I really wanted to write down some thoughts on this subject. Apparently I had an embarrassingly large amount of thoughts. I apologize that it turned out to be a tome but pour your sleep-deprived patooty a stiff drink and settle in!
Once Upon a Time
I thought I had a good sleeper. When my baby was three months old, I wrote that he was on a steady pattern of waking up twice a night to nurse, and returning peacefully to sleep on his own. Despite continued knocking on the redwood forest, it was at the three month mark where these happy days gradually began to leave us.
Like any good political uprising, it started innocently enough. A nap resisted here, an extra night wake up there. Subtle enough that me, the unsuspecting head of state, could easily write it all off as flukes. The four month sleep regression coming early. The four month sleep regression. OK this site says there’s a five month sleep regression so it’s that. Travel, schedule disruption, learning a milestone, getting a cold, separation anxiety, room’s too hot, room’s too cold, uncomfortable PJ feet, now we’re back to another sleep regression, TEETH. I think like four months went by between the first time I swore he’d wake up with a tooth and when he actually got his first.
I kept thinking if I just held out a little longer things would turn around. When he was six months, I knew it would get better with solid foods. It didn’t. It just kept getting worse. The root of our problems was his growing addiction to the boob. Damn you, evil duumvirate of warm, comforting baby elixir! It’s like my boobs were Elizabeth and he was Mr. Darcy and he NEVER WISHED TO BE PARTED FROM THEM.
So, it went like this. The two wake ups became three, became four, became OMG it’s 9:45 p.m. and already you’re up, became OK I basically give up asking you to sleep in your crib past 4:00 a.m. Bed time used to be 15 minutes of nursing and baby would be on his merry way to sleepyville, and then it became a nightly battle royale of up to 30, 40, sometimes 50 minutes, because if I tried to lower him into his crib before he was deeply nursed to sleep, he popped awake and cried. Then that exact pattern repeated itself for each of the wake ups. A few nights I wrote down the wake ups and I’m looking at those notes now– August 21: First wake up about 11:30, was up for an hour. Wakes at 2:50, 4:00, 5:00, 5:45, 6:00. Another night: 11:40 (up for 40 minutes), 2:00, 4:30, 6:00, 6:20.
It was awful. I felt like crap. Although mornings were usually my happiest time, only because I was so happy to have the night behind me and to know I was the furthest possible distance from the next night. But as the day went on the dread would just start building. When I would go to bed at night, I just felt so depressed knowing what was in store for me again. I was so angry and frustrated and I remember thinking I was angry enough to punch a hole in the wall, if it didn’t require so much energy. I won’t keep going on and on about those nights, because I prefer not revisit them, and because I know a lot of you have been there and many have been worse places.
What’s an attached parent to do? I use this expression only as a blanket description for all of us who reject the idea of letting our babies cry themselves to sleep. I do believe in and practice most of what the “attachment parenting” movement entails, but I’m not big on the label because a) I think it’s kind of weird in the first place to place labels on the very universal, natural act of parenting and b) there is a lot of quackery in AP circles. Right at the top being the crazies who think that one week of sleep training will put your baby on the fast track to a life of crime and delinquency. Please remind yourself of that. That they are crazies.
But it remained an unthinkable idea. So I did the next obvious thing and I went to the library for The No Cry Sleep Solution. The older librarian looked at my baby in tow and gave him kind of a good-natured tsk-tsk and a “you better sleep for your mama!” chide. It was a sweet exchange that only fueled my denial. See, this is just something that every woman goes through. I bet this week it will start to get better. It did not get better that week.
I was so hopeful reading that book. So many stories of crappy sleepers who became champ sleepers. And I still say this book is the logical place to start if you don’t want to do the crying, because it does seem to work for a lot of people. The gist is–first you work on detaching your baby from the boob or bottle, then you can gradually work your way from there. The entire process being dependent on that first step, which is just NOT THAT EASY when you have a true boob addict on your hands. Err, on your boobs.
The author (last name Pantley) dubs the detachment protocol the “Pantley Pull Off”. Which is just that– you pull them off the boob, gently hold their mouth shut, put them back on if they cry, and repeat until they’re OK with it. This part I do remember clearly, her saying that you may need to try this “two to five times or more” but then they peacefully nod off. LOLLLLZZZZ. I would regularly try this 10-20 times and it just made my guy angrier and more awake. He particularly found me holding his mouth shut a RIOT. I have one friend who tried it I think fifty-two or fifty-three times to no avail. A quick Google and I found a ton of other accounts of women saying they had zero luck with it. Again, this is the first step and already I was frustrated out of my effing mind.
