Thursday, July 26, 2012

Reader Request: The Great Sleep Training Debate

"How can we bear the excitement?!?" I can just hear you wondering. "First a lengthy law school diatribe, and now something about babies sleeping? Can one person withstand this much joy?"

I must feel like living dangerously this week, because if there are two things people seem to get worked up about, it's lawyers and babies. Oy.

Because one of you Pretties asked, though, and because I've found this sort of post helpful myself in raising Master P, I'm talking about how I went about sleep training him. (Note to the Cheerfully Child-Free: did you know many babies have to be taught how to fall asleep and then sleep through the night on their own? True, truly tedious story.)

Let's get one thing straight here first . . .  I am not taking sides here or claiming there is One Magical Right Way to Go About This. NOT NOT NOT, you can't make me! I'm entirely agnostic about this, firm in my belief that each child presents his or her own sets of both abilities and challenges, and that there's a different right answer for every family.

As long as what you're doing is safe and pediatrician approved, have at sleep whichever way it works. I will judge what shoes your wearing, but I only care that we all find what works for us individually here.

Also, I do not proclaim to be an expert on this, or even remotely qualified. To the extent I can take credit, I've only sleep trained my one child - one who is staging a nap strike at this very moment, with all the indignant rage of an Occupy Wall Street protestor - so this is only me recounting my one & only experience.

To summarize: he started sleeping through the night at 6.5 months and took a couple of months beyond that to fall asleep on his own comfortably. He continues to need less naps and shorter ones than the average kid for his age - I suspect he'll drop them entirely before the norm too - but he remains an excellent nighttime sleeper, usually clocking in a 7:30 pm / 8:00 pm to 8:00 / 8:30 am snooze.

All of that being said, here are three steps that worked for us:

Baby Books are a Good Starting Point, But Trust What You See More (i.e., Books are Lying Liars)

Before Master P made his arrival into the world, I read what I was told by parent friends as the Holy Trinity of sleep training books - "Babywise", Ferber, and Weissbluth - under the "start as we mean to go on" mentality of establishing healthy sleep habits.

And then my fussy, willful, actual child arrived, the one who would only sleep when held and bawled the remainder of the time. We had nursing problems, we had sleeping problems, it was . . . it was something, I'll tell you that much.

The "before" photo - please enjoy my multiple chins!
I should note also that, due to our breastfeeding issues and the, um, delicate personality of my child, I intentionally waited on the heavy sleep training stuff until the six month mark, which is when I fully switched him to formula. I just wasn't comfortable expecting him to sleep without that further indication that he was getting enough to eat.

I could whine for hours here about what this article so perfectly called my Post-Colic Stress Disorder, but suffice to say - my child wanted to sleep less often than any old book said he should, and that was that. No amount of carefully planned "Babywise" nap schedules were going to cut it - he would not be scheduled to their specifications, and when I tried much crying and unhappiness ensued (mine and his).

It took me more than six months to let go and really pay attention to what Master P had been trying to tell me all along, but I finally allowed him to drop to less naps (2 per day) than the Magic Books and all the other experts ahem, grandparents said he should be getting.

And lo, the heavens parted - not only did he start napping on more of a schedule then, but he started sleeping through the night too. You'll hate me for this, but he actually started sleeping through the night on his own, on the very night I'd intended to Stand Firm and Let Him Cry Damn It.

Once I got over my Type A Minus scheduling tendencies, I figured that lesson might apply elsewhere (duh). I then got serious about his falling asleep on his own, which by far was our greater challenge.

Routine, Routine, My Kingdom for a Bedtime Routine

One of the biggest mistakes I made was not getting a set pre-nap and bedtime routine down (and the same routine for both) early to help with the falling asleep on his own bit.

My baby just wasn't a good soother - no thumb-sucking, pacifier, or calming vibration chair would do for the wee CEO. Pre-sleep training he fell asleep on his own a grand total of twice, meaning I had to do beg, plead, dance, and cry to get him there the other times.

Picture an Usher video minus the rhythm and sex appeal - that was the level of choreography involved in coaxing my bundle of crying joy to sweet slumber. Yeah.

I tried various stories and songs, in different orders, but it took me until the six month mark to realize I needed to do the exact same songs and stories, in the same order every single time, to create the soothing routine he couldn't pull together for himself.

At first, I tried it only at bedtime, which just created confusion and further frustration. At long last, I got it - duh - we needed the same routine at both naptime and bedtime, adding only a bath at the latter.

