I had no idea before I had a baby that ‘sleep’ would be the most important subject of my life postpartum. But I’m sure that it comes to no surprise to most moms and dads. And from the other blogs I follow a very common topic. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.
I first wanted to title this entry as sleep training because I have been working on day and night sleep for awhile now, but when I was going through a particular bad month of torturous naps, I couldn’t find a lot of information on the web about this area. The one blog that I did find from a mom in the battlefield on nap training really helped me, so this is what I’ll focus on here, in hopes that I can provide a beacon of hope for a sleep-deprived mom or dad.
I had no idea that I would ever be nap training. From about 6 to 13 weeks, Eli was sleeping pretty easily, anywhere, and would take long naps without much soothing from me. I would wrap, plop the pacifier in, and place him. I didn’t worry about light, sound, or the room. I even took him on a 3 week road trip around the southwest without too many issues. And he was only waking up once a night.
But all that changed.
Suddenly, he was waking up every 5 minutes fighting the wrap or wanting his pacifier put back in. So I began to unwrap him, but he would startle himself awake instead. Then began the patting and singing to him after I wrapped him so he’d fall asleep and not fight the wrap. This sometimes took as long as the nap itself. And if woke up after going to sleep and the pacifier had fallen out, he’d scream for his pacifier. I would run in and plop it back in his searching mouth. His eyes would be closed, his face a bright tomato with his sucking lips clamoring for the nipple.
I then researched pacifiers that didn’t fall out so easily. I purchased a few. They all fell out. After this came the Merlin suit that claimed to ease the transition from being wrapped to using a blanket. I attended a sleep seminar on how to create healthy soothing habits in babies. I ordered numerous books and devoured them. In a nutshell, most books recommend the following.
1.Place sleepy but awake
2. Invest in blackout curtains
3. Buy a sound machine
4. Create a sleep ritual, even for naps
5. Soothe only as much as needed, nothing more
6. Optimal room temperature at 68-72
7. Put on a nap schedule based on wake up time
8. Keep a nap log
9. Nap in the same place
10. Be consistent
The list goes on and on. Place sleepy but awake always got me. What was that exactly? Some books stated that if the kid is yawning or showing fussiness you’ve missed the magical window. Others relied more on watching the clock and putting down during the sleep window for the babies age. In fact, the awake window varied so much between books that I felt like I needed to be a mathematician to calculate the correct amount of sleep my child needed and how long they could comfortably be awake. To be honest I had no idea this kind of information existed. But I would try. I’d watch Eli and the clock. As soon as I saw what I viewed as a sleepy signal I’d move towards the bedroom. I slowly learned his signals but even when all of them were in place this did not guarantee a long nap or even at the same time every day. The heck with a schedule! I had no idea how these well-respected pediatricians and sleep experts expected this to just fall in place. Don’t give up, I would read. Give it time. So I did. We suffered.
And then his night sleep began to follow the naps. He would wake up every 1-2 hours to have his pacifier put back in, fight the wrap or wake-up because he wasn’t wrapped. I was exhausted. I was alone in this reality and was at a loss as what to do. I asked all my mommy friends for advice and what consistently came up was that most of the moms I knew whose babies slept healthily used Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth, M.D. I had heard of this book but hadn’t read it and was tired of reading about sleep. So I ignored the advice for the moment.
I then began what I think of as the dark month of agony and sleeplessness. I intuitively knew that I had to take away his pacifier and teach him how to self-soothe but I was scared. I didn’t want to take his pacifier at 4.5 months because he was so little and what if he really needed this support. I also never let him cry more than absolutely necessary. Yes, that’s right, he hardly ever cried. Sure, if he was hungry or in the car, but it wasn’t for very long, if I could help it. If he began a whimper I was there with a pat, a song, a love, anything to make him happy. I think I even viewed the ability to keep him happy as one of my best mommy qualities.
I was one of those mommies who did not believe in letting their baby cry it out.
I was one of those mommies not sleeping.
I was one of those mommies with a grumpy baby.
