I’m going to preface this post by sharing a few things I’ve learned along the way about infant sleep. In my opinion, sleep advice needs to be treated much like the advice you would give a woman in the throws of infertility treatments. There is no “right way” there is no “cure” there is no “one sized fits all” when dealing with individual babies and their individual needs. I will post what worked for me, but I don’t want to come across as some sort of holier than thou sleep sage who found a magic sleep formula that will work with babies big and small. I can still feel my skin crawl when I was in the throws of Sleepless Night 187 and I had a fellow mom ask, “Have you tried putting her to bed sleepy but awake?”
YES, BITCH, I’VE TRIED PUTTING MY BABY TO BED AWAKE AND IT WILL NEVER WORK BECAUSE SHE SCREAMS FOR TWO HOURS AND BY THAT TIME I HAVE STARTED DRINKING TO NUMB THE PAIN.
Point being, I don’t want to come across as “that girl”.
It’s akin to someone hearing I was going through IF and asking, “have you tried temping?”
Anyone who has struggled with infertility and has made it “to the other side” can attest to the fact that there is a lot of guilt associated around complaining once the infant comes into your world. I think this is why I have resisted blogging much, and especially resisted blogging about sleep. Shouldn’t I be over the moon about waking up 2-3 times a night to feed and care for the baby I wished so hard for?
The answer is no. No, I shouldn’t. And that’s OK.
Getting up every 2-3 hours for 7 MONTHS STRAIGHT is completely unbearable for anyone. And unless you’re one of those parents who knows from Day 1 that you will sleep train the shit out of your baby from the moment he/she is old enough to cry it out, I’ve found that many new parents (myself included!) operate on a different philosophy initially. I call it the “my baby will train himself” philosophy also known as the “my baby is different” or “my way of parenting will defy everything” philosophy. Sleep books? Pssshhh. They’re for parents who clearly don’t have any idea how to get their babies used to a routine.
Sigh. I’m embarrassed at how arrogant I was around the whole sleep business.
My own personal “You Idiots, My Baby Will Train Herself” inner monologue went something like this:
Happy birthday baby... you’re a cute tiny newborn….Right now we’re dream feeding and snuggling….you’re only 2 months old….awww, do you need a baba? Mama’s here…Oh my goodness!!! You slept 4 hours STRAIGHT! You’re mama’s good little sleeper!! Right?…. I mean….you’ll sleep longer than 4 hours some time soon, right??? I should stop putting pressure on sleep….it’s only been 4 months, and now I’m feeding her CEREAL! Of course sleep will get better….This will ABSOLUTELY be the night she sleeps through the night….no? Seriously? You’re up again…she’s 5 months now….should I be getting worried? Should I let her Cry It Out (CIO)? Ok. Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll let her CIO for 10 MINUTES. I’m certain she’ll stop after 5 minutes and put herself to sleep… Holy shit, she’s screaming even louder now….fuck. I have to go in and get her….fuck….I’ve probably trained her to cry for 10 minutes or longer now because she knows I’ll come get her! Maybe I should read a sleep book. NO! I will not succumb to a goddamn sleep book!!…. Abigail’s let her 4 month old CIO and now her kid sleeps through the night now….what the fuck am I doing wrong???? But….she really does seem hungry when she wakes up to eat!!! How can you ask me to STARVE my child in the middle of the night???? She’s 6 months old….I’m doing something wrong…Can’t function in the mornings….I’ll shower tonight so I can sleep in the morning for 5 more minutes…fuck my life….7 months….She’s up again. 4th time tonight…. I am starting to hate my child…..5th time tonight. Bottles won’t even work anymore….did I just hear my husband whisper “shut the fuck up?” to her?…Yes, yes I did.
This is where I hit my limit. Not because I heard my husband tensely whisper “shut the fuck up” into my sweet little girl’s ear (because trust me, I would have done that too…) But because I had reached “The Point”–”The Point” is a place all of us parents hit when we eventually agree it’s time to sleep train. For me, it was the realization that we were becoming angry at our daughter for not understanding how to sleep. Clearly, it’s not her fault, but sleep deprivation makes everything feel about 47 times more dire than it would had you had a good night’s sleep. Some people reach “The Point” at 3 months. Some, never. For me, it was 7.5 months of waking 2-3 times a night, every night, sometimes more, and realizing her sleep patterns were getting worse and not better. I should also mention that my husband absolutely did not want to train my daughter. He felt that CIO was cruel, and that she was so strong willed, she was essentially “untrainable”. His plan was to “get through it”. This thought gave me heart palpatations. Get through it? For how much longer? A year of no sleep? 2 years? I knew that for the sake of our sanity, and for our marriage, what we were currently doing was not working. We needed another plan, but I didn’t know what it would be.
