I think I may have broken my kid. At least as far as sleep is concerned.
He always was a clockwork kid. First week of his life, he would sleep for three hours and eat, with wakeful periods at predictable times, around the clock. And he soon settled into a predictable schedule. At eight weeks he was sleeping through the night, and I was thrilled! I thought it must be because I was such a good parent.
Anyway, by twelve weeks he wasn't sleeping through the night anymore. There was the fact that we flew him halfway across the country at that age and gave him jetlag. But the main thing was that he was starting to refuse to eat, which was a really big problem. So when he woke up at night and was willing to eat, my original tactic of trying to get him back to sleep without feeding him (so that he would focus his meals during the day) went out the window. My kid was dropping on the growth chart, and I was not going to do a single thing to get rid of two solid nighttime nursing sessions.
I would show up at work exhausted, and my well-meaning coworkers kept giving me advice (most of which involved leaving him to scream alone for hours in his crib, nothankyou) on how to get him to sleep. I kept repeating over and over, "My kid is losing weight. My sleep is not my priority. Him eating is." But somehow the impression remained that my child was a bad baby for not sleeping through the night, and I was a bad mom (either a martyr or lazy) because I wouldn't fix it. Sigh.
Eventually, though, he started eating regularly again, piling on the pounds, and doing great. Of course by then we had passed the ideal window for learning to sleep through the night. And then he had cold after cold (that's what happens when you take a baby to school with you every day all winter) and cut tooth after tooth, and, well, just forget about sleep. Instead of waking up for a quick snack and dropping off, he was requiring an hour of pacing and bouncing every time, and then don't even think about trying to lay him down in his crib after that. So we started cosleeping.
That actually worked pretty well. He slept better, and so did I. Not great, of course, but better than when I was pacing the floor bouncing. And when we moved the crib up against the bed and took off the side to form a sidecar, we were golden. If he fussed, I would roll him towards me, nurse him, and roll him back into his crib sound asleep so that I could have my space again.
The really ideal part of this was that I could get him to sleep much more easily. We had started out rocking him to sleep in the rocking chair, since I had heard that you don't want to nurse your baby to sleep all the time -- that will give him the habit of having to nurse to sleep and you'll never break it! I don't know why it never occurred to me that rocking to sleep every time would have the same effect. And of course it was easy to rock him to sleep when he was 19 inches long and fit upright against my shoulder. Once his legs got long, we were in trouble. He would spend the whole time trying to stand up on my lap. So we went back to nursing to sleep while rocking in the rocking chair, and it worked except for when I tried to lay him down.
But with the sidecar, it was perfect. I would nurse him until his eyes fell shut and he was sorta kinda sleeping. Then I would stand up and move to the bed/crib, where I would nurse him the rest of the way to sleep. Once he was really settled in his bed, I would unlatch him and he'd get comfy on his own. Eventually he started rolling away from me himself when he was ready to sleep! This is the holy grail of baby sleep ... getting your baby to go to sleep in his crib on his own. And the whole process took 10-20 minutes. Meanwhile, his ability to resettle himself in his crib on his own led to the other holy grail ... he often slept through the night.
As he was about a year old, though, we had some issues. He was taking two naps a day, which he didn't really need, but which he naturally took due to my work schedule. That made it hard to go to sleep. So we'd do the whole rocking, nursing, lying down routine, and it wouldn't work. And we couldn't start over, because he was starting to refuse to nurse unless it had been awhile since the last time ... so we'd have to wait a whole hour and try again.
So we discovered a new trick: the stroller walk. Just strap him in the stroller, walk around the neighborhood, and he fell asleep much more easily! It rarely took more than 20 minutes, and it always worked. He still slept through the night. We moved to our house and switched him into a floor bed in his own room -- no problem at all. We'd walk for 20 minutes, then carefully take him out of the stroller and into the house. I'd carefully lay him down in his bed, and he would stay asleep.
But, as always, there were problems. He soon became addicted to this method. Now nothing worked but stroller walking. Sometimes not even that -- we have walked for over an hour with no effect. And cold weather was approaching. Sometimes it would rain, and bedtime turned into a nightmare of indoor stroller walking (no dice) and bouncing. John would walk him around his bedroom in the dark, jiggling and humming, and eventually, when he got tired enough, he would drop off. Unfortunately I have never mastered this technique. My shoulders aren't comfy enough, for one thing, and for another, the kid weighs a ton. Lately my back has been so bad I can't really carry him for long at all. So it's a Daddy-only trick. I wouldn't mind it being a Daddy-only trick if John were always available in the evenings, but he isn't. I have to be able to put him to sleep myself.
