Nighttime, I don't usually have a problem with. I love co-sleeping. I don't mind co-sleeping at all. I actually sleep better next to my babies.
Naps are a different thing though. I don't like napping and I certainly can't lie around in bed every time my baby needs to take a nap. Ain't no one got time for that.
With the first three babies, for all naps, I would nurse them lying down in bed and when they feel asleep I would sneak away. It worked okay. I mean..they napped. Not a super long time, but they did it, and I was able to get some stuff done.
Then along came Elsa. And she was the WORST NAPPER EVER. She would fall asleep nursing, and then a butterfly would flap its wings in China and she would wake up. She would not sleep alone and consequently spent most of her infancy getting by on short, little cat-naps. Most of her naps took place in my lap, while I tapped, tapped, tapped away on the old computer keyboard. I should have written a book, but mostly I just wrote blog posts.
Then we had Annika and I was determined to do things differently. I got a Special Delivery Baby Hammock and starting putting her down in it when she fell asleep. Sometimes she would stay asleep, sometimes she wouldn't. But overall, it was a big improvement over how Elsa napped. It was working okay.
For the first 4 months, that is. Then it stopped working. The length of time she would sleep in it got less and less. She would wake up sooner and cry and fuss and move around, and not fall back asleep. She had to be in the deepest of sleeps to stay asleep and as soon as she shifted into lighter sleep, she would awaken. I think the movement of the hammock as she moved around was actually waking her up. She also developed a very strong preference for sleeping on her belly, as she learned to roll over rather early. Even while co-sleeping, she preferred (still prefers) to sleep on her belly. You can't sleep on your belly while in the hammock.
So, for awhile we struggled. She would fall asleep nursing in my lap and I would feel pinned down and unable to get up. It was frustrating. I did NOT want to be pinned down to a napping baby all the time, and while I love babywearing in certain situations, I really wanted my baby to be able to nap alone.
So, I checked out this book from the library.
I read it. It was definitely helpful, although night-time sleeping isn't really our problem as I love co-sleeping and night-time awakenings don't really bother me as long as the baby falls back asleep quickly while nursing in bed.
So, I realized that THIS is the book I actually needed.
And it was very helpful.
Over the course of about 2 weeks, I gently taught Annika to sleep alone in her crib (pack n play actually). It's a beautiful thing.
Now, she still doesn't fall asleep alone. I still nurse her to sleep. But now I can nurse her to sleep and then put her in the crib and she'll sleep in there for OVER AN HOUR BY HERSELF!!
I don't mind nursing her sleep because well....I have to nurse her anyway. I mean, she has to eat and it just makes SENSE to put her to sleep with as full a belly as possible. Plus, nursing just makes her fall asleep so easily. All my kids nursed to sleep as babies and then eventually learned to fall asleep without nursing. Pinky-swear. It does happen.
These are the steps I took to accomplish this:
1). Every time I thought she would fall asleep nursing, I would nurse her upstairs in the bedroom on the floor next to the crib and then once she was "asleep enough" put her in the crib on her belly* and then pat/rub her back until she would fall asleep again. She doesn't take a pacifier, but she does sometimes suck her thumb and will suck on our fingers, so sometimes I would stick my finger in her mouth to let her suck and sometimes I would help her find her own thumb to suck.
To be honest, this stage did involve a small amount of crying. Not much....never more than a few minutes and I never left her alone to cry. Sometimes it took a few tries of picking her up and nursing her until she was fully asleep again and then trying again, but I was just really consistent with it and kept trying for every nap (and when I would put her to bed for the night).
It took about 2 weeks of doing this consistently, but now I can nurse her until she is asleep and pretty much reliably put her down every time. I don't even have to worry about how "asleep-asleep" she is and can put her down as soon as she falls asleep.
2). However, she was still waking up after a short time. It was longer than when we used the hammock..but still usually less than 30 minutes. So, this is where the book became really helpful. I was able troubleshoot some of our problems and once I worked on those, her sleep much improved and now she will take 1+ hour long naps by herself.
