I have read no books and only a few blog posts about baby sleep. I have done no research and know no statistics. A fellow mom, Corrie Tienhaara, shared her method of baby sleep schedules with me; she, in turn, learned it from another mother. Corrie is a stay at home mom with 4 kids, ages 6, 5, 2 and a 4-day-old newborn. She recommended picking up a book called Baby Wise, but I’m unsure how similar her method is to what’s described in that book.
For my part, I am using my mom-intuition and understanding of my individual baby to guide me instead of seeking out arguments for what is or isn’t the best way to slumber. I want to first explain the method Corrie uses; then I’ll respond to it with the things I like and don’t like about it.
I hope I have absorbed Corrie’s method properly and am relaying it to you all accurately. ;o) If there are inaccuracies, I’m sorry for misrepresenting you, Corrie!
Corrie’s babies all sleep in a Moses basket from the day they are brought home (or homebirthed, in the case of her youngest). They sleep in the same room as Mama & Papa, and when they outgrow the basket, they sleep in their own room.
Corrie’s sleep schedule is very structured. There are nighttime hours between 8 pm and 7:30 am. After the baby wakes up at 7:30, Corrie’s goal is to keep the baby awake for 1h30m until the next nap. Each daytime nap is allowed to last no longer than 1h30m, as well. So, her day will end up having a very predictable schedule of awake times and nap times every day. She starts teaching her babies this schedule from the moment they are born, easing them into the longer awake times as they are able to do them.
Feeding time plays a big role with this system. The baby is always fed upon waking, and then kept awake in order to encourage the baby to use up the food he just ate. This is supposed to set a regular metabolism for baby. The goal with feeds is to stretch them out so that 3 hours pass between the beginnings of each feed. For example: baby starts nursing at 7:30 am, stops at 7:58, and then starts his next feed at 10:30 am. With this parameter, the nap would be 9:00 – 10:30. Babies are not nursed to sleep.
A daytime nursing session is very stimulating for the baby. There are bright lights; people are singing and talking; baby is touched and undressed slightly. If the baby starts to fall asleep, he is not allowed to, but is “bugged” awake. It can be helpful to make sure a drowsy baby is already awake and slightly alert before starting a feed to keep him from falling asleep while nursing.
A nighttime feed looks completely different. If the baby needs to eat at night, the lights are dim, voices are soft, there is no unnecessary stimulation to try and wake baby up. The baby nurses, if the diaper needs it, it is changed, then baby goes back to bed.
After the schedule is set, the wake-up times remain the same, but if baby wants to stay up for longer than 1h30m, that’s ok. For example, if baby wakes at 7:30 and wants to stay up till 9:30, Corrie lets him; the nap would then be 9:30 – 10:30. The schedule is so regimented, the babies expect Corrie to come get them once “wake time” has started, and don’t even cry once they waken. Corrie explained that once 10:30 rolls around, she often goes in and finds her babies awake and just chillin’ in their bed, still having down time even though they are no longer sleeping.
The hard part for most moms with this method is the implementation. There will be crying involved. Mom will feel like she is torturing her baby and will want to “save” him by picking him up and rocking him to sleep or using another sleep aid. But this contradicts with the way the method works. Even Corrie struggled with the crying at first when she was implementing this method with her first baby; she said the first few times her daughter cried herself to sleep, Corrie was right outside the door, crying as well, and if it wasn’t for her husband being there to encourage her and remind her she was convicted that she wanted to try this, she probably would have thrown in the towel.
The way Corrie recommends you start teaching the baby to sleep is that when it is time to go to bed, you lay them down, say a cueing phrase to them, (example: “Night Night”), and then leave to let them sleep. At first, the baby cries himself to sleep.
It’s very difficult.
If the baby cries longer than 5 minutes, Corrie recommends going in to check on him to make sure he’s ok. If he’s fine (no wet diaper, lying down properly, not overheated), leave the room again and give it another 5 minutes.
Corrie has taught this method to many moms with older babies, and it typically takes 3 days for the babies to adjust to the new schedule. The first naps are the hardest, with the most crying. After the 3 days are up and the baby is used to the schedule, he rarely cries himself to sleep anymore.
The point of leaving the baby to sleep without rocking or singing or other distractions is that the baby learns to sleep without sleep aids. The baby learns that all he needs in order to get himself to sleep is himself. He can face his tiredness and he can calm himself down.
There are things I like and things I dislike about Corrie’s method.
I like splitting the day into segments of “daytime hours” and “nighttime hours;” I like interacting with Phoebe differently during those two segments of time. This is something we were already doing with her: diaper changes at night were with dim lights and soft voices. During the day we’d bounce her and sing to her and make silly faces. We didn’t have set hours for “night” and “day,” and I think adding them to our schedule is a good idea. Within those defined time periods, we’ll keep acting pretty much the same way we have been up until now, and those hours will remain constant even when the light outside is different as we pass from Spring to Summer to Autumn to Winter.
I like having a defined morning wake-up time. I think adding this to our day will help Mr. Wetzel and me as much as it helps Phoebe. Up until now we go to sleep and wake up willy nilly; adding a wake-up time will help us get more rest, and it will help add a definite division between night and day in Phoebe’s day as well. We share our bed with Phoebe, so when we all wake up in the morning, it will be a big, stimulating event. (Granted: we’ll probably start with an alarm for 6 am the first week or two, then switch over to our body clocks; therefore our “definite wake-up time” is a range of about half an hour. And that’s strict enough for me).
I like the idea of being over-stimulating during the day and trying to keep Phoebe awake at least 1h30m between naps. I also like keeping daytime naps to a maximum of 1h30m. I think this rhythm during the day tires her out and helps her sleep better at night.
I also like nursing her at the beginning of her “awake time.” For Phoebe’s sake, I think this helps her have more opportunity to spit-up and burp after nursing. When I nurse her to sleep, Phoebe often wakes herself up from naps with spit-up, and sometimes the spit-up it forceful enough to really upset her (spit-up through the nose, anyone?). With the new nursing pattern, I’ll nurse her for as long as she’s interested, and I’ll let her hang out at my breast even when she’s done with “serious” eating. I think it’s important to not withhold the breast from her, even if she just wants it for emotional reasons. Also, if nursing gets interrupted by a diaper change or a longer burping session, I’ll still give her the opportunity to go back to nursing before I “put my breast away.” But once nursing time is over, it’s over until the next session.
I don’t like having strict daytime schedules. I’m just not that kind of person. I don’t wear a watch. I don’t care what time it is. This home is not a factory* and I don’t want to have “Phoebe appointments” all day every day. When I told this to Corrie, she recommended starting with the schedule, then becoming lax about the exact times after it had already been implemented. I remain uncertain how “exact” I intend to be in following a strict 1h30 awake, 1h30 asleep rotation, but I expect we will go with the flow and be very “inexact.”
(*Interesting factoid: historically, you see clocks showing up everywhere in the industrial revolution; they allowed employers to control when their workers were supposed to show up for work and when they were allowed to leave, instead of the more flexible work schedule people had been used to).
Because we bedshare (i.e. all sleep in the same bed) instead of using a Moses basket, our nighttime sleep is very different from Corrie’s nighttime sleep. Phoebe cuddles with me as we sleep. I let her nurse emotionally at night (which means she may only nurse for 2-5 minutes before falling back to sleep). When she needs to really eat at night (typically once a night), I’ll sit up in bed and nurse her right there for 10-20 minutes. During nighttime hours, however, nursing is not spaced 2-3 hours apart; it is on demand.
No Baby No Cry
I refuse to let Phoebe cry it out on her own. I am her Mama. She lived in my womb for 3 trimesters, and at 6 weeks she is still so young, many term this period of infancy “the fourth trimester.” Life outside the womb is startling and can be traumatic. And I want my daughter to know I will always be there for her, even when she is upset, even when she is inconsolably crying her heart out.
My adaptation to Corrie’s method is that I will let Phoebe cry herself to sleep, but I will be sitting next to her or lying next to her the whole time, making my presence known: my hand resting gently on her lower back and bum, occasionally telling her in a calm, steady voice, “Your Mama’s here; your Mama loves you.” Before trying this method, Phoebe would have trouble getting to sleep, and my attitude would be the same. If she was crying, I would let her cry. If I knew everything was okay with her, I wouldn’t try to “fix” her crying. I would remain calm and present, reducing any unnecessary distractions (like music or white noise), and let her bawl her overtired heart out. I would think of myself as her calm in the eye of the storm. I’d model that calmness for her, remaining relaxed and breathing deeply. Sometimes I’d do this while cuddling or in the rocking chair, sometimes while babywearing her in the ring sling.
My attitude hasn’t changed; neither has my presence. The only thing that has changed is that I am reducing my presence to a hand on her bum. I believe this lets her know I’m there but doesn’t force her to rely on me to help her sleep. It lets her figure out that she is all she needs in order to get to sleep; it’s a huge emotional lesson. The important part for me is that this happens IN THE CONTEXT of my ever-present love and support. Without Corrie’s method, she has been crying anyways. With Corrie’s method (& my adaptation) she cries with my presence and support, and cries less over time as she grows emotionally and learns how to let go of whatever ails her. What I am teaching her is how to rest…or rather, I’m giving her the opportunity to learn how to rest on her own.
That’s all for now, folks. I hope to post again soon about the practical application: how things have been going as we implement these ideas and how our opinions do (or don’t) change as we put the system into practice.