Wednesday, May 19, 2010

All Through the Night

Natasha warned that I'll jinx it: "the first rule of Sleep Club is don't talk about Sleep Club!" But by gum, this sleep-training thing has some merit after all. At the risk of jinxing it I'm feeling brave enough to talk about it, so maybe some of you who are still struggling can try out the routine that works for us.

We keep to a pretty strict schedule: go fetch him in the morning at 7:30 (maybe closer to 8:00 on weekends), open up the blinds to let in some daylight, have a nurse and some playtime, then when he starts winding down at around 8:30 we read some books or might watch a little Yo Gabba Gabba (I know you're not supposed to let them watch TV before age two, but it's ad-free and he loves that show, so a big fat whatevs).

At 9:00am he goes down for his first nap. I usually nurse him in our bed with him laying in the crook of my arm, then I slip out from underneath him and tiptoe out. Often, he wakes when I do this and will cry for a minute. I used to pick him back up and nurse a little more, but then he would get too full and barf all over the bed and I'd have to mop everything up and we'd have to start over. Now I just let him fuss - once he finds his thumb (takes less than a minute now), he settles right down and closes his eyes. He usually sleeps until noon, maybe waking once and fussing for a second before falling back to sleep, but the last couple of days he's been fussing a little more and waking up at 11:00.

Once he's up, he can only stay awake for up to two hours before he starts getting fussy. We try to get in a good long stroll during this time, maybe lunch with a friend, but I always feel like I have to hurry before he starts melting down. Zephyr's version of a meltdown is still pretty benign: cluster-feeding, squirming, then full on back-arching as if to say, "Bitch, let me lay down! Why you keepin' me up?" That means I need to get him home, stat. Sometimes I nurse him and lay down with him just to get my snuggle on, but sometimes he just wants his lovey and for me to GTFO.

The afternoon nap usually goes pretty long, especially if he's been up for three hours before he goes down. He will often sleep 3.5 hours before I finally go wake him up (5:30 is the cutoff point, or else he gets too close to bedtime). I like to wake him up by planting kisses all over his little cheeks, and he slowly blinks and smiles to wakefulness. It's the sweetest thing.

Weissbluth says the afternoon wakeful period is supposed to be the longest, but this hasn't been true for us since Zephyr takes such long naps. His late afternoon wakeful period is usually only long enough for a walk to the park next door to touch leaves and swing for a bit. He is mesmerized with his shadow on the ground, and laughs when I grab his toes and kiss them before giving him a gentle push. Then we shuffle back home and I start preparing his dinner: rice ceral mixed with breastmilk and the seasoning of the day: usually a scant pinch of cinnamon, sometimes a little finely minced basil, or some mashed banana, or yesterday, homemade applesauce (seasoned with ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon, and sweetened with a tiny drop of agave nectar - he actually made a happy sound and laughed when he tasted it).

After he eats dinner (Scott and I alternate days feeding him), he has a warm bath with a drop of lavender bath milk added. He sits in the tub for about 5 or 10 minutes, then I give him a massage (to relax him and for the opportunity to get some moisturizer on his skin to stave off another eczema outbreak). Then we get him into his jimjams (and a disposable diaper instead of cloth, so he doesn't need to be changed in the middle of the night) and we quietly walk him upstairs.

We have blackout panels on his windows (one actual blackout panel and another window has blinds, thermal drapes and a dark brown bedsheet draped stylishly over the top) to darken his room completely. We settle into the comfy rocker and I nurse while we recite his bedtime story (it's too dark to read in there), then I sing the theme from Moulin Rouge and Marla, two unlikely lullabies that I picked specifically for Zephyr when he was still living in my body.

Sometimes he falls completely asleep in my arms, but usually after he pulls off the nipple I pass him to Scott, who finishes the job. Scott walks and rocks him for a few minutes, quietly singing along to the Rockabye Baby lullaby version of OK Computer. I think it's important that Scott and I each have our own individual bedtime rituals so either one of us get cue Zeph that it's bedtime. This has already paid off: last Sunday I had a free ticket to Cochon 555 and had to miss Zephyr's bedtime for the first time. Scott was easily able to get him to bed on time without me.

Once he's laid down in his crib, lovey in hand, he will usually go right to sleep (though sometimes he will babble to himself for a few minutes before succumbing). Then, our new breakthrough: he sleeps for 8 straight hours, minimum. Over the past week, he's been generally sleeping from 7:00pm straight to 3:30 or 4:00am, wakes to nurse, then goes back to sleep until 7:00 or 7:30 (we're not sure if he's been waking up earlier, because if he is, he's staying quiet in his crib and just staring at his mobile or stuffed elk).

Twice in the past week, he slept twelve straight hours. That's right, 7 to 7. The first time he went past 3:00 without waking, I freaked out a little. My breasts started becoming engorged, and I lay there awake for an hour before I finally just went into his room, scooped him up and nursed him while he was still asleep just to get the milk out. Once I realized that he won't starve (and that my milk won't dry up just because I no longer need to nurse every four or five hours), I've decided to leave well enough alone and I got the first complete, uninterrupted full night's sleep I've had since I was in my second trimester.

So, there it is. I don't know if other babies can fall into reliable patterns so neatly or quickly as Zephyr has - he is probably the easiest among all the babies we know - but I really think there's something to the whole sleep training thing. It took a couple weeks, but it didn't require any weird methodology. We did have to let him fuss a little here and there, but it really didn't take him long to figure out that his thumb is part of him and that he can suck it whenever he wants. (He only sucks it during sleepytimes and at dinner - he likes to pop it in between bites, maybe as part of him learning to feed himself?) But the take-home lesson is that babies really do need routines that they can count on. I think that my strict adherence was required for at least a few weeks until it became engrained, but now there is a little more flexibility (like having lunch and wiggling around nap time here and there). Granted, I still need to pick up and leave if we're out and he starts letting me know that he needs to sleep. But I don't mind this trade-off.

Babies learn quickly. If we can create predictability in their lives, they behave predictably. It's science. And you know what they say about science.

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Yay! Thanks for saying nice stuff about my baby.