Sleep Training! It works!

It was a dark and stormy night.

No. No it wasn’t.

But it might as well have been. Feeling of dread… check. Ungodly howling… check.

We knew that the sleep thing was not going well when our 5 m.o. daughter started reverting to a 2-hour waking cycle. It was driving me pretty nuts andI knew  something had to be done. We had done a bit of sleep training before, with pick up put down and what not (The baby Whisperer method), but this time my mom-radar was telling me it was time to do the previously unthinkable… and let her cry.*

Until then, we had relied on our Pilates ball to put her to sleep. Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce…. Zzzzzz. Since birth, this was her sleeping pill. But I’d read all about the dangers of sleep props and was having terrible fantasies of her at 5 years old needing the royal treatment every time she went down for a nap.

So here’s what we did:

Oh wait, first, here’s a picture of her not sleeping:

Sleep Training. Hard, but useful!
Sleep Training. Hard, but useful!

We kicked the softie/good cop out of the house. 
My husband, every time our daughter cries, says “She’s hungry!” and pleads for food on her behalf. It kills me. He doesn’t like the sound of her crying (not that I do) and probably doesn’t have as much of an instinctual knowing about when she’s hungry or not. So he went out for the night (to a Public Enemy concert, BTW…) and then the real fun began.

I trusted my instincts, not the clock, not the books.


She’s a smart kid. After a bath, story, night cap, and cuddle, I did that crazy thing – put her down in her crib awake – said goodnight, and left the room.

*WAIL…

I had tried the 5 minutes here and there before, but it hadn’t really worked that well. So this time, I was going to let it go longer.

As long as she sounded frustrated but not genuinely upset, I let her keep crying in her crib. She went about twenty minutes and then I went in and let her hear my voice. I put my hand on her back and told her I loved her and she was going to fall asleep soon, and it would all be okay. In another twenty minutes or so she fell asleep. And that .. .changed …. everything.

It was like she figured out that it was possible for her to put herself to sleep, and from then on she got better and better at it.

I would say we did Baby Led Sleeping
Apparently consistency is key, but it wasn’t the route for us, and what we did worked. Babies have good days and bad days… just like us… they miss naps, they have sore gums, tummy aches… lots of stuff. Whenever our daughter seemed more upset than mad and frustrated, we would give her lots of hugs and help to fall asleep. What the sleep training did was teach her that she CAN do it on her own, and that bouncing is not mandatory for sleeping.

*As the subject of so much controversy, the “CIO” method has many variations, and I just want to state for the record that it should be up to the parents, not the professionals, to decide what their baby is ready for, and furthermore – when to be stringent and when to say fu*k the plan and go give their kid a hug. It’s an intuitive thing, like so many aspects of parenting. What we did was try to stick to that balance of smushy-squishy-baby-love and Let-me-help-you-learn-something-new-love.

I’m not sure how I knew that she was ready, but something about her behaviour was different, and that’s what was the indicator. I think it was when she started to be aware enough that her behaviour seemed more like “I don’t wanna go to sleep!!” and less like “Wahhhh what the hell is happening no one’s holding meeeeee!”

Within a month, we had kicked the ball habit, and Raquel was going 6 – 8 hour stretches*

(Woo hoo!)

*Update – AGE 1: Aside from teething issues, she’s doing 12 hours (!!!) from 7 – 7, sometimes with one moan and groan period, where usually Daddy will go in and give her a sip of water, and she goes right back down.

She Sleeps
She Sleeps
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The Baby Whisperer – the good, the bad, and the confusing

Baby Books

While I was laid up in my 6th month of pregnancy with a busted back, I read a bunch of baby prep books. The Baby Whisperer (and The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems) by Tracy Hogg, stands out among them as being a pretty smart and savvy approach. I highly recommend! But while it’s good knowledge to have in the back pocket…. at the end of the day it’s al just tools for your mamma tool belt, not rules to live by.

The biggest takeaways from the book were these:

#1 Eat, Activity, Sleep: The idea: Basically, this means keep your baby up after a feeding for a short time before they conk out so that you don’t become their sleep blanky. This will set the stage for allowing them to fall asleep on their own, and helps them learn to put themselves to sleep instead of allowing a milk coma and a warm body to do all the work.

The reality: I’ve learned that there are babies who like to eat and run, babies who like to lounge and snack, and babies who like to cuddle and suck. Since my daughter turned out to be an ‘eat and run’ type, I take full advantage of those times when nursing knocks her out. For people with the other types of baby… you know what? If you want your baby to sleep and a big meal will do it… why not just do what works and enjoy?

