This post continues where the last one left off…
The Typical Sleep Pattern
As I mentioned in my last post, despite our best efforts, we eventually found ourselves with a sleep problem on our hands. Gus was a great sleeper at night from the beginning (naps are more complicated, and I will save that for another post). When I say great sleeper, what I mean is that within a few weeks of birth, he settled into one of two sleep patterns: either sleeping for ten hours straight; or sleeping for eight hours, waking up for a feed, and then going back down for another hour or two. I realize that this type of pattern early on is very unusual, which is why I attribute this to his being predisposed to being a good sleeper, rather than to anything that we did (or did not do).
Another thing I should mention is that Gus has slept in his crib from day 1 (for the first two months or so, he did do naps in his bassinet, but always slept in his crib at night). While he has always slept in his crib, we had his crib in our room, based on the recommendations for safe sleep that we received, which recommended that babies should sleep in a crib (typically better air circulation than a bassinet) in their parents’ room until they are six months old.
Early on, when people would ask how Gus was sleeping and we would answer honestly, they would usually be surprised, but then would be quick to point out that it probably wouldn’t last. I had read about sleep regressions, however Gus’ sleep pattern stayed pretty consistent as he got older. Around four months, (which is a typical sleep regression milestone), it did become harder for him to fall asleep initially, and there were nights where he would fuss and even cry before falling asleep (for a while, this even became the norm), however his overall sleep pattern remained the same (down for bed around 8PM, then awake at either 4AM or 6AM to eat).
The Slow Slide
Just before Gus turned six months old, we made a small change in our sleeping routine, since I figured out how to breastfeed lying down in bed. Now, instead of offering Gus a bottle for his 4AM or 6AM feeds, I would breastfeed him. This was relaxing, enjoyable and let me stay in bed longer. A few times when Gus woke up an extra time in the middle of the night, I breastfed him then too, since it was so easy now. I soon decided however that this wasn’t a good idea, as despite our best intentions I was sliding into breaking rule #2a, so I made the decision that for any wake-ups before 4AM, Gus would get a bottle, and any wake-ups after 4AM, we would breastfeed.
Despite my continued focus on sleep, around 6.5 months Gus started to regularly also wake up around midnight. This wake-up often coincided with when I was going to bed. Since he was still sleeping in our room, I suspected that me having the light on to read, and the general noise I was making was causing him to wake up and stay awake. My suspicions were confirmed one night when my husband and I were up later than usual, and we heard Gus wake up. However, just as I was ready to go up to calm him down, Gus got quiet and went back to sleep on his own (when he woke up with us in the room, even though we would try to soothe him by just talking or singing to him, we would invariably need to pick him up and feed him before he calmed down enough to sleep). I knew that it was time to move Gus into his own room, however I resisted as long as I could as I enjoyed having him in our room so much.
By now, we were no longer enjoying the ten hour sleep patterns, and were lucky if we got only the 4AM wake up. The midnight wake ups were pretty consistent, and sometimes there would even be another wake up. One night I realized that Gus was starting to eat less at his 4AM feed, and it dawned on me that I was now doing exactly what I had worked so hard not to do: I was feeding Gus when he woke up in the middle of the night not because he was hungry, but to soothe him to go back to sleep, which then meant he was not as hungry at his “normal” feeding time.
The next night, I ran a test. I gave Gus a bottle with half the milk I normally would at his midnight feeding, and sure enough he settled down to sleep just fine after that, and breastfed for 30 minutes instead of 2o minutes when he woke up at 4AM. The following night, when Gus woke up at midnight, I once again gave him a half-bottle, however this time he was still fussing when he was done. This was a rare night when my husband also happened to wake up, and he insisted that Gus must still be hungry since I’d given him such a small bottle (this is a constant battle between us – my husband thinks Gus is hungry at any sign of discomfort, while I take into account when/what he last ate and consider what else could be wrong). I insisted that Gus didn’t need any more, but since he was still crying, I started to doubt myself and asked my husband to go get the bottle of breastmilk we had in the fridge.
In the time it took my husband to come back, Gus had almost calmed down, and I ended up giving him only a few sips of the bottle before he settled down completely and fell back asleep. The sleep was short lived, as he woke up crying at 2AM (I managed to talk him back to sleep that time), and then again at 4AM and 6AM. This was our worst night of sleep since Gus was about two weeks old, and after that I decided that it was time to finally move Gus to his room.
Since Gus was also teething and getting over a cold, I expected that moving him to his own room would help the sleep situation, but not completely solve it. I also expected that Gus would take longer to settle down since he’d be sleeping in a different room than he was used to.
The Quick Fix
On our chosen night, we set up the crib in Gus’ room, and got him ready for bed as we normally do. We put him down in his crib, left the room, and within minutes he was asleep. I couldn’t believe how easy it was! That night he slept through until 4AM. The following night, he went to sleep with no problems again, and slept through until 5AM. The next two nights he again went to sleep easily, but this time he woke up at 6:20AM both times. And just like that, our good sleeper was back!