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The Quest for Sleep: One Mom’s Story for Getting Her Baby to Sleep

Posted Jun 09 2009 11:50pm

I’m alive!!!! I didn’t think I would make it, but I did!

Exhausted Mom by Halfmoon Jewelry, Flickr, under a Creative Commons license

I have an eleven month old little girl named Emerson who, in spite of the nurses at the hospital saying “you’ve got a sleeper”, turned out to not be much of a sleeper.  There are worse stories, but mine is a good example of mixing mom’s intuition, dad’s motivation, and a great deal of research to figure out the best path to sanity.

Our Story

Month 1

Emerson started as a fairly typical baby. She slept for two hours at a time around the clock, waking only to latch on for her fill. I co-slept with her in our bed and my husband slept in an extra room so that he could get enough sleep to deal with life (don’t worry, we slipped nookie in here and there). She almost never cried the entire first month of her life. I thought the situation was quite blissful, particularly because I took the age old advice of “sleep when your baby sleeps” to heart. Clearly something in the mommy brain prepares us for waking up to feed a baby every two hours…but only up to a point.

I had declared myself an “ attachment parent ” or “ Dr Sears Mom” early on in my pregnancy. The attachment parenting philosophy, particularly with regards to sleep, felt most right to me. That said, as we encountered increasingly difficult challenges with co-sleeping, I read books like Babywise and Ferber’s Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems that, in many ways, go against the attachment parenting philosophy.  As the months of sleeplessness got worse and worse, my husband and I got to a point that we had to open up to some other ways of getting our baby girl to sleep.

Months 2 and 3

Emerson continued to eat every two hours through the second month, then through the third month and was starting to stay awake for longer periods of time between (which meant less nap time for both of us).  Also, by the fifth week, Emerson became colicky. She began to cry from about 3PM to 8PM everyday, and often seemed to be in agonizing pain, screeching and wild-eyed. Seeing her so uncomfortable, crying along with her, and doing everything possible to comfort her from bouncing on the exercise ball, to rocking, bouncing her belly on my shoulder or knees, breastfeeding, walking, and walking, and walking, wore me out even more. Luckily, I had a husband who did what he could to comfort her (in spite of her wanting just mommy all the time) and had not gone back to work yet so could still nap when she did. I still slept with her in our bed at night and often during naps, following The No Cry Sleep Solution’s advice for helping your baby to take longer naps (Emerson often awoke at the 45 minute mark during naps, a common problem).

Months 4, 5, and 6

By her fourth month of life, Emerson had gone downhill…she was waking every hour and, when she was sleeping, she was incredibly restless, thrashing all around. I did some research on “restless sleepers” online and, in reading Dr. Sears’s The Baby Sleep Book, found a section on infant reflux.  We started putting Emerson in her crib, right next to our bed, and raised the head of it (we couldn’t raise the head of our bed because of they way it’s built, much to my shagrin). The first night we did so, she slept two, 4-hour stints, completely at peace. As you can imagine, we kept this up. Unfortunately, Emerson never graduated beyond four hours at a time and, by the end of her six month, was waking every 2-3 hours again. Each time, I continued to breastfeed and rock her to sleep and would very carefully move her back to her crib. At this point, I knew I was creating a monster by breastfeeding and rocking her to sleep, but, reality was, it was a quicker fix than anything else in the middle of the night (and didn’t require letting Emerson cry).

Months 7 and 8

Mommy started back to work this month, a daunting proposition with six months of dire sleep deprivation under my belt. As a strategy consultant, I had to at least appear smart. With a sleep deprived, hormone-saturated mommy brain, I was not at my peak. And, now that I couldn’t nap, by the end of my first month back at work, was seriously losing it.  At our wits end, but not willing to go the Babywise full on “Cry it Out” route, my husband checked out Ferber’s Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems from the library. We heard it was a softer approach to “crying it out”. Ferber makes several points that stuck with me. First, he talks about the fact that, if your baby wanted to hold a knife, of course you wouldn’t allow it, even if baby started crying in protest because it wouldn’t be good for baby. The idea that sometimes a little protest crying is OK, combined with his firm belief that children need to learn to sleep just as they learn to crawl, walk, and read, made sense. I also like that he accounts for the fact that it would be cruel to leave a child who has been breastfed and rocked to sleep since birth to cry it out alone in a dark room-or to leave them to cry it out alone for hours, period. Instead, his method encourages parents to leave their babies to fall asleep on their own, but check on them in increasing amounts of time, to let them know you are still there and still love them. Baby might still cry, but his/her crying is in protest of not getting what he/she wants (a la the knife example) versus because he/she feels scared, alone, and ignored. By letting baby learn to fall asleep sans boob and rocking (or other parent-provided sleep inducers) you are allowing him or her to learn sleep associations that don’t involve you, thereby enabling baby to fall back asleep on his/her own as he/she cycles through normal night time waking cycles.

Ferber, in his book, provides step-by-step instructions for eliminating feedings one by one before working on getting baby to sleep for longer periods of time. We thought that eliminating feedings would be impossible for a baby who scarfed down 4-5 ounces everytime she woke up, but, to our great surpise, within a week, we had eliminated all feedings without much protest. In the process, we had eliminated at least three wake up times. For a week after eliminating feedings, Emerson would wake up in her normal 1-2 hour increments, she’d cry for maybe a minute and then fall back to sleep. Within another week, she didn’t wake up at those times at all.

After two weeks, we still had one wake up time we wanted to eliminate to get her 9-10 consecutive hours of sleep. When Emerson woke up and cried for us, we followed Ferber’s instructions to gradually increase the amount of time we let her cry. We started with 10 minutes, then went in after 15 minutes, and had a max of 20 minutes that we’d let her cry. She stopped crying before the 20 minutes was up almost every night. After another ten days, we had eliminated this last midnight wake up and Emerson was sleeping from 8PM to 6AM.

The one way I strayed from Ferber’s advice is that I continued to rock and breastfeed Emerson to sleep because, well, I was attached to that part of our day. Emerson seemed to be able to still fall asleep on me, rocking, and, when she went through the normal wake up cycles of sleep, had learned to fall asleep on her own. From what Ferber says, not every baby can do this, but, if you enjoy having baby fall asleep with you at the outset of the night, you might give it a try.

Months 9, 10, 11

We had two straight months of Emerson sleeping 9-10 hours at night, and us getting our sorely needed 8. My how life changed! Silly bickering stopped, we had energy to exercise, we watched movies after Emerson went to bed, I was able to not cry if someone asked how I was doing. Emerson became known as “jolly baby”. Along with regular sleep at night, Emerson also settled into a great morning and afternoon nap schedule, an hour and a half each.

In closing, know that, if you are struggling with getting your baby to sleep, and the wide ranging philosophies for how to do it, you are not alone. Perhaps our story gives you something to try. If your struggle continues Exhausted mom by michelleb, flickr, under a Creative Commons licensemichelleb, flicker, under creative commons license, keep chanting “this too will pass”.

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