So we switched back to nursing to sleep, even though by this point I was pregnant and really wanted to wean. We just didn't have any option. He won't even sit in the rocking chair with me unless he's nursing. He would rather get down and play. Luckily, this tactic ended up working really well. After the first few nights, I wondered to myself, "Why did we ever get away from this? This is so much easier!" Not to mention that it is easier to transition from nursing in a rocking chair to not nursing in a rocking chair than from roaming around the neighborhood in a stroller to anything else. I can nurse the first half of the time, and then when he's sleepy, just rock him. But I couldn't do anything like that with the stroller.
But we have two problems. The first is the most immediate issue: bedtime. When to put him to bed? We have tried a number of different times, and it seems every night is a little different. (Small wonder, when his naps have been all over the map lately. I never let him sleep past 3 pm, though, regardless of when he went down.) I hear a good bedtime for a toddler is 7 p.m. His usual bedtime is 10. John gets home at a quarter to seven (making 7 p.m. an impossible goal) and we are hard at work on bedtime by eight. We get in pj's, read books, try a little rocking and nursing, fail, try more books, try more nursing ... and some nights, nothing works. He's all wound up and hyper, racing around the house like a maniac if you let his feet touch the floor. Meanwhile our whole evening is shot ... we spend pretty much the whole dang thing on bedtime.
I suspect the problem is that we've missed the ideal window for bedtime. But how to know when the ideal window is? When he's already tired and cranky, he will often melt down in the middle of dinner, so we whisk him out of the high chair and into pajamas. Sometimes (like last night) it works. Usually not. And when he's had a good nap and is feeling good about life, he never shows any sign of tiredness at all. He just keeps on living it up, ignoring the fact that we've put the dog to bed, turned down all the lights, and put away all the toys. Around ten we get really serious about it and refuse to let him do anything but lie in bed or be rocked. But lying in bed for Marko usually means standing on his head and feet and toppling over while demanding nursery rhymes, so we try to stick with just rocking. And he puts up such a fuss. If he's got Mama, he screams for Daddy. If he's got Daddy, he screams for Mama. And more than anything, he screams to be DOWN so he can PLAY.
Eventually the end of that is him crying himself to sleep in Daddy's arms. He doesn't cry long, but I still feel there's got to be a better way ... and one that ends with an earlier bedtime.
I've tried tinkering with the rest of his schedule, but he just isn't as predictable with that as you would think. Nap usually starts between 11 and noon, but it could last an hour or three hours. I hate to wake him, because he ends up even more overtired and hyper, but I sometimes do for fear of having him sleep all day and play all night. And I tried messing with his wakeup time, which was a mistake. He used to go to bed at ten and wake up at eight. So I started waking him an hour earlier, so now he goes to bed at ten and wakes up at seven ... sometimes earlier. Making him more overtired, more prone to taking a long nap, and more hyper at bedtime.
Our second problem is just that we want to wean him. John can get him to sleep without nursing; I can't. And, you know, I'm the one on the scene. I always put him down for nap, and usually for bed. John is in class two nights a week, so I need to be able to do bedtime on my own. I had this whole plan for reducing bedtime nursing and getting him to fall asleep without it, but it hinged on the notion of having a sleepy child at bedtime who wanted to fall asleep one way or the other. Not on having a wide-awake child who is barely falling asleep with nursing, much less without it.
Oh, and the third problem is that he hasn't slept through the night more than once in a row in around a month. There are various reasons for that, but it's definitely contributing to the irregular naps and the overtiredness. On the bright side, I can easily get him back to sleep with no nursing at night, because he's too tired to try to get out of the rocking chair.
This is not to say we've had no success at all. There was a week there where he went to sleep at nine every night, and fairly easily too. Then he took a late nap one day and the whole thing was ruined. And last night, we got him to sleep around eight. That was more John's doing than mine, but it was a success! There clearly is a window for sleep earlier in the evening ...we just keep missing it. I have hopes that with John's new job (starting Monday!), since he'll be home earlier, we will be able to have an earlier dinner and maybe catch that window. If that doesn't work, I guess we will all have to place our hopes in daylight savings time. At least for awhile, we might be able to trick him into going to bed at nine.
But all the same, tips would be appreciated! (Keep in mind: if we put him in his bed and walk away, he just follows us. It does not work. Everyone suggests this. Even if he were in a crib, he'd probably just jump on his bed and sing songs.) Or if this is a common 18-month-old phase that instantly disappears at 19 months, I would very much like to hear that.