Jackson is now 7 months old and has hit many of the milestones we were so looking forward to. He (mostly) consistently sleeps through the night, has two teeth and can successfully eat a laundry list of fruits and vegetables, sometimes even holding the spoon himself.
While we’ve gleefully jotted down all these firsts with their dates in his baby book, his sleeping, teething and eating accomplishments were nowhere near one-day events. Instead, each win he’s had was after a series of fits and starts (sometimes actual fits!) and trial and error. Yet, with each checkbox we’ve hit, those frustrations quickly became a muted memory as our pride in his accomplishments swelled.
Though we read up studiously before Jackson’s arrival about the best methods when it came to things like sleeping, teething and eating, we found our little guy was actually the best teacher of all. We have tried to listen to his cues to find success.
Here’s what he has taught us.
The Ferber Method
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that parents keep their infants sleeping with them in their room until at least 6 months old, when the risk for SIDS dramatically drops — though we’d heard other advice, ranging from the night you’re home from the hospital to one year.
Jackson slept (barely) in our room in a snug swing contraption until he hit month three. At that point — frustrated with our inability to sleep because of his frequent crying, snoring and even gas — we plopped him in his crib in his nursery and attempted to head to bed, flicking on the monitor. Big mistake. He screamed from the moment his head hit the mattress … for hours and hours.
We went back to the drawing board and decided on a step-down approach. We canned the swing setup for his Pack ’n’ Play in our room for a few weeks, so he could get used to the flat surface yet still have the same look and smell of our room. He became quite the unpredictable sleeper — one night sleeping for a solid four hours and the next, up literally every half-hour, instantaneously falling asleep the second we picked him up. We knew we had created a monster.
Come the New Year, we decided to pick a date — Jan. 15, opting for a Tuesday, when he was good and tired from daycare — to try the crib in his room again. This time, we used the Ferber Method. Termed by some as “cry it out,” this strategy has strict rules, which very much appealed to both Ashlee and me. We both tend to opt for rigidity in the face of uncertainty.
While we were hesitant to just close his nursery door and let him cry for eight hours, the Ferber Method seemed a happy medium. On the first night, you let the baby cry for three minutes, go in and gently shush him and pat his head and quickly leave, returning five minutes later for the same routine if he’s still crying and then 10 minutes thereafter until he falls asleep. If he wakes up an hour later, you reset to three minutes. On the next night, the increments go up to five, 10 and 12 minutes of letting him cry, and gradually increase throughout the week until you reach 20, 25 and 30 minutes.
I offered to take the first night, knowing Ashlee is a bit more of a softy and would be tempted to pick Jackson up if he was really wailing. I settled in, knowing it was going to be a long night — but, after a 45-minute cry session, he slept until the sun came up. On the next night, the longest he cried was 20 minutes. The following night was only eight minutes. Now, he’ll occasionally wake up to fuss, but it rarely lasts more than a minute. We only get out of bed to shush him if it reaches 15, as he’s mastered the art of self-soothing.
The Ferber Method may not be for everyone. It’s a lot tougher (on your emotions and your ears) than I had anticipated — hearing your child scream bloody murder and not comfort him. However, the fact that he now will sleep for 10-12 hours, which is good for his growing body, and that we’re not facing each day bleary-eyed and delirious, in hindsight, made that rough couple of days beyond worth it.
The fifth month seemed to really be when the magic happened, as January was also when Jackson cut his first tooth. We anxiously awaited the signs of his first baby tooth emerging, thinking it would be a cute little milestone.
What we got was enough drool to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool daily, a fever, a 13-day case of diarrhea and screaming that reached glass-shattering octaves.
One of the hardest things about teething, we found, is that some of the side effects are also connected to other conditions. We worried his digestive issues, for instance, may have been connected to a recent dose of antibiotics. And the fever and fussiness, we feared, could mean he was dealing with some undefined sickness.
Like so many other things, we had to take a wait-and-see approach. Once his first tooth came all the way out, the symptoms subsided — only to blossom days later as the second poked its way through.
In the meantime, we went on the hunt for things Jackson could safely shove in his mouth, as he became obsessed with putting anything and everything in there. We wet and froze washcloths, quickly ordered a teether on Amazon that he loved at a relative’s house and we incessantly washed our hands, as our fingers were his favorite chew toys.
Our doctor told us that between 4-6 months old, most babies start experimenting with purees. She advised us to start simple and slow, trying each new food for a few days at a time to rule out any allergies.
We looked to baby books and online food charts to see where to start, but soon found out that, like many other things in the infant-advice world, everyone has different ideas. Our family advised us to start with rice cereal — a flaky mix to thicken formula or breast milk — and offer it in a bottle with the nipple widened. Online sites, however, were chock full of dire warnings about that approach, which many deemed a potential choking hazard.
We ultimately opted for rice cereal in a bowl. Jackson’s first experiment was an unparalleled mess and had us running to the basement to unearth the plastic bibs we had gotten for our baby shower, and kicking ourselves for thinking that sitting on the sofa for this milestone was a good idea.
The more we sampled “Stage 1” fruits and veggies, the more we realized what a racket store-bought products are. There are countless recipes online for making your own baby puree — some of which, we calculated, are a quarter of the price of what’s on the shelves and take just five minutes to make. We’ve gotten into a rhythm of stocking up on fruits and veggies each time we go to the supermarket and spending some time chopping, blending and freezing them each weekend.
After a bit, we were able to discern Jackson’s likes and dislikes: His eyes bug out and he holds his mouth open when something suits his fancy, and he seals his lips shut and looks around the kitchen at anywhere but the spoon when he’s not interested. Pumpkin was a definite no-go, as were peas, while carrots and apples got the major green light. As a fun twist, our rather temperamental child will have a voracious appetite one day, while the next — depending on his mood, sleep and teething status — he’d rather eat his bib.
Milestones like sleeping, teething and eating are far from mere moments, but rather are nuanced learning experiences, both for babies and parents. By keeping expectations flexible yet optimism and persistence high — and relying on all that abounding advice as an option, not a how-to guide — we’ve found that the bumps in the road can become good guides.