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THAT Mom: Understanding Sleep

Affiliate Disclosure | in Motherhood | by | with 23 Comments

This is part four in the our series on babies and sleep. To start from the beginning click here.

Step 2: Study the Science of Sleep

I think there is something to the whole “teaching your baby how to sleep” thing … but always gently.

Comment from Whittney on THAT Mom

I’ll bet some of you were star athletes before becoming a mom. It’s hard to find time to stay in training mode after kids, I should know. I was among the elite. I was a marathon sleeper.

I could sleep. for. ever. And a day.

With all the sleeping I used to do one would think I knew a thing or two about the mechanics of it. Nope. My first attempts to teach Katie to sleep made painfully clear my ignorance on the subject. Fortunately, in her No Cry Sleep Solution Elizabeth Pantley gives a well-researched overview of basic sleep biology.

Most babies awaken two to three times a night up to six months, and once or twice a night up to one year; some awaken once a night from one to two years old. A baby is considered to be sleeping through the night when she sleeps five consecutive hours, typically from midnight to 5:00 A.M. While this may not be your definition of sleeping through the night, it is the reasonable yardstick by which we measure Baby’s sleep.

The No Cry Sleep Solution, p.50

For me, this simple fact was a revelation. I realized that my objective should not be for my babies to “sleep through the night” without waking at all. None of us really does that. My goal is that they learn to fall asleep on their own after a brief awakening, just like I do when I roll over, fluff my pillow and drift back off to dreamland.

Strategies for Helping Infants Fall Back Asleep

I strongly believed that what they began needing to fall asleep, they would continue to need. I wanted my children to have the security to fall asleep without my breast. We mixed it up – rocking, snuggling, walking, nursing to a sleepy, cozy place but not sound asleep, etc.

Comment from Leah on THAT Mom

Following Leah’s advice, I try to mix up how Micah falls asleep as often as possible: nursing to a sleepy state and then drifting off, in the sling, walking, rocking, etc. Note: If this seems impossible because your baby has a strong nursing-to-sleep association, check out the Pantley Pull-Off as described here.

I also vary how he sleeps.  Sometimes rhythmic music plays in the background, other times white noise. He sleeps swaddled on his back, cuddled next to me or on his belly. * Hopefully this will help him be more flexible in his ability to take naps away from the house.

According to Elizabeth Pantley, where he falls asleep is almost as important as how. She gives this analogy:

Imagine this. You fall asleep in your nice, warm, comfy bed with your favorite pillow and your soft blanket. . . What if you woke up to find yourself sleeping on the kitchen floor without blankets or a pillow?

Could you simply turn over and go back to sleep? I know I couldn’t! You would probably wake up startled, worry about how you got there, fret a bit, go back to bed, get comfortable and eventually fall asleep – but not too deeply, because you would worry about winding up on the floor again. This is how it is for a baby who is nursed, rocked, bottlefed or otherwise parented to sleep. She falls asleep rocking, nursing, sucking a pacifier, and so forth and wakes up to wonder, “What happened? Where am I? Where’s Mommy and Daddy? I want things the way they were when I fell asleep! Wahhh!”

Makes sense, huh? That’s why once a day I soothe Micah until he is very sleepy but still awake and then place him in the co-sleeper. Sometimes he falls asleep, but usually he raises his head and makes an expression that says “What the heck? I was comfortable!

When he starts to fuss I pick him up and soothe him until he is sleepy again, then put him back in his bed. I do this as many times as I need to until he is so tired that he just decides it’s not worth the trouble to protest and falls asleep in bed. It’s a pretty lengthy process (which is why I only do it once a day) but I think it helps him recognize that although mommy’s arms are best, beds are also cozy places to sleep. By decreasing the “startle factor” of waking up in bed I ***hope*** he will eventually feel comfy enough during his brief awakenings to fall back asleep without my help.

