Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sleep and my Oddball Baby

One of my biggest frustrations in parenting has been reading baby books, being told that the vast majority of all babies will do/act/respond in a certain way, and then after much trial and error finding that D actually does NOT do/act/respond in that way. This has often made me feel frustrated and confused, but then a trip to a parenting message board (or blog post) later I'll often find that there's many other moms and babies just like us, and that we apparently comprise of a secret group of totally normal, but different and weird, babies.

One of the biggest prevailing wisdoms for babies and sleep is that full tummies will make babies sleep better and longer. I've read and been told this over and over and over again, even up through this past week in Texas when well-meaning family told me that they thought him eating a big dinner or breastfeeding right before bed would help him sleep longer. Many moms "dream feed" their babies, giving them a bottle at about 9-10pm, before mom herself goes to bed, in hopes of baby sleeping a longer stretch and giving mom some more sleep. Seems like it makes sense, right?

I remember starting cereal with D at 6 months and thinking, "Yay! Maybe this will help him sleep better at night!" But if anything, his sleep got worse. I have never dream-fed him, as I just haven't wanted to take the risk of waking him and then not going back to sleep, but the nights when he's woken up at about 9-10pm and fed, tend to be nights when he'll continue to wake every few hours all night long. I have never noticed any connection between more food and better sleep for him, and believe me I have looked.

In fact, I almost suspect that it goes backwards for him. I think eating more at night keeps him hungrier, or at least makes him wake up more, for whatever reason. I was surprised when we first started trying to eliminate some of his night feedings a few months ago-- we decided not to feed him if he woke before 2am, letting Zach go in to comfort him and using the Ferber/progressive waiting approach-- and once he went back to sleep after the first waking he often would sleep a MUCH longer stretch of sleep than he previously had been. We successfully got him down to I think one night feeding at the time, which lasted for a bit till he started waking more often again at a time when I was freaked about his weight gain and so fed him every chance I got, which has led to him waking 2-3+ times a night for the past few months and sleeping about 2-4 hours at a time. This has left me sleep deprived to the point where I feel like my mind is in a fog most of the time and can't think straight, and, really, enough is enough and I need my sleep. And so does D.

Last night we put him to bed at about 7pm. He woke and I fed him at 9:30pm, and then as Zach and I got ready for bed we decided to start implementing the same strategy as before to try to reduce night wakings. Sure enough D woke again at 11:15pm, and cried for about 45 minutes. It sucked, I hated it, I asked myself over and over why we were doing this... but I knew it was necessary. It also proved to be the right thing to do when, after finally falling asleep at midnight, he slept for FIVE AND A HALF HOURS. That's better than he's done in MONTHS. Then he ate at 5:30 and went back to sleep.

I hate the thought of making him go to sleep while hungry, but the fact that he then slept over 5 hours when he normally has been sleeping 2-3 at a time tells me that hunger is not the issue here not only that but that feeding him might be actively disrupting his sleep. And who knows, maybe tonight will go completely differently... but last night showed a pattern I've seen with him before, and that I suspect will continue. I'm writing this post partially for myself, for my own records and remembering, but also for anyone else out there who has one of these oddball babies that doesn't follow the conventional logic or "rules"-- I know there's more of you out there. I like to think of it as them not succumbing to baby peer pressure. They're individuals, not afraid to be different. ; )


  1. Babies follow rules? Not mine, that's for sure.

    You're doing great! He seems so happy and healthy, just measure by those cheeks. Hang in there, he'll figure out that whole going back to sleep thing. I remember Ryan took 2 weeks to get it, starting with 2 hours of screaming while I checked on her every 15 minutes. Talk about tough! I can totally relate. I think I cried along with her.

  2. How about economist sleep? S still loves how Z has kept up with reading that to Donovan ;) xox

  3. D has had tummy problems (acid reflux, processing dairy) so if anything I think you're really on to something with this eating = waking up thing. Probably more food makes his tummy do more work, upsetting him and making him wake up.

    Adults don't like to eat late, because it causes restless sleep (well... here in the US. In Europe, they eat at all hours of the night - but that's different). So go with the less-nighttime feedings thing.

    Give him lots of chicken and Cheerios during the day, so he can keep up the chubby cheeks.

  4. I tried the dream feed thing with Ellie when she was still waking once per night, and it actually caused her to wake earlier. The dream feed would go fine, she'd never even really wake up, but then sure enough she'd be up for her usual overnight feeding a few hours earlier than usual.

    FWIW, I thought all that stuff about full bellies was outdated? Maybe the thinking is different in England (where I was when I was reading most of this kind of stuff) but I read that starting cereal and solids or even introducing formula to get babies to sleep longer at night was a myth. My SIL started feeding her baby rice cereal mixed with breast milk at 4 weeks (!!!) and I thought she was crazy. But she was taking advice from her well-meaning mother, who hadn't had a baby in 30 years.

    Good luck with everything! Sounds like you're on to something.



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