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Baby Sleep Questions Answered

The Fight-to-Sleep Baby

By Amalah

Hello Amy!

I read through basically your entire blog when I was pregnant and was so thankful to have found it. A lot of my nervous first-baby questions were answered swimmingly.

But I can’t seem to find answers to this pickle.

Now my baby girl is 2 months old and she is on a kind of almost decent routine…up in the mornings between 5:30-7, back down for a nap around 8:30 til 10-11, then after lunch and lots of wiggling she has several cat naps in the afternoon depending on errands/visitors, then is in bed by about 8pm, up to eat and right back to sleep at 11pm-12am, awake by habit but not hungry around 3am, and lather rinse repeat. (Granted, this is our schedule on a Very Good Day).

But my problem is…for the past month she seriously, often physically, fights falling asleep. Every single nap/bed time. Bedtime is particularly awful since her cranky hours involve screaming inconsolably from around 9-11pm if we drop the ball on getting her to bed BEFORE the VERY FIRST SIGN of sleepiness. I want to get her started on sleeping in her nursery instead of our bedroom in the next few weeks/months, but I have no idea how I will ever be able to follow the sacred “put her down drowsy, but awake” rule. She literally squirms and kicks and spits out her soother (and then gets pissed that she has no soother) and makes grunty goblin noises and houdini-wrestles out of the tightest swaddles. She does this several times between periods of dozing for a few minutes before finally drifting off for good.

Right now, the only way to get her to sleep is to squeeze her to my chest and hold that soother in like a mofo and rock/bounce/walk with her until she’s in a deep sleep, then get her put down in her bassinet. If I don’t clamp down on those little arms, she gets WORKED UP. Afterwards, though, she usually sleeps like a champ (one time, six whole hours!!!) and is otherwise a happy, hungry, smiley baby. A FEW TIMES lately, she has woken up fussing and I’ve been able to get her back to sleep by shushing, patting, and soother-ing for a few minutes without picking her up.

I have talked to my mom about this and she was SO glad to point out that I also did this as a baby for my entire infant-hood and subsequently became a night owl for the rest of my life. My mom would put me on my belly to sleep, though, because it was the 90’s, and I can’t do that!

Is this horrible fighting just a phase? Will it get any better? How am I supposed to put her down awake when she WILL NOT let herself fall asleep on her own? Is there a way to transition to it? Is rocking her to sleep at this point turning into a bad habit or am I worrying about this too early on? It seems like all my fellow new mom friends have it all together and their babes are easy little angel sleepers. My husband wants to try letting her cry it out but I have thus far refused because I think she’s still too little. I have no idea what else I will do to get her to sleep, however.

Please help!

What you’ve got, right there, is a Tension Decreaser/Releaser. That’s a baby who actually NEEDS to fuss and fight and grunt and maybe even full-on cry for a bit before falling asleep.

You can read the Very Best Take Ever on this particular brand of baby at Ask Moxie.

I had one of these, and believe me, figuring that out was a total game changer. The more I intervened when I heard him fussing/flailing/kicking on the crib slats, the worse things got. I was interfering with a necessary process he needed to go through to release tension and fall asleep, and thus resetting the process back to the beginning. And eventually, ending up with a wayyyyyy overtired baby who couldn’t fall asleep because I didn’t let him fall asleep. 

This right here from your letter above:

She literally squirms and kicks and spits out her soother (and then gets pissed that she has no soother) and makes grunty goblin noises and houdini-wrestles out of the tightest swaddles. She does this several times between periods of dozing for a few minutes before finally drifting off for good.

None of that is a problem! Let all of that happen! Don’t pick her up and walk/bounce/rock her to sleep, which I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW sounds wrong and cruel and awful, but seriously. You are only making things harder on her (and future you). Let her doze, startle, grunt and fuss for however long she needs. By allowing all that to happen, you will also allow her to fall asleep on her own.

(I’d probably see if I could just remove the soother from the equation and let her fuss it out without having that specific thing to get pissed about, and even just going over to reinsert it can interfere with her tension release process. And you DEFINITELY do not want to continue forcefully holding a pacifier in!! See if she can fall asleep on her own without one, even if it involves a lot of sturm und drang.)

She will fight sleep for awhile. Sleep will eventually win. But you have to let it.