Speaking of babies falling back asleep on their own, a huge mistake I made with Katie is never letting her try. If she woke up in bed I picked her up immediately even if she wasn’t crying. With Micah, I wait to respond. Although it’s rare, I celebrate the times he falls back asleep without intervention. It doesn’t save me any hassle right now (after all I am hovering over him ready to help if needed), but as he develops this skill over time we will both be much happier.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

Sleep experts agree on one thing: Overtired babies do not sleep well at night. Unfortunately, determining if a baby is tired is not always as easy as it looks! It’s easy to attribute crankiness to so many things: hunger, wet diaper, being cold, etc. I found this chart from Elizabeth’s book to be really helpful and I hope you do, too. Things are going really well with Micah right now, but if they weren’t I’d be tracking his hours to see if he’s logging enough zzzzz’s.

AgeNumber of NapsTotal lengthof naptimehoursNighttimesleep hours*Total of nighttime and naptime sleep
1 month36-78 ½ – 1015-16
3 months35-610-1115
6 months23-410-1114-15
9 months22 ½ -411-1214
12 months1-22-311 ½ -1213-14
2 years11-211-1213
3 years11-1 ½1112
4 years0011 ½11 ½
5 years001111
*These are averages and they do not represent unbroken stretches of sleep
** Newborn babies sleep 16-18 hours per day, distributed evenly over 6-7 brief sleep periods.

My Results So Far

From six weeks old on Micah has been sleeping six consecutive hours each night (7pm – 1am) and then waking up only twice for feedings (1am and 4am) . . . usually. He rarely has meltdowns as a result of overtiredness and is very peaceful and content while awake. I, however, am still fairly sleep deprived because I’d rather blog than nap. :)

*I’m not concerned about SIDS because I don’t vaccinate. Although belly sleeping has been named as the culprit, there is some research indicating that vaccines, specifically the DTP, may be the real cause. Besides, studies show that an infants breathing patterns tend to stabilize when they sleep next to an adult.

Okay, I need to know. Was this post helpful or did it bore you like a play-by-play of someones gallbladder surgery???

Check Out Other Posts in This Series:


THAT Mom: How I Got Here

THAT Mom: Creating My Tribe

Ideas for Creating Your Tribe

THAT Mom: Understanding Sleep

THAT Mom: 90 Minute Sleep Miracle

5 Reasons to Sleep With Your Baby

The Safe Co-Sleeping Checklist

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23 Responses to THAT Mom: Understanding Sleep

  1. Sarah says:

    I wanted to add some information related to the vaccination comment. While I absolutely agree it is every parents right to vaccinate or not, I also think it is important to have as much information as possible to help make that decision. Especially when something as scary as SIDS is involved.

    Also I applaud you for the hard work you are dedicating to help Micah sleep! Nice! I love Elizabeth Pantley’s book but found it difficult to spend the time it required to make it happen. More so with the younger ones. My question is where is your older child when you are working on his sleep. I could never get a handle on that. I would be quietly lulling the little one to sleep and then big brother would be demanding attention at the same time. If you could share your secret???

    • Heather says:

      Sarah – I knew that vaccine comment was going to get some responses and I appreciate the tone in which you opened up the conversation. I hope everyone will follow your example and do their own research. I am not an authority on vaccines, I’m just a mom trying to wade through the confusion and make the decision I feel is best for my children. With that said, I’d like to take this quote from the CDC link you shared and add my comments:

      “These results tell us that most SIDS deaths are due to factors like sleeping on their stomachs, cigarette smoke exposure, and mild respiratory infections.”

      In my understanding the primary reason belly sleeping is discouraged is that it compresses the diaphragm For a healthy infant this does not impair breathing. But as the CDC report suggests, impaired breathing resulting from circumstances like respiratory infections are a factor. My problem with vaccines is that they can induce respiratory distress during the period in which babies are most vulnerable to SIDS. I know that their studies “did not find enough evidence to show vaccines cause SIDS.” I believe this is a carefully crafted phrase. They didn’t say they found no evidence, just not enough. However, the studies cited in the link from my post do identify evidence.

      A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association* found that children diagnosed with asthma (a respiratory ailment not unlike SIDS) were five times more likely than not to have received pertussis vaccine.(1) Another study found that babies die at a rate eight times greater than normal within three days after getting a DPT shot.(2) The three primary doses of DPT are given at two months, four months, and six months. About 85 percent of SIDS cases occur at one through six months, with the peak incidence at age two to four months.

