Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Adventures in Sleep Training

My family recently returned from a two-week trip to England and had on our hands a very fussy, badly jetlagged baby. Our little one was utterly confused about why everyone wanted to sleep when she was wide-awake at 2am. She had been away from home for such a large chunk of her life that she had forgotten how much she loved her stroller, her vibrating chair, the dishwasher, and every other trick we had to get her to sleep. So we did the most reasonable thing that we could think: we started sleep training.

I decided that I would try the “progressive waiting” style of sleep training, also known as the Ferber method, also known as “cry it out”. There are plenty of other options, but I had heard this method worked quickly, like ripping off a bandage. Our daughter was almost six months old, and I felt she was ready for a few tears if it meant all of us sleeping better. More importantly, I was ready. After months of having her sleep next to me in her bassinet and hearing her every sigh and thump, followed by two weeks abroad, I was desperate for some rest. Not to mention severely jetlagged myself. 

So the first night we were home, I set forth on our first night of sleep training. This meant a lot of change: mainly, that the baby was no longer going to be given a pacifier, I would put down her down in her crib, in her own room, wide-awake, I would implement a bedtime routine that included a bath and a song, and I’d stop playing white noise to help her sleep. Ripping the bandage indeed.

It was a lot of change, but I decided that we might as well get all the fuss over with at once, rather than break one habit only to be forced to tackle the next.

I was so nervous the first night. I gave my baby extra cuddles and a good long nurse. I sang her extra songs and kissed her face and put her down in the crib awake but sleepy. I told her I love you and goodnight. 

And she cried. Oh how she cried! Of course she cried. Change is difficult and scary at any age. She was used to falling asleep in my weak and exhausted arms, sucking merrily on her soother and listening to whale noises. But I couldn’t keep that up forever and now was the time to change it.

I emailed my husband at work to warn him that he would be coming home to a screaming, sleep-resisting child and a frazzled wife. He arrived home with a bottle of wine and a nervous smile – how was it going? Had I cracked yet? Our daughter wailed away in her crib as I lengthened the check-in times from one minute to two, to four, to eight, to sixteen, staring at the kitchen clock and sipping my sympathy wine.

I repeated over and over: I’m a good mother who’s teaching my daughter a valuable skill. And after forty-five harrowing minutes, our little one finally fell asleep.

The following night we tried the same routine over again, with my confidence fading at the thought of another forty-five minute battle. But night two was worse – she was up every three hours, screaming away, as if she were newborn again. I started to feel terrible about the whole thing.

Night three came, and I bathed her nervously at bedtime. I nursed her, sung to her, kissed her goodnight and left the room. Within fifteen minutes, she fell asleep. The following night it took five minutes for her to fall asleep. The night after that, she fell asleep without crying.

Looking back, it was so easy. A few rough nights – which we would have had anyway – were quickly replaced by a simple routine. Baby knows what to expect and loves the consistency. She sleeps twelve hours at a time and wakes up happy and well rested. And my husband and I have our evenings back. We can now eat dinner together without the baby fussing. It’s amazing.

A friend told me her motherhood philosophy was “do whatever works,” and I now live by that motto. For the first few months, a soother, white noise, and mama’s arms worked to get our baby to sleep. But as sleepless nights dragged on and our baby got better at sleeping through the night, those things were no longer working for us. The success we’ve had with sleep training has taught me to be more disciplined as a mother, more consistent with the baby’s schedule, and gentler with myself. After all, we’re all better at our jobs when we’ve had a good nights’ rest.

Sarah Murray

No comments: