I’ve been ruminating awhile about how to talk about something that you get asked a lot when you have a baby.The first question is usually, “What’s his name?” and then “Is he sleeping?” or “Are you getting sleep?” My answer is usually, he sleeps really well but he wakes up every 3-4 hours to nurse. People look at me like I’m crazy to say he sleeps well when he wakes up so often, but he’s never fought sleep that much, and he goes back to sleep really quickly after nursing. Still it feels like he hasn’t “made it.” Most baby books say things like: by six months your baby doesn’t need to eat at night and should be able to go 8-10 hours without waking up. Calvin’s pediatrician reiterated this sentiment, telling me I could let him cry it out a bit, that he just prefers to nurse himself back to sleep. This bit of advice caused Kevin and I to react very differently.
Kevin heard that and thought, “Great, we can start letting him cry it out right away, after about a week he’ll be all sleep trained and will sleep through the night and life will be wonderful.”
I heard the doctor’s advice and thought, “Thanks, but I don’t want to listen to my baby cry for hours at a time at night. It’s stressful for me and I’m not ready to take that step just yet.”
Needless to say, Kevin and I were on totally different pages about this and have spent the last few weeks trying to create an approach to “sleep training” that both of us can agree upon.
Here was our tentative approach:
- Moving him to his own room: When we first started talking about sleep training Kevin made a great point about where that should take place. Calvin was still sleeping in our room and was pretty sensitive to the sounds of us moving around. Moving him to his own room made sense and gave us our own space back. This move felt pretty emotional for me.He’d always been so close to us and the thought of him not being there was hard for me, but honestly, it’s not like he’s moving out. His bedroom is on the first floor of the house and ours is on the second. Getting him in the middle of the night would require going downstairs to bring him to me to nurse in bed, then taking him back downstairs to his room. At first getting him back to his room was a hassle, he often woke up when we put him back in his pack n play and would only fall back asleep if we put him in our bed. There was a week or so where he slept half the night in his room and the other half in our bed. Then, as he got better at putting himself to sleep he would fall asleep easily as soon as we set him down.
- Letting him put himself to sleep: We started being more diligent about our sleeptime routine. We turn on the sound machine, read him his pre-bed book (Hello Bugs, chosen because it is short, slightly engaging and makes him smile) and then we cradle him and sing him one song. He gets a kiss and is laid down with his blanket. The first few days we sat in the armchair in the corner while he rolled around with his blanket and fussed a bit, he could watch us and then would roll on his stomach and fall asleep. He’s a strong and mobile baby so we’re definitely not worried about him sleeping on his stomach. Now he falls asleep by himself without much help from us. I can put him down and walk out of the room and he might cry once or twice, but as long as he’s on his stomach he’ll fall asleep. This feels like a big step forward for him!
- Not responding to him right away. A few times we’d get out of bed at a cry from him and be halfway down the stairs and he wouldn’t cry again. Kevin and I really like to fix problems right away so we can get back to whatever we were doing (aka sleeping). Responding to Calvin quickly sometimes is great, because it helps him not wake up too much (once he gets into a real cry he sometimes won’t fall back asleep for an hour or more), but it can also bite us in the butt because Calvin may be in the process of soothing himself to sleep.
- Being present but not interactive. If Calvin does work himself up to a cry, we’ve experimented with just sitting near him in the middle of the night. Shushing or humming a bit to let him know we’re there, but not touching him or picking him up. This sometimes works and he’ll soothe himself back to sleep. Sometimes he only wants to eat and is so angry that we’re not letting him cuddle in bed with us. We usually give in when we hear him working up into a really intense cry. When it seems like he’s having an especially hard time sleeping (due to teething or gas?) we usually give in much sooner and just let him sleep with us and nurse frequently.
These steps have really helped make bedtime and naptime easier. I think Calvin finds it so much easier to fall asleep now. Him waking up in the middle of the night is not ideal for all of us, but it’s not awful. However, there are things that can very easily affect this routine. Teething, changing daycare providers, gas, something mysterious, they can all make Calvin revert to his old ways of “needing” to sleep in our bed. Or rather we’re too tired in the middle of the night to try soothing him other ways and just let him sleep with us. This is what makes it feel like a rollercoaster. Sometimes he’s up and seems to be napping well and sleeping a bit longer at night (4 hour stretches) but other days he won’t nap and won’t sleep for more than 3 hours at night.
It seems like my desire to not hear him cry for hours is what’s standing in the way of him being an excellent sleeper. Many people I’ve talked to and books I’ve read point out that a few nights of crying probably won’t cause any problems because Calvin is loved and responded to the majority of the time. SO many parents I’ve talked to have let their baby cry it out and it has been very successful and helpful for the whole family. It seems like a necessary growing pain of making sleep happen for a family. Every time I hear more evidence that it works I think, “But I just don’t want to do it.” That’s a very frustrating reason for Kevin to hear when he is ready for it! However, I’m guessing I’ll know when I’m ready/if it needs to happen. It just hasn’t yet.
I love getting my sleepy baby in the middle of the night. He nurses so differently at night than during the day. He isn’t wiggling and rolling away from me all the time. I love carrying him back to his pack n play, his body goes limp and curls into me. Right now he goes to bed between 6 and 6:30, usually wakes up to eat around 9:30, right before we go to bed. Then he wakes up at 12:30 and 3:30 and around 5:30 or 6 is up for the day. Some nights we’re successful at avoiding the 12:30 feeding, but it’s not consistent. One night this weekend we let him cry it out a bit. Kevin sat in his room for an hour and Calvin would cry and fall asleep, then 5 minutes later wake up and cry a lot more, then fall asleep, then woke up again and cried harder and harder. He was very happy to eat after that and we responded to him right away the rest of the night.
One thing I’m hoping for is that as he eats real food more he’ll sleep more. He’s not eating enough solids yet, another post could be written about Calvin’s relationship to real food :-). So maybe he actually is hungry in the middle of the night. Who knows. He is such a happy and sweet baby all day, I don’t like the thought of letting him cry at night.
I never thought I’d think so long and hard about my baby’s sleep. Or have so many discussions about it with Kevin. I admit that crying it out would probably help Calvin sleep for longer stretches, but I also admit that I’m not ready to do that. Is that good? Is that bad? I think it’s normal. And I think Calvin’s sleep habits are pretty normal too. This post helped me realize that. Cry it out is just one method and may not be right for us. This post does a great job of highlighting how different each baby is and how getting each one to sleep can be a complicated issue. Sometimes CIO (as baby blog lingo calls it) can be just what a family needs, and sometimes not. I want to make it very clear to all of my dear friends who may or may not have used the cry it out method: in no way do I judge parents who have done cry it out. My hesitancy to not do it doesn’t mean I think everyone else shouldn’t do it either. This post is solely meant to outline my thoughts on the issue for posterity and give you a glimpse into how much head space is currently occupied thinking about sleep! When I’m 60 and am starting to have grandkids I can read this and laugh and laugh and laugh.