Q&A: 2-year-old waking up after new baby arrives

Jo-Ann writes:

"I am a WOHM of a two boys who are 2 years old and a 5 month old. Things with the baby are great.  I have been so lucky that he has been a great sleeper since he was born. We cosleep and he might wake up once to nurse but sometimes he doesn’t wake at all.

My two year old is having the issues. He is having major issues in daycare. He is acting out and testing constantly. He was home with me for over half of my maternity leave and we had the best summer ever. He has now been back in daycare for almost 3 months and is still acting out. The daycare have been working with him and things seem to be getting somewhat better.

I nursed him throughout my pregnancy and in late September he decided to wean in the evening and now we are just nursing before nap on the weekend. We have replaced his evening nurse with reading books for closeness. He seems to be ok with nursing on weekends and only asks to
nurse then.

Now his problem has become night waking. He has always been a pretty good sleeper and for the last 7 months he has gone to sleep at about 8pm and has woken up at about 6 – 6:30 am.  The past week he has gotten up at midnight, 2,3,4, and up for the day 5:30am.  Each time he wakes and yells and screams for Mommy and Daddy. One of us goes to him.  He is easily calmed and goes back to bed.

To say the least I am a walking zombie.  What is funny is that people expect I’d be sleep deprived from the baby but I am not.

Any ideas would be appreciated!"

Geez does this sound familiar. Only my older one was 3 when his brother was born, and I don’t WOH. But other than that it’s the same story. Mine went through a period of acting out a ton (eased when my husband was home to run around with him all summer) and then a long stretch of waking up every night. It was a different thing every night–sometimes having to pee, sometimes having wet the bed, sometimes having a bad dream, sometimes hearing noises, etc. I sooo identify with being sleep deprived from the big one but not the little one. It also happened exactly this way when a friend of mine had her second (they were 17 months apart)–the baby slept like a champ but her toddler was up 6 times a night some nights.

It has eased* for us in the past few months, though. I don’t think we did anything. I think it was just the passage of time and his process adjusting to the New Normal. The little one has been here for almost 8 months, so El Chico may just be getting used to him and to not being the only kid in the family.

But I honestly have no idea. Readers? What do you say?

I’d really like to hear from some parents who have younger kids older than, say, a year, who can tell us whether this is something all olders seem to go through or not. And any parents of three or more, did this happen every time there was a new baby?  If there was a gap of more than 4 years between the older and younger was there still this acting out and sleep disruption? In hindsight do you think there’s anything that can be done about it (aside from the obvious trick of spending as much time with the older as possible)?

*By "eased" I mean that El Chico’s sleeping better. El Pequeño now seems to be heading into the 8-9-month sleep regression. Ha. Ha ha. Hahahahahahahaha. Sigh.

Q&A: Preparing for a Baby Boy

Jessica writes:

"My question revolves around your knowledge as a mother to two children, specifically two boys.

We are expecting our second child this April.  We recently found out
that he will be a boy. We already have a 2 3/4 year old daughter.  Our
family has tons of girls in it, and everyone (myself included) thought
this baby would be another girl.  While we are very excited to be
having a boy, I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around it.  I
think my major concern is that I don’t really know what to do with a
boy.  Several friends suggested some "retail therapy" to help me get
more in the little boy mood, which is also necessary since we knew we
were having a girl the first time and consequently own very little baby
clothing that is not purple or pink. Other than more masuline clothing,
is there anything you "need" for a boy baby?  Or for two children?  All
I can think of are more carseats and a double stoller, as well as
replacing a few items that either we either wore out or didn’t like
with my daughter.  Also, do you have any little boy tips?  Or dealing
with a newborn and also an older sibling tips?  We are a very girly
household, and my husband, though great while he is home, travels a lot
for business.  Part of me knows very well that everything will be fine,
but another part is panicked."

My biggest tip is to stay out of the way of the penis.

