Sleep Training, Part 1- Sweet Dreams

I started this post yesterday while my crying baby resisted her nap. Needless to say, I didn’t get very far. It was Day 1 of sleep training after the 1st night. While the night had gone relatively great, the naps were rough and took a toll on me. But maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t invest a lot of time into that first writing session, because, get this:

I’m drinking my decaf coffee (while it’s still hot!) in the quiet AND it’s 1.5 hours after I put Pyra down for her nap AND she went down with no crying!! What, what, what?!

Pyra’s sleep cycles changed several weeks back and my world turned sideways. Then quickly flipped completely upside-down. My sweet little Pyra went from sleeping like a baby (quickly dropping into sleep anywhere) to not sleeping much at all, and fussing and crying while resisting sleep. Right around 3.5 months old she started the so-called “4-month sleep regression” which means that instead of falling directly into deep, newborn slumber, she sleeps more lightly at first and has to transition into deeper sleep.

Unfortunately, our habits of holding, bouncing, and nursing her to sleep (which previously worked really well and quickly) made it exceedingly difficult for her to get to sleep- and stay asleep- on her own with her new sleep cycles. The past few weeks have been very trying and I started to work up a good solid case of sleep deprivation. Not only have I been drunk with lack-of-sleep, but we’re still in Alaska, so isolation and minuscule amounts of sunlight have turned this cocktail into a ridiculously stiff drink. Pretty ideal, right?

I borrowed my sister’s book “On Becoming Babywise,” which I should have read before giving birth. I’m not following the book to the letter (especially since it’s really formatted to guide you into good habits from birth, not break habits later on) but, it did inspire us to get into a better feed-wake-sleep schedule that helped us move to a napping routine without nursing to sleep. It meant that daddy could also put baby down for a nap. Woohoo! “Baby steps,” right?

After a week and a half of working on our daytime schedule and a few evenings of reinforcing our bedtime routine, we decided to take the leap into “sleep training.” I was a little anxious, but so ready. I needed more sleep to get back to being a nicer, more patient, more generous, happier me. Not just for me, but for my family as well.

I knew nothing about sleep training babies before this started, except that I’d heard the term “cry it out” and also of modified versions of cry it out (CIO) where you go in to soothe your child intermittently (now I’ve learned that this is often called the Ferber method or “ferberizing”). I thought that the CIO method seemed cruel to babies and terrible for parents. I had also heard of moms that spent nights on their child’s bedroom floor, inching their way out the door over a series of nights to wean their child of their presence. Because I had no idea what to do, I read up on no-cry sleep training methods and the CIO alternatives as well, and I quickly came to a surprising conclusion: we would be implementing CIO.

I could hardly believe that this was my decision. I mean, I started out co-sleeping and nursing my baby to sleep, for pete’s sake! I wasn’t sure I had it in me to let my baby cry and cry without any sort of parental comforting. The thing is, what I discovered through my research is that if you set up a good daytime feed-wake-sleep schedule and bedtime routine first, CIO tends to be much more effective than other methods and actually tends to result in less time spent crying. Methods that included periodic soothing would require much more patience and energy … that I just didn’t have anymore. I also knew from experience that my particular baby does not appreciate intermittent soothing- my presence fires her up even more- so I was pretty sure that the Ferber method would be hell for us.

I read somewhere (but can’t find it now) that babies that learn to self-soothe and who are left to “deal,” rather than having parents constantly block all crying with a pacifier or some other method of comforting, are better problem-solvers and less dependent on their parents for comfort. I say “yes” to that! I want to be able to soothe and comfort my child, but I also want her to have confidence in her own abilities. CIO is controversial, but so is just about every parenting trend. What I do know is that we have to do what is best for our family, and if that means using a method that some people think is extreme? So be it.

Well, folks, I’m now a believer in CIO. In two days, our lives have changed dramatically, with much less crying than I expected. We had been spending much of our time bouncing Pyra to sleep (and back to sleep mid-nap) during the day and I had been up 5 or more times in the night to nurse her back to sleep. This is only Day 2 and nap #1 (when I was writing the first paragraph) lasted 2 hours and I had to wake her up to eat on schedule! Last night she slept for about 8 hours straight (except I roused her once to nurse) until 7:00 am, when I woke her up to nurse. I never imagined that would happen so soon.

In fact, we started out planning to tackle nighttime sleep first and leave naps for later, but the first night went so well that we dove into nap training right away too. There are moments when I regret that decision, but overall I think it’s going exceedingly well. Everything I read said to get nighttime sleep down and then move to naps. But I think there are some cases when doing both at the same time is OK.

We’ve had incredibly fast results with CIO and it hasn’t been that bad. Pyra doesn’t ever scream. She mostly fusses and sometimes cries heartily. Yesterday’s naps were the worst with more than an hour of crying at a time, but that was the first day. I’ve read that parents are often dealing with 3+ hours of crying at a time. I wonder if those parents are getting a good daytime schedule and bedtime routine prior to starting, or if the efficacy of any given sleep training method depends a lot on the temperament of both baby and parents. I do think a lot of parents that start CIO set themselves back by going in to soothe their baby. Our results are definitely not consistent yet, but the progress is astounding and incredibly promising. It will be interesting to see how things go from here.

Even with our dramatic progress over a short amount of time, I wouldn’t describe CIO as “easy.” I cried both yesterday and today, and I am often second-guessing my decisions. It will never feel good or be easy to let your little one cry without going to them to provide comfort. There are moments when I feel confident (that’s when Pyra quickly goes to sleep with minimal or no fussing) and there are plenty of times when it kills me to not rush in to where she is crying, pick her up and kiss away her tears.

I still hate to listen to my baby fuss and cry (as I’m actually doing right now), but I know that the gift of being an independent sleeper is going to be sweet.

** I came back to add some info immediately after putting my baby to sleep for Night #3 … with zero fussing at all. Not even a peep!!! Unbelievable. Absolutely, completely, wonderously awesome!!!!

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