Archive for September, 2010

How to Sleep Like a Baby

We’re in the middle of “sleep training” Milo, which means we’ve been letting him cry it out during bedtime.  If this seems horrible and cruel, believe me, it feels that way too.

We had tried some sleep training when Milo was younger, about 5 months old, at which point he cried for maybe 10 minutes before falling asleep.  It still felt horrible and cruel.  But we felt lucky that he was crying for only 10 minutes and believed we had an angel child.  Unfortunately, Milo’s weight gain had stalled around that time and we felt like he still needed his night feedings, so we went back to soothing/feeding him whenever he cried at night.

Since Milo’s birth, we’ve been co-sleeping with Milo in our family bed.  This decision came about mostly out of necessity.  It was too taxing for me and my 41-year-old body to get up to feed Milo 3-5 times in the middle of the night.  By co-sleeping, Milo sleeps next to me.  When he’s hungry, I can offer him my breast and rest or even fall back asleep as he feeds.  Co-sleeping has saved my sanity.  I am not someone who does well without good sleep.

We’ve been putting Milo in his own crib at his bedtime (around 7:00 pm) and feeding him when he cries.  When he cries around 1 or 2 am, I would go get him and bring him into our family bed for the rest of the night.  This arrangement worked fairly well for several months, but we found it was impossible to leave him with a babysitter even after he goes to sleep because he wakes up expecting Mommy’s breast and fails to be comforted without it.  We also started witnessing instances of night waking, in which Milo, without waking, would roll and flail around restlessly in our family bed.  On one occasion, he did this almost an hour.  We have a king-size bed, but nobody was getting much sleep with a flailing baby.

There are some philosophies of parenting that encourage co-sleeping and going to comfort your baby every time he cries.  As a liberal Californian, I could see the value of such “attachment parenting” and a lot of it made sense to me.  But Milo often seemed tired.  He has never been that great a napper; his naps are typically 30 – 45 minutes long and he usually wakes up tired and cranky.  Once he started night waking, we knew something had to change.

I decided Milo needed some more structure  and discipline to his sleep schedule.  So I got a book out of the library and set out to “sleep train” my baby.  The idea behind sleep training is to train/allow/force your baby to self-soothe himself to sleep.  All babies (and humans) sleep in cycles, meaning we fall in and out of sleep throughout the night, so a baby will wake in the middle of the night.  If he is accustomed to Mommy coming in and giving him a boob every time he wakes up, he will learn that this is the only way he can fall asleep.  By not going in to soothe him, he is trained/allowed/forced to fall asleep himself and this, eventually, should lead to deeper, more quality sleep.  The problem is, for the baby who is accustomed to getting the breast when he wakes, withdrawing the breast means there will be some complaining, i.e. crying.

So the first night, I prepared myself with a bottle of wine.  Daddy put Milo down to sleep around 7:30pm and he slept until almost 10:00.  Then he cried.  At first, it was a quiet whimpering for 10 minutes or so.  Then the crying got louder, like he was asking, “Hello?  Hello?  Yoohoo?”  He didn’t sound like he was in pain, but it felt bad not responding.  What kind of Mommy doesn’t answer when her baby asks, “Hello?  Hello?”  He went on like this for 15 minutes or so.  And then he started complaining.  It was a higher-pitched cry, as if he were yelling, “Where are you, Mommy?”  This went on for another 10 minutes.  And then he started getting mad.  Shrieks now.  “I want the boob!  I want the boob!  Where’s my f$%#king boob?!”

Meanwhile, Mommy is sitting in the hallway outside the nursery door with her glass of wine, quietly weeping.

Ten minutes or so of shrieking tires him out.  He’s starting to losing some steam and the shrieks become less intense, slightly more spaced out.  But a full hour of crying and Mommy can’t take the guilt much more.  I go into his room, pick him up, and offer him my breast.  Milo sucks weakly a few times and falls asleep.  That night, he wakes up one more time, at 2:00am.  I go in and feed him almost immediately.  He feeds normally and falls asleep.  He stays asleep until 6:00am.

The next night, we go through the same bedtime routine.  Daddy puts him to bed at 7:00pm.  He wakes around 10:00.  Mommy is ready with her glass of wine.  This time, Milo goes through the whole cycle–whimper, hello, complain, shriek–in 15 minutes.  And then silence.  The next night, he slept from 7:30pm to 4:30am with hardly a cry.  And the next night, he slept from 7:30 to 11:30pm, had a feeding, and then slept until 6:30am.

It’s been 2 weeks since we’ve started sleep training.  Milo is averaging 5-6 hour stretches of sleep, which is much better than the 2-hour stretches he had before.  He still needs at least one feeding to get him through the night; his weight gain is still on the low side and we want to keep his calorie count up.  In general, though, Milo is much better rested and happier when he’s awake.  His naps are even longer during the day.

I wish I could say this means Mommy is better rested, but that’s not the case.  It’s hard to wake up, drag myself out of bed, go into the nursery and feed Milo at 4:00am, and then get up at 6:30am when he wakes up.  For me, it was easier to have him in our bed, snuggled next to me, offer him my breast whenever he fussed and fall back asleep in our warm bed.  Maybe the verdict is still out on attachment parenting and my status as a California liberal.

To be fair, it would help if I went to sleep earlier.  So now the sleep training will be for Mommy and Daddy to go to bed at 10:00pm.  Time to put the whole family on baby time.

Milo gets his beauty rest

Read Full Post »