Not really, of course. My biggest tip is to prepare yourself for The
Cute. Because boys are cute. Not that girls aren’t, but there’s just
something about baby boys that makes them irresistable. Do you have any
friends with baby boys? Because you might want to see if you can spend
a little time with one so you can steel yourself for the full frontal
attack of cuteness. Am I sounding goofy and over-the-top? Of course I
am. But I can’t help it. I just love boys. (And I was one of those
women who always assumed she’d have at least one daughter and never
gave a thought to having a boy. But I find myself staring at baby boys
much more than baby girls now that I have one–kind of the way I now
think bald men a super-sexy since my husband lost his hair.)

I think the only prep you need to do for having a boy instead of a
girl is to be on the same page with your partner about a few key
issues, specifically penis issues and gender issues.

Penis: I’m certainly not going to tell you what to do about
circumcision, although I can offer my own experience. I felt that it
was not right to cut off a part of a person’s body without that
person’s informed consent, and El Grande was OK with that, so we didn’t
circ. It turns out that I took the easy way out, because there has
never been any maintenance on either of my uncut boys’ members. However,
penises are strange little creatures, and it took me almost a year not
to be a little stunned every time I changed a diaper and saw one there.
At any rate, make sure you and your partner are absolutely on the same
page about circumcision before you have the baby. Then, whether you cut
or not, be prepared to think it’s all a little strange down there for
awhile.

Gender: The two of you as a team need to talk about what messages
you want to send your son about sex and gender roles and identity. I
imagine it’s different from the way you approach this stuff with a
girl, since no one will tell you not to get a girl a catcher’s mitt or
let her wear denim overalls. But plenty of people don’t feel
comfortable letting their sons play with dolls or wear toenail polish.
Talk about it now, so that no one gets upset about things that happen,
presents that are given, clothes that are worn, etc.

About the things that you need for having two kids:

A double stroller is essential if you use strollers at all. (I
realize some people in suburbs never need them–in the city where I
live it would be ridiculous to try to get by without one.) Think about
how much and where you’re going to use the stroller. If your daughter
is a decent walker you might want to think about something like the Caboose.
In NYC I go so far that my older son can’t always walk that far (3 mile
roundtrips, for example) that we bit the bullet and invested in a Phil and Ted’s  (for some reason the Amazon page only shows it in single mode–you buy an extra seat that attaches underneath and behind the main seat
so you have two kids stacked vertically in the footprint of a single
stroller) The Phil and Ted’s has changed my life and I recommend it
unreservedly. If you’ll be pushing both kids a lot but don’t want to
spend the money on the Phil and Ted’s and have lots of wide doorways,
consider a side-by-side umbrella double like the Maclaren or the Inglesina Twin Swift.

Even before you use the stroller, though, you’ll need a really good
front carrier for the baby, so you can be handsfree to play with your
older one. I have an Ellaroo Wrap
and I absolutely love it. We used it from Day 2, and it was the perfect
carrier–more secure than a ring sling, but he could lie down
horizontally in it and nurse easily (and completely discreetly). I
honestly don’t know how I could have managed without a great front
carrier, because the little baby needs to be held all the time, but you
still have to play with and feed and run around with your older one.

Read Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish (the women who wrote the classic How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk).
A lot of the stuff in it is common sense, but there are some
interesting things that I never would have thought about, like not
allowing your kids to assign themselves roles within the
family. The section on figuring out whether you need to intervene in a
fight or not is easily worth the price of the book.

I can’t think of any other objects that you need for either a boy or
for going from one to two kids. You will probably get peed on a few
times in the beginning, but a washcloth works as well as those things
they sell to deflect the pee. I’m sure if there’s anything else someone
will mention it in the comments.

The thing I very strongly suggest is that you arrange for someone to
be there to help you for the first few weeks. The first three weeks are
just mind-boggling. You’re really stuck between your two children with
their conflicting needs. If you have someone else there to play with
your older child it takes a lot of the pressure off you. By the sixth
week you’ll start to get it together, so if you can have someone there
with you for at least the first three weeks you’ll have the best start
possible.

My only other advice is not to get cocky like I did. I thought it
would be so much easier the second time through because I knew what I
was in for. And I guess it was easier in a way, but only because I was
able to keep in my mind that the bad things wouldn’t last forever. But
all that other stuff–worrying about milk supply, night waking, feeling
trapped, feeling flabby and ugly, the witching hour, resenting the
inherent work imbalance of the first few months, being tired of holding
up the entire world with only two arms–all that was still there. If
you know it’s going to be just as ugly the second time you can grit
your teeth and get through the first few months, and if it turns out to
be a lot easier for you you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Good luck. Having a second child is a wonderful roller coaster that will add more love and more chaos to your family.

