So, back to sleep training…
I must have referenced Alexis’ guide–“How to Cry it Out: The Bedtime Edition”–a dozen times, along with the readers’ questions-and-answers. She’s my first kid, so I took to heart the experiences of all the parents who came before me in their quest to help their child sleep better… in a world where rocking is banned.
I started by tracking her sleeping habits in the swing for a few days. I jot down:
- what time she went to sleep
- when she woke up
- when she nursed or ate solids
I basically wanted a rough idea of her number of naps, their length, and her bedtime. I knew the cry-it-out method wasn’t for the faint of hearts, but I couldn’t bear the thought of making her cry unnecessarily For example, I didn’t want to let her cry it out if she woke up 30 minutes into a nap when that particular nap in the swing actually was a quick 30 minute power nap. To let her cry it out to make that nap longer would have been futile.
Additionally, I wanted to know her feeding schedule so if she did wake up before her usual sleep length or in the middle of the night, I would know if it was genuine hunger (where I’d come to her rescue) or a genuine dislike for the crib (where I’d curl up watching the baby monitor, rocking back and forth, biting my nails).
Once I felt confident about her approximate schedule, I was prepared to follow this plan:
- Bedtime (own room, own crib): lay her down awake and wait an unlimited time for her to go to sleep
- Naps (own room, own crib): lay her down awake and wait 1 hour for her to go to sleep (if she didn’t, let her skip that nap)
- Middle of the night wakings: feed her at the times I did when she was in the swing; all other times, let her cry it out
- Middle of a nap waking: let her cry it out for 15 minutes (if she didn’t fall back asleep, let her wake up)
- Follow the same routine before laying her down in the crib [more on this in another entry]
Why an unlimited crying time at night? Here’s what Dr. Weisbluth says (author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child):
When the duration of protest crying at night is open ended, not limited, learning to fall asleep unassisted takes place. When you put a time limit on how much protest crying at night you can tolerate or accept before going to the baby, you teach the baby to cry to that time limit.
Why Weisbluth’s extinction method (no consoling during crying) versus Ferber’s check-and-console (checks at longer and longer intervals)? Again, from Weisbluth:
When parents, however well-intentioned, stop reinforcing a child’s night waking, the habit can be eliminated quickly. In fact, psychologists have shown that the more continuous or regular you are in reinforcing the night waking during the first few months, the more likely it will rapidly be reduced simply by stopping the reinforced behavior. The advantages of ending the habit of going to your baby at night are that the instructions are simply and easily remembered, and the whole process usually takes only a few days.
In other words, I believed Weisbluth’s method would result in less overall crying than Ferber’s, not only in the middle of naps/bedtime wakings, but upon initially going to sleep. This was confirmed by the number of Alexis’ readers who decided to go from the check-and-console method to the extinction method because of slow progress.
Executing the Plan
The first night, she cried for 2 hours before going to bed… My husband and I had mentally prepared ourselves for the rough start. The majority of parents on Alexis’ site had commented that the first night was the worst. The second night, she cried for 45 minutes. Gradually, it became 15, 10, and nowadays (2 1/2 weeks later), she fusses for a few minutes and plays for a bit before calling it a night.
For naps, the first day, she cried for an hour for all three naps, skipping them all. Oddly enough, it made her more charming… She was all smiles when we went grocery shopping. My husband kept saying that maybe she doesn’t need to nap EVER (he’s a softy, but when I showed him the baby log, he relented and agreed to try again the next day). Over the next few days, she skipped fewer and fewer naps, crying for 15 minutes before sleeping. Nowadays, she fusses a few minutes and is out.
She doesn’t wake up mid-naps anymore. She resolved this on her own as she learned to fall asleep by herself. As for middle of the night wakings, I revised my third rule. When she woke up at times she shouldn’t have been hungry, she cried for about an hour for a few days. I couldn’t take it anymore. I started nursing her to sleep every time she got up, but my brother gave me the suggestion of putting her in the swing at those times instead. I had to break her nursing-sleep association. We assumed that she’d no longer get up when she wasn’t really hungry after a few days of swinging, and not nursing. And it worked… after just one day!
Her usual bedtime is around 7 pm, and she’s been going longer and longer between feedings, putting herself back to sleep at other awakenings. She’s been doing 6-7 hour stretches the last few nights. And tonight (yes I’m adding this at 3:30 am), she did her first 8 hour stretch – WOOOOHOOOO! After a quick feed, she fell back asleep. Now, she’ll probably be up for the morning between her usual 6-7 am wake up time. Not too shabby after months of waking up 2-3 hours to nurse and swing her back to sleep.
Points to Remember
Our success was a result of tears on our daughter’s part. And honestly, it’s still not easy to hear her cry the few minutes it takes for her to settle to sleep. A few times, we relapsed and found it easier (for our ears and hearts) to swing her to sleep, but we haven’t for almost a week now and plan to keep it that way. I hold the following points from Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child in mind to keep me focused:
- “You are harming your child when you allow unhealthy sleep patterns to evolve or persist–sleep deprivation is as unhealthy as feeding a nutritionally deficient diet.”
- “A well-rested baby with a healthy sleep habit awakens with a cheerful, happy attitude. A tired baby awakens grumpy.”
- “Upon awakening, well-rested children are in good cheer and are able to play by themselves.”
- And moreover, she fussed a lot in the swing too. The difference was I with her to hear it (not helpful to her or me).
Our daughter really is a happier kid now that she doesn’t get up in between naps or often at night for a feed or swinging. She does play independently and flashes a smile now more than ever before. I don’t think this is so much of a coincidence as to accept it as a developmental milestone. Her happier nature coincides with her sleep training. Her newly learned “healthy sleep habits” really have brought about a “happy child.”