I am not a sleep expert. I am not a sleep consultant. I am just a mom who has been there.
Parenthood is freakin’ crazy – am I right? You spend 9 months anxiously awaiting your baby, preparing every little thing for them, imagining how amazing it is all going to be and then you high-altitude parachute down into some foreign speaking land where you definitely don’t know the language but things seemed to be measured by the color of poop and a particular sound of cry. Not to mention while you are busy trying to navigate this mystical land you are missing one very precious commodity: sleep.
bhjmu ,.l;/you realize how many less arms you have that are willing to hold or rock your new baby to sleep and that the responsibility is solely on you. This is the reality for most of us since we have transitioned away from a multi-generational home structure. Therefore, we are all pretty much doing it alone, without anyone readily available to step in to help our baby sleep and give us the time we needed to recharge.
So, that being said, fast forward to month 5. Every night I would try to put Porter down awake and drowsy (as is recommended) and it was a nightmare. When I managed to calm him down enough to get to sleep, the second my hands left his body he would throw himself into an inconsolable fit that even rocking couldn’t calm. It was back and forth like this for what seemed like eternity. Even If i managed to get him down he woke up a few minutes or an hour later, screaming. I remember holding my child in the middle of the night, trying to comfort him through my endless stream of tears. My husband came to try to take Porter out of my arms because he knew I needed a break but every ounce of my body was resisting letting go because I felt I should be able to take care of my own baby. Why couldn’t I comfort him and why, WHY, wasn’t he sleeping?
If this sounds like you, you are not alone.
We tried all different sleep methods, some as complex as a series of 15 steps we needed to complete in a specific order. The engineer in me was convinced we could figure this out, there just was some variable we were missing. I was constantly on edge. Even if he did manage to go down somewhat easy, I heard phantom cries and was constantly checking the monitor because I knew at any moment he was going to wake up screaming. I couldn’t relax, let alone enjoy an evening with my husband. I was at my wits end. I was going insane.
I know there is a lot of controversy around “sleep training” and of course as a new parent the last thing you want to do is cause any discomfort to your child. Let me also say that the choice to try any type of sleep training, or not to, is yours and yours alone. You are the parent here! As I said, I tried a lot of the gentle sleep training methods but all children have different needs and respond in different ways. In hindsight, there are things I would have done differently and I promise to write a post about that in the future. However, this is where we were now. This was reality. It was not sustainable or healthy. I was afraid of falling asleep at the wheel, I couldn’t concentrate, I was obsessing about schedules and wake windows and trying to control every single thing in hopes that it would be the magical key to sleep I was missing.
Before starting, I highly encourage you to speak to your pediatrician about your plans on sleep training.
When I spoke to our pediatrician, he said by 6 months there was no reason Porter couldn’t be sleeping independently through the night. I was still breastfeeding (I was only nursing him on average 1 time a night) but he assured me there was no biological reason for him to need a feed in the middle of the night. His growth was tracking well and there was no underlying medical concern. So, at 5.5 months I decided to finally do the unthinkable…
The first time I heard about the Cry It Out method (CIO) I was flabbergasted. How on earth could you ever let your own baby cry. I was horrified at the idea and it seemed barbaric. However, at this point it was the only thing we had left to try and if given the choice to do it again I would – in a heartbeat. If this or any other method is something you plan on doing it is imperative that both you and your partner are on board – you will need to support each other. It has to be a united effort.
In studies about CIO they found no long term negative effects for babies and big benefits for parents. In another study they found that the rate of depression in mothers dropped from 70% to 10% after sleep training. Yes, prolonged exposure to severe stress has been found to be harmful to babies and their development but sleep training is not prolonged stress, it is short term stress. In fact, in a study of young monkeys they found that those exposed to early short bursts of stress, such as brief separation from their mothers, became more resilient to future stresses. They were found to be less anxious and have less extreme physiological reactions to stress later in life. This phenomenon, called stress inoculation, is so consistent it even has a name.
The first night, Porter cried for 45 minutes straight. It was incredibly hard to listen to, I can’t tell you how hard I cried or how awful I felt. During that first stretch I kept repeating my mantra: he is in a safe place, he is fed, he is warm, he is just really really pissed at me right now but that is okay, it is going to be okay. After those 45 minutes he settled into a deep sleep. He woke up only twice that night, each time he cried less than the time before, and for the first time he woke up in the morning babbling and happy. I was shocked. He hadn’t ever woken up not screaming. I cried, but this time they were tears of relief.
The next night was similar to the first but by the third day Porter got the hang of things and put himself to sleep after a couple minutes of protest. His day time naps simultaneously clicked and he was able to take 1.5-2 hour long naps without me holding him frozen in one place. It occurred to me that he finally realized he was able to put himself to sleep on his own which is why everything else, like day time napping, was now falling into place. After sleep training, Porter was such a happier baby all around.
Yes, there were still some periods of regression. Yes, sometimes Porter still wakes up and lets out a cry only to find his bunny and settle back to sleep. While he was learning how to put himself to sleep, I had to learn how to decipher his cries between a tired cry and a ‘something isn’t right’ cry but its a learning process for you both. You will figure it out along the way.
Ultimately what you decide to do is your own personal choice. Sleep training does not make you a bad or inadequate parent, regardless of what method you chose.
Looking back I am aware of both the successes I had and mistakes I made along the way. I plan to take those lessons learned and implement them earlier on with BB2 so that we hopefully don’t get into the same vicious cycle we had with Porter – but we can only do our best given the situation at hand. For me, it always helped hearing about what other mamas were doing. In my world, information is king, and the more I have the better equipped I feel for making an informed decision. So I am sharing what our version of success looked like in hopes you are better able to find a plan of action that works for you.
Sleep well friends.
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