vapid eye movements


By all means skip this one if you aren’t of the parental persuasion – I used to read three words of “baby advice” columns before turning my thoughts to basketball – but a few interesting things have come up lately.

First off, an article in today’s New York Times talks about the growing number of parents who have sheepishly admitted to letting their babies sleep on their stomachs, despite the fact that SIDS rates have plummeted since the “Back to Sleep” campaign started. Anyone with a baby can tell you that a baby sleeping on its back is a baby about to wake up and scream (unless you’re one of the lucky ones) so none of this is surprising.

As I mentioned before, we didn’t exactly follow the “Back to Sleep” rules either. Our compromise was to put Lucy on her side with those foam sleep positioners and cram them in so she couldn’t flop onto her belly. One reason this side-sleeping was so comforting, I think, is because the positoners simulate being on your belly and all the tummy-related comfort that gives.

This worked really well for us until she got very strong, very early, and just did whatever the hell she wanted to do. She started rolling over – from either tummy or back – by about three months, so now we just keep the sleep positioners in her crib because she likes to kick them.

One thing about that NYTimes article (besides its awesome mention of Park Slope Parents and our newborn-care teacher Erica Lyon): they mentioned the “epidemic” of plagiocephaly, where babies’ heads end up misshapen because of constantly sleeping on their backs. We have a close friend whose baby has to wear a helmet for this very reason, and it is fascinating to hear that this once-rare condition is now a daily problem for pediatricians.

From what I’ve read, certain Native American tribes’ babies have totally flat heads in the back because of the wooden papoose, but these kids – like their honky counterparts – usually grow up to have perfectly head-shaped heads. Still, as a parent, having an oblong-headed baby has to be nerve-wracking.

Oh yes, and the lovely and talented Joanna wanted to know how we got Lucy to adhere to her now-very-nice sleeping schedule. The answer is: totally by accident. We told one of our babysitters never to disturb Lucy after she went to bed, but one night we got back from a movie, and the sitter was feeding Lucy the bottle at 11pm. We were chagrined, but then Lucy slept until almost 8am the next morning. Cue light bulb flashing over our heads.

Here’s what we’ve done, culling the advice from several books and our own experience:

1. Never let the baby fall asleep in your arms. Rock them a little, and wait until that liminal moment when their bodies seem to go a little limp from fatigue, and then stick them into the crib while barely awake. If they learn to fall asleep in there, they will also learn to put themselves back to sleep when they inevitably wake up at 2am for no reason.

2. There is a bit of tough love involved here. If your baby doesn’t go straight down during your transfer-to-the-crib moment but you KNOW they’re tired, they are going to have to cry a little. Lucy never cried for more than 15 minutes, even though it felt like three hours. THEY MUST LEARN THAT SCREAMING IS NOT WORTH IT. If you cave in, they will learn that you will cave in. There are ways to make this less dramatic (read “The No-Cry Sleep Solution”) but we never needed more than 20 minutes of patience.

3. The so-called “dream feed” must be done by the husband. He is just boring enough to pull it off. No more than 4-5 ounces from the bottle, and then make sure there’s a little burp before going back down. The baby should learn the drill after about two nights. DO NOT breastfeed, as this is a whole other emotional ball of wax for the baby. Put the dream feed near the half-way point of your baby’s night.

4. I realize some of this sounds a lot like “crying it out,” but if you really read Ferber (from which we took a few pointers), he does not advocate cruelty, just boundaries. Plus, when it works out, your baby will be so much happier in the long run, and you will feel a sense of freedom that will allow for your sanity to creep back in.

5. In terms of sleeping arrangements, here’s what we did, with a fair amount of success:

– from the first day to about eight weeks, Lucy slept in the bed with us, with very hard “sleep dividers” so there was no chance of us rolling over near her.

– from 8 weeks to three months, she slept in a crib about six feet from our bed.

– from 3 months to now, she sleeps in her own crib in her own room, and by all accounts, loves it.

I always thought there might be something a little draconian about making a baby sleep in his own room, but really, if you want to have a life, a job, and a great relationship with your little tyke, I have to say that good fences make good neighbors. Don’t feel guilty about your fatigue. God helps those who help themselves to sleep.

Thoughts? Or did everyone stop reading right about when I said “By all means skip this one”?

0 thoughts on “vapid eye movements

  1. Joanna

    Thanks so much, Ian, for the made-to-order entry. Learning what has worked for real families is so much more useful than reading books. I’m a bit panicked wondering how I’m going to be up all night with a newborn and then entertain a three year old all day. “Sleep when the baby sleeps” goes out the window. I had acupuncture to induce labor yesterday so could face this predicament rather imminently and am grateful for your thoughtful advice!

  2. dhh

    Like Ian, I always ignored parenting advive until I had my first kid. Now, I tend to ignore advice and wisdom from parents of only 1 kid. I have 2 kids now and their different sleep habits are proof that there are no rules of thumb. Having said that, 95% of Ian’s words are true for my 1st kid, but only 3% for my 2nd kid. Go Heels, UNC ’92.