Q&A: Toddler Tooth Brushing

Sleep Week is over, which is good, because it was making me tired. Why is sleep so much more gutwrenching than other kinds of problems? And now on to an easier question.

Elise asks:

"How crucial is it for two-year-olds to brush their teeth twice a day? It is so hard to get my daughter to brush hers that they only get brushed once or twice a week if we’re lucky.  My co-worker was telling me it’s OK if they’re not super diligent about it until they’re 3 1/2 or 4 – what do you think?  Does El Chico brush his teeth regularly? Do you have to pry his lips open with the toothbrush?"

I think they’re really supposed to brush twice a day.

Having said that, though, I’ll confess that El Chico only brushes once a day. Some days he brushes by himself, and other days I can get him to let me do it (so I know the back and insides are actually getting brushed).

What tipped him over into being a tooth brushing fan was the Dora electric toothbrush. Once that wore out, he got a Hot Wheels electric toothbrush. Whatever one you get, I highly recommend a licensed character electric toothbrush. (If they’re going to market to kids anyway, why not at least make use of it for good dental hygiene?) And goofy fruit-flavored toothpaste. I’ve heard other parents say that they let their kids pretend to brush the parent’s teeth as an inducement to allow the parent to brush the kid’s teeth. We just kept talking about how Big Boys brush their teeth every night (and how Bob the Builder brushes his teeth every night), so now he demands to squeeze on the toothpaste and do it himself.

AFAIK, a 2-year-old should be seeing the dentist soon anyway (I’ve read that they should go for the first time at 18 months). You’ll probably have to do a lot of practice ("and then the dentist sticks a cool little round shiny mirror in your mouth so she can see the back of your teeth!") and hype ("I love the dentist!") before you go. But then at least you’ll get the straight story on how often you need to brush, and you’ll see if your child is having problems yet.

Q&A: Bedtime #2

Emmie writes:

"My twin boys have always been rather fussy in the evenings. They are
now 8 months old, and one of my boys does not seem to be outgrowing
this tendency. We put them down at 7 and the hours between 4 and 6
(when bathtime begins) are punctuated by contant whining and fussing.
It’s driving me nuts. Bathtime goes well, and then he screams the whole
time I dress hime until he gets fed. When he’s not sleeping, he’s
extremely active. I’m pretty sure he’s well-rested, as he takes 2 good
naps per day (about 3.25 hours total) and sleeps 11 hours straight at
night. Please give me some insight as to when this evening moodiness
will end. I’m so tired of dreading that time of day."

Hmm. I know almost nothing about twins. If he was a singleton I’d look at either the nap schedule or something he’s eating.

It may be possible that his second nap is just hitting him wrong,
and he’s waking up before he should be up (even 15 minutes can make a
difference in this) or it’s just hitting him at the wrong time of day
somehow. I don’t know if there’s anything you can reasonably do about
that, though, since I can’t imagine dealing with two different nap
schedules with twins. Maybe Linda or another twin mom can help us out with this one, because I’m a little daunted by the logistics of twin naps. (And I can’t even bring myself, except in a parentehtical way, to suggest that maybe he needs a slightly earlier bedtime than your other son does.)

The other thing is that maybe there’s something about something he’s
eating that isn’t sitting right. Either he’s got some kind of mild
sensitivity or allergy, or maybe it’s giving him heartburn or
indigestion. Is there something he eats every day? If so, see if the
fussiness stops if you don’t feed him that for a week.

Oh, and is it possible that he’s hungry during that time? Have you tried feeding him just a teeny snack right then?

(It just hit me that with twins there’s always a control. Cool. I love the experimental method.)

