Sleep..... ah, elusive sleep! I feel like this is one of those blog posts that needs a gigantic disclaimer from the first sentence.
Disclaimer: This post is for me to read in the future as a reminder and encouragement in the style of parenting we've chosen. It is not directed towards any of my readers nor is it meant to be a judgement of anyone.
Carry on :).
Steven and I knew from before our baby was born that we would not practice the "cry it out" method, nor any of its cousin-methods (graduated cry it out, etc). It feels wrong to our core, being that we really believe in gentle and attachment parenting. We also read all the research (which I will not link here because, again, persuading isn't the intent of my post) which confirmed what felt right to us. However, as much as we knew we would not use cry it out, we didn't particularly know what we would use. I was later introduced to a group called the Wait It Out method which is pretty much what it sounds like- waiting out whatever the baby is dealing with be it sleep regressions, developmental milestones, sickness, teeth, all the things that affect sleep, the vast majority completely out of baby's control. It introduced me, and therefore Steven, into gentle ways to handle sleep experiences. I don't say issues or problems because how our baby sleeps is how our baby sleeps. We don't expect her to be convenient, nor do we feel the need to train her. What we do is help her along when we feel she's ready for another step or something different.
But I'm getting ahead of myself! I basically want to document what her first year of sleep was like in one place (though of course I can't go through all the details) so that I can look back on this for the next baby, because there are definitely moments where you think it won't end, and you wonder if you're doing it all wrong, but I feel completely and peace with and happy with where our line of thought has taken us as we completed her first year.
In the newborn days and up through a few months old, I never tried to put Felicity on any type of schedule. I did form a routine, but she basically just slept when she was tired. She figured out night vs day at about week 5 and I would say those 5 weeks were the hardest of all. But everything I read said she would likely have it down by 6 weeks and I did the things it suggested, like lots of outdoor time during the day, and dim lighting in the evening. She developed her own sleep schedule, which has always been flexible, but I could generally predict about when she would be tired based on when she woke up. And it worked and she was an amazing sleeper at night and decent through the day (with lots of car naps which we both enjoyed!)... until the 4 month sleep regression. For quite a few months after that, she would wake more and more. This is how we ended up going from cosleeping (same room) to bed sharing (same bed). It made our lives SO MUCH EASIER. Once I was past the point of pumping at night/Steven giving her a bottle, no one had to get out of bed, and I barely had to wake. I'd latch her on and go back to sleep any time she woke up. (Of course I have to stop and mention that there are safety guidelines to adhere to when bedsharing. Google them!) Her day time naps were pretty short, but I just followed her lead.
When she was 6 or 7 months old, I decided to see if she was ready to move to her room for naps. She was not ready. I know some people would suggest that if you want them to sleep in their room, you make that happen, but there was no gentle way to go about that for her. I tried the ways I knew, they did not work, and that's how I knew she wasn't ready. So back to our bed full time she went. Honestly, we were ok with that. A minor inconvenience as far as cleaning our room/putting away laundry/etc went? Sure. But not a huge deal.
As Felicity got closer to a year, she was waking up quite a bit. Here is where I add that spousal support is not just helpful, but necessary. We had a routine where I put her down, Steven helped her back to sleep any time between her bed time and ours, and then he'd help during the night if I requested. I knew that it wasn't all hunger based, so we decided to see if she was open to Steven comforting her some of the time. Sometimes she was and sometimes she wasn't. So we took turns comforting her/getting her back to sleep and also sleeping in when both of us were home. This is what kept us sane and having the other person on board (especially on the really tough nights!) is what made it work. If one of us was particularly frustrated, a simple reminder that she's a baby, that it won't last forever, and of why we were doing what we were doing was all we needed to get back on board.
Shortly before Felicity's birthday, I sensed she might be ready to try her own room again. She was beginning to wake at new times- when we came to bed, when Steven got up for work (4:30 or 5am) and when he would leave (6-6;30am). She also quit nursing completely to sleep all on her own. She would nurse, then unlatch and either play a bit and go to sleep or roll over and go to sleep. That led me to believe that she might be ready for her own space where she wouldn't have disturbances and no longer needed the comfort of nursing all the way to sleep. I knew from mini trials in between 6-7 months and now that she wasn't open to being put in a crib because she's never been lowered in before so that sensation was totally weird for her. So I turned the crib into a toddler bed for my 11 month old. I was a bit nervous but we rolled some blankets under the sheet as a bit of a block from rolling out and put padding on the floor. Felicity did wonderfully at night but it was horrible during the day. She was so upset and fought it pretty hard. So I figured she wasn't quite ready for naps to take place there yet and went back to putting her down in our bed. After she had night time mastered (about a week), I started doing naps there again and she took right to it. I nurse her before naps and bed, give her a kiss and hug (she hugs me back every time!) and tell her I'm going to lay her in her big girl bed. There are times where Felicity cries when it's time to take a nap or go to sleep and I rub her back and comfort her through it. But there's a huge difference in her cry because she's sad she has to go to sleep/stop playing and being distraught at sleeping in a different place or not ready for a transition. I've gotten pretty good at distinguishing those sounds over the past year and know which ones mean "back off; I'm not ready!" and which ones I can love and comfort her through. She's always slept about a total of 12 hours (7-7), but many nights now she is sleeping 8-10 of those straight through. She comes to our bed around 5am, which is fine with us because we miss her! :)
We are really, really happy with our decision to let her needs guide what we did regarding sleep. There were times that it was really tough, but the incredibly smooth transitions help us to know that we did what was right for her and us. We listened to her needs, met them, and she let us know when she was ready for the next step. There were times where one of us would say "the next baby is at least going to nap in the crib!"- and maybe they will! All babies are different- but overall our gut feeling is that the baby is going to let us know what she or he needs, that we will survive, that parenthood isn't supposed to be easy or convenient, that we can take turns sleeping in or napping on the really rough days, and that, like with Felicity, transitions will not be an epic battle if we follow his or her cues.
Things aren't perfect now and probably will never be (well, until she's past the age of needing us after nightmares, wetting the bed, etc... but then we'll be up waiting for her to get home at night!) as she goes through more milestones, gets more teeth, wakes up because she has to poop :P, and the tons of other things that can disturb sleep, but we feel like we're on a good path and definitely want to stay on it for the next baby. I know there will be the added complexities of having a toddler/preschooler (well, God willing anyway she won't be much older than that) and a baby with a whole new personality, and THAT is why I want to have this blog post to read back on, remember how we let our instincts and our baby guide us, and how happy I felt after a year of doing that!