Q&A: infernal binkie

Mary writes:

"So we used to have this infant who was the wonder sleeper. Slept through the night--for real--at 8 weeks? (I always thought people were lying when they said things like that.) And lo, she's now 5 months, and for the past month has been waking up every 1-2 hours or so, all night long. She goes to sleep eagerly and early (7 pm), and while awake, so she "knows how" to get herself to sleep, or however it is the "sleep experts" like to put it. She also nurses only once a night--that hasn't changed, and she isn't demanding more. Unlike her older sister, she is very easy to get back to sleep. In fact, she doesn't usually even have her eyes open. She's just lying there, eyes closed, squirming and crying, her little mouth working, looking for--and here's the problem, I guess--her binky. All we have to do is give her a binky and a pat or two, and she goes right back to sleep. Easy, except when you're getting up and down 4 times a night. It would be fine if I could go right back to sleep, but for me broken sleep leads to insomnia. (And unfortunately, she does this when she sleeps with us, too. And the kind of light, hyper-aware sleep I get with a baby in my bed also leads to insomnia, so co-sleeping isn't the answer. )

So, did we do this to ourselves by giving her a binky? And is there any way to resolve the problem except by taking away the binky? (shudder) Or is it just a matter of waiting it out the 4 months or so until she can find the binky her own self? I know you're not a fan of  "sleep training" and in any case I don't think this kid needs it. She wants to sleep, she likes to sleep, she just needs to suck on something to do it. Poor thing, she had a rough time nursing at the beginning and was bottle-fed for several months, so she needed the binky very badly for comfort at first. We successfully transitioned
back to breastfeeding, hooray, but she still doesn't really comfort nurse--I don't think her associations with nursing are relaxing, exactly."

There. Now all those of you who are unhappy because your baby has to nurse or rock to sleep or because your baby isn't comforted back to sleep easily in the middle of the night know that even people whose babies go down easily and get back to sleep easily still have sleeping problems. Your baby can go down awake and sleep in her own crib and you can still be up every two hours. Baby sleep is the equal-opportunity ass-kicker.

If I win the MegaMillions on Friday, I'm going to start a ranch at which I'll train those cute little monkeys to do all the impossible tasks of parenting a baby. Number 1* on the list will be sitting next to the crib, waiting for the pacifier to fall out, then popping it back in smoothly and soundlessly. People can hire the monkeys to live with them for a year or two until their kids can find their own binkies in the dark.

But that's not going to solve your immediate problem (even assuming I win on Friday, I don't think I'd have any monkeys ready for at least 6 months). It seems to me you have a few options:

1) Go cold-turkey on the binky right now. If you're this tired out, I'm not sure you're going to be able to stomach this, though. You could just try to stop using it (and go in to rub or pat her whenever she wakes up) or you could try to get her to fall asleep to music instead at the same time you stop using the pacifier. If I was the one doing it I'd probably try to get her hooked on the music, figuring that would make it easier for her to give the binky up. And you could leave music on continuous play all night in her room.

2) Wait it out for a few more torturous months and then go cold-turkey on the binky. If you can work out some sort of schedule in which it's not always just you going in to put back in the binky, you can deal with it for longer. To be quite frank, this is your partner's kid, too, so unless s/he can come up with a better idea, your partner needs to take some Binky Duty. Either divide up the night so one of you does all binky replacement before, say, 2 am, and the other does it after, or alternate nights. Then in a few months your daughter will be able to find her own binky, or it'll be easier to take it away.

3) Try make a successful switch from binky to thumb. (I was of the "can't be done" school, but some readers assured me that a baby can find her thumb even at 5 months.) Maybe try making the binky taste bad and her thumb taste good? Or just stop giving the binky and instead put her thumb in her mouth whenever she starts crying for the binky.

I really can't think of another option here. Time is definitely going to take care of it, but you might not make it 'til then.:) Unless one of the readers has something I haven't thought of, I think you and your partner are going to have to sit down together, decide which way you're going to go with it, and then divide up the shifts (either binky-replacing, comforting without the binky, or thumb-pushing) somehow.

Does anyone have a miracle cure for this? You know, besides the trained monkeys. (Oooh. Maybe I could do robots instead. Binky-replacing robots....)

Update: The readers are really coming through an the binky suggestions! Be sure to check the comments.

* Number 2 will be cutting baby fingernails. The horror.