I don’t know if you live someplace that’s cold right now, but the best thing I’ve ever done to get out from under the anvil of the 4-6 pm timeslot
is go outside. In the warmer weather I’d just go walk around, and in
the colder weather I’d go to the grocery store or another store
(bearing in mind that I live in the city and can walk to the store, so
this was all with the kid in the sling or stroller). The change of
scenery seemed to provide enough diversion to break the fussy habit.

Get back to me and let me know if any of what I wrote was helpful.

Brief Nap

Ah, the bittersweet irony of having Sleep Week on Ask Moxie right now.

El Pequeño just got two more teeth, and his gums are swollen and sore, and he’s been sleeping really poorly, and yelping constantly in his sleep, and wanting to nurse nonstop.

El Chico has woken up at 4 or 5 every night this week, for various reasons, ranging from "hearing a funny voice" to being "afraid to go to the bathroom in the dark."

Oh, and did I mention that the cat is nuts and has been receiving messages from the mothership that compel her to yowl in my ear at all hours?

So I’ll get the next few sleep questions up over the course of Friday and Saturday, and then move on to the questions that don’t make me feel like a tired, cranky hypocrite.

Q&A: Bedtime #1

The hilarious Holly writes:

"I have a question, simple really.

My 6.5 month old sleeps really well.   She sleeps with us, usually with a boob in her mouth, all night.  I work during the day, and my husband stays home.  Because they have the luxury of sleeping as late as she wants, she’s gotten into the terrible habit of staying up really late.  Last night I fell asleep on the couch as she played with her piano until 1:30 AM.  Sometimes she falls asleep between 9 and 10.  But I never know if that’s just going to be a nap or the real thing. Any ideas how to scoot her schedule up a bit?  Seems so simple…but isn’t proving to be."

As I see it, you have to make a decision. Do you really want to have her on a bedtime routine and regular bedtime, or are you OK with the floating time? Because, despite what your MIL will tell you, it’s not a bad thing to have a kid with a floating bedtime, as long as it’s OK with you two. (You and your partner, that is. Not you and your MIL.)

It sounds like you really want her to go to bed at a consistent time, though. 1:30 just sounds brutal to me, and I don’t have to show up perky and alert at an office every morning. So the bad news is that you’re going to have to bite the bullet, decide when you want her to go to bed, and just do it.

There are two elements here. One is the bedtime routine, and the other is her sleep sweet spot. The routine is relatively simple (which you know, but I’ll say it here anyway). 30-40 minutes before you want her to go to sleep, start the routine. We did bath, jammies, two books, then singing to sleep while we nursed. Other people do other variations, but the point is to do the same thing every night. (A side benefit of this is that once you have a rock-solid routine, anyone can do it, just using a bottle instead of a boob. Or you can do it in any location. We never worried about getting El Chico to bed on vacation, because as long as we could do the routine he’d go to sleep anywhere.)

The sweet spot is harder to determine. It sounds like she’s not going to be a 7 pm down-for-the-night girl. So the trick is to figure out whether you could get her to go to sleep at, say 8, and then wake up for a little nightcap around 11 pm but then go right back to sleep, or if that’s an impossible dream. If you wait until 10, her sleep cycles might be shifted so that she wakes up for her topper feed at 1 am, which is really not what you want.

So I’m going to say that you and your partner should experiment and keep a log (doesn’t that sound scientific? I mean write it down on the back of an old envelope) of when she naps during the day. That might give you a clue as to when a good bedtime would be. For example, if you guys notice that she always falls asleep at 3 pm, no matter what happened earlier in the day, and sleeps for an hour, then try putting her down at 8. (I’m using the logic that 2-3-4 is as good a starting point as any.) See what happens. If, when she wakes up 3 hours later, she goes right back to sleep, then you’ve hit the right spot. If she still wakes up to play, then try putting her to bed at 8:30 instead. Repeat.

It’s all a guessing game at this point, but most kids do have an optimal bedtime that’s specific to them. El Chico’s was 8:30, but El Pequeño has to go down between 7 and 7:30. If we miss that window, then he’s up ’til 10.

So play around with it, but be intentional about it, and see what happens. Then report back with your findings.

