Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Requisite Mommy Blog Sleep Post

This post is about getting our baby to sleep. This means I will likely bore the pants off of some of you, and anger or offend others. In either case, I apologize. 

Over the past few months, things around here started to break down. Most of it was due to sleep deprivation. The baby fell into a pattern of going to sleep in the crib around 8 p.m., waking up and wanting to nurse every 30 minutes to 1.5 hours (usually around 45 minutes) until about 11 p.m., when I'd bring her into bed with me. There, she'd wake up wanting to nurse on the same intervals. Some days, she'd nap well and on a regular schedule (assuming I nursed her to sleep for about 20 minutes first), which helped, but other days she'd take 20-minute cat naps throughout the afternoon. I was drained, my boobs hurt, I wasn't very fun to be around, I had no social life. All of these traits are normal in new moms, but as we started pushing eight months of it, I knew something had to give.

Don't you want to see me every hour of the night?
I generally follow Attachment Parenting guidelines (though I do like cribs), and have always been opposed to sleep training (defined as letting a baby cry alone in the crib to "learn how to self-soothe"), since it seemed unnatural and possibly cruel. If nothing else, I just don't have the heart to let my baby cry it out. With Sylvia, D and I often argued over his wanting me to let her cry vs. my rush to soothe her. Sylvia woke up 1-3 times/night until she was fully weaned (around 14 months), and even after that woke up pretty regularly for a while. At age 3.5, she still gets up a few times each week. With Amelia, I tried about 6 weeks ago to just hold her and let her cry (withholding nursing after a quick wake up), and I caved after 15 minutes. I just couldn't do it.

The breaking point was my trip to Alexandria, VA, last weekend for a combination social/work weekend. Though I had a wonderful time, it was very frustrating dealing with a baby who barely stayed asleep for 45 minutes before requiring 15 minutes or more of nursing. I missed big chunks of a party that was being thrown for me, and I was groggy and sleepy without my chance to sleep in (no husband with me to help in the morning) or take naps (too much to do). Other families were there with their same-aged babies, who were happy and social and could sleep better than mine.

Returning from my trip exhausted, weary and overwhelmed, we knew it was time to do something different. A good friend who has similar parenting philosophies to mine gave me step-by-step, encouraging advice about how she followed Good Night Sleep Tight, a book that advocates staying with the child as she cries and works to sleep. Though I liked the idea, my husband was not on board for helping with this, and I was convinced that my presence (i.e. boobs in sight but unavailable) would upset Amelia more than help her. This proved true two weeks ago when, overly frustrated and exhausted one night, I left Amelia to cry in the bed, and it lasted less than 10 minutes before she fell asleep soundly. There are plenty of examples in books and online of folks using the Ferber or Weissbluth methods whose babies cry for hours -- and I refused to put Amelia (and me!) through that stress. I didn't want to cancel out eight months of trust and attachment with two nights of terror. But she seemed ready to sleep without me, so I decided to trust my instincts and see how bad it would get....

On Monday, I sent D and Sylvia away to sleep at his parents' house so I wouldn't have to worry about the whole house hearing cries. The first night, I put Amelia down drowsy but awake and left her in the crib, crying. She cried (not very hard) for 14 minutes before sleeping for 3.5 hours. It was amazing. The worst part of that night was when she called out from 3-4 a.m., but she was just yelling a few times, never really crying or upset. I didn't stick to any book's assigned time (waiting exactly 8 minutes or only soothing her for 30 seconds), but rather listened to Amelia's cries: when she was really mad, I assumed hunger, but otherwise it was more like frustration.

That was five days ago, and since then she's done a pretty awesome job of going to sleep and staying asleep in the crib, sometimes as long as five hours. I've kept detailed notes on her progress, but that is likely more than any of you want to know. We haven't followed the three-nights-and-you're-done! progress of many other bloggers' stories, and she didn't suddenly start sleeping 12 hours, but we are certainly on a path to improvement. I am still nursing Amelia twice each night -- around 12:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. -- so that has made the process calmer and easier. My babies tend to have fast metabolisms and she's not eating much solid food, so I feel like she needs to nurse still. I sense she may drop the early morning feed soon, but we'll see.

The improved nighttime sleep has also improved naps. She goes down on a regular schedule and is happy to be in the crib. There have been some flukes and some messed-up days, but all-in-all, everything -- and I mean EVERYTHING -- about our days and nights has improved. I am in a better mood than I remember in months. My marriage is better this week. I returned to cooking better meals, playing more with my older daughter, and getting more work projects done (less need to nap!). I joined a Book Club and was able to leave the house from 8-10 p.m. without fretting. I have the inklings of a social life on the horizon, and maybe even a few dates with my husband, and that feels so restorative.

I've learned a few things from this process:
  • Things we fret about for months often resolve themselves quite easily. There was a lot of drama in this house about sleep training -- going back to our first kid 3.5 years ago. All my plans, all the talk, all the worry fell away to just doing what felt right one night. And it worked.
  • Timing is important. I don't think Amelia nor I were ready for this a month ago, but we were both ready this week. I'm still glad I had her in bed with me for eight months. I'll miss that time.
  • Books are good guidelines, but those authors don't know your kids. I read Good Night Sleep Tight and the No Cry Sleep Solution, as well as a lot of blogs. I liked some ideas, was horrified by others, and tried and failed at some proposed solutions. In the end, what worked best for me was advice and encouragement from mama-friends, and then doing what I knew was best for my kid and my family. Some might not think that waking up twice each night is a good thing, but it works for my family now.
  • "You gotta put your own oxygen mask on first." This gem is from a dear friend, which was just what I needed to hear to realize that sometimes it's OK to prioritize myself; in fact, in doing so I can then take better care of my family. I needed sleep, and I needed to nurse less, and those needs are as important as the baby's. My marriage, my relationship with my elder daughter, and the functioning of our house were also important. 
So that's my long and dull post. But you know what? Because I've had some sleep, I had some time to post! So maybe I'll start blogging again more....