This post comes with a disclaimer: We fully understand that this routine could likely change tomorrow, and any number of sleep experts could give us any number of reasons why our methods are ruining Zeke’s sleep habits for life. However, this method has been working for us for at least two weeks, and considering the relative lack of screaming compared to a month ago, I feel it’s important to have some record of the process.
We generally begin the bedtime ritual each night between 7-8pm. (or at first sign that Zeke has reached his limit for the day – yawning, whining, moving his head from side to side, frantic flailing of his arms and legs. We don’t wait for all out wailing.)
The first step is to pick him up and snuggle him for a few minutes, slowly and calmly carry him to the back room where it’s warm, dim, and quiet. Then it’s bath time.
Bath time is another routine where we’ve made great progress, from this:
We still haven’t gotten an actual smile in the tub, but I’m convinced he thoroughly enjoys himself. Dave sits in the tub with him and keeps him from flopping over while I scrub him with a washcloth. He especially loves the head scrubbing. We pour water over him to rinse him and wrap him in a big fuzzy towel to dry him. (This part of the process needs work – he still cries every time we take him out of the tub.)
I put him on his changing table and finish drying him with a hair dryer which calms him down either because of the soothing sound or because he’s so surprised by the quick warm air. I put him in a clean diaper, and recently, I’ve been giving him a massage before putting him in his pajamas. (I’ve been winging it so far, but there’s a free baby massage class in Berkeley that I plan to check out. Zeke really seems to love the rubbing – especially on his little feet 🙂
I carry Zeke, all warm and clean, into the bedroom and we walk and rock and I sing him a song or two. His current favorites are Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Tender Shepard. (I know they’re his favorites because the others I’ve tried all make him cry.) Then, the key to the bedtime ritual – the swaddle. We wrap him as tightly as possible in a light blanket – arms secured to his sides – like a little burrito. Then we bounce.
Dave and I both use some of the techniques recommended by the Happiest Baby on the Block guy – the swaddling, the shushing, and the side-to-side motion of the bouncing – making sure we hold Zeke gently enough to let his head jiggle. But Z doesn’t seem to like side lying very much, so Dave holds him cradled in his arms horizontally and I hold him upright with his head by my left shoulder. (I feel like he smells milk if I hold him horizontally, which makes him a little crazy even when he’s well fed. We try to make sure he’s eaten before we begin the bedtime routine – trying to keep nursing separate from sleeping. But I will fed him to calm him if he’s still crying after the bath, swaddling, and bouncing which is rare.)
We both bounce him until his eyes start to close – usually between 5-20 minutes depending on the night. Then we gently place him in the co-sleeper and walk away. About 2 seconds later, he starts to cry. And this is when we still get a bit of screaming. I realize this may change, but for now it seems like he needs at least a few minutes of screaming to get to sleep – like it’s a kind of stress or energy release for him. We don’t let him cry it out, and he pretty much stops crying as soon as we pick him up. We go through this cycle over and over again – bouncing and putting him down again each time until he tuckers himself out and ultimately falls asleep.
Sometimes we have to pick him up ten or more times, but sometimes it’s only two or three, and in any case, the whole process (from bath to sleep) doesn’t usually take more than an hour or two. And once he’s asleep, he stays asleep for about 5 hours. This is by far his longest stretch of sleep, and since it starts so early we don’t really benefit from the hours of uninterrupted sleep ourselves. But it does give us a few hours to ourselves in the evening – to eat dinner, watch TV, read, whatever. It’s really, really nice.
Again – I recognize this may not last very long, and that we may be encouraging some bad habits in the little guy (like the bouncing to sleep). But this process is so much better than the four hours of screaming we were dealing with before. I’m willing to accept the potential consequences.
PS: The only problem with this process right now is that we couldn’t possibly take him out at night – something we thought we might do with him at this early age. But maybe it’s for the best not to fool ourselves into thinking we have lives after 7pm.