Q&A: Nighttime Sleep #1

Shaynee writes:

"I’ll start with a parenting favorite: difficulty sleeping. My 10-month-old daughter has never been a great sleeper. For most of her life she has awakened every two to three hours, either to eat (when she was younger) or simply by starting awake. For the last couple of months she has been waking every 45 minutes to an hour–essentially, at the end of almost every sleep cycle. Her twice-daily naps have never lasted longer than 45 minutes, and recently they have dropped to 30 minutes.

For a little background on our sleeping arrangement: She slept in a co-sleeper and our bed until she was about five months old. Since then, she has been spending the first part of the night, when we are still up, in her crib in her room and the rest of the night in our bed. (The more frequent waking did not coincide with moving her to her crib part-time–she was actually sleeping for two- and three-hour stretches in her crib for a while.) She wakes slightly less frequently when in our bed but still typically needs to be patted back to sleep every one to two hours. As a result, I have not slept for more than three uninterrupted hours since she came home from the hospital.

She often wakes up suddenly, crying almost immediately. At times I have been lying next to her and watched her start crying vigorously in her sleep even before she wakes.  She will also roll over and start crawling while she’s still partially asleep. This often results in her lodging herself in the corner of the crib, which then confuses and frightens her.

While I don’t rush in to comfort her at the slightest peep, when she truly wakes and cries, I pick her up to calm her down. When she’s in bed with us, I can pat her back to sleep sometimes, but at other times I need to pick her up and rock her.

To compound the situation, she has been very attached to me for the last couple of months and will not relax to fall back asleep if she’s with my husband. Instead, she cries hysterically until I take her. Granted, we haven’t pushed the envelope on how long she will cry when he’s trying to calm her; after half an hour of infant emotional meltdown, she, he, and I are usually so worked up that it just doesn’t seem worth it to keep trying.

Let’s see, a few other random things: She doesn’t have a toy or blanket that she’s attached to which could help her sleep; we’ve tried various items, with no success–she’s simply not interested in them. We give her a pacifier when she goes to sleep; this helps her sleep but she’s not so enamored of it that she seeks it out at bedtime. Nursing her will calm her down, but I try to avoid nursing all the way to sleep so she won’t become  dependent on that tactic. A recent string of viruses and febrile seizures has made her even more loathe to sleep anywhere but on my chest in the last month or so.

That’s about it. I love my little girl, but not having more than an hour or so to myself to do anything not related to her has become trying. Even absent any suggestions, however, simply writing this down has been cathartic. Thanks for the forum."

I suggested propping the head of the bed to see if it would help at all (to see if it was the old favorite, silent reflux). Shaynee replied:

"Thanks for your response. I’ll try raising the crib head,
although I tend to think it’s not reflux. When she was younger and still
spitting up (which she did only rarely, maybe once every couple of days), she
was never bothered when anything came back up. Also, she used to calm down
instantly when I picked her up, but she would not do so for my husband. Now,
with all of the viral goodness that has been going on around here, it takes a
while longer for me to calm her at night as well because she’s congested or
coughing.

A couple of things I neglected to mention in my earlier
message: As you probably discerned, I’m not comfortable doing sleep training
that involves leaving her to cry. I don’t mind if she fusses in an "I disagree
that it’s time for bed" way, but if she’s truly crying I don’t want her to be
alone. Also, about half the time when I pick her up, she has
a lot of gas, so she has a good reason to be crying.

Clearly this has been weighing on me, perhaps more
than it should. My milk supply has dwindled markedly in the last few weeks, a
combination no doubt of cumulative lack of sleep, her increased intake of
solids, and a recent medical procedure that required fasting and really screwed
up the mammary system, it seems. (Perhaps that’s a topic for a future question.)
I’ve also started to question my ability to parent any additional children, not
because I think that poor sleeping is a reflection of bad parenting skills or
even bad parents. Rather, I’m worried that if this somewhat minor issue causes
me such distress, then I would be unable to handle a "difficult"
child, such as a baby with colic. Aside from the sleep issues, my girl is a
mellow, easygoing kid who rarely cries and laughs often (and who seems to
suffer no ill effects or moods from a lack of sleep)."

