I'd like to write about our experiences with "sleep training". If you search the web, you'll find approximately 126 million hits on this topic. It's a big deal. And after celebrating 9 wonderful months with my baby boy, of course it's a big topic. We're all very tender around this topic... by "we", I think I'm referring to mamas. It continues to baffle me that the VERY FIRST question you hear when someone finds out that you have a wee little one is "How is he/she sleeping?"
He's sleeping crappily, all right? I'm exhausted, okay? That doesn't have any bearing on how good my kiddo is, or what we're doing right or wrong. It's just that we haven't figured out what works for us yet. Let's be gentle with each other, and be gentle with ourselves.
So this is why I think this post is important to me. To talk through our successes and failures, and to encourage anyone reading this: you can find something that works for you. It might not look the same as what we do, or be what the books say, or what your best friend does. Be confident. Listen to your heart, your gut, your baby. And if you need to vent or have a friend in exhaustion - sister, I'm there with you.
We've been pretty lucky overall - James has been a great babe and a fairly good sleeper from the beginning. After the original newborn-wake-every-two-hours phase, I saw progress as he dropped some of the non-essential night feeds and slept a bit longer at night. He was waking maybe two times a night - awesome. Right about this time, we decided to move to CO. This meant a lot of chaos, and while Alan went north ahead of us, James, Zoey and I moved in with my dad. (He's a saint.) This craziness naturally impeded our progress with good sleep habits. James was in a pack 'n play instead of a crib, or was in bed with me. Luckily, our nanny was willing to work with our cuckoo-nanas situation. (Cassie is also a saint.)
Once we got up to CO, there was continued wackiness as we tried to get unpacked... followed by a bout of croup, a trip to the ER for the croup (super scary) and then a recovery. He was absolutely in bed with me during this time so I could keep an eye on him. And things were okay. We were surviving. Sure, it was a bit annoying that "our" room was not really ours anymore, and getting ready for work in the morning was a bit more challenging. But we weren't ready to lob James into the crib and just let him cry it out. I just knew it wasn't the solution for us... but the problem was that we didn't know WHAT to do. I've read the articles. Read the books. But just couldn't figure out what to do.
Then, things got a bit worse... Kind of deteriorating. It seemed like James was waking up during the night and didn't WANT to be awake. He didn't need/want to nurse, didn't want to play, didn't want anything except to be back asleep. I think we were waking each other up by being crammed together, and none of us were happy or comfortable.
Enter our sign. A big, flashing, neon sign that I was waiting for, in the form of a coworker named Steve. He mentioned he had a 2 year old, and asked how we were doing with sleep (non-judgmentally). I explained that things weren't super great, we were all really tired and just not sure what to do next. Steve almost lit up with excitement, because it turned out... they had overcome the same obstacle. He explained what worked for them: a hybrid plan that would no doubt involve some crying, but also involved the parents to go in and reassure kiddo so he wouldn't feel abandoned (my concern).
The amazing thing? My fabulous friend Tina had outlined pretty much the same plan that she used to help her daughter Arden a month or so earlier. I think hearing it from one more person was enough to tip the scales.
I went home, told Alan and we decided to tackle it on the weekend. This would give us a couple of days to get the worst out of the way before going back to work. Here's how it works:
- Complete your normal bedtime routine. Ours includes a bath, lotion, pajamas, good night kisses and maybe a story.
- Tell baby how much you love him, and that you'll be right outside to keep him safe. Give as many kisses as needed, and lay him in the crib. Turn off the lights, and leave the room. Crying will happen. In James' case, he was pissed.
- Set your timer for 3 minutes. If you're like me, you'll be shocked how long 3 minutes feels with a screaming baby. This is why the timer is important, as screaming-baby-time warps like taffy and you can't make rational judgments.
- If baby is still screaming, go into the nursery, pick him up, soothe him by swaying/rubbing back, kisses, comforting words. You love him, you're right there to keep him safe, and he'll sleep so well. Once calm and quiet, lay him back in the crib. More crying and screaming are to be expected, but leave the room.
- Set your timer for 5 minutes. Same thing - if baby is screaming, go back into nursery and soothe.
- Set your timer for 7 or 10 minutes. (Use your judgment here.) In our case, if James decelerated to just general whimpering or whining but not crying/screaming I refrained from going in. Seeing me seemed to wind him up.
What happens if he wakes up during the middle of the night? Do the same thing. Exactly the same thing. What do you do for daytime naps? Exactly the same thing.
So here's how our experience went.
Yep, that's our combo grocery list/sleep training log. We're high tech like that.
First night was the worst, but we were expecting that. Alan and I alternated going into the nursery, supported each other when tired or when James was crying. That was crazy helpful. (and just reinforces what badasses you are, Steph and Tina!) We put James down at 7:10PM, and we had to go in 4 times following the schedule before he fell asleep around 7:52PM. He woke up again at 8:30, but we only went in one time before he fell asleep again. He woke at 11:13PM, and this was the tough one. We went in 6 times and he just wouldn't settle again - was super upset. Finally, my uber-tired brain realized that he had a really wet diaper. Seriously, I changed the diaper and he was asleep in less than 3 minutes... then he slept through until 5:45AM. He cooed a bit, then put himself back to sleep until 7AM.
What. The. Heck.
Second night was even easier. I laid him in his crib at 7:15PM, and he didn't cry. Not one tear. He woke up at 12:25AM and we nursed. Fell right back asleep. Woke up again at 3AM, and had to change a really wet diaper. He fussed a bit around 3:30, but put himself back down around 3:45AM. This was a case where he wasn't crying/screaming - I didn't go into the nursery to "rescue" him because he didn't need me. I would have just upset him. He then slept through until 7:10AM!
Third night was the best yet. Laid him down again with not a single tear or fuss. He woke up one or two times that night, but when Alan or I went in, we just gave him a quick reassurance-snuggle, laid him down and after an initial cry (pretty much just "wah!") he immediately fell back asleep and slept through until 7AM. Who is this kid?!
So within the span of a weekend, we went from waking 4-5 times a night with grumpiness, restlessness and general hopelessness to a kiddo sleeping totally on his own. He's not freaking out. He's not without us - if he needs us, we're there. But we're not rushing in at the first cry - we're taking a moment to evaluate the situation. For example, the last two nights he has squawked at 9PM but hasn't actually woken up. If I had rushed in, I totally would have wrecked his process.
It's absolutely mind-boggling.
Here's what I think worked so well for us: Having a plan. Giving ourselves a reasonable timeframe to see results. Supporting each other. Listening to our hearts/guts. And I think a small part is that James was a bit older. It's almost like HE gave a sigh of relief that we did this. Whew. Thanks, guys. I really needed to get some sleep, but wasn't sure how to do that crammed in your bed. He took to it SO fast, and with SUCH good results... I can't imagine that every kiddo would go through this so quickly, but I know the structure was helpful for all of us involved. Even stubborn-girl Arden turned around in 7-10 days. ;)
Anyhow. I owe so much to my husband, for being our stalwart supporter during our co-sleeping as well as the "sleep training". And I am so thankful for the continued support and success stories of my mama friends and parent friends... I needed some time to talk through the options and figure out what direction I wanted to take us. Thank you all for sharing your wins and being patient with us as we fumbled through.
If you have any questions, or if there's something I didn't address - please ask! Leave me a comment and I can fill in the blanks.
You got this, mama. (or dada.)