with my 4-month-old son (he’s now 2 years old). We decided on extinction because it seemed to be likely to cause everyone, including my son, the least amount of stress. Our plan was to get him to a sleepy state and make sure all of his needs were met, and then put him down to bed awake. The first night, he cried for thirty-five minutes, and I cried, too. But then he slept seven hours! He woke once and went back to sleep for four more hours! I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. He was in a much better mood the next day, and his napping was much better as well. I began to wonder if this was really my son! The next night, he cried for twenty minutes and then slept for nine hours straight before waking. He was even more content and had even better naps the next day. I’ll never forget how he had his first night without waking on Labor Day, a few days after starting the extinction method. I told everyone that it felt like a gift for all of my motherly labors. After a few days, he no longer cried when I put him down. My husband and I are such believers that babies/children (and parents!) need sleep to function well. We call what we did for him “sleep empowerment.”
My baby was colicky and never slept. He did not take naps at all for the first 3 months of his life. At 4 months he started taking naps only in the car or in the swing. I feel like he was in the swing more often than not. As soon as the swing was stopped, he would wake right up. At 4 months I decided to do extinction; graduated extinction only riled him up and extended the crying. So we did extinction with no problems at night. He always went right to sleep, no crying and no night-waking problems. He wakes two times a night to nurse. The problems were his naps. He did not know how to self-soothe. So I taught him, and he caught on rather quickly. After two weeks he was going down every two hours for naps without much crying. At the beginning of this nap training there was a lot of crying. At first his naps were short, forty-five minutes or so. After a few weeks the midmorning nap lengthened to about an hour and a half, the midday nap went from forty-five minutes to an hour, and the third nap declined to about thirty-five minutes. I have been very happy with this! My family and friends think I am out of my mind because I schedule everything around his naps.
The hardest thing about dealing with colic was that we didn’t know when it would end. People kept telling us, “Don’t worry, it’ll get better,” but we had no idea whether that would be in a week, a month, a year. The need for twenty-four-hour intensive soothing efforts took a huge toll on me, emotionally and physically, and on my relationship with my husband. Almost a year later, I believe we are still dealing with the fallout from our very intense and difficult first few months. The turning point for us was when we discovered Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and began sleep training at 4.5 months. It was like suddenly we had our lives back. We knew that he would be in bed at 5:30 p.m., and while he would wake up to eat a few times during the night, he would go right back to sleep. Once we had naps under control it got even better. I believe that at a certain point, his natural colicky tendencies were fading, but still being exacerbated by his being horribly overtired. I will know for my next baby (won’t be for a while!) that healthy sleep habits begin on day one, and that most babies don’t just know when to sleep—they need us to help them.