So, I decided to try timed checks. I knew it would involve some crying but would also allow me to train slowly. Basically, for those who don’t know, is that you put your baby down to sleep with the above 10 in place and then decide that if your baby cries you check back in timed intervals. For example, after 2 minutes of crying, you check on your baby, soothe and leave. If he/she begins to cry again, you wait 5 minutes before going back in. Then 10 minutes, etc., until your baby falls asleep. On day 2 you start with 5 minutes rather than 2. OR you can repeat the same times for 3 days before increasing them. But whatever ‘times’ you choose the goal is for your baby to fall asleep without you there and without having to have his/her normal soothing elements. In my case, a pacifier. If the pacifier fell out then I wouldn’t put it back in until I did a check, if needed, at a specific time. Don’t worry, if you’re tired or confused by reading this. It’s exhausting.
The first day was the worst. Eli cried for 40 minutes. I cried for 40 minutes. The second day wasn’t any better. But according to the all the books I read, you shouldn’t give up. But by the end of the week, I knew it wasn’t going to work. The timed checks only helped Eli to know that if he cried long enough I would eventually come. And there was still the problem of the pacifier. It wasn’t the method for us.
Another mom friend recommended Weisbluth’s book. Her son was now seven and she told me it saved her life. She reassured me that her son is a normal, active seven-year-old who loves his mommy. She hadn’t ruined him by teaching him how to sleep.
The book arrived. At first I resisted reading it. It weighed five pounds and the typing seemed small. I couldn’t dive into another book about babies and sleep when I was too tired to actually read. So, I read it while pumping. And only the pages I needed. He has different methods in the book but the one I knew was the best method for my son after failing at everything else was the extinction method. Basically, the Ferber CIO. In the past, I was so sure that this wasn’t an option for my son. He’s a crier, I used to tell people. He’ll cry for hours. I can’t torture him like that. I had also read articles on how crying creates serotonin in babies and other articles discussed how crying kills brain cells. I was horrified. There is also the judgment from other mothers who practice attachment parenting or who just don’t believe in crying of any kind. It really is amazing how people assert that you should be able raise your child anyway you want but judge and give advice constantly about how you should really do it.
It wasn’t until one day, after a week of constant day and night wake ups, that I was driving back from Target with Eli and had a breakthrough. He’d been crying for what seemed like hours but was in fact only about a mile when he stopped. Just like that. I realized that when I couldn’t soothe him (I’m trapped behind a wheel in heavy traffic) that he will actually stop crying on his own. Yep, with all his brain cells. Now, I know hearing your child cry is hard. Hearing any baby cry can be annoying, aggravating, melancholy, and downright nails on a chalkboard but your own baby that you nurture and love with everything you have is a whole other enchilada.
But it was time. Time to teach Eli to self-soothe more.
So I got everything in order. I needed to feel 100% confident in this endeavor. My previous failure fueled me and the certainty that I was doing the right thing. I ordered a baby monitoring system and put it in place. We didn’t have one – long story. I then spoke to my pediatrician about taking away the pacifier and how long she thought it was okay to let Eli cry. I then came up with a nap system based on Weissbluth’s book and advice. AND based on my baby.
The Modified Extinction System
- Make sure all the right elements are in place. Baby is tired, fed, and dry. The room is dark, the sound system is on, and he’s dressed appropriately. Now, all of these are for the baby but also for me. I need to know that if and when he cries it’s not because of any of these things. This will give me strength.
- Once all of these elements are close to perfect, I sing a lullaby and put him in his crib. I leave.
- I keep a sleep tracking log. This helps my poor memory and gives me a sense of control. I also have a timer ready, to time the cries. 1 minute of your baby crying can feel like 1o, so it helps give me perspective and accuracy for the log.
- Once he’s in the crib, I let him cry until he goes asleep.
- If he goes to sleep but wakes up before 30 minutes, I let him cry himself back to sleep.
- If he sleeps over 30 minutes but under 45 I will try to quickly soothe him back to sleep. If this doesn’t work, I will get him up and try for a longer nap next time.
- If he sleeps longer than 45 minutes, I will get him up.
- I never let him cry more than 40 minutes. This is my threshold. Weissbluth recommends up to 60 minutes.
- No pacifier. For my baby, this was necessary because it was the heart of the wake-ups.