      In a recent scientific study of SIDS, episodes of apnea (cessation of breathing) and hypopnea (abnormally shallow breathing) were measured before and after DPT vaccinations. “Cotwatch” (a precise breathing monitor) was used, and the computer printouts it generated (in integrals of the weighted apnea-hypopnea density — WAHD) were analyzed. The data clearly shows that vaccination caused an extraordinary increase in episodes where breathing either nearly ceased or stopped completely. These episodes continued for months following vaccinations. Dr. Viera Scheibner, the author of the study, concluded that “vaccination is the single most prevalent and most preventable cause of infant deaths.”(3)

      In another study of 103 children who died of SIDS, Dr. William Torch, of the University of Nevada School of Medicine at Reno, found that more than two-thirds had been vaccinated with DPT prior to death. Of these, 6.5 percent died within 12 hours of vaccination; 13 percent within 24 hours; 26 percent within three days; and 37, 61, and 70 percent within one, two, and three weeks, respectively. He also found that SIDS frequencies have a bimodal-peak occurrence at two and four months — the same ages when initial doses of DPT are administered to infants.(4)”

      With respect to making the time to for my sleep plan: I rock Micah to sleep in the living room amidst all the hubbub of the day. Because the background noise is there as he his falling asleep he ignores it after he is actually asleep. However, during the one time a day where I put him into his bed awake I do try to minimize talking because he’s focusing on a new skill. During that time I ask Katie to read books quietly or I play peek-a-boo with her. As I’m walking Micah through different rooms to soothe him to a sleepy state I’ll hide around a corner, pop out and wave at her with a big smile. I think giving her “face time” while I’m holding Micah makes her feel less ignored. Whatever the reason, she loves the game and can be quiet for up to an hour!

      • Heather says:

        One thing I forgot to add about belly sleeping is my reason for doing it. Child development experts stress the importance of “tummy time” for a child’s neurological development. However, Katie HATED tummy time and I didn’t do it with he as often as I wish I had. She always slept on her back and the feeling of being on her tummy was so unsettling to her. In addition, her muscles were completely undeveloped. By allowing Micah to sometimes sleep on his belly I hope to achieve two things: First, familiarize him with the sensation. Second, allow his neck muscles the opportunity to strengthen slowly as he moves his head from side to side against the resistance of his FIRM mattress.

      • Sarah says:

        I think your statement “I am not an authority on vaccines” may be inaccurate:) You have clearly taken the time to wade very thoughtfully through a sea of information and find what is the important information. I don’t think most new parents can do that. So thank you for sharing your work! Also what I always come away from the whole vaccine issue is that vaccines make sense if you are looking at a population. But as parents we are looking at the individual. And any risk is too great. Since all vaccines do come with a risk it makes very good sense not to take it. FYI we did chose to vaccinate our kids.

        On the sleep topic: After I read your response I was actually at play group and was talking to a friend of mine about how I must not have done it right, blah, blah you know the usual mother doubt and second guessing. You made it sound so nice and calm when for me it was ummm the opposite. Anyway, she very kindly said, “sarah you had 2 infants. don’t beat yourself up.” oh right! How quickly we forget:)

      • Maddy says:

        You may not feel that you are an expert on vaccines, but I feel it is important to point out that neither is Viera Scheibner. She’s a micro palaeontologist. Her expertise is in small fossils.

  2. Meredith says:

    Stone followed much of that same pattern. He would nurse, be rocked, or fall asleep in his swing, and we could easily transport him to his bed. But like all my babies, there comes a time, for mine, it was around 6 months of so, that they NO LONGER WANT IT! And it just about kills me everytime. When my kids got to that point, they really just wanted to be put down in the bed – awake and all. As sad as it is to let go of not rocking or nursing to sleep anymore, it does make for a lot more freedom. Still to this day, I can take Stone to his room, walk with him for 30 seconds, lay him down and he lays there until he falls asleep. ALl that to say, I really think there comes a time in every babies life when they just want to be put down – so watch for that window! Sounds like you are doing great. miss you bunches!

