Thursday, February 3, 2011

On infant sleep training: crying foul

Olive was sleeping 10 hours straight by nine weeks old. I remember this because that was when I finished up with maternity leave and went back to work. When I shared this good news with a co-worker—a seasoned mother with several grown children—she laughed and said “We’ll see how long that lasts.”

I was sure the co-worker must be wrong—maybe other babies can’t sleep through the night, but I obviously got a good one who caught on to the whole sleep thing right away.

Ha ha ha.

As you experienced mothers know, my co-worker was right. Olive was only three months old when she caught her first cold and began waking at night. Add on several more colds, teething, traveling and growth spurts, and you’re looking at a baby—and a mom—who has spent the majority of year one waking up at night.

I was hesitant to admit this to anyone at first because it seemed so abnormal. I never heard other mothers complaining about how their babies didn’t sleep; on the contrary, I heard many bragging about what good sleepers they had. One friend of mine told me she had to check on her little girl after 13 hours of sleeping to make sure baby was still alive.

I was also hesitant to admit my child had trouble sleeping all night because I feared I would get the cry-it-out method shoved down my throat. Yes, I know (you think) that babies should be sleeping by this age and yes, I know (you think) babies won’t even remember crying themselves to sleep and I know (you think) it hurts the mother more than the baby, but still—it wasn’t something I wanted to do.

(Note: My definition of crying it out is hard crying for more than 15 minutes. Olive often cries when I put her in her crib, but it is more of a whiney cry that lasts just a few minutes--and I'm okay with that.)

Yet I really did want my baby—and, okay, let’s be honest, I wanted me—to sleep through the night. And after many nights of interrupted sleep, I began to wonder if the CIO moms were right. Maybe a few nights of torture would solve all our sleep problems.

So when Olive was only a few months old, I decided it was time to let her cry it out. After nearly an hour of listening to the desperate cries coming from that little baby’s mouth, I picked up my sweaty, crying baby and offered her my breast. She nursed ferociously, seeking to satiate her hunger and her trauma. I vowed never to let her cry it out again.

I went back to waking, nursing, rocking and soothing, sometimes several times a night. Though at times it got to be exhausting, I was actually surprised at how well my body and mind handled the lack of sleep. But it eventually caught up to me—and in my desperate, sleep-deprived state, I resorted, once again, to letting then-nine-month-old Olive cry it out. 

She cried for about 35 minutes that first night and just a few minutes the next night. And then—just like everyone promised—she slept through the night!

That lasted a few nights before she started waking up again.

Is this how it worked? Do you have to repeat CIO over and over and over again? Surely there was a more effective—and humane—way to help Olive stay asleep.

In Olive’s early months, I was really consistent with the Baby Whisperer’s method of feeding Olive after she woke up, engaging in an activity and then letting her sleep. But somewhere along the foggy, sleepless road, I reverted to nursing Olive to sleep, creating what I knew was a sleep prop. I determined that my first step to better sleep was breaking this “suck-to-sleep” habit.

About a month ago, I began making sure Olive was awake when I put her in her crib. At first, she fussed when I put her in there and would roll all over the place, cry to be held and stick her limbs through the crib bars. I patted her, rubbed her back, sang to her and occasionally held her in the dark to get her to calm down. Sometimes it took nearly an hour of this to get Olive to finally close her eyes, but we’ve got it down to about 10 minutes now.

I also remembered the name of the book my crunchy co-worker (we’re talking home-birth-nursing-‘til-age-four-eating-her-placenta crunchy) said she used to sleep train her children: The No-Cry Sleep Solution. I ordered it on Amazon and promptly dug in.

First good sign: foreward by Dr. William Sears. As I read on, author Elizabeth Pantley immediately resounded with me. She discussed how there are two basic schools of thought when it comes to babies and sleep: “cry it out” or “live with it.” She, like me, didn’t want either of those options and resolved to find a kinder, gentler way, “a road somewhere between nighttime neglect and daytime exhaustion that would be nurturing for my baby and for me.”

The book didn’t offer any revolutionary ideas, but combined common-sense solutions with tracking of sleep patterns. The best advice I’ve acted on in the book is creating and sticking to an exact bedtime routine that involves dim lights, quiet activities and soft sounds at least a half-hour before bedtime; continuing with my efforts to put Olive in her crib awake; giving Olive daylight playtime in her crib to create a positive association; using key words as a sleep cue and introducing a "lovey." Perhaps most importantly, I’m having my husband take over most night wakings, where he tries to coax her back to sleep instead of having me nurse her.

The results? We’ve only been at it a couple of weeks, but are making progress. Olive was waking up around 2 a.m. each morning for a snack, but those wakings have now been pushed to 4 or 5 a.m., with a few nights of no waking at all. Her overall length of sleep has expanded as well, from about 10.5 hours to 11.5 hours. And that hour does make a big difference! Additionally, Olive is napping about 30 minutes longer during her daytime nap.

I feel optimistic that Olive will soon be sleeping through the whole night consistently and am so glad I didn’t have to resort to repeated CIO. I feel that I am giving her positive, long-term tools to help her have a restful night’s sleep.


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Kumi said...

I am so proud of you that your figured out the kinder and effective method for Olive!!!

Jane said...

I am glad you are finding a solution that works for your daughter and family! I think a good night's sleep is so important for everyone.