The rest of the book contains other suggestions like loveys, bedtime routines, white noise, and key words. All nice suggestions but ain’t no lovey or “keyword” gonna replace a boob. Sorry. It’s like fighting the Hun army with a tiddly wink.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love CIO
Cry it out was really the only show in town at this point and I was DESPERATE. I was consumed with guilt and dread at the thought, but I knew it had to happen. I’m just going to kind of list all the things that really helped me feel better about this decision in the hopes it might make others feel better too if they’re in the same boat.
MOST IMPORTANTLY. Repeat this to yourself over and over and over. There is actually not any data suggesting CIO is damaging. Any evidence people will use to tell you otherwise is not directly applicable to CIO, not scientific, not remotely conclusive, or pure bunk. “But I read on Mothering.com…” NO. Shut it. It’s bunk. If the “studies” still terrify you, I highly suggest reading here and here.
I even asked one of my BFFs who is an actual therapist and she said it is without a doubt, absolutely, completely harmless. She said if you let babies cry by themselves during the day, on a regular basis? Of course that is damaging! (Some of the “studies” seem to be talking about that, which obviously nobody is doing.)
OK, here’s some more anecdotal data. The more I asked people about this, the more I found out that really good moms are CIOing. Don’t lie, I know I’m not the only one who can make a mental list of parents whose insight you trust, and parents who you kind of side eye. I was surprised to find out so many people off my “trust” list were doing it. I kept thinking to myself, she did CIO? Well if she and she did it, then it must be OK. Even my own mom admitted to doing it when I wouldn’t go to bed. My mom is like a SUPER mom who was throwing bad ass themed birthday parties back when a) you couldn’t get ideas off of Pinterest and b) you couldn’t post pictures on Facebook and let the validation wash over you like a warm breeze. YEA I KNOW THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A MOMENT. Themed birthday parties that NOBODY KNEW ABOUT unless you were actually there and had your own screen-printed 101 Dalmations t-shirt to prove it. She said to me, “I think it’s funny that you guys call it sleep training when we just called it putting you to bed.” The more I reflected on that, the more I really think this whole stupid debate is just another contrived “mommy war” from the last decade.
Still think CIO is evil? Believe it or not I have more word vomit. Another thing that stopped me dead in my tracks was something I read in Dr. Ferber’s book. As hippie parents I know we are all really into the natural pattern of things and helping our bodies do what they are naturally supposed to do. Dr. Ferber– remember this person is an MD who runs a major pediatric sleep center, not a random fear-mongering internet commenter in a basement somewhere– he made the terrific point that babies aren’t meant to be eating all night long past the newborn stage. He said to think about what your baby’s diaper feels like in the morning when they’ve nursed all night long. It’s like forty pounds, right? He said those systems are not supposed to be working 24/7. Part of sleep’s restorative design is to give our digestive systems and our urinary systems a break. That really changed my tune and I started wondering if I was actually doing my baby a disservice giving in to the constant night nursing.
Another thing pro-CIO people say is, “Oh you need sleep to be a good mom. Your family needs you to sleep.” And I always just kind of thought that was just a feel good platitude UNTIL I was a chronically sleep-deprived person. Now being on the other side, I see how very true and important that is. Now that I’m rested, I’m happier, I project an image of emotional health to my child. What’s more important than that? I put better food into my body, I find motivation to stretch or do a few minutes of yoga or EVEN make a trip to the gym. Back when I was sleep deprived I had kind of a OH WHAT’S THE POINT, SCREW IT ALL mentality and was just not a healthy person all around. My fuse was incredibly short and any little thing would send me over the edge and I’d cry and/or yell at my spouse. WTF kind of example is that to model for your impressionable baby?
When I looked at all of this together, I felt better. I was trying the no cry protocol and he was crying anyway. People hate on CIO as a breech of trust, but already I was teaching my baby to mistrust the sleep process because I was tricking him into falling asleep and then transferring him to his crib on the sly. Also– he was nine months old at the time, so I knew how aware he was and that the crying would be out of protest (MOM YOU’LL MARCH THOSE BOOBS BACK UP THE STAIRS IF YOU KNOW WHAT’S GOOD FOR YOU) and not out of fear of confusion like a smaller baby might.
This is what I told myself: that I would try it for a night. Because really, what does it hurt to try? I would give it an hour. I wasn’t going to let this be a multi-hour nightmare, but we could try to do something differently for an hour. Worst case we were back where we started. “But I read on Mothering.com about a baby who did one night of sleep training and that baby was Ted Kaczynski” seriously get off Mothering.com.
