Sleep Training: The Bitter and the Sweet

We have co-slept with all five our our children.  When Lucy was born it was out of necessity.  Living in an apartment with a single bedroom meant that if anyone wanted to sleep, then she needed to be in bed with us.  I swore up and down that I would never let them “cry it out” because it was cruel and she would naturally figure out how to sleep peacefully as she grew up.  By the time she was ten months old, neither of us were sleeping.  I finally had had enough when she began waking up to scream (not to nurse but to scream) every. hour. on. the. hour.  After trying (and failing) at all of the no-cry sleep solutions I picked up Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and within three days Lucy was happily going down for bed and naps and sleeping peacefully through the night.

We have followed the same pattern with every child since then.  Every time I happily cuddle my newborn while we sleep and nursing them when they fuss.  All the while knowing that we are all getting far more sleep than we would if I had to get up and nurse them in another room.  Once they hit about six months things start to go downhill.  They aren’t just nursing but squirming and kicking me in the stomach (which is kind of a big deal when you are still recovering from major abdominal surgery).  Then they start to wake up more often and their naps get shorter and shorter.  After a few weeks I’m a zombie.  I think keep thinking it will get better: “He’s teething, no wonder he’s not sleeping well” or “maybe he is getting sick, it will get better in a few days”.  Eventually at about seven months they let me know that it’s time.  It’s time for them to learn to fall asleep unassisted.

Henry alerted me that we had come to that time when he woke up at midnight and jabbered away happily for the next three hours.  He wouldn’t eat and cried when I stopped jiggling him.  He wasn’t sad, but he was very loud.  Tuesday night Matt took him and kicked me out of the room.  I went to the spare bed in the next room and a shortly after the smell of Henry’s preferred cuisine vacated the premises Matt was able to get him to sleep.

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Thus began “Operation Sleep-Train Henry” (super clever name, huh?).  I blew the dust off of my copy of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and reminded myself why this is important.  As expected, he wasn’t too thrilled with the prospect but very quickly caught on.  This morning (which is day three) he went down for his morning nap, in his own bed, without being swaddled, with a sleepy smile and nary a peep.  I laid him down, handed him his binkie and he promptly rolled over and relaxed.

I am always so heartbroken at the prospect of sleep training but I am also grateful for the opportunities that open up (and not just in the sleep department).  As the mother of many children I find that I spend very little time actively bonding with Henry these days.  I am always multi-tasking.  I’m dealing with the other children’s demands or reading while I nurse.  I’ll have him on my hip while I clean up or in a sling while I cook.  I meet his needs and hold him a lot, and play with him but spend very little time JUST with Henry and no distractions.  Putting him down for naps and for bed has given me that opportunity.  Before, I would nurse him to sleep on my bed (while reading a book).  I would pray he wouldn’t wake up while I moved him to his co-sleeping bed (so he wouldn’t roll off the bed when he woke up) and snuck out of the room.  Now I nurse him in until he starts to fuss and then I cuddle and rock him until he is ready to go down.  Instead of creeping away like a thief in the night, I sing lullabies while he nuzzles my neck.  We spend a good ten or fifteen minutes together snuggling and listening to the creak of the rocking chair before I put him down in is bed.  Since I put him down awake, the transition doesn’t disturb him.

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The first day is always the hardest.  I remember when we trained Lucy, she cried for 45 minutes.  I sat outside of her bedroom door and also cried for 45 minutes.  Henry didn’t cry nearly that long (probably because he is younger than she was).  By the second nap of the day he cried for even less and by bedtime he fussed for less than a minute.  As much as I was dreading it Henry has turned out to be my easiest baby to teach how to sleep!  Now, by the third day, we have a good routine.  He goes down for his first nap around 9am, his second between 1 and 2, and his third between 5-6.  At night I put him down between 8 and 9.  He usually wakes up around midnight and I get him and bring him back to bed with me where he stays until he starts to be really disruptive (5AM yesterday morning, 6AM this morning).  At that point I take him back in to his room (he’s the only one in the family with his own room), nurse him in the rocking chair and since he’s still mostly asleep at this point I skip the cuddles and lullabies.  I put him down and if it’s still early enough I try and get back to sleep.  He is usually up for the day around 7AM.  The best part is that since he is sleeping better and undisturbed during the day (and now knows how to get to sleep without being nursed) he sleeps more soundly when he is in my bed during the night!  Henry has always woken up happy and I’m pleased to say that hasn’t changed.

You know how sometimes you can get so sleep deprived that it becomes increasingly difficult to fall asleep?  For the last few weeks I have been like the walking dead during the day and yet it would still take me an hour or more to actually fall asleep once my head hit the pillow.  Last night was the first night in ages that I was able to fall asleep quickly and easily.  I felt so rested that when I put Henry back in his bed at 6AM I just got up and started my day instead of trying to go back to sleep.

I realize this approach doesn’t work for every mom or even every baby but as for me and my house we are all happier :)

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Cari says:

    What a little cutie! I tried co-sleeping with my first and gave it up because we are both such light sleepers, every time I turned over in bed he would wake and every time he snorted I would wake. He also had reflux so we started swaddling him and putting him in the swing just outside our bedroom to sleep (turned off) and it worked wonders. We’ve done that with every baby since and all my other kids were sleeping 6-8 hours from 3 months on. Olivia goes down around 9 and wakes around 5 or 6. But if she (or any of them) comes unswaddled she will wake up and want to nurse. Hope he keeps up the good sleeping so you can too!

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    1. So far he’s doing great! Pretty clingy the first few days but got the hang of it and now he’s back to normal and we are all sleeping MUCH better!

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  2. Sanz says:

    The more children I have the more I co-sleep. I have a newborn who sleeps in a bassinet right beside me. She sleeps there until her first waking up to eat. Then she pretty much spends the rest of the night next to me. I have always kept my babies in my room until they are 4-6 months old. I had 2 of my kids “cry it out” for a couple of nights and one who has never had a problem going to sleep on his own. I try to put the newborn down for her naps and for bed awake, so that she will learn to simply fall asleep. It’s always a tricky thing and I always have to figure out what works with each baby, because it’s never the same…at least not in our house! I hope you can get some rest! I know I am a completely different person (and not for the better) when I am super tired!

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    1. Me too! Matt can deal with sleep depravation far better than I can. Fortunately Henry is doing GREAT now! He still spends most of the night in bed with us (usually wakes up around midnight) but he may as well not be there at all! He sleeps so soundly now :)

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  3. Tristan says:

    Glad you found what works for you!

    We co-sleep if they want to (some have, others didn’t) and then use The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. t’s a slower process but gentle and adapts to each child’s needs. I’ve not read the book you use, but have heard of it. To each their own! We’ve had some interesting challenges this time around with Mason due to his nerve damage but he’s finally sleeping well. Yay! Just in time for baby brother to arrive in the next few weeks…LOL.

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