I’ve never been great at reading directions. When I learned to knit, Scott actually read the booklet and then showed me how to do it. Needless to say, I don’t assemble things from IKEA. With parenthood I’m not big on manuals or methods either. I’ve found they make me question my instincts more. I’m just interested in the story. So I thought I’d put our sleep training story here in case you are too.
Really, there’s not a whole lot going on in my life except this terrible, horrible, wonderful thing called teaching your kid to sleep.
“You must learn how to sleep little Bird. You must learn how to sleep,” is what I told five month old Skip, Monday morning after she was up wanting to nurse and talk for what felt like every hour of the night.
I’ve known change was coming. The bassinet started to seem so small again; like only toys or unimaginably new humans could fit in it. I started saying goodbye to the middle-of-the-dark snuggles; crying into her warm, fragrant scalp as she tossed and turned and disrupted both of our REM cycles. Change sometimes feels simultaneously like the worst and best part of parenthood. It’s pride, sorrow and difficult weirdness all at once.
Anne Lamott says, “All willingness to change comes from pain” and I was getting there. I left my credit card at Trader Joe’s last week. I forgot to put a nap diaper on Sprout. I started crying after my mom told me I needed a tongue scraper for my bad breath! I knew Skip wasn’t going to learn to sleep if I kept re-inforcing her wakings with food, but the thing that finally sealed the deal for me was when the babysitter was here Tuesday.
I’ve been having her come once a week for two hours in the morning simply so I can hand the kids over and go back to sleep. After battling post-partum depression in the early months of Sprout, this decision was easy. More sleep = less sadness, I figured. At the very least, it felt liberating to ask for help.
Last Tuesday, before I blissfully blacked out for two hours, I left the sitter with a big bottle of pumped milk and asked if she could stay a little longer. She said she was happy to. I slept and slept and slept right through Sprout’s gymnastics.
I woke up and felt better, but I also felt like a slob; like a teenager who had been up video-gaming and was sleeping through the glorious opportunities of real life. It was the nicest day and here I was with my face in a pillow, sweating through my night shirt while my kids played in the sunshine with a sitter.
I had already spent most of the weekend mornings sleeping because Scott is like the second coming of Christ and took the kids to the coffee shop and the beach while I had weird nightmares about losing them at the park. There must be some kind of saying about how weekend mornings with your family are sacred. Everyone giddy for the possibilities of the day, happy to see each other, no one over-tired yet. Weekend mornings might be the main event of my life right now, except that I was missing them.
And that’s when I knew I didn’t want to be awake in the dark watching my baby sleep anymore; listening to passing street sweepers and the 4 a.m. commuter train. I wanted to be wide awake when my family was.■
Exchange with Pediatrician
After I made this decision, I contacted a family friend who happens to be a pediatrician. He helped us teach Sprout to sleep and gave me the extra confidence I needed to do it again with Skip. His advice saved me. And you know what? When I thanked him for this priceless gift he gave us, he said, “To be clear, this is a gift you gave yourselves! Well done.”
I’ve forwarded his advice to countless friends. But it’s time it had a place here, too.
Me: “Blah, blah, blah… My baby is amazing, but not sleeping! blah, blah…I love her! I’m so tired! blah, blah… Is she waking up because she’s hungry? This is her age and weight. Help.”
Dr. Weiss: “There is no single sign that a child is ready to sleep through the night as it is really about the parents being ready!
She is growing nicely and will be fully capable of attaining all the calories she needs during the day (especially with adding solid food). Recall, a full stomach does not make a child sleep, but rather, knowing how to sleep makes a child sleep. I always joke: when is the last time you awoke in the middle of the night because you were hungry (except after a few too many whatevers!)?
The plan is the same: nice routine that ends with baby in the crib awake. Tolerate crying for as long as you can in doses of 5-10 minutes. If you go in, don’t pick her up, just reassure yourself she is fine. Should take about 7-10 days. Let me know how it goes.”
He’s also told me “Once you pick them up, you have to start all over.” ■
Sleep Training Diary
Night One (Monday): Pack and Play in Our Room with Pacifier Replacement
It just so happened that I gained the resolve to do this on the first night of the week. It was originally my plan to do it on the weekend so Scott and I could take turns sleeping during the day if the nights were really rough, but it didn’t work out that way. Once I knew we were going to start sleep training, I just had to get it over with. We hoped that by the weekend we would be sleeping better and maybe even staying up together to watch the Olympics, which was a really unbelievable and motivating thought.
