how we finally got her to sleep

just a cozy post-errand nap in the recliner
just a cozy post-errand nap in the recliner

When we left off last week, I had a year-old baby who woke up regularly at night and would only nap in my arms.  We were both exhausted and unhappy.  Now, I have a toddler (going on 4) and a 14-month-old, and we all sleep beautifully.  I’d like to tell you how we got here.

I actually wish I could remember more about the time we spent teaching Maggie how to sleep better, but I was still in the throes of exhaustion and my memory of that time is fuzzy.  I’ll do my best to sketch out the important parts of our journey …

  • Bedtime.  I’m pretty sure one of the first things we decided on was that Maggie could not continue to stay up until 10 or 11.  We decided to set an 8:00 bedtime, which left us with the most important question, how do we make that happen?!  Which led us first to …
  • “No Cry” … which didn’t work for us.  From Elizabeth Pantley’s book, I did learn a crucial skill, how to unlatch the baby without waking her (slip finger into mouth to unlatch, then gently press the baby’s chin up to close her mouth.  It was magic!)  However, the challenge of putting her down in her crib without waking her was still too much for me, and the method Pantley recommended (I don’t recall the details of it) simply didn’t work for me.  I was getting pretty desperate, so finally I turned to …
  • Cry It Out (CIO) – which worked like a charm.  As most mothers are, I was reluctant to let my baby cry, but I knew we were in an unhealthy situation, and some sacrifice would need to be made.  As I researched different sleep methods, I found a wonderful blog called Science of Mom, including a whole series of posts about infant sleep.  The author provided her own sleep story and reviewed what the scientific community has had to say about infant sleep.  She gave me evidence-based encouragement that sleep training does not harm babies, and that was all I needed.  I picked a night, took a deep breath, put the baby down, and let her cry for …
  • 23 minutes.  And then she slept the rest of the night.  The following night, it took 8 minutes.  I want to be clear that CIO does not go this easily for all families.  Maggie was ready for it and/or had the temperament for it, so it worked for us.  It was a huge, huge step.  We were still left with …
  • The problem of naps.  Maggie still had a very hard time napping on her own.  My memory is really fuzzy here – I don’t know how long it took us to get her napping regularly in her crib, but it was a long time.  I dealt with this in various ways.  Some days I still spent 3 hours holding Maggie – nursing her, and then holding her while she slept.  I would read a book and nap as best as I could while holding her.  Maggie also napped in the car quite a bit; we’d go for a drive or run an errand, and then I’d pull the car up parallel to my living room window so I could see & hear Maggie.  I’d leave the car window and the living room window open a bit, lock the car, and then go quietly inside the house.  I kept her within my sight, and I promise she was safe the whole time 😉  At some point, I realized the car seat felt to Maggie like she was being held, and I realized our recliner could feel that way too.  So I would get her to sleep (by nursing, strolling, or driving) and then gently transfer her to the recliner.  (By the way: since I found the recliner-nap photo, above, in my February 2014 folder, Mags was evidently still doing recliner-naps at the age of almost 2.5)   I It was a little crazy, but it worked …
  • And then she napped in her crib!  I wish I could tell you how we did it, but I honestly can’t remember.  It may have been a daytime cry-it-out, it may have just been that it got easier as she got older, or it may have been that over a course of months (years?) she slept away her sleep debt until she was rested enough to fall asleep on her own.  Finally, Maggie was sleeping through the night and napping during the day.

So then we started getting ready for our second child, and the new question was, how do we avoid having the same problems again?  I read several books in preparation for Elizabeth’s birth, and they were all helpful, but the one I’ve been raving about for the past year is Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.  Reading it, I was struck by how little I knew about babies, how unprepared I had been.  Some of the things I learned from Dr. Weissbluth …