With our three boys, we have found that giving them a particular object (or several) that are just for bed, and associated with sleep, helped a lot. For our first, that was a dummy (pacifier). He was colicky and used it a lot in his early months, but after that we quickly made it just for bed, and it worked almost like a magic sleep switch! We would put several in his bed so he could always find one. With our second, very early on he loved feeling and clutching the muslin wraps we used. As we gradually stopped wrapping him for sleep, he began cuddling the wraps as a comfort item. So we decided those would be his bedtime comfort item. With our third, we've gone with the wraps as well. We have quite a collection now and sometimes he has four or five in bed with him! As I understand it, part of the ability to fall asleep, and go back to sleep after the regular half-wake stages throughout the night at the beginning/end of sleep cycles, people need sleep 'cues'. I.e. familiar surroundings - smells, feelings, objects, whatever they have become used to. If they're not there, we find it hard to re-settle. (I say 'we' because it's really the same with adults.)

Sorry, this has turned into a very long comment! In the end, what I mean to say is, does Olive have a particular comfort item that she sleeps with? It may not work for everyone but it has for us. Also, I recommend it be something easily replaced, and that you can buy a number of in case of losses, need for washing etc!

MamaQ said...

M, i know you've been struggling with this for a while and i hope that this turns out to be the solution that works for you. as you know, i opted to co-sleep with mayumi, partly because it was the most effective way for me to get enough sleep. when you are sleep deprived, everything feels off-balance and problems seem to be bigger than they might actually be. nursing was definitely a "crutch" but it was something i was fine with and we tackled that along with weaning at the same time. i don't think i'd do things differently, but i know everyone has to find what works best for them and their baby.

MamaM said...

Thanks for the comment, Jane. I have put three objects in Olive's crib lately--a pillow doll, a tag blanket and teddy bear "lovey." That was a suggestion in the book that I forgot to mention, but I'm still hesitant about the idea, only because I know some children who become REALLY attached to these night-time items and throw ginormous fits when they don't have them. Olive has attached mostly to the doll, so I better buy a couple more just in case!

Co-sleeping would never work for our family like it has for Q's; I'm certain I would be getting less sleep if Olive were in bed with us, so hopefully things continue to go well with this method.

Anonymous said...

MamaM, I hope this proves to be the solution for your family.
Like MamaQ, we are co-sleeping, and have since birth. It works wonderfully for us, because although Bub still wakes occasionally in the night, it is usually just for a quick wee (we practice elimination communication), then straight back to sleep. Most nights I sleep right through, even if he wakes and helps himself to milk!
If your latest strategy brings no relief, I am more than happy to discuss our situation with you. I know that all any of us want sometimes is a good night's sleep!

Thank you for your honesty on such an emotive topic.

All the best,
xx Lu

Isaac and Daniel Cook said...

I co-sleep and I am still totally sleep deprived. Even when you co-sleep you still have to wake up and nurse - and my chubby guy wants a lot of milk. My baby is only 3 months so I nurse him a lot. I just plan on not sleeping well for a year to 18 months. Sounds miserable but it goes quickly, too quickly. This is my 4th and probably my last so I'm treasuring his infancy. I guess that means I'll be tired for most of it:)

sylvia said...

thanks so much for sharing this. my boy is 15 months and he wakes up every 2-3 hours, though at the moment he's teathing so i'm "living" with it. i was thinking of getting the book you mentioned, we co-sleep for the second half of the night, when i take him into our bed because i know he will wake up at least 2 more times. he still nurses himself to sleep though or needs a lot of rocking. some days i'm ok with it, others just wish he would wean, for some reason i am thinking it has to do with the fact that he still nurses. in any case, it is SO refreshing to read of mums with children who don't sleep through the night because just like you i feel i am surrounded by mums who's children do and they brag about it. so, thanks!

Ye Stewart Clan said...

Oh sleep deprivation! I wish I had answers but I don't. It seems if my 8 month old sleeps well my 4 year old doesn't or vice-versa. My 8 month old recently learned to stand up in his crib but doesn't know how to sit down. So he'll stand there for what seems like forever crying until I come and lay him back down with his binky and blankey. I am working on teaching him the magic of his joints and that yes he can bend his knees and hips. And then my 4 year old will like just randomly wake up and walk to my bedside and be like, "Mom, will you get me a band aid? I hurt my finger." I'll look at the clock and it will be 3:30 am. What the heck? When I go to bed each night I have no idea what awaits me...

MamaM said...

Isaac and Daniel Cook and sylvia: the No-Cry Sleep Solution was written by a co-sleeping mother to four kids. It provides flexible solutions for all types of moms, whether co-sleeping, crib sleeping, breastfeeding or bottle feeding. So you may want to check it out; the author was able to get her co-sleeping baby to sleep through the whole night, so there is hope!

Ye Stewart Clan, I hope your baby figures out those joints soon! Unless he starts bending them the wrong way to climb OUT of the crib...

This Girl loves to Talk said...

for my new years resolution i decided to stop night feeding my almost 18 month old. IT had become a sleep prop. It took 10 days of me offering her some water in a bottle and rocking in a rocking chair for a little while until she got it.

Like you said I too had babys that slept through the night until they got teeth, colds etc and I too did control crying 2/3 times and they would just fall out of routine again.. all my four children have been early risers and I always feel sad when people say their kid sleeps till 8am and often has to be woken :)

Your not alone. Many parents keep it as their secret. Plus I've heard of a mother that would say their kid slept all night in their own bed but she spent half the night on the floor next to her coaxing her back to sleep.. or to the parents that take 'sleeping thru the night' to mean they slept for 5 hours...