I also had issues with having her cry it out in timed intervals, although TRUST ME– I do not begrudge in ANY WAY parents who use this technique. It works for many many parents, and if it suits you and your child, I say go for it. It just wasn’t for me, but I didn’t know what other options existed. In some sort of very strange coincidence, the day after the “shut the fuck up” incident, I saw a post from another mommy on a Facebook group I belong to about this very same issue around CIO. She detailed her approach to a gentle method of sleep training that worked for her, and I decided that the very next night I would attempt to implement it.
For those mommies (and daddies) who are going through sleep issues with their babies, and feel you might be coming close to “The Point”, let me just assure you…I feel your pain. There are truly no words to accurately describe the crushing frustration of hearing your child crying in her crib 2 hours after you JUST rocked her to sleep for the 4th time. There’s no way to properly explain the dread that starts to seep into your life around sleep itself. I found myself getting more and more depressed when I would go to bed after a long day because I knew I would wake up several times, I just didn’t know when. My relationship with my husband was suffering simply because as soon as she went to bed, I would begin getting anxious about when I needed to go to bed so I could at least maybe squeeze in 3 hours before the first wake up. We were bottle feeding Shira, so I at least had Hubs able to get up and do some feeds, but once she woke up, I found it was very hard for me to sleep, even if Hubs was taking care of her. It would take a minimum of 30 minutes to get her back down, and as she got older, it became more and more difficult to put her back to sleep. Towards the end, we had an elaborate method of trying to get her back down which involved rocking, bottle feeding, bouncing, strapping her in the stroller and rocking her, and eventually…co sleeping just so I could get a couple hours of sleep.
Prior to deciding to sleep train, our nightly pattern went something like this:
Our bed time routine was always very consistent. 7PM Bath, story, bottle, swaddle (or Merlin Suit) rock to sleep, put her in the crib, creep out of the room and pray she was fully asleep by 8PM. We’d usually get a 4 hour stretch before one wake up, and she went back to sleep fairly easy, up for the day at 4 or 5AM. At around 5 months old, she began rolling, and slept horribly in her Merlin suit so we transitioned her out of it cold turkey. When she fell asleep she would roll on to her tummy, which I thought would help her sleep better, but it didn’t. she went from 1-2 wakings to 3-4. Every time she woke up, we would give her the bottle to try and soothe her back down, but, towards the end she didn’t sleep more than 3 hours straight, and once she learned to stand in her crib, it was all sorts of hell. The bottle wouldn’t even help us anymore. Our daughter needed to be dead asleep for us to transfer her back to the crib, and if she wasn’t it would cue more cries, standing and falling in her crib, more rocking, more frustration until sometimes an hour had passed before we could get her back to sleep. She would wake up 2 hours later. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Hubs and I butted heads on multiple occasions about the sleep training issue. He was very opposed to it, but I think it may have been because he thought the only way was to let her CIO. When I heard of this other gentler way, he was still very wary about it, and didn’t want to commit to it.
Step One to my method of Sleep Training:
CONSISTENCY: once you commit to this, commit to it for a full week at least. NO EXCEPTIONS.
The fact that my husband was not on the same page threw a snag in my plan…which brings me to:
BOTH YOU AND YOUR PARTNER HAVE TO BE ON THE SAME PAGE.
If you’re not, it won’t work. You can’t have one person waking up and doing one thing, and you doing another. Or, you could do what I did, and start Night One of sleep training on your own without discussing it with him. This is a recipe for a fight. A big fight. But in the end, Hubs agreed to let me handle every single night waking for a week so that I could do things my way and see if it worked. I felt that I couldn’t go much further down the sleepless rabbit hole than I already was, so I didn’t have much to lose by getting even less sleep for a week. After seeing how well it worked to have only me doing the training, I would recommend that one spouse take all of the wakings for one week as it will help bring consistency to the method.
All night feedings must be eliminated. I fought and fought against this one until I realized that she was waking 3 times a night to “eat” and she absolutely did not need this, aside from the small comfort the bottle provided. I eliminated my night feeds cold turkey as I didn’t want to deal with diluting her bottles with water, or giving her less and less each night feed. It seemed this would prolong the agony. Please make sure that your child is at least 15 pounds, and it is clear he/she is gaining weight well before you implement this part of the training.
Unless there is pee or poo all over the crib and she is soaking in her own filth, do not remove your child from the crib once she is down for the night. If you absolutely need to change her, do it quickly without expression. Put her back in the crib immediately. This happened once during our sleep training when her diaper leaked.
Come up with a catch phrase– a phrase that you will repeat over and over and over again. The only thing you will say to him or her once they are in their crib for the night is this phrase. I chose, “Shhh, it’s night night time” which I say in a soothing melodic voice leading up to bed time and any time she wakes up.
