Sleep the RIE way — six months later

May 13, 2013 · 7 comments

RIE sleeping babyMy daughter is almost six months old already!

My experience with her has been so different from my other children, and sleep is one of the most dramatic differences. I wrote about getting her to sleep in the early days, and since then we’ve enjoyed lots of sleep-full nights. Throughout the experience I’ve learned a lot about sleep and relationships.

1. Having my child sleep apart from me hasn’t damaged our relationship. With my first child, I was really scared that if I let him sleep in his own space, and especially in his own room, we would have a permanent gulf between us. I was a little concerned about it with my daughter, but quickly learned it wasn’t something I needed to worry about. My relationship with my daughter is established by how I treat her and our interactions during waking hours, not by where she sleeps.

Regardless, I kept her close to me for the first few months because it was easier for me to attend to her when she needed it. She slept in a bassinet in my bedroom until she was about four months old, and then I transitioned her to a Montessori floor bed in her own room. Throughout it all we’ve been very close, and very connected. While she isn’t as dependent on me as my other children were, she is still very affectionate and we enjoy lots of close cuddle time.

2. Establishing good sleep habits doesn’t mean babies will never have nighttime needs. Until she was about four months old, my daughter would sleep through the night in the literal sense. I put her to bed around 5:30 or 6pm, and she would wake up at 6:30 or 7am the next morning. Every once in a while she would squirm around or cry out, but then she’d snuggle back down again and fall asleep. Then she started rolling over, and started teething, and everything got thrown for a loop.

When she woke up, she often turned herself over and didn’t want to or couldn’t settle back down. That went on for a few weeks, then calmed down. Then she started crawling, and it started again. Now we’re in a stage where if there is any distraction (usually her brothers), she is too interested in them to eat, so she wakes a couple times in the night because she’s hungry.

While it would be really lovely to create good sleep habits early in her life and leave it at that, the fact is that sleep changes as children grow. I’ve learned to listen to her needs, adapt, and respond as needed. For her developmental milestones, we got to a point where I had to gently tell her I was going to leave her in the position she was in and let her fall asleep on her own. It was hard to listen to her cry, and a couple times she wanted me to stay close to her (and I did), but I could almost see the change in her confidence and wakefulness the next days. And now with eating, I of course get up to feed her. It’s twice a night at the most, after she’s slept for 8-10 hours, and it will pass. Creating healthy sleep habits doesn’t mean we ignore needs or force unwanted changes.

3. Parenting is a thousand times easier when baby has good nighttime habits. For various reasons, sleep was one of the hardest things about parenting for me. With my first children, I felt guilty that I loved them the most when they were asleep, but I wasn’t comfortable making the changes necessary to establish good sleep. This time around (and also with my older children, now that we’re all in a good routine), I love my kids the most when they’re awake. They sleep a lot, so thinking about naps and nighttime isn’t stressful or anxious for any of us.

They’re also all a lot less crabby and a lot more predictable when they get lots of sleep (aren’t we all?) Once I had that aspect of parenting down, which gave me more time to spend by myself and with my husband, I have a thousand times more confidence about my overall parenting. All three of my kids usually take a 1 1/2 – 2 hr nap at the same time every day. How could I not feel like superwoman!?

I really wish I had known about this and done it from the start with my first two children. Evenings are infinitely more enjoyable when my daughter and I do our short routine together and she giggles, smiles, and blows bubbles at me when I lay her down to sleep than the endless tears and stress of bedtime with my first son. She kicks her legs with happiness when I sing her lullaby, and visibly relaxes when I tuck her into her blanket.

This is the way I wish it had always been.

Photo credit: tamakisono on Flickr

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jessica Smock May 13, 2013

I can definitely relate! Sleep is so insanely important. I agree with every point you make. Sleep has been the biggest challenge that I’ve experienced as a (fairly) new mom. My son is now two, and his sleep challenges have changed so dramatically with every new phase. I agree 100% that making sure that your child gets good sleep doesn’t mean that you’re ignoring him or not attending to his needs. Sleep IS a huge need. Listening to my son cry was so tough, but the difference in his personality and health was so dramatic. He is such a different child when he is rested!

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2 Suchada @ Mama Eve May 13, 2013

I’m so happy for you that you figured it out with your first child! I wish I had :)

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3 Ashly May 13, 2013

I love hearing when previous co-sleeping moms understand that there are extremes to CIO and then there is some normal crying that won’t hurt but make children (even babies – Gasp) stronger and healthier and have more confidence in their Mothers!!! I am glad you are getting to experience the joys of a bedtime dance with your daughter. I was fortunate to have a Step-Mom who went through the process of it just like you. She has 4 children and she had such a similar sleep pattern/discovery like yours. She was able to pave a wonderful path for me and my girls when my oldest was about 4 months old. Congrats and I am super happy for your family. I know the joy it is to just close the door and walk away and go have some much needed adult time!!! It’s pretty much the best thing ever! There will be some milestones that will throw it but because you have laid all the ground work now, it should go that much more smoothly and gently.