    • Heather says:

      Six months . . . I’ll be watching. Last night as Micah was fighting the swaddle I though “when is that window again? . . . is this it?” I hope I recognize it when it arrives.

      Oh, and thanks for that lump in my throat. I could actually hear your voice when I read “miss you bunches!” and now I feel a sudden urge to drive to Oklahoma for some girl time. Miss you, too.

  3. latisha says:

    i have a whole new perspective on sleep now that i have two. i really am not sure you can sleep train children. i think each child is different and has different needs and ways to fall asleep its just about paying attention. i know that seems simplistic, but just my perspective. i read the pantly book too, but glad i checked it out from the library. the best part of it, to me, was that same quote yo wrote about how sleeping through the night is 5 hours and the number of times babies wake.

    with my first we did all the book stuff, save crying it out – that’s just not our thing, including the pantly charts and such. she had a whole regimen: swadle, rock, sway, swing nurse. it was exhausting. but she was so restless. and she never slept very long. she still doesnt. if i could have fast forwarded for a moment to 2 years old, i wouldnt have tried so hard. turns out she is just a super energetic kid. always was probably always will be.

    this time around i finally know what the books say when they say “put the child down tired, but awake” this never worked for my first. but with my second it does. and she is a hard core sleeper. we havent done much at all and she just sleeps, whenever wherever forever. she is just starting to crawl and she has become a bit more restless. but i just lay with her until she kicks it out. sometimes this takes 30 minutes. but it works. and i dont touch her or anything. as soon as i do she becomes more excited. just being there is enough for her. whereas my first born still likes to be snuggled tight to sleep, if she can. but at some point (maybe around 2 years old) really just started sleeping on her own without our help. however it’s rare that she doesn’t wake once in the night.

    on the other hand, both my cousins kids were sleepers from the start. no crying, no fuss. they just sleep. so im back to my new perspective: they are all different and i dont think there is any such thing as a solution. this might mean two (or more) years of crap sleep for mom and dad, but eventually they get it figured out.
    **disclaimer, i am an unschooler and tend to favor this line of thinking anyway so this ‘perspective’ certainly comes with my own kind of bias, but wanted to share in case another mom reading might feel comforted by it in any way**

    sorry for the long comment. thanks again as always for great conversations.

    • Heather says:

      Latisha – Thank you for the LONG comment. Those are the best!

      You make an excellent point. I agree that babies are different and some will naturally sleep better than others. However, my experience with Katie when I tried this at two years old is that my gentle efforts resulted in dramatic improvement in the quality and duration of sleep for both of us.My hope is that by giving thoughtful attention to the ways I engage with Micah regarding sleep I will help him make the best of what he is capable of biologically. Hopefully this will mean he is well-rested and happy during the day. More importantly, though, I hope to be well-rested. I know what I’m like after over a year of sleep deprivation and I want to spare my kids THAT woman.

      • latisha says:

        after i walked away i wanted to add that Sevi, my now 2-1/2 year old also lets us know when she’s ready for bed and naps. she just does it on her own. “mama, i need to go to bed” and grabs her blanket. somedays its later than i’d like but usually its very reasonable. for us, this just worked out. i know it sounds crazy.

        and i hear you really. and didnt mean to sound insensitive to sleep deprivation at all. i guess, for me, it felt like it got so much easier when i stopped trying so hard. but i tend to overdo things anyway. often my ‘relaxing about it’ is everyone else’s normal. i am ridiculously grateful for having a sleep addicted child this time around (and have enjoyed 6 hour plus stretches of sleep since she was born) and have no idea what i’d be like if the second was like the first.

        i so appreciate your coming at this from a new angle within AP, because it can often feel so black and white online.

        • Heather says:

          I didn’t think you were being insensitive at all! I feel like I’ve gotten to “know” you a bit and fancy that I can read inflection in comments. :) My “relaxed” is everyone else’s normal, too. :) I’d love to be more “go with the flow” (my husband would love that, too) but the fact is I don’t think well under pressure. When things come up, naps get missed and everyone starts crying I am not really great at handling that. I hope to be better over time, but for now I just have to admit my shortcomings and try to compensate by being prepared.