I don’t think sleep is a "somewhat minor issue" at all. I think sleep is a major major (did I say "major" yet?) issue, and is the thing that causes parents the most stress (aside from serious or chronic illness in their children). Someone once mentioned to me that she thought sleep was The Issue for our generation of parents, the way feeding was in the 80s (when breastfeeding started to come back), and the way toilet training was in the 40s. I don’t know why this is, but I agree. Maybe we have so many more issues with sleep because our kids don’t sleep on their stomachs anymore? Who knows. But I do know it makes most of us feel completely, worthlessly incompetent at worst and totally fried at best.

Anyway, Shaynee, if I were That Kind Of Lady I’d give you a hug. (I’m not That Kind Of Lady, although if I knew you IRL I’d bring over a sixpack and talk trash about celebrities with you while our kids rolled around on the floor together.) Reading through all of this, I think it sounds like you’re just the unfortunate victim of a shitstorm of separation anxiety, sickness, and a tough sleeper. You’ve thought through everything, and I can’t think of anything you haven’t tried or ruled out. Did the waking crying thing start after a round of vaccinations? I’ve heard of some kids having what sounds like sleep apnea for a few months after some shots. The only issue I might try to pursue is the gas one. Can you give Beano to babies that young? Will she sleep on her stomach? She’s old enough to roll into whatever position she wants to sleep in, but I wonder if starting her out on her stomach might give her a longer stretch. (She’s out of the SIDS range, so I, personally, wouldn’t worry about stomach sleeping at this age, but I’m not a professional, so use your own judgement about your own child.)

Now for the good news:

The only-being-comforted-by-you thing sounds like classic separation anxiety, which she’ll grow out of in a month or two. At which point you won’t have to be the sole comforter. It’s also a sign of good attachment, so you know you’re doing a great job.

She’ll sleep through eventually whether you let her cry it out or not. There are millions of us who couldn’t/wouldn’t let our babies cry and our kids eventually slept through the night. Probably not at 10 months, but by 15 months, yes. There will absolutely come a day when you’re annoyed that she only slept 9 hours in a row instead of her usual 10-11.

I think the most immediate problem that you can take steps right now to fix is getting yourself some sleep. Because that’s a separate but equally (if not more!) distressing problem. Since she only accepts you as the comforter at night right now, you’ll have to figure out a way to sleep during the day. Can your partner take her for 5 hours one (or two) day(s) this weekend so you can sleep? Do you have a babysitter that she already likes and feels comfortable with? (Now is not the time to try to introduce a sitter for the first time. Not that I made that mistake myself or anything.) If so, can that person take her for 5-6 hours one or two days in a row? I don’t know if you WOH, but I would sit down with your partner and talk about the lack of sleep problem and make a plan for you to be able to get 5 hours of sleep every day for three days running. If you could do that, then you’d be caught up just enough that you wouldn’t be so brittle and it wouldn’t feel like someone was scraping the inside of your skull with a spork every time your baby wakes up in the night.

As for not having another kid, well, I’m not going to be the one to tell you it’s a piece of cake, because I find it challenging. But the sleep thing isn’t as awful the second time around. I think it’s because you know what’s coming and you know it’s not your fault, and you have a bigger kid and know that eventually the little one will sleep through the night like the big one does.

In the meantime, hang in there. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water, and sit down tonight to make a plan to get yourself some sleep. You’re doing a great job.

Q&A: Naps #1

Heather writes:

"I have a 10 month-old son who has never been a terribly greatnapper.  There have been times where he seems to have settled into a
routine of 45 min. or longer naps, and then we will have weeks on end
where he naps for only 30 min. stretches.  I was able to avoid him
getting overtired when he was younger by keeping short intervals and
always watching his sleepy cues, but as he has gotten older and much
more mobile, he is much more difficult to read.  I’ve been told by
numerous people to either just go with the flow and put him down when
he needs it, or to schedule him strictly and he will eventually learn
to be tired at the same time.  I’ve been leaning more towards reading
his cues, but as I said previously, it doesn’t seem to be working
anymore.  I have somewhat of a bias against scheduling because I don’t
want anyone telling me when I have to go to bed, eat, play, etc.,
however, those who do this swear by it.  I believe I remember you
mentioning that both your boys weren’t the best nappers, so I was just
wondering if you have any additional ideas or insights. 
 