When I tell you I did - and do - the exact same routine, every single time, I mean it. You could set your watch to the military precision of my actions. Oh, how I was tired of those same songs and Sandra Boyntons - we even said "bye bye" to the living room in the same way each time - but slowly, slowly, I could see the calming effect it had. Some of that had to be a factor of his getting older, but I believe the ritual helped too.

The "after" - now he sleeps like a champ but with strange objects, never the adorable, photo-worthy lovies I promise are in there too. Of course.

Think of a Catholic or Episcopal church service - stand up, sit down, say this the same way, forever and ever, amen. For many of us - self included - there is comfort in ritual, and so it was with my child and sleep.

There was one other piece to the sleep puzzle - that is, the dreaded "C" word . . .

Some Kids May Need to Cry, and Mine Was - and Sometimes Still Is - One of Them

Please skip this step if it's not for you. Believe me, I didn't want it either.

Once I let Master P drop a nap and got a good routine in place, he was doing better but still not falling asleep on his own easily. I'd try to rock him through his fussing, though as he got older my interventions only seemed to make him even more upset.

On the advice of a friend - a friend with one of those easy sparkle babies that slept on command and was irritatingly cute and nice, just like her - I started gradually putting him down awake around the six month mark, just barely initially. At the first sign of a cry, however, I'd swoop him up again. When that didn't work, I tried the Ferber "go in, soothe, leave" routine. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Seeing that none of those was working, I reluctantly braced myself to truly let him cry on his own until he fell asleep. One night I set him down in his crib, he wailed with abandon (though not to the point of being sick or harming himself, I hasten to add) for a healthy while - and then promptly fell asleep.

And so it went, not for the three days as promised by Mr. Ferber, et al. but for weeks. WEEKS of my sprinting to the wine bottle immediately after setting poor Master P down, of staring down the video monitor feeling like a terrible excuse for a mother.

A funny thing happened as I watched the monitor - he seemed to be comforting himself through the fussing,  which would hit a crescendo and then gradually ease off until he finally, happily fell asleep.

And so slowly, though - sensing a pattern here? - ever so slowly, the crying grew less intense, and there was less of it. As he got older, he showed interest in reading himself a book or playing with toys to calm himself to sleep instead. For a long while now he has happily played in his crib until he falls asleep, with the occasional fuss fest if he's overtired, sick, or traveling.


I'd love to hear from other parents - what magic combination worked for you? Still trying to sort it out? Especially since there is no one right answer here, I'd love to give some newbie parents some different points of view . . .


ms. mindless said...

My mom has some pretty intense stories about my colic. Apparently, it was SO bad and she was SO sleep deprived that she called my grandmother and told her that she had to come and either pick up her OR the baby, but that she could not stay with the baby. Those were some dark days according to my dad and mom's friends. Thank god we made it through! I am sure that karma is going to come at me with a vengeance one day...maybe that's why we don't have a baby yet :)

Rhiannon said...

I think we have the same brand of baby. Our doctor suggested that we follow Ferber's method and told us that he'd be sleeping through the night in 3 nights! HAAAAAA. No.

We eventually had to move on and use Weissbluth's "total extinction" (MUST HE CALL IT THAT?) method and it took WEEKS. One day I magically laid H down for his nap and he fussed once, then rolled over and fell asleep.

AND THEN HE LEARNED HOW TO STAND UP. So, here we are at square one. Send wine.

Lilly said...

um hi excuse me, please - I have a reader question. what would you have done about the whole not feeling right in your professional field thing if you had not had master P? what do you suggest to someone who is wondering how to push the life reset button when it comes to her career but remains childless for the foreseeable future or at least the next fiscal year? and also doesn't know what she should be doing with her life? also I know that you spoke of knowing you wanted to stay home in advance of having master P and focusing on saving. numbers aside, was there a magic percentage etc that made you and AH feel confident about starting a family? did you have a loose plan? also when did you become the preppy dear abbey? i like it.


desperate-ish (meh actually hold the ish) in Dallas

Lilly said...

also I will be referring my AH to this post to sleep train me when I refuse to thanks to items mentioned above. so thank you!

r&cmartinez said...

Well said!! I will add whatever works for Master P will likely not work for NĂºmero Dos. First babe slept through at 3 months knowing I had to return to work. So kind of him, right? However, second little man has still failed to give us the pleasure of a solid night's sleep, and he will be nine months on the 1st. What's up with that?? He wants to make sure he stays the baby of the family!

Anonymous said...

That first picture is adorable. I don't have kids but the pic made the post wroth it.

Whitney said...

