Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sleep. Or no sleep.

(This post will probably bore people who aren't parents. Tough bananas. You don't have to read it.) 

(I have no idea where "tough bananas" came from. I need more coffee.)

Today, Michael is five months old.

Yesterday, we started sleep-training. 

Wrapped in his Grandma-made blankie while his Mama blogs.
Daytime sleep has been pretty scarce round here these days, and nighttime sleep isn't much better. (This is why I haven't posted much lately ... no naps, no blogging. Or knitting. And often no laundry or vaccuuming.) Over the past few weeks we've slipped into cosleeping, which wasn't the plan. In some ways it works out fine--it is really easy to meet Michael's needs at night--but ultimately, it still isn't what I want to do, because I don't want 1) Michael to depend on me being next to him to go to sleep (meaning a late bedtime for him or early bedtime for me, and no baby-free time for me and Keith), or 2) our bedroom to be offlimits to us after Michael's bedtime. Maybe there is some way around these difficulties, but the real big problem around here these days is #1. 

When he was three months old, Michael slept through the night in his crib in the other room. I would put him down between nine and ten pm, and he would wake up between four and five am, and I would simply take him into bed with me, nurse him, and fall back asleep until he woke up for the morning. That was awesome. 

Then around four months, it started getting more and more difficult to put him down for the night. He'd sleep for anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes, then wake up and need to be coddled and soothed until he fell back asleep ... for another 10 to 30 minutes. And he started waking up at 2am instead of 4 or 5am. Because it was hard to get him back to sleep, and because I was so tired that I usually fell asleep nursing him anyway, I would take him into bed at 2am, which meant he was spending most of the night with us. 

Now the only way to get him to sleep, day or night, is to lay down and hold him on the bed, my arm wrapped around him and supporting his head. Rocking him, standing by the crib with him, etc are no longer enough. He knows what he wants and will settle for nothing less.  Sometimes he'll nap in the swing for ten or fifteen minutes; getting him to sleep longer than that during the day is almost impossible. This week he's had days where he's only napped for about an hour altogether, and by the end of the day both Michael and Mama are having meltdowns. (Poor Papa.) 

So something has to change. I'm a little anxious because we're traveling to Colorado next weekend for a wedding, and I worry that any training we do now will be undone ... but we really can't wait to do this any longer. 

After reading about different methods and thinking about how they might interact with Michael's personality, we've decided to go with a modified version of the Ferber method: letting him cry for a certain amount of time and then going in and soothing him. (Modified because I am not comfortable with an indefinitely increasing amount of time leaving him by himself.) It took about 45 minutes for him to fall asleep last night. I think if Keith hadn't been here, I would probably have given up on it about half an hour in, which in my opinion would have been really bad, because then his crying would have been for nothing. But now that I know he can do it, maybe it will be a little easier tonight.

I know some people believe that cry-it-out methods are cruel. I don't--or at least, not the Ferber method specifically, where the parents are continually going in to soothe the baby. I know he doesn't understand, but I also know I'm not doing irrevocable damage to our bond of trust, because this little guy receives a lot of love and has all his needs met. 

But it's still hard. For me, and for him. I know there will be many, many times in his life where I have to do something hard as a parent to achieve something good for him. Disciplining him, telling him he can't have something he wants, etc--I guess this is a window into those difficulties. 

We'll see how tonight goes.

(ETA: The nap pictured above has lasted more than two hours! It shows signs of ending very soon, but praise God. :) )


  1. Been there, done that, got the bags under my eyes.

    I used to be extremely anti-sleep training, but I'm more moderate about it now. For one thing, having experienced a baby that WON'T SLEEP ARGH, I know what pressures that drives parents to; for another, I think it probably is the only thing that works for some babies, and that some baby's temperment means that they adapt easily to sleep training... the babies you hear about who start sleeping 12 hours straight after three days of Ferber and have no problems ever again, amen. But I definitely don't think it works for every baby.

    You allude in your last paragraph to what I feel is the difficult ethical/discernment decision to make with crying methods of sleep training: is this justified under the principle of double effect? (See, Catholic moral teaching comes in handy all over the place!) I don't agree with people who think that CIO sleep training is completely harmless. I think it's like chemotherapy, epistiotomies, and freezing off warts: intentional infliction of harm but without the harm itself being desired.

