What We’re Doing: Parenting Round 2 + How we get our kiddos to sleep!

So this is the longest I’ve ever gone without writing a blog post…

We sold our first house exactly one year ago, and I just said to Tim how it feels like we still haven’t quite caught our breath yet…we found out I was pregnant with Eamon, packed up our old house, moved into Tim’s parents’ house, took on a full house renovation that lasted 5 months, moved into our new house, had Eamon… and then the pandemic happened. And maternity leave ended, and we did the work-from-home-with-kids thing. And now it’s summer, which sort of still feels like an extension of lockdown/quarantine/the past five months… it’s all kind of a blur that feels like 5 minutes and also like 5 years have gone by. Pretty sure you all feel similarly, right?

Anyway, now that we’ve adjusted to being parents of TWO (!)… I want to share some perspective on what it’s been like, answer some of your questions, and share what’s worked so far for us! Here goes…

Adjusting from ONE to TWO:

There’s that old saying that “one is like none and two is like twenty” (or something like that), that most definitely had me shaking in my boots when it came to deciding to have a second kid. Our little trio (Tim, Nolan and I), we’re literally like a modern day three musketeers- going away was easy bc all three of us fit in a King bed hotel room, one of us could entertain Nolan and the other had “free” time, having someone watch one kid is so much easier of an ask than asking them to watch two- we were hesitant to rock the boat, because, honestly, Nolan was so easy (and still is for the most part)- bringing another human into the mix seemed risky.

Nevertheless, Eamon arrived.

And he’s amazing. And easy. And yes, I feel incredibly grateful and at the same time guilty that somehow, we got another baby who eats well, sleeps well and seems as chill and easygoing as his brother.

A question I get a lot is “How has Nolan adjusted?”- the truth is, he’s been great. Sure, he needs to be reminded to be gentler every now and then; to lower his voice when screaming “EAMOOOOOO” in poor Eamon’s face (although Eamon seems to think this is hilarious). If one of us is holding Eam, Nolan will sometimes try to crawl into our lap too. But overall, he’s been an awesome big brother. I’ll trust him to “babysit” Eam for a few minutes while I dry my hair, or put dishes away, things like that. He loves the responsibility, and I love peeking in and seeing him play with him, talk to him, hug him- it’s the sweetest. One of Nolan’s favorite “jobs” is to report if Eam has fallen asleep in the backseat or if he’s still awake.

How has life changed for us? Does TWO really feel like TWENTY?

Sometimes, (ha!). But most of the time, it’s very manageable. I also know that I say this from a two parent household, during a time period when Tim and I have both been home, without having to leave for work, commute, have social engagements etc- so I guess it remains to be seen how easy or challenging it will be once “real life” kicks in again (insert praying hands emojis here!) My biggest piece of parenting advice has always been DON’T OVERTHINK THINGS! Now with two, just like when we had Nolan, we just go for it- whether it’s going away together, taking the boys out to eat, to the beach, whatever- we try not to let the “what ifs” of life paralyze us from doing things. Sure, is it easier to stay home than go away? (Kind of? Not really? After months of quarantine I’m ready to hit the road for the time being, even WITH my kids!) I’ve always found that they’re better “behaved” and we’re more engaged as a family if we’re out and about on some sort of adventure- at home sometimes, I think people kind of gravitate to their separate activities.

Ok, now onto what’s probably the most asked question I get: how do we “get” Eamon (and Nolan, when he was a baby) to sleep so well?

*Disclaimer time*

Obviously, I’m not a pediatrician, sleep specialist, baby guru etc – just sharing what worked for us w both boys!

While I do believe that nature/personality whatever you want to call it, plays a role in a person’s sleeping and eating and overall behavior, I also know, being a teacher for over a decade, that human beings’ behavior can be shaped from the outside as well. The word “trained” has a negative connotation, but the truth is, babies DO need to be trained, they need to learn, and what YOU DO TEACHES them.

That being said…

Sleep: with Nolan, we kept him in a bassinet (the old, now illegal Rock and Play!) for the first six weeks-two months before “transitioning” him to his crib. Because that’s what “people said to do”. He took right to it, and never really had trouble sleeping. He had a few rough wake ups at around the four month sleep regression (still not sure if that’s really a thing, because Eamon did not go through that), but overall, he slept through the night and had solid naps from around 6 weeks old. With Eamon, we kept him in a bassinet for three nights exactly then were like “ummmm yeah let’s just put him in his crib in his room bc I don’t think newborns even know the difference!” So we did. And he was fine. I feel like this is one of those man-made (or in this case, woman-made?) ideas that you have to follow some sort of preordained sleep progression, when really, if you think about it, cave-people’s babies just WENT TO SLEEP WHEREVER and they totally survived or we wouldn’t be here today! Stop laughing, BECAUSE YOU KNOW IT’S TRUE!!! We’ve created all of these weird “rules” for ourselves that in my humble opinion, have just created more anxiety for parents (and tons of profit for baby product companies!!!- just sayin’). A common question I get via DM from first time parents is “when did you know he was “ready” for his crib?” Answer: Right away! Because guess what? They don’t know what a bassinet or crib or cardboard box is anyway! Moral of the story: we just put Eamon straight into his crib, in his own room, and he slept. He learned early on that that room, that crib was a time and place for sleep. Why delay the inevitable?