I set a date to do it the next Friday night. All week long I felt sick thinking about it, but I would reflect on all the things above and pep myself up. Then I would imagine what it would feel like to sleep for more than 90 minutes. THAT was motivating. We also got our ducks in a row. I always thought CIO was kind of a crap shoot, maybe you got a baby who fell right asleep and maybe you got a baby who took 6 hours, you wouldn’t know until you tried. But I found out there are things you can do to put the odds in your favor that you will have a smooth experience. Read this and this series, both were very helpful in really understanding the whole process. We had a bed time routine in place so I was confident he understood exactly what he was being asked to do, we had his around-the-clock sleep schedule in a good place so I knew he was in fact tired and primed for sleep.
The Night of 1,000 Tears Had Arrived
That night we switched the bedtime routine so we nursed at the beginning. (I know. It was unthinkable at the time). Then we read our story, gave him a bath, sang him his song, lovingly dressed him for bed. He wore PJs with a frog pattern, tugging at my heart and reminding me of his nickname from when he was in the womb. He had a little patch on the lapel that said “I Love Hugs!” AND I SERIOUSLY WAS NEAR BREAKING DOWN AT THAT POINT. Here I was setting him up for a night of horrors when he was JUST A LITTLE INNOCENT BABY WHO LOVES HUGS! I’m seriously tearing up here thinking of that. Read on. This didn’t go as horribly as I imagined. Things rarely do, do they?
I made my exit and left Jeff to do the dirty work. Seriously, this is a job for the parent without boobs if the boobs are your problem. He had the Ferber chart saying when to do the checks, he had a timer going on a laptop, and I even wrote him a script to read during the checks. “You’re doing so well! We’re so proud of you! You can do it!” Heart breaking. I know. He did have instructions to use his judgment and abort the mission if it became apparent it was just not working, or if horrible things happened like vomiting or banging his head or something.
Then I went to a corner in the house where I couldn’t hear anything. I enjoyed a burrito and a glass of wine. It was actually kind of nice. I felt bad about this, but really there is no benefit to making yourself suffer by listening to the crying. None. Outside of purely gratuitous martyrdom. Which is not attractive. Go to a corner and eat a burrito.
Jeff came downstairs twenty-two minutes later. My immediate thought: oh God, ALREADY things had fallen apart and he had pulled the plug? Here was the exchange:
Me: Already you’ve been broken???? WTF happened????
Jeff: He’s asleep.
It only took twenty-two minutes????
No actually it took eighteen minutes I was just doing something before I came down.
[HEAD EXPLODING WITH GLEE]
He slept clear through till 2:00 a.m. and woke up fussing. I let him fuss for a minute (this was a fuss, not a hard cry) and he drifted off back off to sleep almost immediately. At 5:00 a.m. he woke up and I did give him a full feeding. I put him back down in the crib, he screamed, but he was over it by the time I walked back down the hall and went to the bathroom. It was something like a minute and a half. When he woke back up at a respectable hour I went in to get him and he was completely his normal happy self, and greeted me with a giant smile as usual.
So, I didn’t actually get up out of bed until 5:00 when normally I was making it to 12:00 on a good night. Already on night one, things were a million times better. That little skill of waking up in the same place you went to sleep and knowing how to go back to sleep yourself– it’s a GAME CHANGER for a baby. The next two nights he cried for somewhere in the range of 5-8 minutes maybe? Beyond that, bed time became a non event. I now can’t believe I hemmed and hawed and suffered for months when I was 18 minutes away from a solved problem.
We are not 100% out of the woods. Only because I didn’t commit 100% of the way, so we’re still doing one (sometimes two) feedings in the early morning. I am OK with this. I told baby all along I was totally game for one or two feedings. Just not a bajillion. I will probably tackle total night weaning in the next month or two.
Sleeping through the night remains an elusive dream. When he makes it to 7:00 a.m. one of these days, I’m buying everyone cars like Oprah. We’ve come close a few times. Some of those “you know you’re a parent when” lists are kind of dumb, but I do have to agree with one– you know you’re a parent when you consider 4-6 hours of unbroken sleep to be absolute perfection. It really is heavenly when you’ve come from the other side.
I hope this has been helpful for a couple people. There is so much awful, guilt-triggering crap out there on this subject. Everyone deserves sleep. If you have stories to share or even just need to vent, please feel free to comment!