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March 05, 2006

I'm a Sleep Training convert

Ok, I fear sharing the following because I have quickly come to understand that this is a sensitive subject for many (more on that later).

Anyways, the subject is SLEEP. Remember, the thing you never really cared for until your baby took it away from you? The thing that you want the most, the thing that would make EVERYTHING better? If only I could get an 8 hour stretch, no, I'd be happy with 6! ? Yes, countless chapters of child-rearing books and many website articles have been dedicated to the subject, because it's such an important holy grail for new (and not so new) parents.

Well, here's our story. The Guids has always been a pretty good sleeper, waking up a lot to eat in the first month or so of his life, then settling into a 2-feedings a night routine for a while, which became a single 2am feeding at maybe 2 and 1/2 - 3 months old. Which I was perfectly content with, not being the one with the boobs. Mariah, on the other hand, was understandably looking forward to the day when he didn't need that either.

So on our 4th month check-up with the pediatrician on Feb.15th, we asked: is he eating because he needs it or what? To which she said "not really, he's plenty big, he's starting to do it out of habit". That word, HABIT, was all that Mariah needed: "we're weaning him off TONIGHT". If there's one thing we don't want, is to create/encourage bad habits.

So she did some research and we decided to "sleep train". Now, all I knew about it was that "you let the baby cry it out". I remember when my older brother did that with his first son, and I remember thinking "wow that seems a bit cruel, he's just a baby". So I wasn't so sold on the idea. I had heard of "Ferberizing" stories, when babies cried for so long that they puked. Long story short, I was perfectly happy with the way things were and not into the whole sleep-training thing.

So that night the little one woke up at 2 for his feeding, and so did we. We had a couple of rules:

  1. Mariah couldn't go to his room because she IS food (they can SMELL 'EM!)
  2. I wasn't supposed to pick him up

We let him cry for what seemed like an eternity (it was probably 2 minutes), then I went in to comfort him. I cleaned up his tears with my hand, I tried to talk to him...as you can imagine, it didn't help. He cried and cried and gave me this begging look that said "ok, you came all the way to my room, now pick me up!". I didn't. I went back and waited 5 minutes. Went back in, same story. I was about ready to give up at this point, I hated the whole process and I was ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that my son would turn out to be a serial killer because I had been so cruel to him. Long story short, he cried for about 1 hour before falling asleep, at which point Mariah and I were not on speaking terms and DEFINITELY not sleepy. God that sucked.

On day two we introduced "the routine". For the first time in his life, we decide to add some structure, just to get him used to going to bed. Here's the very nice little routine we do now:

  1. come 6:30-7:00pm, we change him into a disposable (we use cloth during the day, but we don't want him to wake up at night because he feels wet)
  2. give him a little soothing full-body massage (I added this on day 3, it's nice!)
  3. put him in his jammies and sleep-sac
  4. read him a book (usually Todos Los Besos, which I translate in Italian, but that's for a different blog entry)
  5. feed him (boobs)
  6. put him down in his crib, say goodnight and leave his room

Lo and behold, he slept 12 hours straight. It wasn't the first time it happened with him, but the other times he was jet-lagged from coming back from Italy. Either way, I was joking "wow this sleep training really works! one day is all it took! amazing!"...I shouldn't have joked about it, way to jinx myself...

Night three, he woke up EVERY HOUR, and cried for 20 minutes each time. This is when I thought of something that really made all the difference in the world: I started wearing ear-plugs! It really made ME last a lot longer. Plus I settled into this "visit" regimen:

  1. when he first wakes up, let him cry for 5 minutes (I use a digital clock)
  2. go in for maybe 30 seconds (sing him a song, talk to him...)
  3. leave and wait 7 minutes
  4. go in his room for maybe 20 seconds, talking a little less (no song or anything)
  5. leave and wait 10 minutes
  6. go in, tell him you love him and show him that we haven't abandoned him, and leave
  7. wait 15 minutes
  8. you get the idea

The goal here is to show him that he's loved, but that crying is not going to get him anything, so he shouldn't bother.

Oh I forget: on the first night I eventually picked him up briefly (after maybe 45 minutes). I had this idea where I didn't want him to associate his crib with crying, so I was trying to do anything I could to make him stop crying. Well, 3 seconds after picking him up, it dawned on me that he was now associating crying with being picked up (getting what he wanted). I WAS BUILDING MY OWN TRAP! I immediately put him down and haven't picked him up at night since. That thought terrified me.

Anyways, I had a rough week. The third night was the worse one. In the following 4-5 nights he woke up once or twice, or not at all (once). Then, maybe 8-9 days into it, he stopped crying. I could tell that he was awake, I could hear him through the baby monitor, but he wasn't crying, he would just go back to sleep.

It has now been 5 nights in a row of 12-hours stretches.

Let me write it again because it feels so good: it has now been 5 nights in a row of 12-hour stretches.

Aaaaahhhh. Life is good again. Mariah and I feel like we got our lives back. Birds are singing, bunnies are frolicking, rainbows are in the sky... :)

I am a TOTAL convert. It WORKED. The baby is happy, the parents are happy, everything is happy. He's not any less happy than before, I have serious doubts that he'll have any trauma whatsoever from crying a little bit...I think everyone should do it!

And here's where it gets interesting: I have been telling our story to our friends, and it was met with very mixed reactions: people who had done the same couldn't agree more on the virtues of sleep training, others were MUCH colder. Some say they could NEVER do something like that, some say that they tried but couldn't, some "envy our toughness", which is just a veiled criticism.

I realized today that this is the first child-rearing topic where I have met people with extremely conflicting opinions on the subject. I guess it was meant to happen sooner or later...it forced me to think about being mindful of telling our story in a way that's not offensive to people who don't agree with our "strategy"...our pediatrician said it best: "there is no one single good strategy. The only good one is what feels right to the parents".

I couldn't agree more.

Ok, it's 8:30pm and I think I'll WATCH A MOVIE now (I know, I can't believe it either)

Posted by patata at March 5, 2006 08:36 PM