We put Skip in the pack and play in our room. We did her same nightly routine:
6:30 p.m. Family Dinner. Skip ate sweet potatoes, avocado and banana. I wanted to make sure she was plenty full so I wouldn’t doubt it in the night.
7:15 p.m. bath
7:30 p.m. diaper and jammies
7:35 p.m. pumped 3 o.z. bottle (or breast feeding)
7:40 p.m. stories with sister (usually while drinking bottle). Lots of snuggles!
8:00 p.m. song and rocking, more snuggles, followed by being placed in bed awake with pacifier and ‘shusher‘ sound machine.
She awoke on a familiar schedule: 1:30, 3:30, 5:30, 7. I let her cry for 5 minutes, then put the pacifier in, then 10 minutes, then 20. Each time I put the pacifier back in and patted her tummy saying “It’s time for sleep”. She started to get the idea that I wasn’t feeding her and simply went to sleep. It wasn’t so bad. In fact, much less upsetting than I was expecting.
At 5:30 a.m. I brought her into bed and fed her. I also had to pump around 3:30 and 6:00 because my body was still so used to feeding a baby all night that it was full.
Night Two (Tuesday) No Paci Replacement.
8:00 p.m. bed.
We put her to bed with a bright nightlight and about 6 pacifiers sprinkled around her. I only went in the first time to pat and tell her “It’s time to sleep.” I did a lot of floor time with her leading up to this to make sure she could roll from front to back and back to front with ease to retrieve objects and reassure myself that she was capable of finding her pacifier if need be.
1:30 a.m. wake: crying, but not hysterical for about 45 minutes. She found the pacifier (I couldn’t believe it!) and went to sleep.
3:30 a.m. wake: fussed for 10 minutes, found paci, back to sleep.
5:30 a.m. wake: I brought her into bed and fed her. She slept until 7:30.
Night Three (Wednesday)
8:00 p.m. bed.
1:30 a.m. wake: so. much. crying. I felt like we had gotten off easy until this moment. It was like she realized this was the new deal and was protesting. She cried on and off for an hour. The end part was pretty hysterical. I hated it. I felt like, “Oh my God, if anyone saw what I was doing to my child right now…” I went on my phone and looked at pictures of Sprout being happy and well adjusted since we sleep trained her (I couldn’t look at pictures of Skip because it made me too sad). I also just went through Instagram and my email mindlessly.
2:30 a.m. she finally fell asleep after rolling onto her stomach (ugh!), so I went in and flipped her over really quickly just to be safe and popped in the pacifier. She stayed asleep.
4 a.m. wake: 10 minutes of crying, found paci on own, went back to sleep
7:30 a.m. wake for day!
Night Four (Thursday)
8:00 p.m. bed.
4:30 a.m. 10 minutes fussing, found paci, back to sleep.
5 a.m. more brief fussing, found paci, went back to sleep.
6:40 a.m. woke, came in bed to nurse and snuggle.
The feeling I felt was very specifically: high. on. life. I told Scott giddily, “I slept for FIVE hours in a ROW last night!” (since I never went back after the 4:30 waking).
Night Five & Six (Friday and Saturday)
Went similarly to Thursday with a bit of fussing around 4:30 a.m. and then sleeping until 6:30 a.m.
Night Seven (Sunday)
8:00 p.m. bed.
6:30 a.m. wake! (happy dance, long embrace, morning snuggles and nursing).
It took a week, but it worked! ■
Today, as I was getting the kids in their carseats, they both seemed generally unimpressed with my pace. It got me thinking about how many things our kids cry and complain over that we know are good for them: buckling up, wearing helmets, going to the doctor and school, brushing their hair, and (in the case of me with my mom) cleaning their tongues. Add to the list: sleeping.
After my first night of full sleep in months, I took the girls to the park and the grocery store. Sprout said to me, “Can you hear those golly-gols (dogs) barfing?” and Skip learned to play peek-a-boo with a scarf. I laughed so hard. At the store, I not only bought a tongue scraper, but remembered my wallet. Call it a win, call it a milestone, call it a memory, or just call it being wide awake.■
p.s. Most cliché though: All children and families are different. This sleep technique worked for us, but it might not be what you’re looking for. You probably had a gut feeling while reading this whether or not this was right for your family. I believe, above all else, that the most important thing in parenting is to trust your instincts.
-Somewhere in-between story and parenting manual: Bringing Up Bébé has similar advice on sleep that I’ve found helpful.
-I know comments have migrated to a lot of other platforms, but if you have a sleep story you’d like to share here, I’d love to hear it (and I’m sure others would too)!