- I make sure I have support in place – a friend to call or text.Or better yet, have them with you.Or have your partner do the training.
I also made a promise to be consistent and not give up. Since I had tried everything else and failed, this was my last resort, so I needed it to work. Also, what else really resonated with me was that in Weissbluth’s book he mentions that children are going to cry. That’s what they do. When they don’t like something or want something. They’ll cry when you try to brush their teeth or force them to eat carrots or any of the myriad things that mothers and fathers ask their child to do help them grow healthy and strong. So if your kid cries, are you going to let them not brush their teeth? No, you’re not. Crying is part of the journey.
Yes, right now Eli is little but I’m here to guide him and this means guiding him to good sleep. There’s so much evidence that shows that children who sleep well are more successful in school, experience life with more joy, and that parents who sleep more are better parents.
The Sleep Training Began
The first day I took away the pacifier for the first nap and began the extinction method.
During the days of desperately trying to find information on nap training, I came across a blog that used the Extinction Method and posted her sleep log. This really gave me comfort and an idea of what I was in for. So, I have mine below.
Sleep Log for Day 1 – (Eli was about 5 Months)
Nap 1- 8:09 am
Cried-5 minutes (light crying then he did his sleepy sounds)
Woke at 9:00
Sleep Total: 46 minutes
Nap 2- 10:57 am
Woke at 11:10
Cried 11 minutes
Woke at 12:54
Sleep Total: 1 hour 44 minutes
Nap 3 – 2:56 pm
Cried 17 minutes
Woke at 4:00 pm
Sleep Total: 47 minutes
Bed – 6:45 am
No crying. He went right to sleep
Woke at 2:45 am – Fed 5 oz
Woke at 5:45 am – he soothed himself & went back to sleep
Official wake up at 6:30 am
How did I feel? Well, to be honest I knew I’d done the right thing by taking away the pacifier. First of all, it would sometimes take me 45 minutes to get him to sleep, almost as long as the nap, only to have him wake up because of the missing pacifier. Also, at night he was waking up 6-8 times. I have my logs from those nights as proof. Now, he was back down to 1. However, hearing him cry at all was awful. It would take days before I learned to accept that it would always be that way for me.
Nap 1 – 8:30 am
Cried 2 minutes
Woke at 9:20 am
Sleep Total: 48 minutes
Nap 2 – 11:22 am
Cried for 5 minutes
Woke at 11:32
Cried for 10 minutes
Woke at 12:19
Cried for 6 minutes – Decided to scrap the nap
Sleep Total: 37 minutes
Nap 3 – 1:00 pm (really grumpy & tired)
Cried for 15 minutes
Woke at 2:11
Sleep Total: 56 minutes
Nap 4 -4:21 pm
Cried for 40 minutes
Decided to scrap the nap
Bed at 6:30 pm (pushed an earlier bedtime)
No crying. Fell right to sleep
Woke at 3:00 (fed 5 oz)
Official wake up at 6:45 am
How did I feel? Well, the napping had gone terrible, especially that last nap. I would soon discover that this last nap would prove to be really difficult. This nap is the one that gets dropped between 6-9 months. But the night sleep was excellent. I’ve always read that the day sleep affects the night sleep and vice a versa but in this case it didn’t. The crying was still a wound on my soul but I knew that it had to be done.
Nap 1 – 8:53 am
Cried 5 minutes
Woke at 10:21
Sleep Total: 1 hour 23 minutes
Nap 2 – 12:23 pm
Cried 1 minute
Woke at 1:19
Sleep Total: 54 minutes
Nap 3 – 3:18
Cried 3 minutes
Woke at 4:11
Sleep Total: 5o minutes
Bed – 6:45 pm
Woke at 2:00 (fed 5 oz)
Woke at 5:00 but self-soothed/fell asleep
Official wake up at 6:30 am
How did I feel? Much better after day 2. His cries were becoming less and even the sound of them were more grumbling than deep crying like he had done before when I did the timed checks. It did occur to me that my previous attempt at training might have really helped this second effort. But removing the pacifier as a sleep crutch seemed to help a lot.
But then day 4 happened and that is a whole other blog. . .