And don’t drop the ball on her proper bedtime…there’s really no other way to prevent the screaming inconsolably for hours thing. She has a very set but limited window for falling asleep on her own before she will be physically incapable of it. Tension releasers SOUND like an easy dream to parents of tension increasers (for whom the fussing will quickly escalate to full-on screaming that will simply get worse and worse), but they do come with a few quirks. One of which is that you absolutely, positively HAVE to treat bedtime (and the bedtime routine) as sacred. If you deviate from it, you’ll easily overshoot the drowsy-but-awake/fuss-it-out window and end up with a very, very miserable baby. Don’t wait for signs of sleepiness; just set bedtime at 8 p.m. and stick to it like crazy glue.

Like the increasingly useless soother, it’s up to you if you want to continue swaddling. It sounds like just another thing for her to deliberately fight, and reswaddling her over and over is more unhelpful interference. (Although if you haven’t tried a Miracle Blanket yet, you should. You tamp down the arms with separate flaps and then swaddle the body over them; my babies could eventually kick their legs out [although not at two months] but those arm flaps were a whole other thing.) But personally, I only stuck with swaddling for my tension increaser babies…my tension releaser fought it too much and it turned out to not really make much of a difference whether he started the night swaddled or not. He liked to flail about and kick and stuff before falling asleep.

When she’s older, she’ll probably settle into her own little routine to fall asleep that won’t seem as strange. She might suck her thumb or rock/roll herself in bed, bounce her head on her pillow, or kick her legs or have a set song to sing to herself. Missing bedtime and staying up too late can still result in possible sleeping trouble/insomnia, but for the most part, falling asleep will remain a pretty independent process, which is a wonderful thing. But it’s critical that you give her that independence NOW and resist introducing other sleep crutches like needing to be held or rocked to sleep (or someone holding in a pacifier). The physical fighting is just something she’s gotta do for now, as weird as it looks.

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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Emily

    Our daughter was similar – she’d make all these little snuffles and mini-cries and what-have-you. She hated pacifiers after about a month and never once enjoyed being swaddled. Once we realized she’d settle down and go to sleep fine if we just walked away, it was smooth sailing. She’s two now and really has always been (with the exception of being sick or the odd sleep regression) and excellent sleeper and has no trouble getting herself to sleep at night/naps. Though like Amy mentioned, we’re super strict about the bedtime and bedtime routine unless there’s some special circumstance.
    I hate to call what we did Cry it Out since so many people just think of screeching babies being ignored, but that’s not the case at all. I’d keep the monitor on and listen and it got pretty easy to tell after a few nights/weeks what normal settling down noises were and what real, honest getting worked up cries were. That’s the only times we’d go back in to intervene.

  • June

    Our daughter was the same! I realized one night as I kicked and rolled around under my own covers they oh hey, I too do some weird crap to get comfortable and fall asleep and she needs to work it out her own way to fall asleep.

    I did notice that when she started rolling over (around three months) she would always chose to sleep on her stomach (I’d put her down on her back and she’d roll) and she seemed to do far less kicking/squirming/yelling before falling asleep.

  • Dan

    Also your kid is two months old. At two months old and six months old is a totally different thing. Agree with amy re the letting her have a minute to figure it out as long as she’s not getting super distressed (our kid was the same), but seriously don’t worry too much about how she falls asleep now. It’s not really relevant to the rest of her sleeping life and any kind of sleep training is just bullshit before 6 months/9 months/a year depending on the kid.

  • abbie

    I have a baby like this. He hated being swaddled and as a newborn most enjoyed falling asleep in his vibrating rocker/bouncer. I must admit that until he was about three months old we would let him fall asleep in the rocker and then once we was really asleep for a bit transfer him to the crib at night. Around 3-4 months we made a much bigger effort to get him to nap and fall asleep at night in his crib. He would still fight like crazy but it didn’t seem to take too long for him to settle down. We did go in periodically and pat him and say goodnight. However, it took us a bit to realize more interventions from us equaled a restart of the clock until he would fall asleep. He is 12 months now and will bang around his crib and talk to himself for about 15 minutes before falling asleep. If we go into the check on him or tell him to settle down it is almost guaranteed it will be a new 15 minutes before he falls asleep (but I still do it because sometimes he is just so loudly thrashing and I get worried, silly me).

  • Amalah’s advice is spot on but I can’t get over the fact that the OP was born in the ’90’s. (1969 baby here with a 14 year old son). I remember driving in cars without seatbelts, is how old I am.