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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sleep Training Part III – A Momentary Lapse of Reason

I’ve been talking about how I’m not really into sleep training, and I think it’s more important to be responsive to your baby than to establish a strict routine or let baby cry it out. And in my last post, I mentioned that I’m confident that Little M will eventually sleep through the night without having to resort to crying it out.

And I am.

But it’s easy to doubt myself, which is what I did the other night.

After listening to his pediatrician at his six-month well visit, a little bug got into my brain. What if he really did need to be sleep trained? What if it would only take one night? That week (and every week is different), Little M was not going down to sleep well at night. He would wake up every 30 minutes if I wasn’t in bed with him. But I needed to get stuff done. We were going away at the end of the week, and I had work and packing to do. And since he doesn’t nap well during the day, my evenings are usually my only time to get things done.

So after his third wakeup the other night, I was pissed. I really needed to get stuff done. I should have put him in the wrap and continued what I was doing, but I didn’t. I was exhausted. And pissed. I don’t know why the sleep issue pisses me off so much sometimes. I cracked. I decided to let him cry, just to see what happened, and also because I had some work to finish by a certain deadline. And I couldn’t take his squirming in my arms and pushing against my belly and raking my chest with his fingernails. I was irritated.

He cried. And screamed.

And then he would periodically stop. I would breathe a sigh of relief, thinking he was asleep. And then—boom—five or ten minutes later he would start again.

When he finally was silent, I crept in the room to check on him, thinking he would be sound asleep.

He wasn’t. He was on his hands and knees, looking forlornly at the wall. Usually, when he sees me, he gets this excited panting and his arms and legs reach for me. But when he saw me, he didn’t move. When I pick him up, he usually leans his head on my chest or shoulder and snuggles into my neck. I picked him up. He sat like a sack of potatoes staring off into space.

He was detached.

My heart sank. What had I done?

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” I kept repeating over and over. I felt like dirt. Like the dirtiest, filthiest, terriblest mommy dirt. It was awful.

This is what became solidified in my brain that day:

#1: Responding to your baby’s cries keeps baby attached to you.

It makes baby excited to see you and helps baby trust that his needs will be met. Sometimes, the best parts of my days are when Little M sees me, his face lights up, and he crawls madly to come and get me. If I were to lose that—if he were to stop caring whether I was there or not—I would be crushed. Not to mention what it would mean for his sense of trust in his mom (and the world).

#2: I don’t want to cosleep forever.

It would be ideal if Little M could sleep by himself by the time he’s one year old. I would like to sleep in my own bed again. So I don’t want Little M to be afraid of sleep or of his crib. I want him to feel safe. If he wakes up and is scared, I want him to know that I will be there as soon as he calls for me. I don’t want him to fear the crib every time I set him down because I let him cry in there too often, sad and afraid.

#3: Maybe I’m in the minority, but from my experience, it doesn’t seem that babies establish much consistency with anything, much less sleep, before they are 12 months old.

I keep a relatively consistent bedtime routine that involves nursing, rocking, and singing, always in the same room, but sometimes Little M doesn’t fall asleep with nursing so we need to do something else. Things change. There was one glorious night when he was maybe three months old that I set him down, patted his back, and he went right to sleep.

If I had done that three nights in a row, would he have been “sleep trained?” You can bet I tried. But the next night, he needed to be nursed to sleep. And the next night it was rocking that sent him off into dreamland.

**And I just added this to say that when I just put Little M to bed, I nursed and rocked him and laid him in the crib asleep. He woke up within 15 minutes, crying. All it took to get him back to sleep was a quick pat on the back. Patterns change. Sleep does get better over time. Why do we have to push it to happen in the first few months of life?

So if everything changes every day anyway, how can ANY one thing work? One argument against using the cry it out method is that babies are not learning to self-soothe; they are just being conditioned not to cry when the need something. If no one responds anyway, why should they waste their breath? The fact that the cry it out method can work after just three nights seems like proof for that argument. Because normally, a baby will change his or her pattern every few days, weeks, or even every single day, even if that baby’s parents retains the utmost consistency with the bedtime routine.