When I hear some CIO methods that takes place, I absolutely cringe!! How could anyone think that that makes any sense! 4 year olds crying until they throw up, finally falling asleep by the door with their fingers under it trying to reach out for help??!! If they would have built them up from the beginning, slowly and lovingly, the child would never have to have such a horrible experience. Even then, they could still build up a tolerance for them. Kind of like an immunity towards not being scared sleeping alone or being scared of crying and not knowing how to sooth themselves at all, etc. Anyway -small rant. Once again, I just get super stoked to hear about any parent getting to enjoy their children more all because everyone is getting, not just good sleep, or enough sleep, but amazing sleep that doesn’t usually happen without the devotion and preparation of a proper sleep schedule done firmly and lovingly by a diligent parent. Great work. You deserve the sleep you’re getting 100% times 10!!

Take care and Happy Mother’s Day

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4 Vanessa May 13, 2013

I can relate so much to #1, my baby has been sleeping in his crib for naps almost from the beginning and at night time before the first awakening, at first I felt very strange, like I wasn’t doing enough, but as the days and weeks go by I can see how we bond in so many other ways, during feedings, diaper changes, while he lays on the floor or is held.
I mostly followed AP with my first but not knowing about RIE was the missing piece, being aware that babies are capable and that is healthy for the whole family to set limits with sleep leads to better parenting, i vowed this time around that I will do everything I can to avoid creating patterns that only lead to resentment, I remember by the time my first was about a year I was hardly able to stay present during the day due to all the exhaustion from nursing while co-sleeping.
I am glad your whole family is having so much needed rest. I have a question though, how were you able to skip nursing for the bed time routine, I feel like I keep paying close attention to my baby who is 8 weeks and I don’t see how I would get to not offer the breast and going straight to the crib, the most we get to is sometimes he is drowsy after nursing and then falls asleep in the crib but what has mostly helped is that I pay close attention when it sounds like he is waking up and allow him to settle back to sleep, just thanks to that he is able to sleep so much longer but I know I am still missing the part about him being completely awake when being put into the crib, do they have to necessarily cry at first for this? Maybe this is the part I still struggle with doing.

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5 Leah June 30, 2013

Thanks for another inspiring article. I feel I’m on a similar path as you, having been very much AP first time around and now, with my youngest, being so much amazed at how capable babies can be if we let them, while still supporting them fully.

I’d love it if you would be able to clarify something for me? You mention that if your baby rolls over at night you leave her in that position… Just wondering if I’ve understood that correctly? My baby has started waking more frequently at 5m and one reason being he rolls on to his front. I always turn him over when he does – I know the RIE position istoro ably not to do this, but when he is crying about being on his front and he wants to go back to sleep I haven’t quite got the confidence to just be with him and support him through it rather than pick him up. Did your baby fall back to sleep if she rolled over, woke up and cried? What did you do exactly to facilitate that?

Also, how do you decide if your baby is hungry or not when she wakes in the night??

My baby was sleeping really well, waking once or twice a night, but now at 5months waking much more frequently and I can see I’m falling in to a habit of bringing him in to bed and feeding him to sleep. He used to fall asleep easily without breast but is coming to want it more and more for sleep, and I’m struggling a bit with knowing where to set a healthy boundary. Your insights as always would be greatly appreciated :-) much love x

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6 Suchada @ Mama Eve July 1, 2013

Hi Leah,

I’m glad you’ve found some inspiration from this!

Here are the answers to your questions:

1. When my baby started rolling over at night, I initially went to her, told her I was going to turn her over, rolled her back, and she was able to settle and fall back asleep. Eventually though, she was doing it so many times a night and wasn’t well-rested during the day. So I told her I was going to give her an opportunity to fall asleep in whatever position she ended up in, and she did. I think it only took one time where it took her a few minutes to settle and she wasn’t happy, but after that she slept well again.

2. I use observation to decide if my baby is hungry or not and needs to be fed at night. I pay close attention to what she eats during the day, and make sure she can eat as much as she wants, especially at regular mealtimes (vs snacking). I also pay attention to her bowel movements. If I feed her at night but she wakes up early because she has a BM, then I know she didn’t really need to eat and I should look at other things that might be making her. At night I almost always give her an opportunity to settle herself if she wakes. Because she’s capable of settling herself back to sleep, if she wakes up more than once or her cry sounds unusual, I’ll go in to check on her. Unless she feels unusually cold, I’ll feed her. I usually just feed her on one breast so she doesn’t get too full and uncomfortable so she wakes. If night-waking to eat becomes more regular, then I adjust what’s available for her to eat during the day to make sure she has enough calories to stay full through the night. Recently (at 7 1/2 months old) she’s been waking around 4:30am for a feed, then sleeps again until 6:30 or 7.

My daughter went through a similar pattern around that time, and I changed how I fed her. Our problem was she was really distracted when she ate and so didn’t eat as much. I started making a point to get her into a quiet place away from her brothers, and giving her lots of time to get a full meal. Combined with other markers of readiness for solid food, it’s also an indication he’s close to being ready for solids to get more calories.

Good luck — let me know how it goes!

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7 esther January 6, 2014

i find it hard to come to terms with this approach. I followed AP with my first (and only) and he woke every 20-40 minutes for the first year and then every hour for the second. I was so exhausted I couldn’t function. If i have another baby i want to enjoy it, do sensory play, swimming, walks etc rather than sobbing wishing he would sleep. but equally its not very AP to not respond immediately to babies needs day or night….surely its the same as cry it out but less extreme, no one comes so baby learns to ‘self sooth’? any advice would be appreciated
Esther

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