#2 Babies need to learn how to put themselves to sleep. The idea: In other words, they don’t come here knowing how to stroke the silk on their blanket or how to count sheep or how to allow their bodies to relax into rest. It’s learned. So unless we can help them learn that, they may have trouble. What I gathered from the book is that they learn it best from you being near, but not doing all the work. Put the baby in the crib awake and use different methods to help them fall asleep – like the sound of your voice, or music…

The reality: Hard to do!! I find that as my daughter gets older she’s more receptive to silk blankies, soothing sounds, etc. But until 3 mos, forget it. She wanted to be held and I wanted to hold her! I think babies are programmed (for a good reason) to need body heat. Being held is how they survive. So if it takes a few months for them to realize there are other ways, let it take time…. My daughter is a great sleeper. If I have to bounce her or hold her for now…. I’m okay with that.

#3 Breastfeeding habits have a major impact on baby (and mommy!) sleep habits.

The idea: The two biggest takeaways for me on this one were that food missed during the day (from a long nap for example) will come to haunt you at night. It’s like a cumulative thing. And also, one of the ways to keep baby sleeping is to feed them after they’ve gone to bed for the night. She calls this a dream feed. And get this…. they won’t even wake up, they can eat while they sleep. This one really reminds me of my puppy-mummy days when I would carry Lemon out to the front yard in the middle of the night so she could pee. It was an adorable (because she was so sleepy and stumbly!) and pre-emptive way to keep her from waking up, needing to go, and peeing on the floor. And it worked. She successfully learned that peeing was an outside thing, and by the time her bladder grew big enough to support full nights, she was trained.

*NOTE: I’ve just read some parent comments on dream-feeding and for the babies that tend to wake more easily, it seems to be troublesome. http://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/dream-feed/

Now I KNOW that babies are more complicated than this, but doesn’t it make sense to feed a baby before they get hungry, especially during the night, when they need sleep as much as food, and both needs are kind of battling each other? The author also recommends tanking baby up around dinner time, with longer, closer together feeds, so that babies tummy is nice and full when she goes to sleep. Then topping up with the dream feed before you go to bed yourself.

The reality: My baby would not wake up for dream feeds. Mouth shut, not interested, no chance.

#4 Schedule, Schedule, Schedule: The idea: Get your baby on a sleeping/eating schedule (eat, activity, sleep) which starts on about a 3 hour cycle when they’re 4 weeks old. I don’t know about you but I’m not scheduling ANYTHING until at least then. The 4 week old schedule looks like this: eats at 7, diaper change, playing and talking at  7:45, napping at 8:15, repeat at 10:00 am. By 3-4 months, the cycle changes to a four hour one, which means 2 naps not 3, up to 2 hours awake-time after feeding, 4 feeds + dreamfeed instead of 5 feeds + dreamfeed. This change is based on the baby’s tummy size having grown to accommodate more at each feeding.

My more intuitive style tells me that sticking too rigidly to these rules could drive me as crazy as an unhappy baby. I think sticking loosely to the ideas is fantastic, but as she mentions in the book, there are so many variables when it come to babies and their behaviour, it seems impossible to achieve this blissful state of daily ritual for more than a day or a week before something sent it awry. Maybe I’m wrong, but a growth spirt, or a change from swaddling to not, or a new tooth could throw all this into havoc, no? Babies are ever-changing little beings. I can’t imagine having so many milestones to hit or miss in a day. But maybe I’m getting too hung up on the timing – Tracy does say it’s not about the TIME so much as the structure. This I agree with.

The reality: It’s a good guideline and something to aspire to and keep your sanity, but the reality is you’re in the moment with your baby and following your instincts. Also, sometimes a boob is the only thing that will quiet a screaming little one. Nursing is not just about eating, it’s about comfort, and ‘resetting’ sometimes. So I think this is a simplified equation where baby’s hunger would be the only reason you nurse. It’s not… it’s like a hug… and sometimes you know that a hug is what’s needed. So why restrain?

The book also goes pretty extensively into solving problems that have emerged for your and your baby, but since this is all still theoretical for me I can’t comment on whether her solutions work or not.

I’ll be on the front lines soon (6 weeks to go) and I have to say I’m looking forward to putting it all into practice. And then throwing it all out the window if need be, when I start to learn what my baby’s own unique needs are.

Good luck to you and yours!

xo, La Mamma Futura