Thursday, November 11, 2010

Special Report: Our Sleep Training Journey

So many things change once you become a parent. Before Caleb was born, I never thought I’d have a problem letting him cry some. I’d babysat plenty of kids and knew bedtime and a few tears tend to go together. Once he was in my arms though, I realized this was a whole new rodeo : )

From the beginning, Caleb was colicy, crying almost constantly for the first 8 weeks of life. I say this because I learned later that research shows colicy kids tend to have sleep problems that linger long past when colic has ended. In Caleb’s earliest days, we just didn’t sleep. Later, around 7 weeks, we began cosleeping, which worked wonderfully. When he woke to nurse, I was able to barely awaken and we both drifted off to sleep much faster. At around 10 weeks Caleb was sleeping 5-7 hour stretches most nights so we moved him into the crib for the big stretch of sleep and continued cosleeping after that.

Then around 3 months, Caleb’s sleep started deteriorating. He no longer woke just to nurse, he woke many times throughout the night, each time needing our help to return to sleep. So back to cosleeping we went. Except, this didn’t stop the night wakings. They continued to increase until Caleb was literally waking every hour. Sometimes nursing would even fail to put him back to sleep and I needed to get out of bed and rock him. We kept this difficult routine up for a month because I just couldn’t bear the idea of sleep training him so young. Because his sleep was so fragmented he became increasingly fussier during the day, and by the time we were rocking him to sleep he was scratching us and himself, pinching us and screaming at the top of his lungs. We tried earlier bed times, soothing him sooner, routines, but each night he ended up in our bed, waking every 45-90 minutes.

After talking to his pediatrician and explaining how…persistent…Caleb can be, she recommended we try using the “fading” approach. The first night we would do his routine (bath, diaper, PJs, nurse, song/rocking), put him down drowsy but awake and stand right over him offering any comfort other than picking up and pacifiers. Each night we’d move further away until we were out of the room. I felt ok with this, at least he would know we were still there. However, I continued to put actually doing it off. How can you choose the night to let your baby cry? I knew he needed to learn to sleep, but I was just hoping it would happen “on it’s own”.

Finally, Tuesday night he was beside himself. Screaming, flailing, pinching, scratching for 2 hours (that would be with us rocking him, swaddled, with a pacifier). David and I looked into each other’s eyes and knew the night had come. The next 2 hours were the hardest of my life. We sat next to him as he cried and cried. Amazingly, he rarely screamed the way he had in our arms. In the end, he stopped, put his finger in his mouth for about 2 seconds, stretched, rubbed his eyes and went to sleep.

Lest you think letting your baby cry for 2 hours is horrible, I can assure you…it is. However, until you have heard the piercing scream of a baby who doesn’t understand why he keeps waking up in the middle of the night every 45-90 minutes for a month, bear the bruises and scratches all over your upper body from him fighting the exhaustion, and felt your heart break as you see the same scratches on his legs and face (despite me cutting his nails almost to the quick) then you have not been in the place we were in. I’m sure there are still some hardcore people who would say we had other options, but I can honestly say, I have no regrets.

For the rest of the first night, Caleb continued to wake every 45-90 minutes, which we were told to expect because he is still one overtired baby (overtiredness leads to night waking). Each time however, the amount of crying cut in half, until by his 3am wake up he didn’t cry at all, but merely fussed quietly while he sucked on his hands. It was amazing to see him actually learning how to go back to sleep on his own. By 5:00 that morning he cried for 10 minutes and soothed himself before I could respond! I was so proud of him. Oh and don’t worry, he still got 3 night feedings in the midst of all this.

Throughout the whole next day, he was so tired he napped 1 hour out of every 2. At this point, he was doing so well using his hands to put himself to sleep I let him cry by himself. He never took longer than 25 mins to put himself to sleep, many times as short as 9 minutes. And this crying wasn’t the piercing over tired cry, more of a heavy fuss.

Then evening came, we started his bedtime routine nice and early as the book recommended during this time. We laid him down at 5:30p. He cried lightly until 6:30p and went to sleep. He woke at 8:45p and cried for 15 minutes, as I was getting ready to respond to him (David and I were already in bed trying to catch up on our sleep!), he stopped and fell asleep. The next time I heard him was at 1am. He cried less than a minute and fell back asleep. Then at 3am he cried and I could tell it was for food, I responded promptly and he looked up at me, all smiles. I haven’t seen him so happy and alert in a long time! In fact, after I nursed him, I was scared he wouldn’t go back to sleep, but I sang his song, laid him down and amazingly, he just started talking to himself. I listened to him happily talk to himself on the baby monitor for 5 minutes, and then he fell asleep: NO crying! I couldn’t believe it, he’d never done that before! How different being well rested makes things. The next time he woke up was at 6:25a, all smiles and ready to start the day.

I could not be more proud of our little guy or of us. It was such a hard decision to make, but I know we did what was best for him. All babies and all parents are different, but I have no doubt that we found the right path for our family.


Leslie said...

I remember the day we did that so clearly and it was horrible, but it has paid off so much. You will be glad for many years to come that you did it. When I hear moms talking about their age 3 children not sleeping through the night, I feel for them. We have had great sleepers since that night. Kudos to you guys! If you haven't read the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, I highly recommend it. It has come in handy on many occasion for us and continues to be applicable.

Sarah_Joy said...

Leslie, that was the book I got most of my info from. I love how research based it is and that it is open to many night time parenting styles. Some of the mom's at our church in PA loaned it to me early on and I'm sooo thankful : )

The Vogt Family said...

Thank you for sharing, Sarah! With Isaiah, I started a bedtime routine from day 1 and never had problems with him sleeping. Teresa I have been much more lax about because she is in our room and I'm just too wiped to give her a bath every night right now. Your journey notes have inspired me to get myself in gear. You're such a good mom!

Mama C said...

This is the first of many difficult but rewarding decisions you will make as a parent. Oh, but as you know it is all worth it! Yeah for Caleb and yeah for wise parents!