If consistent responsive parenting, soothing hands, and loving arms still don’t help baby go to sleep alone every night, does it seem normal that baby will go to sleep with no fuss consistently after crying it out? It just seems to me that that’s not normal. Babies’ patterns change. They should change. Babies are continually going through developmental milestones, cutting teeth, getting sick, going on vacation… or they just have good days and bad days. It would seem strange to me if my six month old was consistent with sleep night after night.

Maybe it’s just me. Most of my friends—who cosleep, nurse their babies to sleep, and soothe them when they wake in the middle of the night—had kids who didn’t sleep through the night until they were at least one and a half years old. But the magazines and pediatricians—and lots of websites—make it seem like that’s not normal. When your baby wakes up a few times a night after the “magical” four-month deadline (when they are supposed to be able to physiologically be able to sleep through the night), you start questioning your parenting skills.

Stay tuned for the final post in the Sleep series on Monday! This post dissects the studies to determine if multiple night wakings and soothing baby back to sleep really are detrimental. 

Read the other posts in the Sleep series:  
Sleep Training Part I - What's the Problem?
Sleep Training Part II - Then and Now 
Sleep Training Part III - A Momentary Lapse of Reason 
Sleep Training Part IV - The Data behind the Philosophy


Small Footprints said... Best Blogger Tips

I don't have children so I'm no authority on the subject but I do watch what others do. And the thing that I've noticed is that children who are not allowed to sit in a crib and cry themselves to sleep tend to be more well-adjusted later in life. That's just my observation but in my mind it makes sense ... babies cry because they need something. Maybe it's just attention but they need something. If they are ignored, it sends a message that their needs aren't important. That's my opinion! It's also my opinion that you are doing the right thing! Thanks for sharing it with us! :-)

Sconi Mommy said... Best Blogger Tips

The only time my son had to CIO was in the car on the way home from a friend's wedding. It was the middle of the night, pouring rain and I was hopelessly lost in a residential area of Milwaukee. No gas stations.. just a lot of scary looking houses. He cried and screamed and I held his little hand (he was about 8-10 weeks) and sang to him and said, "I'm sorry.." It took me nearly an hour to get on to a highway and find a gas station.. He fell asleep five minutes before that. My heart was broken. I knew then that I could NEVER let him CIO. He had been sobbing in a way I had never heard him cry before (or since).
He's now 18 months (in a few days) and is FINALLY sleeping through the night (he did from about 3-6 months, except some night nursing, but once he started teething, he started waking). Sometimes, as much as 4-6 times a night.
I accept night time parenting as part of parenting. It's frustrating and tiresome but.. it really only lasts a very short time in the grand scheme of how long you have your child in your house.
It gets better mama. :)

Perspective said... Best Blogger Tips

Gaby ~ Another great read! I always love how honest you are in your writings...I really appreciate that! I have so many times felt exactly what you felt. The 'sleep issues' have (and sometimes continue) made me mad! Other people would chime in and tell me what to do, but at the end of the day, Mommy knows best! I was trying to get my boys to sleep through the night and one of my friends asked me if I minded getting up and nursing them in the middle of the night. I didn't. I am the kind of person that's always looking back and remembering the good ole days. I knew that I would miss these middle of the night feedings with my precious small boys. I decided that it was okay with me and that they would make the c hange when they were ready. And one day...they were 11 months old....they finally just slept through the night. It didn't take any force by me. I was very pleased with my decison. As a Mommy, I think we're always questionging what we're doing for our children and wondering and hoping that it's the very best. From the way I see it though...Mama Instincts are pretty good!

Jet's Journey said... Best Blogger Tips

Can I say that I had actual tears running down my cheeks when you spoke of him detached? Picking him up like a sack of potatoes? Oh.

My pedi is also recommending "sleeping training" but not in so many words. I believe he said, "I'm a cold turkey kind of guy." sigh.

I feel the pressure to let him cry. I feel the exhaustion/exasperation to make him sleep while I'm busy. Then I remember he's 5 months. He's a baby. He won't be like this forever. I love you, J.

