So this week, Paul and I bit the bullet and “sleep trained” Simon, one of my least favorite parts of parenting. But for our family, gently guiding Simon into a more independent sleep routine was becoming a top priority and fast.
Simon is an unbelievably easy baby. Very little seems to phase him, and I do not want to rock that boat for my own convenience. But we also learned from our mistakes with Declan, and now know that most kids need some sort of help (or training or torture depending on how you look at it) to get enough sleep in a healthy way. I stupidly got in the habit of rocking Declan to sleep as a baby, and while that worked ok when he was a newborn, the older he got, the more difficult that became. We would rock him to sleep and lay him down only to have him pop right up, ready to play. This would go on for hours a night, with Paul and I taking turns “putting him down” until I would finally go get in bed with him or fall asleep in the recliner. We didn’t want to have a family bed or even co-sleep, but I also was extremely hesitant to do any kind of sleep training. Paul would have done it much sooner than I was willing to, but I wouldn’t budge, so I shouldered the majority of the sleepless nights in return. By the time he was 11 months old, we had moved into a new house, and his room was too small to have his crib and a bed, so any co-sleeping was done in a recliner. After a few weeks of that, I was literally too exhausted to drive safely. Our marriage was suffering immensely and our whole family was unhappy. We decided to take action.
I read several books, but the book Sleeping Through the Night by Jody Mindell really resonated with me, especially after my friend Colleen recommended it. After reading it together, we implemented our plan. Declan was going to have to CIO. We spent the first two nights going in at increasing intervals to “reassure” him that we were still here, but after 2+ hours of crying a night, I realized that we were only making him angrier by going in but not rocking him. So we stopped going in. It was agonizing, I won’t lie. But after 45 minutes, he was out. The next night, we laid him down and didn’t go back in. I feared the worst. Eight minutes later, silence. The next night, we laid him down and that was it. He began sleeping 12+ hours a night, napping wonderfully and, most importantly, he had rested parents who could give even more to him than ever before.
I was fully on the sleep training bandwagon.
So with No. 2, I VOWED to not make the same mistakes. I wouldn’t have time to lay around holding a baby all day and night, I’d have another kid (plus the little boy I babysat) to watch over. So from the get-go, Simon napped in the swing and slept with me at night. For the first 3 months, it was pretty great. Sure, he woke to eat often during the night, but it was eat and back to sleep, no prob.
Around 3 months, things got hairy. There is a major growth spurt at 3 months, and it hit Simon with a vengeance. Combine that with his long naps in the swing during the day, and our nights were spiraling out of control. He was nursing every 90 minutes, obviously for comfort, and was fussy and over tired. I couldn’t determine if he was sick or gassy or miserable for any other reason (Reason No. 1 to sleep train: Sleep habits are a GREAT indicator of baby’s well-being), so I didn’t know what to do other than nurse him. I was slowly becoming more and more exhausted, frustrated and an overall frazzled mom. My attitude with Declan was suffering, I had no energy left to even talk with Paul at the end of the day and I felt like I was drowning in anxiety. I knew something would have to change.
While I fully planned on sleep training Simon, I also wanted to wait til he was 4 months old, per Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, the child sleep bible. We made some gentle changes leading up to his 4 month birthday that easily got him sleeping in his crib and waking around twice a night to feed. We ditched the swing and attempted to get him napping in his crib during the day. We saw major improvements, but he was still taking 2-3 hours to go down at night and napping was spotty. So while I was at least now sleeping back in our room and getting some rest, I was still fried at the end of the day after battling naps and bedtime.
Four months couldn’t come fast enough.
So after his well-check this week, it was time to act. I hated the thought of my little angel crying without me, but with him being so overtired and frustrated, a lot of crying was already going on all day long. Our nursing relationship was suffering, as well, as I could never judge if he had eaten well since he was nursing so frequently but falling asleep during every session. It was time.
The first night, we never let him cry more than 10 minutes. We checked on him and soothed him every time we felt he was getting too upset, but our goal was to get him to fall asleep on his own in his crib. It took 90 minutes, which I hated. I don’t go outside or turn the monitor off. I sit there and listen to every cry. If he’s crying, I’m crying right there with him. I guess it’s my own version of self-flagellation.
The next day, he napped like a champ. Three great naps, zero tears. The next night, he did even better, and after some crying, I determined he was still hungry, so after feeding him again, he went down happily with zero fussing. He nursed during the night twice and after a 6 a.m. wake up, he went back down til 9:30!! Victory!
I can already see massive changes in things. One, I am a new woman. Having 3-4 hours kid-free at the end of the day is crucial to me. Not every mom needs this, I’m sure, but I definitely do. I need that time to myself and I need that time with Paul. A healthy marriage has to be prioritized. Two, Simon is napping fabulously, which means I have more time to spend with just Declan during the day. Three, Simon is learning healthy sleep habits that I believe are crucial. I think healthy sleep is as important as good nutrition, and if some tears are involved in the short term to set things on the right path for the long term, I’m ok with that. I know I never abandoned my child (a popular complaint against any training involving crying) and I know that there were way fewer tears shed in three days of training than in 11 months of bad sleep.
So like so many other parenting decisions, I had to do something that made my child (temporarily) unhappy in order to make my whole family happy. I don’t enjoy it while it’s happening but I have seen the results in both my boys, and know I did right by them and myself. That, to me, is what parenting is all about.