“I need to figure out a better way but I don’t want to just start trying things out of desperation and make things worse, I need a good plan”
~One of many sleep related text messages to my husband
One day on a weekend while I was taking a much needed nap my husband was trying to get the baby down for his mid-day nap. He is really great at this, got the 'Daddy bounce' down just right but the baby was just fighting it as had become his recent habit.
After an hour and a half of the baby crying in his face and refusing to fall asleep my husband decided to put him in his crib in his dark bedroom and see what would happen. After 10 min he fell right to sleep.
We had been talking about giving some form of sleep training a try for a while but had not made a firm plan yet. We had a hard time with the idea, especially me. I was very uncomfortable with the idea of leaving my baby to cry for even a short amount of time.
But the baby was crying, a lot, even when we did try to help him to sleep gently. Maybe he would cry less and get more sleep if we tried some sleep training. We talked about this a lot and there was a lot of crying, from me that is. I was feeling like a complete failure as a Mom.
Am I just not being patient enough? Am I just not doing the right things to sooth him? Did I spoil him by holding him too much as an infant? (No! But the thought still comes up.) Am I trying to force naps he does not need? (No! He was clearly exhausted. But again the thought still comes up.) What am I doing wrong?!?
Parenthood has done some funny things to my otherwise generally secure and confident personality. Never in my life have I doubted myself so much. I don't like it.
After a lot of talk, and a lot of encouragement from my husband, we decided some nap time and bedtime sleep training was worth a shot.
I don't want to train for night waking’s. I'm just not comfortable deciding for my son that he does not need to be comforted in the middle of the night or need a night time feeding.
I also think it’s important to let him determine his wake up time. I’m not comfortable leaving him in his room when he wakes from a nap just because he hasn’t reached some predetermined amount of time.
But maybe we could try and make some progress getting him down for naps and bedtime at least.
We decided that he needed routine in order to help him transition from play/awake time to sleep time and he needs a sleep environment free of distractions and stimulation. I think this is probably true of many babies, but our son especially.
We also hoped to help him develop different sleep associations. In theory if we created a sleep environment when he goes to sleep at night that stays the same when he wakes in the middle of the night that he might be able to fall back to sleep without needing our help every single time. Hopefully we would have fewer night waking’s without actually having to do night time sleep training.
So we started a consistent routine: bath (for bedtime), diaper change, nursing and singing a lullaby all in his dark cozy nursery. We have a sound machine for soothing white noise and we also offered him a lovey (a small 12x12 blanket, I offer it for him to hold while he nurses, hopefully he finds it comforting). Then we lay him down in his crib drowsy and relaxed but awake and leave the room.
This is where it gets really hard. If (when) he offers protest cry's we let him cry for 10 minutes all alone in his room. Then go in a check on him, rub his tummy, tell him we love him and that it's time to go to sleep. Then leave the room again, checking every 10 minutes until he falls asleep.
If at any one nap or bedtime he cried for more than 40 minutes we would have given up on the plan altogether. I needed to set a limit before we even got started to feel ok about trying this. If we didn't see progress within a week that would be another sign that this wasn’t going to work for us.
He never got even close to our 40 minute limit. I think only twice did I check in on him even once (he cried more than 10 minutes). His cry's were never full on "I need you to hold me right this very second!" wailing type cry's. More like "Hey, I don't really like this, what’s going on here?" fussing. Not that that is fun to listen to either, but I feel ok about it. I really think he was more confused and not in full on panic mode.
Maybe I am just justifying this to myself, I don't know. Enter self doubt.
We had amazing success right away. Within just a couple days he started to go down often without any kind of fuss at all. He will coo and smile at me as I lay him down in his crib, I'll hear him babble to himself for a bit then he drifts right off to dream land.
He started taking 3 solid naps every day without much fuss (often none at all). His night time sleep started getting better as well waking only once or twice. I think this is due in part to developing new sleep associations and also in part to not being so sleep deprived at the end of the day (you would think a sleep deprived baby would sleep better and longer but they don’t, its just the opposite. If you have ever been to tired to sleep you know this to be true).
But then we have had some setbacks with teething, which is to be expected I suppose.
I have been consistent with keeping up our bedtime and nap time routine. But if he has trouble falling asleep or wakes up I go cuddle him as needed. If he is having trouble sleeping well on his own he comes to bed with me. If he needs me he needs me and that's all there is to that.
It’s hard. I doubt myself a lot. There have been a lot of tears (mine). I don’t like it.
I mostly feel good that we are offering him more of what he needs to sleep well. Consistency, routine, a stimulus free environment, and of course lots of Mommy cuddle wind down time.
"We have a sleeping baby. I feel like such a good Mommy."
~text message to the husband
I intended for this to be a success story sort of post. You know, the whole “we had sleep problems but then we did xyz and presto! Problem solved, everyone’s happy!” sort of a thing. But really it’s just not that easy.
We have had overall very good results from the changes we have made. Our baby is sleeping more overall. I mostly feel really good about what we have done.
But I also doubt myself a lot. It’s just hard.
Despite what much of the parenting advice out there would have you believe babies are not little machines. It is not as simple as input xyz parenting technique output perfect baby behavior every single time. They have good days and bad days. They respond sometimes one way and sometimes another. They are little humans after all.
Momma is only human too. Doing my best and constantly questioning if it’s enough.
I never thought in a million years I would have such a strict routine for naps or bedtime. I never thought I would let myself be stranded at home so that my baby could nap in his own crib. I never thought I would let my baby cry on his own even for a very short time. But here I am.
What I did know I would do as a Mom is whatever it takes within my power to give my son what he needs. My baby needs to sleep and he needs to be comforted and loved. I’m doing my best to give him both of these things.
There might be a part IV to this little series. I can't even tell you how much I have been obsessing about my babies sleep. Lot's of thoughts.