"Sleep like a baby"… you mean, "Scream, suck on a boob for half an hour, nod off, wake up in 45 minutes, and repeat", right? Cause that’s how it was for us for 4 months, pretty much. I don’t think you can even bring up the words "sleep training" in a roomful of people without a lot of opinions on the topic. But this is our journey and I wanted to share it.
Yeah, motherhood is great. I love my baby. But I had NO idea that you have to teach a baby how to sleep. I mean, seriously? Sleep? We all love it, so why is it so hard?
Well, first off, the idea of teaching a baby to sleep is a Western thing. All over the world parents sleep with their babies and yeah, some of those babies are hard ones likes ours. But the parents deal with it. There are often extended families to help. That’s just how it is. The concept of cribs, nurseries, "self-soothing"… all Western.
So, why did we have a problem? Well, we don’t live with a houseful of support and a mother simply cannot function off of 1 hour cycles of sleep. At least this mother couldn’t.
At 2 months, still in colic mode, Aiden decided to make things worse by taking his lovely 2-hour naps and cutting them into 30-45 minute chunks. Suddenly, mommy’s nap time was gone. Poof. I stopped functioning.
Ok, I was probably a little resentful already of how hard it was for us to get Aiden to fall asleep. Colic is really difficult to deal with – hours of crying or at least high-level fussing every night. After a while, you do whatever works. That was the boob. Now, this was a problematic thing, given my at-the-time low-milk-supply. Aiden would get frustrated, I’d get frustrated. It was a mess. But it was the only thing that worked, so you put up with the screaming and just keep at it. Eventually sleep would arrive. Ahhh.
We gave up on the bassinet after about 5 weeks – that resulted in even less sleep as we tried to gently place the sleeping baby in the bassinet… it never worked. At first, I tried to sleep sitting up. Ha! Not so restful.
So, there I was, lying in contorted positions all night, my shirt pulled up and boobs spilled out feeding Aiden every 45 – 90 minutes. All night. And nearly continuously as morning approached. And it got worse as the weeks went by and our overtired baby couldn’t fall asleep at all for his afternoon naps. Despite LOTS of trying. Eventually he wouldn’t fall asleep unless I took him out. Every day. Still, that afternoon nap was hit or miss. Then the morning nap got sketchy too. I could only walk so much with the carrier for missed naps (carrier and sometimes stroller would usually get Aiden to nap). I was too tired for it.
I hit a few walls, had a few meltdowns, read many sleep books, dozens and dozens of websites and forums, and decided I was still confused about the whole sleep thing. How the heck do you teach a baby to sleep?
In BC, the nurses are taught to tell us to slowly teach a baby to go to sleep on his own by putting him down drowsy then down awake. They don’t mention how to do this, of course, so we’re left to our own devices. Hence the obsessive reading.
Well, I had too many questions, so we bit the bullet and paid for a sleep consultant (seriously, a very reasonable fee). There are a few out there in Vancouver.
If you’re going to go through "sleep training", you can pretty much expect all methods to have some crying. The training methods simply differ to the extent of the type of involvement the parent has after the crying has begun – do you pick up the child? do you pat? do you stay in the room, leave, do both?
So, I won’t give you the ins and outs of our method. You can ask me in an email, if you want to know. I was nervous. Excited. I felt like both a good and a bad mother. OMG, I’m going to let my baby cry! But I’m giving him the gift of sleep, right?! So, it was a mixed set of emotions. Ianiv was my rock through all of this, supporting me and our choices.
Finally, finally!, sleep would not be my sole responsibility. Yahoo! Dad got to be the one to put Aiden to bed and check on him. I just had to feed Aiden when it was time (you mean my breasts would be only for feeding? Crazy!). We started with bedtimes only. I cried like crazy. But 12 minutes in, and it was over. He was asleep? WTF! It took ME longer to do that with breastfeeding. I felt elated and annoyed. Mostly elated. Of course, he woke up a lot that first night. And for a few nights. But each time, he went back to sleep faster and woke up fewer times. He slept a 7 hour stretch after just a couple of days! If only I’d known he was capable!
About a week ago, we started nap training. That process is still ongoing and will take much longer. Aiden is sleeping in his own crib, 4-5 naps per day at 30-45 minutes each (shorter for his last nap). He falls asleep quickly if caught at the right time. He even slept once without crying. The hardest part of nap training is trying to teach him to return to sleep after that short nap. He should be sleeping 1.5-2 hours for 2 naps. We spend an hour each morning working on that. Haven’t had any success so far. I know he’s capable (I’d had some success with breastfeeding him back to sleep), but he doesn’t get it yet. We’re told it could take several weeks. So, we work on it. But we’re positive we’re doing the best thing for Aiden.
There were nights where things got worse, and still he cries. We are on the path, though, and it’s a good one. We chose the right time for us to start this. Ianiv & I felt like we were ready and, perhaps more importantly, we felt like Aiden was ready. Like he knew we loved him and that he had no issues that would confuse us in the process (like gas pain crying). It was the best choice we’ve ever made, as parents.
So, here we are. We spent 3x as much on our stroller as we did on our sleep consultant. And if I had to choose, I’d rather carry Aiden around 24 hours a day and have SLEEP than a stroller. It’s priceless. Seriously. You never know it until you’ve been sleep deprived for months. And until you’ve dealt with a baby who has also been sleep deprived for months!!