A little additional background:  Yes, he is cranky after only 30
minutes, so it obviously isn’t working for him.  He is sick right now,
although he has had a cold off and on for the last two months.  He is
also getting four teeth, however, his first two didn’t bother him at
all.  He goes to sleep fine for the naps; he has never required any
intervention to fall asleep, it is just the staying there that sucks.
I’ve tried to go back in and quickly rock him, nurse him, pat him,
etc., but that only seems to energize him. 
Thanks in advance."

But Heather is not the only one with this problem. Kate writes:

"My 6 month old boy is king of the catnaps.  He
will take anywhere from 4-7 little naps a day, each one lasting about 25-35
minutes.  Within minutes of waking up from a nap he is
yawning, rubbing his eyes, and fussy, but will not go back to
sleep.
 
I have run out of words to adequately express how
frustrating this is.  I don’t have a clue how to get him sleeping
longer.  It wouldn’t bother me so much, except he clearly needs more
sleep.  I spend just about the entire day soothing him to a drowsy state,
putting him in his crib, and retrieving him a half an hour later when he wakes
back up.  Repeat, repeat, repeat till bedtime.  It makes no difference
how long he is awake between naps, either. 
 
I’ve tried the Pantley method of rushing in at the
first sign of his waking up and soothing him back to sleep, but it doesn’t work
on him.
 
Any thoughts at all?
 
BTW, his night sleeping is pretty good – he
generally wakes up 2-3 times to nurse, but goes right back to
sleep."

Oof. I confess that I find nap questions hard to answer. Probably because, as Heather reminds me, neither of my two boys are the greatest nappers. El Chico was a slow starter on napping. For the first 4-5 months of his life he’d sleep for 25 minutes at a time during the day. Then, once he consolidated into real naps, he went down to one nap a day at 11 months. He gave up napping entirely at 2 1/2 years old. El Pequeño only naps in bed–he hardly naps at all when we’re in motion (30-35 minutes, tops), which is an impossible situation for a second child.

When El Chico was 4 months old, he did the same thing both Heather and Kate describe that their sons do–staying asleep for around 30 minutes, then waking up. I also tried hovering right there and sticking the pacifier right back into his mouth the second he started to rouse, but it never worked. Finally, in desperation, I emailed Elizabeth Pantley. (The No-Cry Sleep Solution had just come out, and I’d read it cover to cover with the desperation of a ravenous barracuda in a koi pond.)

She answered me back! And what she said was that usually you can’t get naps in order until you’ve got nighttime sleep in order. So I should focus on getting a rock-solid bedtime routine down, and in a few weeks the naps would probably settle in, too. And they did, all by themselves. The problems we had with naps after that (except when he dropped them entirely) were during teething and growth and developmental spurts.

But back to your problem, Heather. Do you have a solid bedtime routine? If not, try working on that to see if it helps napping. Then, try to troubleshoot to see if there’s anything that could be interfering with his sleep. Is he hungry? He might be waking up from hunger in the middle of the nap. Does he have reflux or digestive problems? Does he sleep longer in a stroller or car seat than in a bed or crib? Some kids never have the normal symptoms of reflux, but will have problems sleeping horizontally. If that’s the case, you can try propping the head of the bed, or just letting him sleep in the stroller.

Does he seem to nap better in the morning or in the afternoon? Is he getting physically tired out, and if so, does he sleep better after that? Is he learning a new skill (like walking or crawling)?

Kate, I wonder if the problem is with the putting down into the crib. Have you tried nursing or soothing him down next to you on a mat on the floor or your bed, lying there reading a magazine for 20-30 minutes until he’s really asleep, then rolling away? That way you wouldn’t have the motion problem or the difference in mattress pressure on his back, etc.

I’m not a schedule advocate, but I’m a huge routine fan. I like to keep one eye on the kid and the other on the clock, so that I can kind of anticipate "oh, in about 10 minutes he’s going to be tired enough to go down" and that sort of thing. Heather, it sounds like his cues are all over the place right now, so you might want to try a loose 2-3-4 for a week or so and see if it helps any. If it seems to bug him even more to be on a regular routine, pull back and see if you can find any pattern. But he might take to the 2-3-4 and surprise you.