Seriously... the difficulty of the first 3 months with a newborn is what keeps me in fear of trying for Baby Numero Dos. L was sleeping through the night (6PM-5/6AM with a 10:00 dream feed and occasional 3AM nursing sesh during a growth spurt) by 3 months, and it's because we cried it out. It's not for everyone, and just like you, I'm not going to pick sides and I'm not going all Judgemental Judy on someone who does it differently. It's just what worked at the time, and what worked for my particular baby.

I am a better mother when we're in a routine, and a "routine" nap schedule and sleep schedule was perfect for us. Just like Master P, she soothed herself to sleep faster every day. Now at night, she says, "Bun Bun, blankie, bed!" Honestly, she enjoys a little rock every once in a while, but most of the time, she will squeal "KEEB! KEEB!" (crib) as soon as we're all PJ'ed up after her bath.

But you know, the next Little One may be totally different. And we'll adjust if we need to... because we'll *have* to.

asj said...

we use the moms on call method (similar to ferber with a bit of soothing/"cry it out") -- the biggest thing for us is the bedtime routine (bath, bottle [of breastmilk], bed]... and believe it or not my 10 week old sleeps 11 hours [!!?] -- personally, I'm convinced that its dumb luck and that our next baby won't sleep EVER.... lucky for me, that's not going to be for awhile!

[darci @ the good life] said...

You crack me up.... "she had a sparkle baby"! Truth is, I guess I had / have a "sparkle" baby too. I definitely started working on a set routine though around the 6 week mark and loosely followed the Baby Wise method and a little of the Moms on Call approach. Jackson was sleeping 12 hours a night at 4 months old I think (it wasn't that long ago - don't ask me how I've forgotten such a monumental achievement).

All I know is that life gets so much freakin' easier when they're sleeping through the night. Jackson sleeps 7 - 7 or 7:30 - 7:30 ....and I LOVE it. That said, he's proving to be a tad ornery and stubborn, so my "hard" days are likely ahead!

These babes, they change things!!! :)

Rachelle said...

K was sleeping through the night around 8 months - and then went through an two month period of cold-ear infection-flu-ear infection-etc-etc and completely regressed. Around a year was when she got back to sleeping through the night. But, we're still not quite to going to sleep on our own. If after rocking to sleep and being put down, she wakes and cries, she falls asleep after 5 minutes (but yes, there was much handwringing, beer/wine drinking, monitor watching and mother-self loathing going on). My question - now that Master P plays in his crib - do you have any kind of light on while he does? I see the Twilight Turtle - so maybe yes?

Love the pug getting some sleepy time too. You're quite the properly respectable sleeper - if that were me, my jaw would be so slack it would look as if it needed a rag of a victorian era corpse tying it up.

CRICKET said...

Every child is so different, I have two and they are exact opposite from sleeping, eating, playing etc. I had one child who didn't nap at all, even as a baby and the other who took 3 naps. My only advice is to not read too many books or listen to too many people but go with your gut.

Jennifer said...

Routine, routine, routine! we've been doing the same routine since Firefly started sleeping in his crib at night. Dress in PJs, brush teeth, book with Daddy, hugs for the puppies and a song with Momma, 10 minutes total. I made up a little 4 line song that I can sing at bed time (and only bed time) until he seems ready to sleep or cut short. (it even works when he's in his carseat!) As I sing I can actually watch him zone out, ready for his crib. The routine has been a God send and I so happy I started it early!

Now if I could only get him to stay asleep past 4 am! My work schedule has doomed us to be early risers.

Natalie said...

Thank you for sharing this. My little man is a little over a week old and I'm already stressed about this!

Amy @ Forever 29 said...

All this just makes me wish that our adorable little people came with an instruction book, tailored to their exact needs. Parenting books as a whole can be helpful in theory, but then so discouraging when their "magic methods" don't work for you (this goes for sleep, boobies that don't work, discipline, and I assume one day making sure my boys aren't spreading HPV all over the place-one of my personal fears.)

Nate, in hindsight, was actually pretty easy- rocked to sleep and went back to sleep easily in his crib, though he didn't sleep through the night until 6 months (Not to say that I wasn't jealous of babies that just slept like it was their job.)

Cole was a whole other animal. I had read Happiest Baby on the Block which talks about 5 S's- swaddle, suck, sway, side and shhhh(white noise) Some babies need a few and C needed them ALL. He slept for months only in his swing after I had paced him to sleep and for months I was the crazy lady blaring white noise at him so I could grocery shop.

As with anything I try to remember that this too shall pass and not to judge (or have jealously) toward those who have it/do it differently than I did/do. Probably the most annoying thing in mom world is one that adamantly chooses one way of doing something and then complains when it's not working.

Turner Aycock said...

