Sunday, February 21, 2010


Disclaimer: I wrote this blog mainly for my own purposes of documentation. It’s lengthy and pretty grueling in terms of detail. But for other parents who have gone through something similar, or for folks who don’t have children and want to be reminded of how blessed a night of unobstructed sleep really is, read on…

All parents have an opinion on sleep. As do doctors and authors and grandparents and babysitters. It’s hard to know what to do, what is best for your baby and your family. How you relate to your own relationship to sleep greatly affects your decision on what to do next, as well as how much sleep you need to feel sane. Also, how willing are you to withstand a little discomfort on the surface for the sake of the larger restful picture?

Here is a sleep history of the last few months with Baby Opal, as it were:
Before Opal was born we discovered and bought a co-sleeper, a mattress-extender that allows your child to sleep along side you without actually being in your bed. We thought all of our sleep questions were answered in that one purchase. (Ahh, the gaiety of the naïve.) We had it set up for our first night home from the hospital but when we put Opal in it, she looked so unbelievably tiny, just floating there and seeming unbearably far from us. So I took her across the hallway into her little room and rocked her for the entire night.

The next day, Jesse went to Target and bought an ingenious little contraption that went into bed with us-- a tiny mattress with foam wedges along the side to hold her in place on her back. We put it between us and for the first three months of her life, she adored this thing. All we had to do was swaddle her and place her in her little holder and she was in nighttime heaven. For those first three months, she slept, especially for a newborn. She typically went to sleep at around 10pm--after a lengthy round-robin routine of techniques to get her to sleep-- and she stayed asleep until 3, sometimes 4am. It was often me who’d have to wake her up to nurse! At this point she'd nurse heavily and take another half hour to get back to sleep. But then she’d often sleep until 6 or 6:30am!
At this point in the morning, Jesse put her in the sling and I’d take my morning nap.
With this set-up I wasn’t feeling the least bit sleep deprived. I definitely felt the exhaustion of being a new mom, but related it more to the feeling of constantly inventing the wheel then to lack of sleep. It would have been a very different experience to have felt the weight of both.

At about 2 months, Opal began to really fuss late in the evening, around 8pm or so. It was as if she were fighting back, opposing sleep. She cried hysterically, pushing and squirming as we tried to hold her and yet when I gave her a boob (the ultimate soother) she was too upset to drink. The messages behind these meltdowns is only clear to me now, but then I had no idea what was going on. Bless her heart-she was so overtired she appeared possessed. She would eventually calm down or cry herself into a ragdoll state of exhaustion, but until then Jesse and I both felt completely helpless. So, at a friend's suggestion, we tried to put her down earlier with the idea that she would sleep through this tantrum--the "witching hour" was how my friend referred to it. But in spite of our best efforts at getting her to fall asleep earlier, she continued to fight sleep until her usual, later, bedtime.

By three months, she no longer suffered from spontaneous nighttime flare-ups but other areas of her nighttime routine were changing. She fervently protested her swaddler, our favorite thing to calm her down and keep her from scratching her face. She was growing out of her little baby-bed, too. This, one month ago, is pretty much when she stopped sleeping restfully, as I remember it. She simply no longer slept soundly for long chunks of time. We were getting up sometimes every hour during the night to nurse, and even still she fussed and hollered, writhing from side to side as if trying to unzip out of her skin. It was agonizing to watch--she seemed entirely unsettled and uncomfortable.
I tried rocking her to sleep in the middle of the night, and thought we could just stay in the chair, but this worked only as long as I kept rocking and patting her butt. The moment I dozed and ceased movement was the moment she would begin to squirm. I tried nursing her in bed and cuddling her next to me, rubbing her back, gently touching her belly and shooshing her, but she seemed totally conflicted-- not wanting to be touched while not wanting to be put down.
The human predicament commenced for our little doodlebug. And as her parents, we are definitely along for the ride.