Thank you for all of your posts. I look forward to hearing the rest from you. (P.S. Can we be mommy friends in real life? I need support from someone like you. :))

Patti @ Jazzy Mama said... Best Blogger Tips

Hi Tmuffin. I'm enjoying your series on Sleep.

Just as a slightly different perspective, I've never put a specific age on when I expect my children to stop cosleeping. We've never used a crib. My children are 7, 5, 3 and 1.

I know that longterm cosleeping is not for everyone. And I'm new to your blog, so I don't know your whole story. What I've read so far makes me pretty impressed with how tuned in you are to your baby's needs, as well as your own. It's hard to have continuous unconditional love for others if we don't practice some self-love along the way.

Joy to you and yours,

Amy said... Best Blogger Tips

I hate that as mom's we are made to believe that there is some perfect, exact way things are supposed to happen with our babies! I'm a big believer in doing what feels best for you and your baby. Everything will work out in the end! Do what feels right in your heart!

jenny said... Best Blogger Tips

Against the advice of EVERYONE I KNOW (including my pediatrician, who rolls his eyes at me when the subject comes up) I did not sleep train either of my kids. I believe in parenting by instinct--and the idea of letting a child scream, helpless and alone, in their room goes against every instinct I have. That's not to say that I think people who choose to "sleep train" are bad parents--we all have to do what works best for our families and sleep deprivation is no joke. I also completely understand your frustration and "bad mommy moment" (which wasn't at all so bad, give yourself a break and never call yourself mommy dirt!!)Not getting the rest/mental health breaks we need is brutal, and we've all been there.
Baby N is eight months has gradually dropped one night nursing at a time all on his own, and now sleeps 11 hours stretches. E was up every two hours until about 9 months, and then gradually slept longer stretches after that, with a lot of coaxing using tips from the No Cry Sleep Solution. Every kid is different. Just like they all eventually eat food, use the potty and go to nursery school, they eventually sleep. Hang in there and use those mama instincts, they sound like great ones! xo

Sarah G said... Best Blogger Tips

I really needed your blog today, so happy you posted it on Melissa & jeniffers blog about sleeping. My 10 1/2 month old (I'm pretty sure) is getting more teeth n has not been sleeping at night. I've always been able to nurse her back to sleep 10 min and she's back in her bed or (as you said) let my arm go numb leaning over the crib to sooth her. My husband last night said the dreaded "she needs to learn to sooth herself and not just be given the boob". I was heart broken. I let het cry for an hour. I was outside her door bawling. Long story short we slept on the couch. I know some day she will sleep n all this night time parenting will pay off n she will be a great sleeper (like me).

I know my husbands mother let him cry it out n he's a terrible sleeper. I fear that's why (though maybe not).

Also, do your kids have security objects? My daughter doesn't n don't know if she should to help herself? said... Best Blogger Tips

Sarah, I'm so glad you found this helpful! It is hard being a sleep-deprived mama. You know, everything changes no matter what you do. (Just like it has for you recently). Sometimes my baby goes to sleep nursing. Sometimes it takes a nursing session, a session of quiet play on the bed, and then another nursing session. Sometimes he is up ready to go at 3 AM and other days he sleeps until 8.

I think that even if you let your baby cry it out, their habits and patterns will change as they get older and go through issues like teething and other milestones. Let's say cry it out "worked": you do it and your baby sleeps through the night for the next two weeks. What if the following week her teeth hurt and she needs extra comfort? She will cry for you again.

I just really believe you have to take each moment as it comes and respond to her at that moment. I nursed my first son back to sleep every single time he woke up until he was 14 or 16 months old. Then I only nursed him in the middle of the night, and he seemed ready for Big T to go in with a sippy cup when he woke at 4 or 5 AM.

When she seems ready for you to try something else, you'll know.

And to answer your other question, I did give my first son a lovey--a little stuffed giraffe animal/blanket. He never really cared. Now, at 28 months, he has a couple of blankets that he likes, but he seems to hold onto his sippy cup of water while he sleeps. Maybe that's his comfort thing. But he kind of found it on his own. We put a few stuffed animals, blankets, and the sippy cup in there, and that's what he gravitated to.

Sorry about the super long reply! Good luck!

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