Routine, routine! We did Moms on Call from the get-go after a BFF did it with her child. E slept through the night at 5 weeks and was doing 12 hours by 3 months old. Never has woken in the night since... Moms on Call is a GOD-SEND! We never had to let her cry all night long, praise the Lord. We only had to endure some fussing and crying (10 minutes max) at bed and nap. She is such a healthy, happy child and I attribute it to MOC!

Happiness Is... said...

Ferber worked wonders for us, but we had to use it when we transitioned T from the newborn rocker (where he slept happily and peacefully through the night) to the crib ... but it was a God send for us. I am sure #2 will be a frequent waker upper.

Sarah said...

I very rarely hear of someone whose child had sleep issues on par with ours... Congratulations! Yours sound like they were! The first six months were hell on earth, and I'm really not being dramatic (you get it, but the childless may not). My Danny was a terrible sleeper, and we ended up with him and I in my bed and my husband in the guest room for months. It sounds terrible (it was) and I was adamantly against co-sleeping and especially bed-sharing before I had kids. But we did what we had to do. He basically was unable to fall asleep without nursing, to the point that any time he came out of a sleep cycle (about 60-90 minutes for an infant) he had to be nursed back down again. So, we were up basically every hour. By the time I got him nursed and back down again, I got a 45 minute nap before we were up again. I seriously almost lost my shit. It was brutal. We ended up going to see an infant sleep specialist at a local hospital who is, it turns out, one of the best in the country, and people travel miles to see her. She gave us a very detailed, very involved plan, and on the 4th night of said plan he slept alone in his crib for 12 hours. Now he's a great sleeper, for the most part. About once a month he will go for about 3 or so days where he screams for an hour before going to bed, but now that he's almost 2 I know he's just testing us, so I let him scream. It's tough, but my instinct tells me it's the right thing to do.

AEOT said...

Spencer was sleeping for 9-11 hours a night at 7 weeks old and did that until he was 4 months old. Then, after I was back at work (seriously, child??), he wanted to be up for 3 weeks straight every 2 HOURS!!!! I'm sure it was a long growth spurt, but I assumed it was God hating me at that time. I was exhausted. After those three weeks he only woke up once a night around 4 a.m. to feed until we cried it out at 6 months (he was 20 lbs and definitely didn't need to eat in the middle of the night). It took 10 nights of crying it out, some nights as long as 1 hr 45 min to get him to understand that we weren't coming in and he just needed to go back to bed. It wasn't pleasant, but it was the only way to get him to learn it. If we went in the room, it was MUCH worse and the time spent crying would just increase. Not fun. He still will occasionally cry for a few minutes at bedtime or nap (last week he cried/screamed for 35 min at naptime and I about threw myself out a window). It's his way of winding down. He still NEEDS a nap and will occasionally sleep for 3 hours in the afternoon and go down just as easily at night.

Peter is not sleeping through the night yet. We have occasionally gotten 7 hour stretches (4 times in 12 weeks; yes, I'm counting) but most nights he wakes up twice to nurse. Last night it was three times and last week he decided he was a newborn again and was up every 2 hours. I really wish he was more predictable at night b/c I go back to work next Monday and I need my sleep to function at my job!!

I would definitely cry it out again with Peter (not until at least 5 months) if necessary. It sucked while it was occurring, but SYT needed it to learn how to settle himself and maybe Peter will need it too. I did learn a lot from Happiest Baby on the Block which helped both of my kids with naps but not nighttime feedings. I think you just have to do what you have to do to get through!!

Trish {Pink Preppy Lilly Lover} said...

Love love love your post and reading the comments has been super helpful too. Now that Miss Stella is 6 weeks old I feel *pressured* a bit from my MIL and others to start sleep training her. I've read Baby Wise and I am all for routine and believe that for sure it is the way to go, but I also feel like we are still in our "bonding" phase with her. I am sure that some happy medium between all of the methods, and creating a routine that works for us is ultimately how we will figure all of this out! Hugs to you and that sweet Master P!

Samma said...

I don't know why I am just seeing this post- but you know that I have a crier to sleep as well. The more attention and loving you gave her, the more irritated she got (this makes sense since I detest having people touch me when I am trying sleep). Her pediatrician said that screaming was just her way of soothing herself. Now it is just a little bit of fussing to herself as she gets comfy. It's funny- someone just commented on my "what should I do post" from way back when on her crying herself to sleep, that she was way too young etc. Um, not helpful 4 months later, and some babies just have to do that to sleep. Live and learn!

Karen Jacobs said...

Thanks for addressing this....seeing as this is basically the crux of my life right now hahaha.

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