If Only I Would Have Known…
that sometimes, all the plans and wishful thinking of new-motherhood (you know, the ones where you’re dreamily Supermom and do everything the super ultra granola way while getting a full night’s sleep because let’s face it – babies don’t do much else than sleep, right? AND cooking your family three wholesome meals a day…plus snacks) have to just get thrown out the window for the sake of pure sanity. Prior to getting pregnant, I had never second-guessed my own childhood – I was formula-fed, sleep trained, ate Gerber baby food out of the jar (plums. yummmm), and wore disposable diapers. And guess what? I’ve graduated college, am a contributing member of society, found someone who would actually marry me, and made a pretty darn cute baby (if I do say so myself). So I guess it’s safe to say I’ve turned out all right. And I have. My mom was a fantastic mother. In fact, I had a great team of parents who I’m proud to still be close to today. And even though we’ve done a lot of things differently already, I find it really fun to talk to my mom about parenting. And I’ve realized in talking to my mom about parenting that a lot of my views have changed as Kaleb has been born and grown. One of those things is “sleep training”.
I use this term loosely. Most people say that it’s “teaching your baby how to sleep”. I don’t know if you can physically do that. I like to think of it as teaching Kaleb that even though I leave the room at night, I’m still present to meet his needs; for him to learn the process of self-soothing by incorporating it into a consistent bedtime routine that he can recognize. In essence, letting him learn “oh. These things mean it’s bedtime. And bedtime means it’s time for sleeping.” Does that make sense? The reason I say that my views changed was because when I was a new mom, desperate to conform to the hip trends and doing what the majority said was “right” (another term I try to avoid altogether), I was so against ANY form of Cry-It-Out I wanted to puke even thinking that some awful parents out there used it (I even wrote, and luckily didn’t publish, a blog post about this passion of mine). But that was back when K was new. And things change. Which is why, after talking to a friend who I had shared our sleep training story with and had success with her daughter, I’ve decided to “come out” with our sleep story.
When Kaleb hit 6 months old and was still waking every 2-3 hours (4 MAX) every night, I realized something wasn’t working. We had struggled with sleep from the day he was born. Since he was only 5 1/2 pounds, his little bitty stomach, combined with my quickly-digested breast milk, just couldn’t hold a lot. He woke every 45 minutes. I kid you not. I ended up sleeping in the recliner in the nursery just to save myself the ten steps it took to get across the hall. I was exhausted all the time, and even ended up with some post-partum depression every evening when the sun went down, literally dreading the night time. Then I became Obsessed-With-The-Thought-Of-SIDS Mom, so Kaleb started sleeping on my chest and I laid in the center of our bed in a pillow barricade so I wouldn’t roll over. I actually got 3-4 hour stretches when we did that, so that’s what we stuck with. And it’s what worked. Until he got too big. Then I transitioned him to the rock-n-play sleeper beside our bed. Then he moved to the pack-n-play butted up to my side of the bed. After that, we moved his crib into our room and I pushed it up against the far wall. Once he was used to sleeping in his own crib and he hit six months old, we moved him to his own room. By then, he was used to his crib.
But he was still waking every 3-4 hours. I knew that physically he was not hungry that often, that his stomach could hold more now and he was mature enough to be able to sleep at least a 6-7 hour stretch at a time. We even had a problem laying him down. What first started out as feeding to sleep followed by a few minutes of rocking/bouncing and a put-down gentle enough to get past a sleeping bear quickly turned into an hour-long ordeal of rocking in a very specific way and sudden awakening and screaming the minute we put him down (no matter how asleep he seemed in our arms). We were at our wits’ end. I caved in and decided to become one of those terrible parents I had previously condemned. I decided to research sleep-training methods. None of the No-Cry solutions worked for Kaleb. He only screamed louder. So after much research, I decided on the Ferber method. It’s a modified CIO solution where you don’t just shut the door and leave forever, leaving your baby to just literally cry until they exhaust themselves to sleep. You do your bedtime routine and lay them down saying some form of “ok, it’s time for sleep now.” You help them get settled (for Kaleb it was helping him roll to his tummy and putting in the paci with a few pats on the butt) and then you leave in few-minute intervals.
I stood right outside the door and waited. Within a few minutes he awoke and realized I was gone. He started to cry. I waited three long minutes, then I went back in, shushed him and helped him back onto his tummy and reinserted the paci. I patted his butt for one or two minutes, shushing the whole time. Then I left again. He cried. I waited five minutes and repeated the process. Then I left and waited ten minutes. After that, it’s always ten minutes. You repeat the process for a reasonable amount of time (obviously not all night). Previously, Kaleb had started to learn that if he cried, mommy would come rushing in and immediately pick him up…so obviously he would cry any time he was put down. The Ferber process taught him rather quickly (more quickly than I had imagined) that he wasn’t going to be rewarded with snuggles for refusing to sleep – thus prolonging his bedtime, thus making him even crankier with each passing minute. Between the 30 and 40 minute mark, he stopped crying, I heard him shuffle around, and watched him from around the doorframe glance around for me, put himself on his side, pop in his paci, and go to sleep.
He slept almost 8 hours straight. When he woke up, I fed him, realizing he was most likely genuinely hungry, and put him back down. He went right back to sleep without a fuss. It had taken under an hour to sleep train my child. And guess what? The next morning, he still greeted me with the same huge smile he always had, still reached out for me, and now three months later we are so close still that when I came in from work tonight, the moment he saw me he said “mama!” and crawled straight over to me across a whole room. Melt. My. Heart. He now has no problem sleeping. Our bedtime routine consists of a warm bath, some playtime, a book in his reading chair in his room with the lights dim, a bottle or breast feeding with the lights off, prayers, laid down, and door shut. I can literally lay him down and just leave the room. Now my sweet boy sleeps 11-12 hours straight most nights without complaint. During the night if I hear him start to whine on the monitor, chances are if I give him five minutes he will have put himself back to sleep before I can even get to his room. Do I feel like a bad mother? No way. Kaleb is incredibly LESS cranky now that he gets the sleep he needs at night, and I know I did nothing that harmed my child in any way. His trust in me doesn’t seem to have been compromised in the slightest, and our bond is just as strong as ever. Only now we’re both also well-rested. It also helps me to distinguish when there truly IS a problem, because I know if he starts waking up every 3-4 hours again, something is wrong. It’s either a tooth, or an ear infection, or sickness, which helps me to respond quicker to those needs. Do No-Cry solutions work for some parents? Yes. Do some parents have the Fabled Miracle Baby that magically sleeps through the night from day one? Yes. And those are the solutions that work for them. This just happened to be what worked for US. I share it to give hope, even if you don’t use the same method as we did, that one day, one method, WILL work for you and your baby and you WILL sleep again! I have been humbled by our success with this adventure. It made me feel better that I was continuously going in to comfort K while he learned – he never thought I had just LEFT him forever. And it taught him what he needed to learn – that mommy doesn’t need to come in there every few hours because he could do it himself. Once he knew he was capable, and trusted me to come when he really had a need, it all fell into place. And life is a more beautiful, sleep sheep-filled place.
Our Love, Allison & Kaleb