Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Bedtime Routine

My son was a great little sleeper from month two to month four. Then it stopped. He started waking up in the middle of the night, once, twice, sometimes three or more times. We combated it first and treated him for what we believed to be teething pain. A fresh nummy, some benadryl, sometimes a feed - we dealt with it. I thought it would be temporary, that it would fix itself. Wrong.

After two months of these unpredictable wakings that actually turned into predictable ones, we'd had enough. My son actually started becoming predictable when he woke in the middle of the night. Sometimes I would wake up to his cries and without even looking at my digital clock, I would know around what time was. While we did feel that it was his teeth initially, my husband made a solid point. "He wasn't waking up at the EXACT same time every night and suddenly having teeth pain." Point taken. But how do we handle it?

First strategy -we tried letting him cry it out when he woke in the night on a couple of occasions. Turns out the little guy has endurance. One night after an hour of steady screams we caved. We fed, changed and allowed him to fall asleep with us. I dug in my heels a few nights later and tried this tactic again. This time he cried intermittently for a period of two hours. Let me tell you, at 3am and onward - listening to cries and analyzing them for that long can do horrible things to you. I became agitated, frustrated, desperate - not to mention exhausted. No way can I doze off with him crying like that, I don't think it's in my biological capabilities as a mom.  So after that two hour stint the score was Baby - 2, Momma - Big Fat Zero.

Like fate, the next morning with heavy, coal black bags under my eyes and headache from lack of sleep, I was watching Canada AM when something caught my attention. A baby expert ( I have no idea her name) was emphasizing the importance of setting and keeping a night-time routine for a baby to get used to going to bed. I had heard of this concept before, but never paid it much heed, I always thought my son was much too young. Apparently he is the perfect age!

 Up until that point, we always had let him direct when he wanted to go to bed, waiting for him to rub his eyes to signal us, or allow him to fall asleep naturally after feeding. He had no set bedtime and could go down anywhere from 7:30 until 9:30 on any given night. Knowing this and listening to the segment, one thing really resonated with me what the expert said. If the baby does not have a routine before going to bed, he/she WILL wake up and cry out in the night time. Definitely. Wow.

I mean, it makes sense. Most of us adults are creatures of habit and we all have some sort of bedtime routine. Even things like brushing our teeth,  locking our doors, reading, changing into our pj's - we typically do these things the same way, setting the way for sleep. Why should a baby be any different?

Feeling desperately tired and defeated, but still determined to try anything, we set a routine that very day.  We started with a bath, lotion, vitamin D, Pj's, snack, story, bed. This whole process takes at most 45 minutes. All of those things we have been doing on a nightly basis anyway, but we hadn't followed any type of order or time frame. Now promptly at 7pm every night, we start and stick to the order.

So far we have discovered that he is starting to go to sleep around 7:30, and is crying less when he goes down. He has woken up at least once that we are aware of in the middle of the night, but has settled and gone back to sleep.  But here's the clincher - he is sleeping through the night again! It really does work! It didn't take long either.

Some of the perks from our efforts are that we feel less tired in the day and evening. Something unexpected that has happened - we actually have time to spend together or do our own thing in the evening! His bedtime is earlier than I ever could have hoped and I get to have more than one hour of time where I don't feel the need to sleep nor am I interrupted by baby. It's given us some much needed relaxing time and allowing us to wind down before bed. I am from here on in a bedtime routine supporter!

Momma's Musts
  • Set a routine! Figure out what time seems to work for your child, what steps you want to include, what order they will go in and then put it in place. Most importantly - STICK to it!
  • Watch for tempting schedule glitches. Company is coming to see baby, who cares about bedtime right? You want to go visiting or shopping in the evening as a family? No big deal what time you get home, right? Wrong!  I'm not saying NEVER break routine, but when the baby is still having night time issues, get the routine into a solid, nightly event before daring to change it even the slightest. Even then, beware!
  • Be patient. It may take your child a couple of weeks or even a month or more to adjust and produce the desired results from the routine. Some of this will depend on how consistent you are, how old your baby is, and what your baby is like, as I've said before - Every baby is different!
  •  STICK to it!

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