          I love that Sevi tells you when she’s tired! What a gift! Katie doesn’t fight sleep, but she’s not proactive about her naps, either.

  4. Suchada @ Mama Eve says:

    I really like this post. I like the emphasis on gentle techniques to get a baby to sleep and also the many techniques that can be tried. I just have to add that some babies are just much higher need, though, and don’t respond to any amount of patience and sleepy-but-not-quite-asleep attempts. My oldest has an extremely sensitive proximity radar, and always has. At 2 he still co-sleeps with me, and even from a dead sleep he knows if I leave the room and will wake up (this is in the middle of the night — he’ll sleep by himself for naps and for a couple of hours at the start of the night). My younger son is much more easy going, and will easily go down when he’s sleepy and settle himself, and actually sleeps better in the co-sleeper. It’s been a very intense time with my oldest, but I know he’ll eventually be ready to go on his own, and it’s not worth it for us to force it until then.

    • Daniel says:

      Our first was very sensitive to being left during sleep as well. So we started wedging a pillow between us. Heather or I would drape an arm over her, but the majority of her body was in contact with a pillow. When we get up thirty minutes later, she doesn’t feel much difference, and is able to keep sleeping until something wakes her up.

  5. Joy says:

    Love it! Thanks for sharing this! I’m prepping myself emotionally for this journey all over again when baby number two arrives in April!

  6. shannon says:

    thanks. that was great. i found out all kids are so different.I tried so many different methods through the first year, but axel did not sleep through the night (even the 5 hours) until well over a year, but once he was ready it took just a week and he goes to bed fully awake and talks a bit and falls asleep. That comment was great about be ready for the window!! it does seem to just happen, and i was very excited when it did!! :)

  7. Tanya Nguyen says:

    OMG i needed this blog and comments today, I am THAT MOM!!!! My lovely 9.5 son is on a 45 min sleep cycle for the past two weeks, at 4 mo it was 3-5 hours, 5 mo-2-3 hours, now its waking up every 45 minutes. He doesn’t even stir he wakes up crying and cannot be settled whether he is co-sleeping or in his crib. I have been doing to Pantley pulloff, nite time routine, rocking, swaying, feeding when nothing else helps, im at my wits ends. 9.5 mo and I am THAT MOM and worse. I love my son so much but I am not at 100% and feel worse. Maybe at a year things will change. Im going to continue with Pantley suggestions as much as possible. I have adjusted and massaged him hoping something neurological will kick in. My husband has done acupuncture points. Poor Gio we will soon get it, I Hope. Latisha-your comment helped.

    • latisha says:

      tanya, i am glad i could help even if just a little. that sounds much like my sevi. big hugs and kisses to each of you. hang in there mama, you are doing the best you can.

  8. margo says:

    I am “that” mom when I have to get up 5-6x in one hour to help my little one back to sleep. Then it makes me “that” tired mom the next day. The book that helped me was THE BABY WHISPERER SOLVES ALL YOUR PROBLEMS. If you are one who likes routine you may like this book…if you are one who is not a routine-er then you may not like this book. It has good info for infants & toddlers. I started reading it when my little one was about 6wks. I have implemented lots of the suggestions and most time my little one takes great naps (sleepy but awake is the key) and decent nighttime sleeps.
    Thanks for all the info that DTaP stuff really makes me think. My little one is 4 months and as of now we have not vaccinated. I am finding it to be a hard decision as to “do we, don’t we”. If we do, then when.
    thanks again.

  9. Leah says:

    I guess based on all of these responses, Heather, your question has been answered. :>) For what it’s worth, I reposed this particular post on the FB walls of a couple of first time Mom who are currently working through the sleep issues. So, yes, great job as always beginning the conversation. And I love the respectful tone that has continued.
    With my youngest (of three) now almost four I second Latisha’s comment about each child being different. My first was, and continues to be in many ways, my highest need baby. He needed a level of attention that the other two simply did not. I am regularly amazed at how different all three are – same home, same parents, relatively close in age, no significant life changes, etc. but yet respond to all of life’s challenges in such vastly different ways.

