Today’s blog post is a little different. It is a real recollection of a mother’s experience with sleep training her 4-month old daughter. Anya is a sewing blogger behind Anna-Zoe and I have helped her and her husband with sleep training of their daughter Zoe.
It is 8:45 on a warm summer night. The sun still brightens the sky and I can feel a gentle breeze coming in through my window. Earlier in the night, my husband and I, together with our sweet four month old baby girl, had dinner outside. We enjoyed each others’ company while our baby cooed and played in her chair. At one point she got tired of her toy and my husband held her as she observed us finishing our meal, intrigued by the process. Now, as I am writing this, I am enjoying a glass of chilled white wine while my daughter sleeps peacefully in her crib. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Almost unrealistic and unattainable, and I will not disagree with you. The truth is, not every night is like this. Some nights my daughter is more fussy than others. Some nights she takes longer to fall asleep, but she always does fall asleep on her own. And it’s only the last couple weeks that have been this way.
My daughter is not a difficult baby. Although she was colicky for a month or so, after it passed she started sleeping longer stretches of time. By 2.5 months she was sleeping from 10 pm to 6 am with only one or two feedings at night. After weeks of dealing with an uncomfortably gassy baby it was a very welcome reprieve. This peaceful slumber lasted for about a month, until, at the age of approximately 3.5 months, she started to fuss while going to bed. Previously she would easily fall asleep in my arms while nursing and then remain sleeping while I placed her into her crib. Now, my child who seemed like she was fast asleep would be wide awake as soon as I put her down… and we would start the whole process over again, sometimes three to four times a night. Suddenly putting her to sleep became a three hour affair.
Naps have always been difficult for our baby, and I wrote it off by labeling her as a bad napper. But I wasn’t too concerned, as after all I thought she was still better than some kids I heard about. She would sleep for 20-45 minutes at a time and I was in luck, once, when she slept for a whole two hours! I concluded that naps are hard. I hated naps as a kid, so maybe she was the same way right from birth. I thought she would catch up on the sleep she needed at night. The problem was that she also started waking up at night, and a lot more often that she used to. She would wake up three to five times and I would nurse her back to sleep. The thing was that some of those times she clearly wasn’t hungry and would just smile at me while lying in my arms. Oh, those smiles… they make everything better. But after a week of this “sleep regression” I realized it would take a little more than smiles to get me caught up on sleep I needed.
My girl is not a bad sleeper, she did have a few unwanted sleep associations we needed to break, but overall, in my opinion, she wasn’t bad. Nevertheless, my husband and I decided to start sleep training with Kitty’s help. To say I was resistant is an understatement. I was petrified. I was questioning everything and coming up with reasons as to why we shouldn’t do it - “she is still sooooo little”, “but she needs me...”, “she is going through a mental leap and we should wait” and so on. I would find any excuse to delay sleep training, but after a few days of taking three or more hours of putting her to sleep I gave in. I wasn’t exhausted yet, but I was getting there fast. And I know when I am tired I am not fun to be around and my husband would get the brunt of it. Yes, I was scared, but I also needed some good sleep and hopefully a few minutes a day to myself.
Once I realized that sleep training involved ALL sleep and not just night sleep, I almost chickened out. My husband works during the day, so the hardest part of the sleep training – nap training, would fall on me. I thought it was unfair, after all it was me who was so nervous about it. Thankfully, my husband agreed to take a Friday off. We decided to start sleep training on Thursday night which means the two of us would be around for three days together, and hopefully we would get through it. I wasn’t ready, but I felt that my girl was ready, and my husband was most definitely ready to see me get some much needed rest. Armed with wine and chocolate, we began the training.
The first night was hard. We gave our daughter a bath, I gave her a massage and put her into her sleeper and sleep sack. Then my husband read her a book and put her into her crib. We kissed her good night and left, closing the door behind us. My heart sunk with the click of the door.
There was a lot of crying.
Although most of it was on my part. My husband stayed on the main floor while I took my bottle of wine and bar of chocolate, and went into the basement where I couldn’t hear my baby crying. I tried to distract myself while I was crying and worrying about her. It was hard. But my husband said she did fall asleep after half an hour or so of crying. I cried for an hour more unaware my daughter was fast asleep. I learned my lesson, and asked my husband to let me know next time when she falls asleep so that I am not wasting my crying.
The night went well too. She slept most of it and didn’t wake up every two hours like she did the week before. When she did wake up at 4 am, I sprang out of bed eager to feed her back to sleep. It was my husband who stopped me. Our girl was old and heavy enough to last through the night without feeding, but it was so hard for me to understand it. I mean I understood it logically, but in my heart… my baby needed me! After quick negotiation with my husband we agreed on letting her cry for half an hour. If she was still crying after that time has passed I would go in and feed her. It seemed reasonable and I settled into bed, eager to prove my husband wrong – she clearly was hungry and needed me. Well, she stopped 20 minutes in... I never had to go in. She went back to sleep and slept for another two hours. I was in shock. I mean… didn’t she need me??? What a traitor, I thought we were in this together.
The next day was hard. Nap training is harder than night sleep training, and you really get it once you start sleep training. There was more crying, more chocolate eating, more pacing on my part, but in the end my daughter always surprised me with how well she would not only fall asleep but also stay asleep! I found it helpful to occasionally take a look at the baby monitor to ensure that she is falling asleep. We did turn the sound off though. I know Kitty does not recommend it… but it helped me personally as I could see what she was doing to put herself to sleep. Soon I learned that one of her self soothing techniques was to rub herself on top of her head with one hand while wrapping the other arm across her face and sucking on the inside of her elbow. My heart melted with love and pride every time I saw her do it. When she soothed herself in this way, I knew she was trying to fall asleep and it made it easier for me to allow her time to settle herself.
It’s been a couple of weeks since we started sleep training. Is my daughter falling asleep without crying now? Sometimes. Most times she still cries a little bit. Sometimes she still wakes up halfway through the nap and cries herself to sleep. Sometimes she wakes up at 4 am and coo’s in her crib for a bit and then has a short cry and is back to sleep. But she does sleep 12 hours in the night, and she does have three to four two hour naps a day. And I get about six hours in a day to do what I need to do. I haven’t left laundry overnight in the washing machine for a couple weeks now, and I think that’s pretty major for a new mom. Some days I tidy up the house, some days I spend an hour reading or having a meal alone and some days I also take a nap. And at night my husband and I finally have time to spend the night together or do whatever we want to do separately.
Sleep training wasn’t easy and we did choose the hard and fast method of letting our sweet girl cry and learn how to soothe herself. My husband will say it wasn’t that hard, but he’s not a Mother. It is still not perfect, but it is pretty damn amazing and I have to say that being on this side of sleep training is great. In the end I realized that the way I thought of sleep training was very misleading. I was under the impression that my daughter needed to be trained how to fall asleep on her own. In my mind, the truth is so much more than that. Yes, my baby girl needed to learn to fall asleep on her own, but more importantly I needed to learn how to step aside and not stand in the way of my child developing these important skills. It is hard, but hopefully I am a wiser parent for it. I do know one thing for sure though, I am a better mother when I am rested!
As always, feel free to take advantage of Kitty’s expertise by booking your first conversation today and taking your first step to peaceful parenting and quieter nights.