Another guiding principle that we have as parents is to set procedures, rules and expectations early on, and stick to them until you see the baby or kid “own them”, meaning be able to run the routine or recognize or expect the routine on their own. This is pretty much how I run my classroom as a teacher- I establish set procedures and routines from day one of class, and stick to them until I can feel my students really get them, buy into them, and expect them. Once that happens, then I can pick and choose when to relax the rules and routines when needed… and it’s the same for babies and kids! Because Nolan and Eamon have strong senses of routine and procedure at home, they’re able to quickly adapt to new experiences, sleeping situations, traveling etc, where we might have later bedtimes, different sleeping accommodations- and then snap right back into the regular routine easily because it’s been practiced so much. Babies and kids love knowing what to expect; they secretly love guidelines and rules- and then deviating from them feels like a well deserved special treat, if that makes sense.

What’s our sleep routine like? For naps, Eamon takes two big naps a day, the first about two-three hours after he wakes up, for 2-2.5 hours (usually somewhere between 11am-2pm) and then again around 4pm – 5:30ish. We try and get in as much play time, stimulation, outdoor time with fresh air and sun, plus a good meal in during their waking hours (about 2-3 hours wake time at a time) so that they’re good and tired for a nap. The long length of nap, in my experience, is something babies are naturally inclined to do, but also need to be trained to do. Sure, sometimes he’ll wake up 20 minutes in, or will cry for 10 min or so until he falls asleep. The way I see it, don’t we, as adults, sometimes have trouble immediately falling asleep? Or don’t we wake up in the night sometimes? How counterproductive would it be if every time we tossed and turned or woke up in the middle of the night, some huge human reached down and picked us up out of bed, totally waking us, taking to us and maybe even turning lights on?! We just learn get ourselves to sleep or to fall back asleep ourselves- and since babies don’t have the ability to talk, reason, turn over to get comfy etc- they cry. That’s it. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to sleep, or can’t sleep. I see it as the same thing adults do when we’re trying to fall asleep, just different. If you create the habit of going in to get them and interrupting them trying to get to sleep, they “learn” to expect that behavior from you, and then crave it. And then you’re screwed (joking, kind of!). 99% of the time, both Nolan and Eamon would fall back asleep within 10 minutes- both at nap time and at night. I don’t think of this as “letting them cry it out” (such a dramatic term- why this has become such a source of controversy is beyond me)- more like “let them learn”. Plus, trust me, your mom instincts will know if the cry means something is wrong- but really, usually nothing is- they’re just working on learning to sleep.

Bedtime is 7:30; if we’re on vacation or away, maybe a little later. We don’t do a long, “fun” bath time with him, I kind of feel like any extra stimulation at bedtime defeats the point. We’ll quickly rinse him off (not even every night- maybe 3x a week), put on a fresh diaper and pjs, and zip him into a sleep sack (we didn’t swaddle with Eamon either- again I feel like the more crutches you build into their expectations, the more “habits” you have to “break” later! He just never was swaddled and then never expected to be!). We don’t read to him before bed either (why stimulate?! We read during the day, mostly at mealtimes!) or sing (no one needs to be tortured or given nightmares by my or Tim’s voices lol)- we just give him a bottle, burp quickly and lay him down to sleep. Walk out of the room. That’s it. Even during those first few weeks and months maybe when newborns still need night feedings- keep it short and sweet! We didn’t talk or turn lights on or sing or even do a diaper change- NO NEED! An overnight diaper is good for 12 hours for a reason! Imagine if someone dragged you out of bed, took off your pajamas and changed your underwear in the middle of the night and then expected you to go right back to sleep?! Sounds horrifying and annoying right?! So why do we do this to babies and expect different from them? Leave the diaper, they rarely poop overnight anyway!

Oh one more thing- the dream feed! I did this with both Nolan and Eamon and it worked great in getting them to sleep long stretches at night until they slept completely through (and I think it gets them to sleep later in the morning too!). A dream feed is basically you feeding them via bottle or breastfeeding right before YOU go to bed, mayne three or four hours after the baby’s original bedtime, that fills their tummy one last time for overnight. So Eamon goes down to bed after an almost full bottle at 7:30, goes to sleep, then before Tim and I head to bed we (usually I) give him a dream feed bottle at like, 11:30 to hold him over till morning. When you do it though, you have to pick them up quietly, the idea being to NOT WAKE THEM UP and just let them start eating while they sleep (in your arms, not while in the crib FYI), hence the term “dream feed”- consider it “sleep eating” kind of. Then when they’re done, immediately put them right back to bed and walk out. We stopped dream feeding Nolan around 6 months because he was eating so much more during the day that he didn’t need that 11:30 feed anymore. When we went away last week, I experimented not dream feeding Eamon, who is currently 5 months, and he slept though without it, just woke up a little earlier than usual (7:00 instead of around 9am, his usual).

Moral of our story- let them learn to sleep. The more you do, the more you’ll have to do, if that makes sense.

That’s kind of it though- if going to sleep independently is something you want a baby to learn to do, why give them a million crutches to lean on and then have to suffer while taking them away?! Both Nolan and Eamon get PLENTY of snuggles and love and attention during waking hours- in my experience, doing too much around bedtime makes it harder in the long run. Keeping it short and sweet has produced two great sleepers for us!

Also I owe you a drink for getting to the end of this looongggg post (haha!)- but in all seriousness, I hope this helps! Again, please don’t take any of this as hard and fast rules or facts- not a doctor or sleep therapist, just wanted to share what’s worked for us with both boys! Happy sleeping!

Xo,

Christine

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