  3. Andrew

    We made the mistake of letting her fall asleep in our arms. This was fine as long as she slept through the night or could not stand up. But now she is walking and recently she started to wake up, stand up, and shake the crib. Now we put her down while still awake as she finishes her last bottle. First night took 20 minutes to fall asleep. Now it takes 10. The key for us was that once we started the new routine, we did it every nap and every night. Took about 1 week to get her into the routine. It is great to have her fall asleep in your arms. But you pay for it when they learn to stand.

  4. jodyk

    I was thinking of something, but then Joanna said “acupuncture to induce labor” and it generated a mental image that I can’t shake…

  5. Joanna

    Sorry, jodyk – There were no needles in the belly! Hands and feet are key to inducing labor and it really was completely painless. Interestingly, the pinky toe has the most impact for turning breach babies! Still waiting to see if this works . . .

  6. Martha

    Wow – you guys are going to be great parents! You got so wise so fast. I think the key for us on our second was the “put down awake” advice. You’re right, if they are tired they will go to sleep as long as they know how to do it themselves. The only thing I might add is that it will cycle and they (or maybe we) forget how to do it right. Be patient with yourselves and your baby.

  7. Tanya

    Man, the lack of sleep for the first few months is what’s keeping me from going for baby #2 at this moment. Those memories are still too raw/fresh. But, yeah, we did most of what you’ve described here, Ian, and it worked out just fine. I only wish we had started the “sleep training” thing 3 months earlier. The key, I believe, is basically getting the baby into a good routine. Babies love routine and repetition. Hell, so do toddlers. That’s why I can recite the entire Finding Nemo movie right now.

  8. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    ZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. . . . . Oh, pardon me. I was momentarily rendered unconscious.
    Ha! Let me tell you something. I remember worrying about sleep patterns and dissecting baby books until I drove my husband insane. It is all very important at the time, but by the time Lucy is 6 years old (as is my daughter Helen), you won’t even remember those details because you will have a whole different set of worries to occupy your mind. I live in fear of what worries the teenage years will bring!
    That said, I think that you are so awesome for thinking about all this, let alone writing about it! I love my husband dearly, but I still struggle to get some (any!) kind of analytical input from him on my daily worries about Helen. More times than not, I get a blank stare and a statement to “call one of your girlfriends about this.” Lucy is so lucky to have such a hands-on, full-on dad. You are definitely THE MAN.

  9. Andy

    Ian, I can say without a doubt that I never envisioned us having a virtual conversation about sleeping babies when I was swatting your stuff back to half court at Umstead Park.
    Glad to hear that you’ve got Lucy in the routine and you are actually getting some sleep. But beware. Just when you think you’ve got control over the situation, kids have a way of reminding you who is boss.
    Our 2nd child was an awesome sleeper from about 2 weeks old (we did all the stuff you talked about above) until he was about 7 months old. Then one night he just decided he would not be a good sleeper. We spent the next year experimenting with several different things trying to figure out what was wrong and only recently have we gotten back into a routine. I felt like I was running a Psych experiment back in Davis: “Tonight we will try the combination of night light off and air conditioning vents cold. Tomorrow will be the trifecta of summer pajamas, room door closed and no food after 7pm.” You go through every conceivable combination of various factors until something works.
    Our 7 year old still likes to come into our room and tell us that she is going potty in the middle of the night.
    I am also convinced that some kids are just simply better sleepers than others. And it has nothing to do with what the parents are doing or not doing.

  10. Just Andrew

    Earlier this year, you went looking for advice and following was my entry on yer blog (am I good or what?):
    Posted by: Just Andrew at April 21, 2005 11:21 AM
    Did I say congrats yet? If not, congrats and all of that.
    So, the advice stuff:
    Mark down her 6 week birthdate on your calendar. When you are bleary eyed and weary, look at the date. This is near the day where you will get more than 3 hours of uninteruped sleep. This day will become the second happiest day of your life. (2nd to baby being born, but it will even eclipse your wedding day.)
    Smile or no smile, mark down the 4 month birthdate – this is when she will really start interacting and being really really fun.
    Answer this question:
    And how are you doing, Ian?
    Now, this will be the last time anybody asks you this question for the next several months. Everybody will ask about Tessa and Lucy and you will feel like you’ve ceased to matter. This is normal.
    Ferberize the Hell out of that baby before the 9 month mark or you will pay for years and years.
    Many people will give you advice about the TV and we all know that for the most part, TV is bad for kids. That said, these same people will tell you that they’ve are against using the TV as a babysitter and that they have never done it. There is a name for these people and that name is: liar. Sometimes you need 20 minutes of peace and the magic box works and will not rot your child’s brain. We all do it, some just won’t admit to it.

  11. tbruns

    The only advice I can offer is as they get older keep and maintain a bed time. The child needs boundaries and you will need your sanity. It wasn’t until we established a bed time that we stopped asking ourselves who was really in charge of the house. That’s all I got.