Kate, what would happen if you just assumed he was going to take 2 or 3 naps (if you decide on 2, try 2-3-4, if you decide on 3, try to space them evenly) and stick to only soothing and putting him down then? The first day or two might be really rough, but then I wonder if his body would just start to get used to going to sleep and staying asleep instead of this down-up-down-up thing he’s working right now.

Sorry this wasn’t a linear answer. Heather, let me know what happens after you try the 2-3-4 and do a little observation. Kate, try getting him down on the same space he can sleep on and see if that helps, or try limiting his nap time to only certain windows, then let me know what happens.

Quick and Dirty on Sleep

I’m opening up Sleep Week with what I know about sleep. Remember, none of these are unique ideas!

First of all, kids sleep the way they sleep. Most of it is individual
personality. I thought that when I only had one kid, but now that I
have two, I’m absolutely sure it’s the case. There’s only so much a
parent can do to influence the way a baby or child sleeps, so you can
stop feeling either guilty or smug right now.

Following from that, don’t believe the "bad habit" hype. Think about it: If you had to switch job schedules so you slept a completely opposite schedule, you could do it if you had a week or two to make the switch. And you’re a full-grown adult with years of sleeping experience and full-blown preferences. Babies are way more flexible, so they can certainly make a switch in sleeping styles/locations/times/etc. You just can’t expect it to happen overnight. But given a week or two, you can make changes.

Therefore, in the first 12-14 weeks of parenthood you should take your lead from Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary. If your baby only sleeps on your chest with his/her head wedged up into your neck*, do it if you can sleep that way. If your baby only sleeps in the swing or sling or Amby hammock thing or car seat or car or front carrier or laundry basket or between you in bed or holding onto the cat’s tail or on the bathroom floor or in a tent in your backyard, do it. If you have to run the hairdryer, clothes dryer, white noise machine, "La Vida Loca" CD, or any other noise, more power to you. Whatever gets the maximum number of hours of sleep for the maximum number of people in your household, that’s what you should do. And when anyone asks you how your baby’s sleeping, just lie and say everything’s great.

Once you’re past that initial period, figure out what’s happening, and what you wish was happening. Pick the thing that bugs you the most, think about what you could do to change that thing, and try it for a week. You’ll either fix it, be on your way to fixing it, or realize your kid simply won’t do that. If you’re on your way to fixing your problem, keep going. Otherwise, pick a different thing you want to change, figure out how to try to change it, and try it for a week. Rinse and repeat. In a month or two your kid should be sleeping the way you want. Then a month later everything will change again.

Now, for the important principles of sleep:

1. Babies older than a few weeks can’t stay awake during the day for more than a couple of hours at a time. (Apparently there are at least two sleep experts pretending this is a novel idea. It’s not. Both of my grandmas know it.) If your 3-month-old seems chronically cranky, try putting him/her down for a nap two hours after waking throughout the day, and see if that helps.

2. Once babies hit 6 months or so, many of them will settle into a 2-3-4 pattern. That means that they’ll take their first nap 2 hours after waking up in the morning. They’ll take their second nap 3 hours after waking up from the first nap. They’ll go down for the night 4 hours after waking from the second nap. Not all kids do this, but a surprising number of them seem to.

3. Despite what many peds say, plenty of kids still need to eat at least once during the night until they’re a year old or older. There’s no truth in the "s/he’s x weight so s/he should be sleeping through the night" myth. OTOH, if your kids sleeps through the night on his/her own, don’t wake a sleeping baby.

4. Most of the babies I know had sleep regressions at 4 months, 9 months, and 18 months. That means that no matter how well or how crappily they were sleeping, they’ll sleep worse for a month or so at those ages. You can try to "fix" it or just wait it out–it doesn’t seem to make much difference. You’ll feel like hell anyway. And then they go back to sleeping as well or better than they did before the regression.

5. Teething sucks. And for some kids it really seems to disrupt sleep.

6. Someday your child will sleep through the night. I promise.

*And you thought your baby was the only one who liked to sleep that way at the beginning.