Sleep. Oh you temptress, sleep. The lack thereof is directly proportional to the strength of the urge to strangle the umpteenth person who asks you “is he sleeping through the night?”
I think one of the ubiquitous struggles that new parents go through is related to sleep in a number of different ways: lack of parent sleep, how to extend night sleep, how to regulate day sleep, and if/how/when to sleep train. It seems like a funny term, really – one trains for a race, has training wheels on a bike, potty trains. As a basic mammalian function, it seems that sleep would be pretty well taken care of without too much effort, one would think. And one would BE WRONG. Maybe it’s just that I like to assess and control the direction of things that affect my life and so perhaps I try to see patterns and make sense where it doesn’t exist. After all, those who oppose sleep training maintain that regular day and night sleep patterns do eventually emerge in babies, you just have to be patient. On the other hand, I’ve found that most resources I’ve seen encourage parents to take an active role in helping shape the baby’s naptime and night sleep, ranging from no-cry soothing methods to full on cry it out. The prime age for doing so is between 4-6 months, having set up good sleep routines prior to this.
So, here we are with a baby who is about middling on the sleep spectrum. On good nights, he wakes up twice to feed and generally sleeps 8-7. These are VERY good nights, and generally reflect a healthy sleep pattern for a baby aged 4-8 months. Typically, though, he’ll have other mini-wakeups during the night for whatever reason. As he’s getting a bit big for his bassinet and needing to somehow get more sleep ourselves, we decided to move him to his crib. The first night went shockingly well – we had decided that, for the first time, we were going to let him fuss and cry a bit to encourage self-soothing, which is the central tenet of sleep training. We didn’t have to put this into practice, though, as he only woke up twice at 2 and 5 for feeds, and went straight to sleep otherwise (we should note that he’s actually really good about going to sleep on his own as long as he’s ready to and has his soother).
Last night, though, tested our mettle as would-be sleep trainers. To quickly review for those of you not exhaustedly poring over baby sleep books, sleep training/shaping methods generally include:
- Extinction – full on crying it out until sleep happens, no intervention (often most successful, most quickly)
- Gradual extinction/check and console/Ferber – letting baby cry for intervals, but going in to soothe (but not pick up)
- Various pick up/put down methods – soothe baby through picking him up/rocking, then put back down drowsy but awake
- Various being in the room the whole time/shushing/soothing, etc.
- Giving up and rocking/bouncing/nursing to sleep each time (not really recommended long term)
Co-sleeping full time is not something we’d like to do as a family, and it really, really interrupts my sleep significantly as Holden is a restless sleeper. Luckily, he doesn’t need to be rocked/nursed/bounced to sleep and is pretty accustomed to falling asleep on his own with a soother, so we don’t feel we really need to do that sort of soothing. Although well-rested parents and proponents of extinction rave about its quick and effective approach, we feel that full on extinction/cry it out is a pretty last ditch effort, and we have a semi-decent sleeper right now. Holden also isn’t a big extended crier, so it seems like it’s really not productive for him to cry and cry.
So the second night in the crib saw a few wakeups. We did let him fuss and cry a bit, going in at intervals to soothe him. For the first wakeup it worked fairly well and he went back to sleep after about 20 minutes. The other wakeup, a common one for him that occurs at a tricky time, happened at 5:30. He sounded like he was getting pretty upset (versus more of the whine crying at night), so Brad went in to sit with him. He let him play with his hand and shhh’d him, and eventually he fell back asleep briefly, and up for the day at 6:30. On the whole, though, it felt strange, sad and counterintuitive for him to fall asleep with tears tracked on his cheeks.
This experience has taught us that a single, prescribed method is not the way we need to go. We need to use the Holden Method – using our instincts about how to get him to sleep soundly and safely with a feeling of warmth, comfort and security. Although there are long days (following long nights) of cranky baby syndrome that tempt us, really tempt us, to use swift methods of sleep training, I always need to pause and collect my thoughts and emotions and realize how good it feels to snuggle him in his fleece sleep sack until he’s almost asleep, transferring him quietly and comfortably to his crib. Supporting him when he wakes up and needs us.
There is a moving piece another blogger has composed on the “Wait it Out” method, which involves gently supporting the baby as he or she matures and becomes a more independent sleeper. I’m not sure if I’m patient enough/can remain a loving, calm mother with continual sleep disruption (this is a big one for me), but I appreciate the general ethos and reading it reminds me that ensuring that Holden feels loved, protected and secure is the ultimate goal. We’ll attempt to achieve this general notion using approaches that seem to best fit him – with minimal tears.
An excerpt from the article that helps remind me of this goal on those tough, sleepless nights :
I put you down and smile at you in your bed as you stare up at the ceiling fan and smile. You learn that your bed is a safe place to be while awake. When you fuss or cry I pick you up and tell you “I know, you want to be held right now.” You learn that your bed is not a place where you are abandoned, but rather a place that you can happily be while awake.
I am grown. I am strong. I understand the passage of time and that THIS will pass. You will sleep. Your infancy is the briefest part of the brief time that you are a child in need of my arms.