Why Won’t My Kid Sleep?

So, your baby may have started out as a great sleeper, or maybe not.  Maybe you were lucky to have one that slept through the night at 12 weeks. Color me jealous. What worked for one mama won’t necessarily work for another. But we spend our nights googling just the same- trying to find new methods of soothing our little ones so that we can finally get some f@#$ing sleep.  Our son Obi (pronounced Oh-bee) was a swaddled baby from day one. A 48 hour NICU baby, the nurses swaddled him between antibiotic injections and my clumsy attempts to nurse while recovering from his birth.

He startled in his sleep so easily that when we brought him home, we kept the swaddle going.  The baby classes we took showed us how to swaddle with just a blanket- well forget it- after multiple nights with little sleep, you can barely see straight much less swaddle a baby in the early morning darkness.  The SwaddleMe by Summer Infant “cheater” swaddles were a godsend. I bought one brand new and found two at a second hand shop. They have velcro tabs to keep the babe’s arms tight at their sides. “Sort of like a straight jacket,” my mom joked.

Summer Infant SwaddleMe Adjustable Infant Wrap, Busy Bees, 3 Count

You can find them anywhere and I recommend getting at least a pack of three- you’ll need extras in case they spit up all over one, pee on another, and have a blow out in the third. (I have never done so much laundry on a regular basis.)  Obi loved his swaddle. It was his signal that it was time for bed and he would instantly get drowsy and fall asleep.  The next part of the equation is the Fisher Price Rock and Play.

A bunch of my mom friends swore by the Rock and Play instead of a full bassinet. It folds up when not in use, keeps the baby at an incline in case they have a highly developed spit up reflex, and keeps them sort of cocooned. Plus it rocks and vibrates.  This is what Obi slept in for the first four months of his life.  If he woke up, we could remain in bed and rock him back to sleep- just magic. But, babies grow (imagine that!) and one day he was just too long and mobile for the rock and play. So we began the long hard transition to the crib.

Honestly, it was great to get him out of our room and into his own nicely decorated nursery. We had painted the walls a soothing unoriginal grey, my brother’s girlfriend had given us a beautiful Japanese bird mobile for over the crib, and I had painted and drawn an elephant and a giraffe to decorate the walls. But he was four months old and that in itself became problematic.

You read all over Facebook about the dreaded “4 month regression.” My mother scoffed at the concept, telling me that babies all go through growth spurts and phases and their sleep patterns change.  What I read was that babies go from sleeping and eating, without an awareness of their place in the world, to growing in awareness. When they wake at 4 months, its less because they are hungry and more because they are checking in with themselves to see if they are ok- if they need something. Cry It Out advocates say that this is when letting them CIO helps them self soothe and fall back to sleep on their own. I say CIO is torture for the parents and while it may have worked for some- I just can’t do it.  Lots of moms have found that it works, and lots of moms are just like me and couldn’t do it.

So what’s a wuss like me to do? I went looking for other ways to soothe my son. In the book, Bringing up Bebe, Pamela Druckerman talks about the French concept of The Pause. This is not a variation of CIO but more of a 5-10 minute pause before rushing to the nursery to see what is wrong. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. The point is not to immediately go to the baby when they cry out- they could still be sleeping and in a sort of half awake- half asleep state. If you go in to pick them up immediately that may interrupt their sleep cycle and you must work harder to get them back asleep. This book is a fascinating read- so different than some of the parenting books out there. If you aren’t into French things its not for you but its a great look at how French mothers raise their children versus how we Americans do it.  If you have read Happiest Baby on the Block, this is a good next read.

Next, there’s the Zipadee-Zip from http://www.sleepingbaby.com. First introduced on NBC’s Shark Tank, the Zip A Dee Zip is a swaddle transition for parents who used the swaddle and rock & play for their babies.  The star shaped pointed sleeves (I always described it as a four armed starfish or a flying squirrel) inspire sounder sleep than any of the other swaddle transitions out there.  The startle reflex or “Moro” jolts baby awake with that falling sensation we adults sometimes get.  They startle awake and can’t find their edges like they would in the womb.  The Zipadee-Zip provides those edges and still gives them a range of movement so that they can roll and stretch. When Obi started rolling himself over, this is what we transitioned to.  It really works!  Other benefits to the Zipadee-Zip are keeping baby from scratching his/her face, allows you to buckle baby into a car seat for those late night drives around the neighborhood, keeps baby warm on colder nights (if we ever get any).  Again, I bought mine second hand from a mama who ended up not needing hers and though the $35-$37 price tag seems steep, just think about the amount of sleep you could get if this works for your little one.

Now, for the less commercial methods of getting baby to sleep. I am a musician and have a moderately decent voice, Obi loves to listen to me sing to him and this works wonders at soothing him in all kinds of situations. I’m a Disney fan so I cycle through the Disney songs I know and by “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas, he’s asleep.  Even if you can’t sing, playing music for your little one can be the key. I also use one of those large exercise balls. I never even thought about using it until my cousin said it worked great for his daughter- and after using it night after night, I was convinced. So I bounce in front of a fan (white noise, another great sleep tool) singing “Stay Awake” from Mary Poppins and a few other Disney classics.

A lot of books and online articles recommend a routine- bathtime, story, song/music and then sleep. And it can be effective. But it doesn’t always work. Babies aren’t robots and you have to adjust to whatever their needs are that evening. Waiting to put baby to sleep when they are rubbing their eyes and ears, fussy and whining is also counterproductive. While those are signs of sleepiness, they are also signs that baby is over tired and it might be harder to get them down.  I recommend trying to get them down three hours after their last nap, or at the very first sign of tiredness. If your little one’s eyes are getting a little red around the edges, put on that night diaper (invest in them, changing a diaper at night can interrupt their sleep cycle too), and start your night time ritual.

Finally, the last thing that has really worked for me is the Dream feed.  This is harder on exclusively breast fed babies but it can work. Usually my son wakes up between 10 and 11pm. At this time, I could get him back down but he might be up a couple hours later.  I warm a bottle (he decided he was mostly done breastfeeding at around 4.5 months, so I pump) and while he is still sort of asleep, I rock and feed him approximately 4-5 oz.  He goes back down so easily after a dream feed and wakes up 5-6 hours later.  This way, he’s not waking up expecting to be fed in the middle of the night, and you aren’t creating a bad habit of feeding him when he really just wants to be held for a few minutes to get back to sleep.

Ultimately, you could find that all of these things work, or you could find that some of these things work some of the time.  There will be nights (like last night for us) where nothing you do will work and all I can say is make sure you always have coffee. Eventually, they do fall asleep and if you can- take a nap when they do.  Just know that you aren’t alone and that somewhere a parent is exhausted, bouncing their baby on an exercise ball, singing lullabies hoping they will eventually get some sleep.


2 thoughts on “Why Won’t My Kid Sleep?

  1. Great article Sara. I was interested because as a grandma I have to put a little girl down now and then. Her parents tried many of the things you suggested, but none of them worked until she got a bit older. They started her on a very strict bedtime routine about six weeks ago. Bath, books and a cup of milk and then down she goes. I babysat her for the first time last Friday and she was practically begging me to put her down by the time I filled her little cup. It was so easy. The best part was she slept 7:30. Good luck on your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Annette, I should have qualified that this is for babies who are a bit older. And this is after parents (or grandparents) have mastered the 5 S’s- Swaddle, Suck, Side/stomach position, swing, and shushing. Thanks for reading and commenting!


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