  10. Melissa says:

    This post was great! I am about to give birth to our third and will have three under three, so it’s wonderful to hear how other moms handle the sleep situation. My oldest has given up naps at 2 1/2 and has always been difficult to put to sleep. My second is a champion sleeper. I lay her down and out she goes. It’s amazing. So I have had both ends of the spectrum. No telling what this little guy will be like.
    I also wanted to say thank you for the vaccination comment. My husband and I have made the choice to not vaccinate and we feel very strongly that our decision was based on lots of good research and prayer. I too want people to make informed decisions, however, it’s very hard being non-vaccinating parents and actually finding others who share this same philosophy. It’s not a popular choice (at least here in Oklahoma) and we get a lot of resistence from friends and family. Thanks for sharing your point of view and making people such as myself feel not so alone.

  11. Elisabeth says:

    Yes! Helpful.

    Hem sleeps pretty well, I think, and we mix it up with him, too, but sleeping patterns have definitely been on my mind. Setting precedents. We introduced the breast-milk bottle at 5 weeks because I want to be back at work by 3 months, and the midwives said it’s important to introduce things like that NOW, while the baby’s still so little, because if you wait till later he may develop strong feelings to the contrary. So, about sleep: same thing. Hem sleeps in bed with us, and I love having him so close right now. But from the start, I promised myself he won’t STILL be in bed with us when he’s 3. Or 2. Or 1. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just not my style.

    So I want to transition him to sleeping in his cradle beside our bed, smoothly and relatively early, because eventually I want my bed to go back to being just for mom and dad. So, even thought I do like having him in bed with us right now, I’m thinking about things I should be doing, now, to make that transition easier, later.

    This long ramble is to say I really like your thoughts, and I’m going to try your once-a-day ritual, putting him down in his cradle as many times as it takes for him to get to sleep. To this point he’s gotten good sleep (A) in our bed, (B) propped upright on a chair, or (C) strapped to one of us in the Kozy carrier (a kind of mei tai). But when we put him down in his cradle he fusses, and when we put him there after he’s asleep he wakes up just like you said – with that “kitchen floor” expression.

    So, thanks. Lots to think about here!

  12. Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama says:

    I nursed my first to sleep every night until around 5 months, when she no longer let me. She’d be tired, but would nurse, then smile and sit up. I put her in her crib and walked away. She’d play and coo and talk for awhile then just go to sleep. I never had to “teach” her anything. She did continue to wake in the night until around 2.5 years, but it wasn’t too often after 13 months or so (once per night 3 – 4 nights per week; she had very sensitive skin and would want her diaper changed).

    Now, my second…oh boy! He slept like a dream for the first three months (5 – 7 hours per night), but then woke every.40.minutes. FOR MONTHS! We worked so hard to get him to fall asleep in his own bed and in various ways, always someone sitting with him. But we undid it when he got a bad cold just after 6 months and didn’t get back to it until around 13 months. He just would pop up at all times of the night and want attention. It was rare he’d fall back sleep on his own. And we TRIED to teach him! Finally we decided daddy would do it: have him fall asleep ON daddy, then next to daddy (touching), then near daddy (not touching), then in his crib while daddy sat nearby, then just on his own. That worked great for a few months, until I got pregnant again! But now we’re slowly getting back to it. We did discover food was an issue. He was still waking 1 – 4 times per night (av. 3) between 15 and 18 months, although he was in his own room then. He *usually* gave me a 4 – 6 hour stretch, though (but I expect more from a baby that old!). FINALLY when we removed grains and a couple other things from his diet he started to sleep through more often than not, a good 11-hour stretch. Ah. I breathe a sigh of relief, knowing I’ll get good sleep (probably) more often than not now, at least until baby #3 arrives this summer. :)

    • Heather says:

      Congrats on Baby #3, Kate! And thanks for sharing your experience. Micah is a great sleeper in general but things have been off for the past few weeks. I chalked it up to teething but after reading your comment it occurred to me that my diet hasn’t been as good as usual. I usually only consume sprouted spelt products, etc, but in the past coupe of weeks I’ve just picked up whole wheat at the store. I’m going to lay off the “junk” and see if that helps. Thanks!

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