Put a lovie in the crib (a blanket or stuffed animal that can keep them company while they work things through).
The goal behind this training is that you are never leaving your child to cry alone. For the first few nights, you are with them until they fall asleep. If your baby seems like he/she is getting more worked up by you being there, I would still encourage you to stick to soothing him/her to sleep for the first few nights. They WILL fall asleep eventually. If it still doesn’t work, maybe this isn’t the right method for you–babies are not one size fits all!
How Things Went Down:
I consider this a “half night” of training because I had initially put her down asleep which is advised against in this method of sleep training. The goal is to get baby comfortable hanging in his/her crib so they can put themselves to sleep. I balked at this at first, especially because I knew how absolutely horrendous things were when I did put her down awake (screaming). She woke up as expected 3 hours later at 11PM. I decided then and there that she would not be getting the bottle to put her back to sleep, and she would not be getting out of the crib. Steeling myself for the battle ahead, I went into the room and repeated “Shhh, it’s night night time” and patted her back. She cried harder and began crawling up the side of the crib, reaching for me. Each time she crawled to stand up in the crib I gently placed her back down on the mattress and said, “shhh, it’s night night time.” The screams got louder, and she began crying even harder. I counted how many times I pulled her from the side of the crib and put her back down. 92 times. By the 93rd time, she was still crying, but she stayed on her tummy and let me rub her back. 90 minutes later, she was asleep. She did not wake back up the rest of the night.
I decided to bite the bullet and put her to bed “sleepy but awake”. Cringe. I fed her her bottle, but didn’t do the last bit of rocking to get her fully asleep. As expected, I put her down in the crib and her eyes popped open and she began to cry. I repeated “Shh, it’s night night time” and she lost it again. This time, it took me a little over an hour and 63 times of pulling her away from the side of the crib before she went to sleep. When she woke up a few hours later and AGAIN didn’t get taken out of the crib or given a bottle, she really lost her shit. It took me 90 minutes of patting and shushing again. But after this, she didn’t wake up again.
Was interesting. It still took me a while to pat her to sleep after putting her to sleep awake, but rather than pull her from the side of the crib immediately, I let her stand up a little while and cry while I sat beside her crib repeating “shh, it’s night night time”. I would pull her down occasionally, and after 45 minutes, she still was not calming down, so I left the room. 10 seconds later she started crying, so I came right in and pulled her from the side of the crib and said, “shh, it’s night night time”. I left the room again, she cried, I came in again, etc., I did this about 5 times until I finally patted her to sleep. She woke again 5 hours later with a soaking/leaking diaper which I had to change which was a definite wrench in the plan. I took her out of the crib, changed her quickly, not saying anything, and then put her right back in the crib. This was a tough one because she thought she was coming out of the crib to be rocked, and when she was put back in the crib, she wailed. It took me 45 minutes to pat her back to sleep.
The interesting night. I put her to bed awake, and fully expected her to cry. She did not. Instead, when I tried to pull her from the side of the crib from standing, she calmly let me, and treated it like a game. So, I backed away from the crib and let her do her thing while I watched. If she got too riled up (and started jumping or crying) I would lay her back on her tummy repeating “Shh, it’s night nighttime’. After doing this about 20 times, I got bored, and I left the room, fully expecting cries. I checked her on the monitor and all she did was roll around in the crib and “play”. And then…wait for it….wait for it….SHE FELL ASLEEP ON HER OWN. I thought I was hallucinating. My husband couldn’t believe it. And guess what? She remained asleep for 10 HOURS.
SHE SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER!!!!!!!!
On subsequent nights of this “training”, I am now able to rock her while giving her a bottle, put her to bed sleepy, leave the room, and have her roll around in her crib for about 10 minutes to get comfortable with no more crying!!! On the rare times she does cry, it’s for about 10 seconds until she goes back to rolling around in her crib, but I don’t even need to go in and pat her anymore. She has slept through the night ever since, and I am knocking on every piece of wood available that I’m not jinxing myself.
Obviously every child will handle this type of sleep training differently, but I have to say…it’s been absolutely amazing to watch my little girl who used to wake up 4 times a night sleep through the night and put herself to sleep. I don’t think there is any such thing as a “No Cry” sleep solution, but I feel good about the way this panned out in that I was always at the side of her crib when she was crying, and was able to pat her and reassure her.
I remain cautiously optimistic, and fully prepared for this to go to shit at any moment, but after about 2 weeks of having a full night’s sleep, I am feeling soooooooooooo much better about life in general. I may just plan on dusting off my PCOS literature and seeing if I’m ready to “try” again. And by “try”, I mean what you think I mean. Like many before me, the musings of #2 are creeping up. But more on that in another post :)