In one of our wildest fantasies, we are alone in a spacious hotel room. The king-size bed beckons with fluffy pillows and soft, downy, freshly laundered sheets. We peel back the covers, disrobe, embrace, and fall into a deep, dreamless, undisturbed sleep. After nearly four months, with Munchkin almost on the cusp of sleep training, such are the fanciful daydreams of new parents.
By all accounts, Munchkin is a pretty good sleeper. Our night from hell aside, he has not kept us up with colic, and once he goes down for the night we can usually count on 4-5 hours of sometimes fitful, but usually uninterrupted sleep. Even so, perhaps because she is almost always the one who gets up with the Munch in the middle of the night, S spends an inordinate amount of time reading, thinking, and strategizing about sleep.
While D refuses to read any of the “expert” advice, S has heard too many horror stories and is always trying to anticipate potential pitfalls and tread carefully to avoid ingraining bad habits. Supposedly, during the first three months of life it is impossible to spoil a child. All the experts agree that one should nurse, rock, bounce, and do whatever it takes to soothe a crying newborn.
The difficult decisions come in the grey zone that we are entering now. Munchkin is approaching the so-called 4-month sleep regression, which is accompanied by a major growth spurt, an increase in mobility, and a growing realization that the world is a big, interesting place. The waking part of this transition is fun: Munchkin started rolling over a bit ahead of schedule, and he is beginning to learn how to sit and stand. Also, his grasping hands have become a lot more purposeful. The nap time flip side is that it is a lot more difficult to get him to close his eyes and nod off because he wants to keep exploring and is no longer content to simply lie snugly swaddled.
Judging by the torrent of conflicting advice, few things in early parenthood are more controversial than sleep training. Some say that the easiest time to teach babies to fall asleep on their own is between 3 and 6 months, before they start teething and develop separation anxiety. Others argue that the ability to self-soothe consistently may not fully develop until 6 months, so waiting to coach sleeping will bring results faster and cause less frustration.
The challenge of course is that not only are all babies different, but also that they develop and change so rapidly that it is sometimes difficult to keep up with their non-verbal cues. What worked to soothe Munchkin one week frequently would be ineffective the next, leaving us to scramble for new ways to pacify him and get him to sleep. By 3 months, the Munch outgrew most of the sleep aids and techniques we had developed, leaving us with just one method that seemed to work: swaddling him and feeding him a bottle in his rock-n-play.
Although this has been the only way we could reliably put him to sleep the last several weeks, the technique is not foolproof and sometimes Munchkin’s eyes pop open as soon as he drains the last drop, leaving us with a baby who is both overtired and overfed. Of late, he has begun giving signs that this method may soon reach the end of its usefulness, prompting S to redouble her research efforts in the hopes of finding the magic solution that will enable us to forego all sleep crutches and help Munchkin to fall asleep on his own.
Despite scouring the farthest reaches of the internet, S remains perplexed as to how it will ever be possible to put Munchkin down awake but sleepy enough that he will simply doze off on his own or how to get him to connect sleep cycles during nap time. To facilitate the transition from swaddles to crib, S has purchased blackout blinds for the nursery and fired up the sleep sheep sound machine in the hopes of moving Munchkin out of our room. Ultimately, it likely will boil down to whether and when we are willing to let him cry it out.
In the meantime, we are focusing on establishing a bedtime routine and a loose sleeping schedule, though Munchkin’s naps are still a bit too erratic to set a firm bedtime. This means that although he is still fairly portable, we are quickly becoming a lot more sedentary, happily willing to forego social outings if doing so will help him — and, by extension, us — sleep better.