    It is a fact that when babies cry, their bodies are flooded with stress hormones like cortisol, and that this hormones have negative effects. Crying methods of sleep training are definitely not something anyone should consider lightly. Moreover, all tears methods of sleep training inherently necessitate of parental hardening of heart against the child's crying. It is important, if any version of CIO is necessary, to guard against killing your heart's natural pain at watching your child in distress.

    Here's my advice for dealing with a similar high-need non-sleeper: decide what block of time is most important for you for getting your own sleep. For me, that was 12:30am to 7am. Then, just to start with (you are leaving yourself open to further sleep training later), try focusing on just that block of time. So we had a firm no nursing from 12:30am until 7am rule, but nursed on demand otherwise. During the first part of this new regime, I slept in a separate room from 12:30 to 7. Did it involve crying? Yes, but Gordon was there all the time (didn't leave the room). Then when we had that squared away, I moved towards removing all the nursing from bedtime until the midnight feed, but I did that VERY gradually, not an outright refusal, just trying everything else first. Now 90% of the time I'm down to bedtime, midnight, wake-up nursing, and I've realized that I'm actually ok with this. I don't feel like a zombie and I accomplish stuff.

    But just for a glimpse into the future. Even without sleep training it does get easier. For one thing, today, Pippa (16 mo) wouldn't nap. I was trying from about 1pm (usual naptime) until 1:30pm when I gave up. I know why she wouldn't nap: because I didn't take her out to exercise in the morning. That's my fault. If she doesn't get enough physical activity in the mornings, she doesn't go down for a nap when she should. Ditto activity after naptime and falling asleep at bedtime. But. Regardless of that, I had stuff I needed to do. So I said "Your choice is to SLEEP (baby sign), or to PLAY quietly by yourself. MAMA has WORK to do. If you want to SLEEP, let me know." She whined at me through the baby gate for a while, but when I asked her if she wanted to SLEEP, she said no, so I told her again "Either sleep or play quietly" and went to work. So for about an hour she played quietly. Occasionally she would come and whine a bit but I would just reiterate "SLEEP or PLAY alone". She came and asked for a cracker at one point which I gave her. Then around 3pm she started actually crying and when I asked her if she was ready to sleep she signed SLEEP back. I took her back and nursed her and she was out within five minutes.

    And now she's asleep and I actually got my work done when she was awake so I have free time! YES! Time for tea and blog commenting! Oh yeah.

    TBC next comment (I hit the character limit!)

  2. As an aside, the little boy I'm doing daycare for's single dad did full-out CIO with him, and he does indeed fall asleep by himself and sleep until morning, however:
    1. His personality is SO different than Pippa. He is much more easy-going/passive. He's also more predictable/regular: he needs to eat and do things on a schedule.
    2. Prior to sleep training, he was the kind of kid who was already naturally simply falling asleep on the couch with his parents, getting transferred to his crib, and sleeping until morning. It apparently only took a few nights for him to get used to falling asleep on his own.
    3. He takes a pacifier. Pippa doesn't, and isn't interested in loveys either.

    I'm glad CIO worked for him because it makes things easy on me as his caregiver when all I do is put him in the Pack n Play and leave the room, but it's actually reinforced my belief that it would not have worked for Pippa. And all of the things that mean CIO worked for him also have drawbacks: he has a REALLY hard time when his schedule gets disrupted, and he's extremely dependent on his pacifier. (I watched him one night when his pacifier got lost, and he woke up hourly.)

    I might want to write again about this in my own blog, since I seem to be writing a novel in yours..!

  3. We just started sleep training with our little guy last night, he'll be 5 months old tomorrow and we are all going INSANE from lack of sleep. I think I made it through two separate bouts of 25 minutes of screaming last night before I gave in. I'm now listening to him drift in and out of the whiniest, most disrupted nap of all time but I am DETERMINED not to go into him until noon. So thank you thank you thank you for writing this. And we just traveled last week and it DID disrupt everyone's sleep, but that's no reason for you not to try this week to get as much as you can :)

    1. I hope that sleep training goes/is going well for you! We have kind of been bums about it ... last night he went to sleep without crying but when he woke up half an hour later I went in and nursed him back to sleep ... I'm sure Ferber wouldn't approve. :-/ And the night before I gave in after two 45 minute bouts ... it is so difficult!

      God bless and good luck. :)