  • Newborn babies should only be awake for one to two hours at a time.  Like, the baby needs to be asleep by the time two hours have passed.  Meaning you might need to start the soothing process after the baby has been awake for an hour.  Or even less.  Seriously?!  I had no idea.  Did you have any idea?  This is a serious question for me – is this something that everyone else learned somewhere or intuited, and I was the only one who didn’t know?  Please comment below and reassure me that I was not the only one who didn’t know this!
  • There IS a general pattern to how & when babies learn to sleep.  Dr. Weissbluth explains thoroughly what you can expect from a one-week-old, a four-week-old, a two-month-old, and beyond.  Although every baby is different, he believes (and I believe him!) that there are lots of typical patterns to look out for, be prepared for, and work with for optimal sleep success.
  • Sleep begets sleep.  This principle guides a lot of Dr. W’s recommendations, like moving the bedtime earlier to deal with too-early morning wakeups (we now put both of our girls down at 7 PM), or focusing on quality naps to improve night wakings.

My second child has been a champion sleeper from day one.  Of course I know part of this is luck.  Some kids are simply better sleepers than others.  But I’m not ashamed to take part of the credit myself.  I followed Dr. W’s recommendations to the letter, and took care to “protect the baby’s sleep” as much as possible.  I think I optimized Elizabeth’s natural sleep abilities, and I’m really, really glad I did!

If you are a new or expecting parent, please feel free to contact me (uncommonmotherhood at for further information about Healthy Sleep Habits; I took notes on that book as well as Happiest Baby on the Block and would be happy to send them to you.  But I mostly think you should just click over to Amazon and buy Healthy Sleep Habits.  I’ve gone back to it again and again for help with both of my girls.

If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with me.  God bless you and sleep well!

put your baby down one to two hours after waking to avoid the overtired state

3 thoughts on “how we finally got her to sleep

  1. Sheila, hi! Thanks much for the story. Until our first was 3.5 months old, I believe we were the lucky ones with an infant who fell asleep well on her own. This may sound like a paradox, but it probably helped that she wasn’t much interested in cuddling. So we would put her down, and she would fall asleep. Often I would sing a song, and that would also do the trick. What I didn’t know just before she turned 4 months old is that habits, rhythms, and even cues change. By 4 months, I was calling our little darling “Little Miss Never Nap”, and she didn’t seem ”darling” any longer. I would do exactly what I had done before, and each time it turned into a full on battle to coax her to sleep. Swaying, shushing, singing, bouncing. She fought me and I just intensified my efforts. I joked that I had to carb load the hour before our little race every day. Actually, I did in a way: pull the hair back, turn the fan on, drink lots of water, go potty, then go all in. Once I ever so softly did get her down in her crib, she would sleep no more than 17 minutes. I was so desperate and anxious, I knew each day how many minutes she had slept, adding up a few of these incidents. What I wished I had known then: there’s such a thing as the ‘four month slump’; baby rubbing her ears is a sign she’s tired (just like rubbing the eyes); Rebecca no longer wanted to be sung to sleep. I probably didn’t know that they should only be awake for 1-2 hours at once. I don’t remember either!
    I finally took a good hard look and listen at the screaming kid one day and realized that she was communicating to me “I just want to sleep! Put me DOWN!” Even though I was correct in this discernment, it took a little while to decide to let her cry it out. I finally went for it when a friend asked point blank “how much crying can you handle?”. I decided that I could handle it, and about 15 minutes. The first time it took maybe 17 minutes, and she slept for about 45. Again, at the time I knew the minutes precisely. It REALLY mattered back then. 🙂 Within about a week she was taking hour+ long morning naps, and they were 2+ hours every afternoon. I do remember that once we had this established, I noticed that she was tired and ready for her morning nap within an hour, and 1.5 hours max, of first waking up in the morning. This continued until she was almost 1 year old. After her first birthday, she still took 2 naps a day for a few months. But by this time, our second was on the way and I have even fewer memories – Mom Brain is one thing; combine it with Pregnancy Brain and, WHAM!; Strange Brain.


  2. Question: Does anyone have any tips/tricks/cautions regarding getting a 9month old and and a toddler to sleep in the same room? Ours never have, and they are very social. I am thinking this will either help or harm their sleep :). Eventually, they do need to share a room, so I would love some thoughts on this.


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