On Sleep Training

Let me just preface this by saying I have one child and he’s not quite six months old. So you should probably not listen to anything I have to so. Now that we’ve covered that….

Before Will was born I read all the books. No really, all of them. My plan (yes, I know, ha ha) was to have Will sleep in our room in a co-sleeper for about 6 months and then transition him to his crib in the other bedroom. I was NOT going to sleep train him. I would let him gradually work out his sleep rhythms on his own, in his own time. Things started out great. We brought him home from the hospital and he came into our room. He actually started out in the Fisher Price Rock ‘N Play newborn sleeper thing and moved to the co-sleeper when he was about six weeks old (my husband LOVES it when I make him assemble multiple child sleep devices). When we first brought him home, he was sleeping in 3-4 hour stretches. Sometimes he’d do one five-hour stretch for me. Wonderful. It was better than I expected from a newborn and with him by my side I never even fully woke up when I nursed him at night.

But then. Right about when he turned three months old, he decided he was done with all that. He started waking up every 45 minutes to nurse, and screaming like the co-sleeper was a fiery pit every time I tried to put him back in it. No side lying for my little guy either. The only acceptable position was me sitting up in the bed with him cradled in my arms, boob in his mouth. I was literally “sleeping” with my head leaned back against the wall, holding him in my arms all night. At first I thought it was a growth spurt, then I thought it was the four month sleep regression. But it kept on not ending. And I was so.very.tired.

So I read The No Cry Sleep Solution. I believe I’ve mentioned before my feelings about the efficacy of the suggestions in that book. Then I read The Sleep Lady’s Good Night Sleep Tight. I actually think her strategy would work for a lot of kids, but not mine. She advocates sitting by the crib while baby falls asleep and moving progressively further away until you’re outside the door. I tried her plan. But if Will can see me and I’m not holding him, he gets enraged. Red faced, tears streaming out of his eyes. I had read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child (which could really use a good editor, incidentally) but I just couldn’t bring myself to let my baby cry alone.

And then one day I was driving home from Target, sitting at a red light, and my eyes closed. Just for a second, and the car was stopped and nothing happened, but it really scared me. Because all the “gentle solutions” aren’t going to do my baby any good if I fall asleep driving and kill us both. So we decided to CIO. (Also, Kendra said she does it and none of her kids are emotionally scarred, so I kept telling myself that if she’s done it seven times and they’re all okay, Will should be fine too.) I knew the Ferber plan wouldn’t work for us because if I kept coming in to do checks, Will would just get more and more upset. So we decided to go with the Weissbluth “extinction” plan. I was terrified that he would cry and cry, and cry. I made my husband promise me that if he cried for more than an hour and a half the first night, we would reconsider.

I did his whole bedtime routine, kissed him good night and put him in the crib. I closed the door behind me and I could hear him talking to himself in there. After about five minutes he started to cry. I got in the shower because I couldn’t stand to hear him sobbing. After 25 minutes he stopped. The husband peeked in. Asleep. Hallelujah!

Ten minutes later, he woke himself up, cried furiously for ten more minutes and then passed out. He stayed asleep for three and a half hours. That may not sound like much, but for a baby that was waking every 45 minutes it was amazing. He cried for 10-15 minutes at bedtime for a few nights after that, and then just stopped. When I put him down now, he babbles to himself for five or ten minutes and then goes to sleep. Our evenings are so much less stressful. When he was in his I-don’t-sleep-unless-I’m-in-Mama’s-arm phase, our evenings were a chaotic mess of me trying to put him down, start dinner, bark instructions at my husband to finish dinner while I went to deal with the baby who had woken again, then texting the husband from the bedroom to just go ahead and eat without me, and finally eating and cleaning up a cold dinner, only to rush back in when he woke up again.

We’ve been focusing on going to sleep around 7, staying asleep until 10, nursing at 10, one other time during the night, and then staying asleep until 7 am. And for the most part, it’s working. Naps are another story. He refuses to nap. Sometimes he will fall asleep in the car or stroller or with me wearing him, but it doesn’t last. And heaven help you if you dare try to put him down on a stationary surface. So nap training starts tomorrow. Pray for me. I know there will be tears, and the husband won’t be here to provide moral support.

I was so adamantly opposed to letting a baby “cry it out.” But it turns out that my baby cried a lot less when I went that route than when I tried the “no-cry” and “gentle” solutions. I’m learning as I go. And sometimes it’s really humbling. Humbling when you have to eat your words about a given parenting topic, and humbling when you have to ask for advice from other mamas who are both much more experienced and much younger than you, which happens a lot when you’re 32 and just had your first baby. I think sleep is one of those things that falls into the whole the-same-thing-doesn’t-work-for-every-child category. If there was a magic solution, there wouldn’t be 50 million different sleep books to choose from. I suspect this is just the first of many parenting issues in which I’ll have to eat my words and be humbled. It’s good to know baby Will is already doing his part to make me a saint. 😉

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