  12. kjf

    years ago when they first told parents to put the kids on their backs to sleep my secretary’s pediatrician told her that her son needed one of those helmets. it was her first kid and she was so scared that the kid would grow up to be the elephant man that she got the helmet. the kid was miserable and his head broke out in some nasty sort of rash. she threw the helmet out after a few weeks. to tell you the truth no one ever noticed that the kids head was a little off until she pointed it out. now the kid is about 7 years old with a full head of hair and his head is perfectly fine and he is cute as can be. when i see those helmet articles now i just wonder if this is the latest pediatrician overcall (you know like when they yanked every kids tonsils out in the 60s, put tubes in kids ears in the 90s….etc)

  13. Piglet

    All babies are different. Suzannah has a gag reflex that makes sleeping on her back much more dangerous than sleeping on her stomach. She MUST sleep on her stomach, doctors’ orders.
    Some of the other stuff you describe, we do. Others, we don’t. Different blots for differnt tots.

  14. JJE

    We are still having problems figuring out naptime (sigh…he never wants to be out of my arms), but we nailed bedtime in the crib within the first two months. Our first solution was putting him down in his car seat in the crib – looked funny/awful, but it worked.
    Then enter the Amazing Miracle Blanket.
    Once we started using that sucker, Connor was easy to put down at night in his crib. He’s been sleeping through the night from day one of the AMB. We usually put him down somewhere between 7-8 and he’ll either sleep all the way through to about 5:30-6:30 or he’ll wake up at about midnight for a five minute “dreamfeed.”
    I nurse Connor to sleep for naps – it’s the only thing that works – and usually he just sleeps in my lap. I finally decided not to feel quite so guilty about it after reading this article:
    (I read most of the “No Cry” book, all of “Happiest Baby,” but I’m still trying to work my way through the mess known as “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” That guy needed an editor!)
    We were nursing to sleep at night, but now I pump “dinner” for him every night for the next night’s bedtime feed. Our routine is now: husband gets home…plays with him for a little bit…we bathe Connor together (every other night)…and I warm up a bottle. Then I swaddle Connor in the AMB and hand him and the bottle off to my husband. P feeds and rocks Connor to sleep while I’m making our dinner and/or taking care of a few chores.
    At first, Connor was going down dead asleep, but for the past couple of nights, P says Connor is merely almost asleep, so I guess he’s kinda figuring out how to drift off on his own.
    I like sharing a little bit of the feeding responsibility with my husband, plus I figure it’s a great bonding time for the two of them since he works really long hours during the week (and is also in training for the upcoming NYC marathon, which means getting up at the crack of dawn to run).

  15. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    I just read “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety” by Judith Warner. It’s a good read! Pretty accurate, from my experience of the parenting world around me. When you are finished with Dr. Brazelton, Ferber, the Sleep Whisperer, et al, take a glance at this book. It will give you a glimpse into the world of parenting at age 6+. Welcome to my world! Won’t you come on in!

  16. Susan

    We seem to read the same books! I also read the Perfect Madness book recently. She made some good points. I thought it read like a college thesis and was a bit redundant….did you think so? BTW…the Overspent American I thought was good.
    A for the sleeping thing….I had a good thing going with my son until this week. He is 2 now and apparently the 12 hour uninterupted sleep thing is over. Now he is up screaming at 1 or 2 in the morning. Nightmares? Teething? Who knows. Just when I thought I had it figured out I am once again sleep-deprived. Hopefully it is a phase….

  17. Greg T.

    Having read that entry, I realize that I have no recollection whatsoever how we handled getting my son to sleep by himself. It sounds like you have a pretty good handle on it, so now you can start preparing for potty training!

  18. Ian

    Very wise words, all. My blog entry is what happened to work for Lucy, and seems wise, but as Piglet likes to say, your mileage may vary.

  19. Rebecca

    Once you get all get used with the routine, she will change it and you will have to start over. She’ll start to crawl, and then she can’t fall asleep. You’ll feed her solids and she’ll get constipated. Her teeth will start coming in soon. It’s cold and flu season now, so she’ll get sick. The possibilities are endless!
    I have a 6 1/2 year old who gets up more that my 4 year old (he has bad dreams occasionally, but she never does), but not as much as my 16 month old. The baby generally sleeps through the night, but he’s cutting molars now, and it wakes him up. Last week he had a little cold and fever that appeared out of nowhere.
    It sounds like you guys are doing all the right things. Keep up the good work, but don’t get too comfortable!

  20. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    Wow! Rebecca! I just read your comment, and I bow down before you — Goddess Mother of Three. I am so easily overwhelmed with just one child. Three kids? Wow. You go girl!
    Ian, I just came home from the U2 concert, and I have found my religion. I prayed at the altar of Bono. It was like a Revivalist Meeting! I want Bush out. I want our troops home. I want to think globally. Act locally. End poverty. Be a good person again.
    Price of 2 Vertigo tickets: $200. Price of dinner at Austin Grill: $60. Feeling like my old self again (circa 1987): Priceless.


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