By last Saturday, it had been a long stretch of time that the little darling had been up constantly during nights as well as requiring impressive efforts during the day to get her to nap. And even still, her naps were measly. The picture of that Saturday was pretty typical. I had spent over an hour in the morning bouncing her on the yoga ball to get her to sleep, and once she did doze off I put her down and she quickly woke up. At a certain point, I had to pee and was incredibly thirsty but didn't want to leave the dark, warm room I had been bouncing her in for fear of waking her up. It was exhausting and annoying and we were both in need of a better option.

So, I began to investigate. I began with Dr. Sear’s Baby Book, a book we consult for everything from a stuffy nose to bathing to development, but didn’t find what he had to say about sleep very helpful. He recommends having your kids sleep in bed with you for as long as possible. He says this is the main way to give children positive experiences of and associations with sleep. He goes on to say that rocking our nursing your child to sleep is no big deal. He didn’t address what happens when a child isn’t sleeping well in your bed and when rocking or nursing gets them to sleep only until you set them down.

I then found an article in Parent's magazine that depicted some different popular methods for sleep training, which led me to a book called Sleeping Through the Night by Jodi Mindell.

I like what she has to say.
1. It is important to train your baby to self-soothe so that she can get to sleep effortlessly and go back to sleep without any assistance from me--thus leading for a more restful night for everyone.

2. Don't miss cues and wait until your baby is overtired before putting her down to sleep. This will make it even harder for her to fall asleep.

3. Having a routine and being consistent is more important than any specific technique. Whether you decide to let your kid cry it out, stay in the room or somewhere in between, as long as you are committed to getting rest for everybody, it will eventually work out.

In the past, every time Opal cried, she was met with immediate consolation. We were both nervous about beginning not to pounce every time she called.

We kicked off this entirely new approach one week ago. I put her down for a morning nap in our bed as usual, but instead of bouncing her for an hour or more, I simply put her down sleepy and walked away. Hearing her cry was excruciating, but it didn’t last long at all. She was so quiet within minutes that I snuck in thinking the baby monitor wasn’t working. After her nap was over, she seemed rested and refreshed, not traumatized as I’d feared. I also felt like I could see her so much more clearly. We were on to something.

Then came bedtime. She slept in our bed and we used to start bedtime at 8:30pm and bounce her until 9pm or later. Then we'd snuggle her longer while watching TV before putting her down next to me in bed. We would then watch another show without sound (for fear of waking her up) and we’d go to sleep within a half hour of putting her down.

Last week we changed the whole bedtime routine (to not include nursing or rocking), a routine that both Jesse and I can do exactly the same, and one that we’d do the same every night. Then we put her down sleepy, kissed her on the forehead and walked away. We chose a gentler version of the “cry it out” technique, checking on her every 7 minutes, shooshing and calming her for a minute or so, and then leaving again. It took a total of 45 minutes for silence that first, but once we got passed that, she was asleep for the entire night. Miraculous.

During that night, and the next few while she was in bed with us, I also tried to let her soothe herself to sleep when she’d wake in the middle of the night. This seemed more confusing than effective for both of us, and I soon relaxed back to trying to comfort her at night. But even with the early bedtimes, she seemed to get more agitated when I reached over with a gentler touch or shooshed her ear during the night.

Then on our fourth night having successfully put her down for a bedtime (in our bed), Jesse and I didn’t come to bed for another 4 hours. During those four hours she did not make a peep. Then when we joined her, and for the hours that followed, she was agitated and unable to rest. I realized in that moment that she needed more space then she was getting. Maybe it was time to move Opal out of our bed and into her crib. It broke my heart to think of sleeping without her next to me, but I couldn't argue with her request.

Opal has been out of our bed and in her crib for three consecutive nights now and she has slept around 12 hours each night, with only one or two times waking to nurse. Each time she nurses, she falls back to sleep easily and peacefully. (What a relief that is!) And she wakes in the morning with shining eyes and a grin. Who can argue the proof in that pudding? A tremendous payoff for a few nights of slight discomfort. She fell asleep in 7 minutes last night; she’s getting good at this. Her mom and dad are amazed. And rested.

Naps we are still working on.

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