This is what I learned.
I need to be more intentional about her naps. Apparently, at 6 months, a baby can only have 2-3 hours of awake time before needing to nap. I hadn't realized that. I was just letting her fall asleep nursing (amongst the midst of our busy household) whenever she was tired, which basically resulted in her getting over-tired a lot because by 6 months she is more than capable of keeping herself awake. She's alert. She's busy. She's smart. She wants to be involved in the happenings of the house. She was keeping herself awake. So now, about 2-3 hours after her last awakening time, I take her upstairs and get her ready for a nap. This involves changing her diaper, turning on the white noise machine and nursing her.
I need to use white noise. I've never used white noise to help my babies sleep before. Actually..that is not true. Heidi and Greta both used to sleep in the stroller in the bathroom with the fan on and lights off (because we lived in houses that had bathrooms without any windows and the room would get totally dark) as toddlers. They napped really well like that. But since then I had forgotten about the importance of white noise and hadn't used it. However, the book really suggested it, so I thought I would try it. Plus..now we have smartphones so I could download a free app and try it out before buying a machine. And it worked. So I bought a cheap white noise machine and it really does help her sleep longer.
She likes the waterfall and rainfall sounds best. The heartbeat sound is creepy and reminds me of Edgar Allen Poe, so we don't use that one.
I needed to make the
I need to put her to bed earlier. The book suggests putting kids to bed by 6:30 or 7:00 PM. I don't usually get her to bed that early, but I do start to try earlier than I used to. Now, she is going to sleep around 7:30 PM and sleeping the first part of the night by herself. Then I take her into bed with me once she wakes up or once I go to sleep.
I need to be intentional about naps even when not at home. To be honest, I used to pooh-pooh those parents who were super rigid about naps and would miss events and stay home so their baby could nap. Now, I sorta understand it. Although I'm still not willing to do it. With 5 kids, you just can't be all "sorry, we're dropping out of co-op so the baby can nap every morning". Not going to happen. Not fair to the older kids. What I can do however, is help her nap while we are out.
Another thing I learned is that once babies get past the newborn stage, they really need to nap at least 45-60 minutes to get the restorative benefits of a nap. Anything less is a "crap nap" and not as beneficial. This means that if we are out and she is napping in the go, I still need to be intentional and plan ahead. Thankfully, she have been sleeping in the silng/ergo when we are out of the house pretty much since she was born, so she is used to sleeping in there. One morning a week we are at co-op from 9-12 Normally at home, she would take a morning nap around 10:00 AM. So, at co-op, around 10:00-10:30 AM, I put her in the ergo or sling and make a point of walking around with her a bit so she will fall asleep and then she snoozes in there all during the chemistry class I teach. Or, if I know we are going to be someplace until x time and that she will need a nap, I try to nurse her/sling her at least 1 hour before x time, so she can get that hour long nap in.
The downside of doing this, is she isn't falling asleep every time we get in the car anymore, so she is a bit crankier in there. But, she is sleeping better overall and she's no longer subsisting off of 20 minutes car naps.
And this is how I gently taught my baby to sleep by herself. At least for naps and the first part of the night. I really liked the no-cry series of books. It's not a quick fix. It takes longer than sleep-training, I am sure. But it was gentle and didn't involve lots of crying and was something I felt good about doing.
Now we are all much happier, as she is getting better naps and I am getting a lot more free time and not feeling frustrating by being pinned down with a sleeping baby. I don't know that this would necessarily work for every baby. I'm not sure that it would have with Elsa, but it is working with Annika and I think it would have worked with several others of my less high-needs babies as well.
*DISCLAIMER: I didn't start teaching her how to sleep alone until around 6 months. Since we're doing belly-sleeping and I modified her mattress to make it softer, I wouldn't recommend doing those particular things with a younger baby.