As new parents, we fell into patterns of catering to whatever he needed in order to get back to sleep, whether that be offering a bottle or searching for a pacifier lost in the bedding early on, to holding his hand or rubbing his back until he fell asleep in later years.
He didn’t consistently sleep a solid 6 +hours until 18 months old, and he didn’t go to bed on his own until he was 3 ½, when we bought him a loft bed with the understanding that he had to be on his own, as we couldn’t sit by his side if he was 4 feet up (which he did agree to and has proven to be a fantastic sleeper ever since!).
We did try sleep training with him, meaning letting him cry it out as a baby, but he seemed to only ratchet up more. Each attempt didn’t get better, it got worse, and we gave up.
I just couldn’t see it through…
I told myself that sleep training was some parenting myth perpetuated by the mothers and fathers of naturally good sleepers, mellow babies who would have fallen into their utopian sleeping patterns on their own anyway. Clearly, it wasn’t for everyone. I still do believe that sleep training won’t work for every kid, but I will admit that I didn’t stick with it.
When we had my second son, my husband and I convinced ourselves we’d have a better sleeper.
Everyone always says “the second will be easier.”
In many ways, our second son has been easier from the day-to-day caretaking perspective. He is incredibly easy-going, not at all sensitive in any unusual way, he eats whatever I offer, and he is generally happy to be anywhere with anyone. The only time where he showed any difficulty was sleeping.
Early on, it was normal newborn stuff. But as he grew and became strong and healthy enough to not need to eat at night, I saw we were falling back into the same old patterns. Only this time around, it was much more difficult because if I was up all night, I was then spent all day with two boys!
My older son doesn’t nap, and my baby was only catnapping, so it felt like I never slept more than 2 hours at any given time. And we got to the point where he only wanted me. No food, no daddy. Just mom holding him all night long.
Every time I went to his doctor, we talked about it. I prepared for the shame and reprimand. I love my pediatrician. She is so consultative and nonjudgmental, but it always came back to the same things. “How’s the sleeping?” “Are you sleep training?” “He doesn’t need to eat, and it’s ok to let him cry it out if you think you are ready.”
My husband was ready to try sleep training, as he couldn’t help at night anyway since the baby didn’t want him. I wasn’t sure if I could do it. Letting him cry to fall asleep is one thing, but I remember our first son waking up hourly and didn’t think I could spend nights hearing him cry like that without helping him. But in the end, with lots of encouragement from friends who swore by the technique, we decided to give it a go.
Holy crow…I couldn’t believe it! The first night he cried for almost 1 hour, but he fell asleep and slept solidly until 6AM. He NEVER did that before. The second night, he only cried for 20 minutes before falling asleep. And while he did wake up twice during the night, he fell back asleep within 10 minutes.
I told myself I wouldn’t go in until after 5AM, and I held strong. By the third night, it took 5 minutes for him to go to bed, and it has been that way ever since (going on 6 weeks now!). He does wake up from time to time, but I look at the clock and tell myself “give it 5 minutes.” Almost every time, he is back asleep by the time those 5 minutes are up. And, he is now sleeping past 7 AM consistently.
This process has seriously changed my life. My husband and I now put both kids to bed by 7:30 PM and have our evenings together. I assumed it would take years to get back to that point. And recently, we were asked to be witnesses at a wedding in Seattle for good friends, an event that would take us away right around bedtime.
Two months ago, I wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving the baby with a sitter knowing how the bedtime shenanigans would go, but after forcing this issue, I felt ok about going out for the evening. I knew we had a routine, and most likely the baby would follow the routine (which he did!).
I still don’t know if we could have done this with our first son effectively, but I am so glad we tried it again this time around. It just reminded me that I always need to stay open, be creative, and take advice, because every child is different and what didn’t work before could always work again later.
And also, it is ok to love your child unconditionally but not want to hold them all night long. It’s ok to want to have your evenings with your spouse. In our family, we all are better at spending our days together because we have our nights to ourselves.
What methods or tips have you used to help your child sleep? How do you feel about sleep training?
This has been an original post to World Moms Blog by Tara B. of Washington, USA.
Photo credit to http://www.flickr.com/photos/fimbrethil/3236751082/. This photo has a creative commons attribution license.