Sleep Training, Part 2- Not Quite Magic, But Close Enough

I’m sitting down during another no-fuss nap, after a night of good sleep. It’s been just over a week since we’ve started and the change to my life has been absolutely dramatic.

It’s incredible to me how quickly and easily our nights were transformed from me getting up every hour and nursing Pyra back to sleep, to an entire night of sleep without a peep from Pyra. Some nights there are a couple fussy periods, and often I choose to give Pyra a “dream feed” or two to help keep up my milk supply (technically I am an “older mother,” even if my husband balks at the term and assures me otherwise!). The results of the “cry it out” method (CIO) were so positive and so immediate- and with so little crying, despite the common name of the method- that it really felt like CIO was a little bit of magic for our family.

Pyra is comfy in her new bed!

The reason that CIO is not pure magic: naptime continues to be tricky. I was prepared for this, having read that nighttime sleep is easier, so you should work on that first then move onto naptime which is harder for babies to catch on. However, since Pyra transitioned her nighttime sleep so incredibly fast, I was still surprised and disappointed that naps were so much more difficult. There is definite naptime improvement, but it is slower progress. There is also a lot more trial-and-error and second-guessing involved with naptimes (Is she ready to go down? Should I get her up, leave her to cry, or soothe her back to sleep?) which leaves room for a parent to regret decisions and feel like they have no idea what they are doing. Naps are just way harder. At least they have been for us.

I’ve started to think ahead to when we start to travel and wonder how that will go. I know that we will have trying times ahead of us and I’m working on my perspective now, so that I don’t get overwhelmed and super frustrated later on. Naptime conditions will change considerably when we are traveling. If naps are out of whack, what happens to nighttime sleep? How will we cope with four of us sleeping in the same room with a crying baby? How will it feel to have a baby crying in someone else’s home?

I’m encouraged by our nighttime success that things will go pretty well, but we have tried one sleepover at my sister’s and it was a little rougher than usual. There is often some intermittent fussing and crying in the first hour or two after we put her down. It’s one thing to have that in your own home, and another to “subject” other people to it in a home you’ve been welcomed into.

One step we’ve taken to provide Pyra with better sleeptime consistency is to purchase a travel bed. We went back and forth about whether to haul around a baby bed, but ultimately we decided it might prove to be worth its weight in gold (and if it’s not we can get rid of it along the way!). Our rationale is that if she has a familiar bed and bedtime routine, it won’t be so disruptive to change locations. Children adapt so quickly, we’re sure she’ll get used to moving around, but we think the bed will provide some comfort and make transitions smoother. And if baby is sleeping well, the whole family will sleep better.

The travel bed will not only provide comfort, but it will provide safety as well. It makes me feel a lot better knowing that Pyra will be in a safe place to sleep wherever we go. She’s already starting to roll around, and soon enough she’ll be crawling. We don’t know what our housing will look like, but no matter where we are, Pyra will sleep in a safe bed.

We bought the Guava Lotus Travel Crib (http://bit.ly/GuavaLotusTravelCrib) for its lightweight portability and good reviews. After we’ve used it more- and lugged it around the world- I’ll post my own review. So far, it’s been four nights and it seems to be working out great. We have already used it at my sister’s house for some naps and an overnight. Considering that we’re still in the early days of sleep training, I’d say the experience was very successful.

Well, I’ve reached the end of this post … in one sitting! Pyra is still sleeping soundly and I’m going to go make a coffee and hope that I have a few moments to sip it before going up to get my rested, happy baby.

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!!!!

2-For-1 Adventure: We’re Having a Baby in Ecuador

90 days until we depart Alaska for Ecuador … and about 25 weeks more of pregnancy.

(SURPRISE!!! We’re having a baby!)

Adventure #1 – Pregnancy, childbirth, and a baby

If you’re a general member of the public, you may not realize what a huge, huge, huge, huge deal this pregnancy is for us. We’ve been riding an agonizing emotional rollercoaster of infertility for several years, but last year we called it quits and finally gave up trying for a successful pregnancy. We had spent thousands on medical help, lost five (known) early pregnancies, and shed countless tears. The emotional toll of the endeavor had grown too great and we were ready to move on with our lives. And so we did.

Instead of draining our energy on unsuccessful family-building, we redirected ourselves towards positive life-building in general. Our infertility experience made it excruciatingly clear to us that we are unable to control all aspects of our existence, but that nonetheless, we have the power of choice in all situations. Sometimes the apparent options will all seem undesirable; but we still get to choose which is the least undesirable.

We were not able to choose to have our own biological children, but we could choose to forego the years of certain emotional turmoil that would come with sticking the course. We could choose to proactively build a healthier relationship and life while we are still physically and mentally able in lieu of the tenuous and dark path that would never guarantee a biological child at the end. We have a limited length of time to live in a healthy body, and our experience reminded us of the importance to control what we can in order to create a life worth living. (If you want to read more about our infertility experience, jump to my old blog: So, this is happening …)

OK … so where was I going before I got off course … oh, yeah!

SURPRISE! We’re having a baby!

We discovered I was pregnant Thursday, January 25th. The next day I was shocked (and elated and anxious) to find that a viable fetus with a heartbeat was snuggled in my uterus (every single ultrasound I’ve had prior to this one has shown us only disappointment or sorrow). Two weeks later, we were nearly 9 weeks into the pregnancy and the baby-to-be was still alive and growing at a normal rate. I had sobbed at all of my zillions of ultrasounds … but never from joy.

Rodney has been my pillar of strength and a well-spring of positive energy from the day we first discovered the pregnancy. You see, when I took that home pregnancy test on January 25th and it was positive … I wasn’t excited. Every positive pregnancy test I’ve ever received … ended with a dead fetus. I was certain that we were in for just another “character building” experience. I really did hold a tiny glimmer of hope deep in my heart … but it’s shine was desperately buried by the shadow of doubt nurtured by years of infertility. But Rodney, from that first day, bolstered me with his excitement and confidence. It was like he willed this baby into good health and denied my body from rejecting it.

We saw the baby in the 12th week … looking like a real baby. Unbelievable. It kicked and somersaulted and was undeniably alive. Today is the first day of week 16 and we’re officially carrying a baby into the second trimester. (Aaaaaaaaa! It’s still sinking in!!) My taste for coffee and hummus has returned, but my husband’s (usually delicious) homemade sauerkraut still repels me and my sweet tooth continues to be much stronger than it has ever been before this pregnancy.

Adventure #2 – Sticking to the lifestyle change

As soon as we realized that this baby intends to join our family, we started to analyze our plans and options. We have tickets to depart Alaska for Sweden in August; plans to  be in Spain and Portugal until October; make our way to Kathmandu for a TEFL course in November; and then hang out in Southeast Asia thereafter. Baby plans to arrive in September. Hm.

To most of our family and friends, there was one obvious and clear choice: delay departure until after Baby is born and then figure out what to do and when. For Rodney and I, this sounded very unappealing. We have been working hard towards and eagerly anticipating the upcoming lifestyle change. To delay departure doesn’t just mean putting off travel, it means that Rodney would be shackled to his 9-to-5 desk job with a daily commute merely to secure ongoing healthcare to afford the birth of Baby. And then, after Baby arrives, Rodney would have limited time off from work to be with his new child. Quite simply, that wasn’t the obvious and clear best choice for us.

We looked at the healthcare costs of various other countries to see if we could afford to stick to our original plan and have Baby along the way. Our minimal research suggested that we would probably pay a similar out-of-pocket amount for Baby to be born in Sweden or Spain as in Alaska, but what we didn’t know is if we would want to bunker down for awhile to adjust to life with new Baby. Additionally, if we were going to have give birth outside of the USA … how about securing dual citizenship as a bonus gift to Baby?

Jus soli, or birthright citizenship, is a privilege offered by relatively few nations- certainly not Sweden or Spain. But when we looked at countries that do confer birthright citizenship, we were excited to see that Ecuador (along with most American nations) is among the few. Ecuador ranked highly in our list of potential countries to move to when we started to talk about lifestyle changes about a year and a half ago. Ultimately, we decided to “slow travel” for an indefinite period before plunging into a more permanent move … but, here was Ecuador again. Waving it’s cheery flag of desirable characteristics.

Ecuador is well-known in the ex-pat community. Its affordable and relatively good healthcare, low-cost living, pleasant climate, incredible biodiversity, foreigner-friendly national language and visa policies have put Ecuador in the top rankings of “best countries for expats” for a handful of years (albeit, it’s rank has slipped a bit in the last year or two as other countries have gained popularity). Having already been on our radar as a potential country to move to, Ecuador quickly became our target destination when it appeared in the list of jus soli countries. We excitedly researched medical and visa options and then with some good-looking data to lean on, decided that moving to Ecuador to have Baby and stay indefinitely will be our new plan.

So there you have it. We’re off on a serendipitous 2-for-1 adventure, thanks to the inability to control all aspects of our existence, combined with the invaluable power to choose. It’s deliberosity, baby: there’s always a choice. And we are doing our best to make the most of our insignificant and fabulous lives. Woooot!!