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Monday, March 22, 2010

co-sleeping, sleeping, sleep training...let's call the whole thing off

Warning- this is long post, but I'm hoping you'll read it and let me know what you think afterwards.
I hate labels and what they do. Labels often simplify and don't allow for exceptions or allowance. So when I posted this last post all about our adventure into sleep training, I didn't quite realize that I was leaving out much of the story and just how powerful that term "cry it out" really is.
I wanted to come back and clear up a few things that I might have said and explain the reasons why we started sleep training in the first place. I also wanted to give a run down of just how exactly we are doing it, who knows maybe it will help someone in a similar here it goes.
Here's a bit of background as to why we decided that sleep training is for us.
Up until a few weeks ago we were co-sleeping with Noah, which for those who don't know, means we were all sharing a bed, Mama, Papa and baby. This worked beautifully while Noah was small. He needed to wake every few hours to nurse and all I had to do was lean over and feed him- sometimes while sleeping! It was so nice to have little Noah between the two of us, safe and cozy. It really was comforting and excellent for bonding. But then as Noah became older I started to notice that things weren't as great as they had been. Everyone was telling me that the older he got the less he would nurse at night, and this was just not the case with us. Infact, Noah started to wake up more often sometimes every hour just to nurse. This started to become a problem for me. I was becoming more and more exhausted and I knew that he didn't really need to nurse for nutrition, it was because it was comforting to him.
I also started to see that Noah was napping way more in the day than any other baby I know. he would wake up in the morning and need to go back for a nap within an hour or so and to me this was telling me that he was still tired. Who could blame him, he was waking almost every hour, every night! After researching I realized that this was becoming habit for Noah and would not stop anytime soon unless I did something about it, and let me be clear- I wanted to put an end to all the night time feedings because in my view they were unnecessary and I need some restful sleep.
Another sign that Noah was ready for sleep training was that he didn't want to be rocked to sleep anymore. When I went about my normal way of getting him to sleep (rocking, bouncing, cuddling) he would cry and try to push me away. Essentially he was fighting it, but I knew that he was tired, so this resulted in a couple of 45 min fights where he just refused to fall asleep. Eventually out of sheer frustration I lay him down on the bed and let him self cry himself to sleep. I hated it but I was exhausted (and alone because Winslow was away). And this was the first time that I ever had him fall asleep on his own.
So these were some of the signs that told me that we were ready to take the step to get Noah to sleep on his own.
How we have done it and why this really isn't so much as a "cry it out" approach but more a "learning the skills to fall asleep" approach.
I already told you about the first time that I let Noah fall asleep on his own, really it wasn't a pretty sight...but as I said I was exhausted and at my wit's end. But I wasn't really happy with how that happened, so I started in baby steps to get him more comfortable with sleeping on his own. The first step was to always lay him down in his crib once I knew that he was fast asleep. So for a few weeks I focused completely on this concept. At every nap no matter whether he was comfy in my arms I would lay him down in his crib and hoped that by doing so when he would wake up that he would realize that he had just had a nice restful sleep on his own in the safety of his crib. It took a while to get him used to this, but soon enough he became familiar with his crib and he seemed to like it.
The second step was to start him off in the night in his crib. Same way as his naps, but when he would wake for his first night feed I would then bring him into bed with us and there he would stay for the rest of the night.
The next step was probably the hardest because I was really hesitant to do it, but after discussing it with Winslow we decided that we needed to start the process. We decided that we would have him fall asleep without either one of us rocking him. I read up on it and the best way to start doing this was to have him have a really good and comforting bedtime routine so that the transition wouldn't be so hard on him. This involved dimmed lights, soft music, a warm quiet bath, lotion + massage, pjs, a cuddle and then I laid him in his crib and told him it was bedtime. I patted his back, gave him his soother and his comfort blanky and then left the room. To my surprise it wasn't so bad. Yes he cried but at this point his crib was still in our room, so in my heart I felt like he knew we were right there if he really needed us. Every few minutes or so I would go to his side, rub his back, put his soother back in his mouth and quietly tell him that it was time for sleep. I brought his blanky closer to his face, stroked his hair and then crept away from him. This went on for probably about 30 mins or so but then he finally fell asleep and it was wonderful!
Throughout that night he must have woken up about 2 or 3 times and I went about it the same way. I rubbed his back, gave him his soother and told him it was time for bed. This went over somewhat well, yes he cried and yes I had to walk away a few times but I always made sure to return in 5 min intervals. Long enough for him to realize I wasn't going to pick him up, but short enough for him not to feel alone. It was hard on us to hear him cry, but he did settle down and almost immediately on our first night he slept from 11-3, which amazed me that he could do that! I did decide that at 4 am I would nurse him and I continue to do one very early morning feed for the time being.
The rest of the story goes like this.
We are currently going onto night 4 of our version of sleep training and I am happy to report with each night it seems to be getting easier. Last night Noah woke up three times and only once did he need to cry himself back to sleep, the other two times he went back to sleep immediately after having one of us quickly comfort him. It hasn't been easy and I continue to feel guilty when I hear him cry but overall I am happy that we are all starting to get more sleep.
In terms of rules, we only have a few. The major ones are these:
  • We do not pick up Noah when he wakes and cries. This one is really important because if after half an hour we find that it is unbearable we can't give in and go get him or else we start all over at square one.
  • The other rule is that I can't give in and nurse. I do make an exception and nurse him early in the morning. I do this because at that point it has been a good stretch since his last feeding. He usually goes back to sleep after this feeding which is a nice bonus.
  • The other rule is that both of us parents have to be on board and we both have to agree to this approach or else it really doesn't work.
All in all, I have to say that I am very happy with the results that we have seen so far. The improvements have been worth it- naps at appropriate times and a babe that will now go down into his crib without a peep ( I just put him down for the night and there was not a tear!).
I have to put this in here that I truly believe that each person, each family, each child is uniquely different and what works for us might not necessarily work for the next family. While we have taken many cues from Dr. Ferber (the so called "cry it out" champion) we have also looked at other specialists and approaches like Dr. Sears who don't agree with the "cry it out" method. In the end I feel and think that we have come up with a good solution to our sleep training, one that uses different techniques that we have slowly introduced Noah to. One that works for us. And that's what it all comes down to right? You do what works for you.
Now after this long post I am going to kick my feet up and maybe hit the hay myself. All this writing has definitely made me sleepy. I'd be interested to hear what you have to say. All opinions are welcome.
Good night. Sleep tight.

UPDATE nearly 5 years later

Ah! The way we evolve, learn, change.
All I really want to say is that around the 6 month mark with Noah, we fully accepted and adopted a co-sleeping arrangement, and never turned back.
It hasn't always been easy, and we ended up buying a King sized bed, but we are so happy that we didn't go against our natural instincts to be close to our children and to provide them with the comfort and safety that they were asking for.
Sweet dreams dear friends.


  1. Way to go Jo and Winslow!
    Thanks for sharing! I am sure it will help other mommies out there. Come to think of it, I think there are many parts of that, that we did with Alexis, guess we just didn't realize it at the time.

  2. Johanna, Can I just say you're doing great? You're weighing the pros and cons and thoughtfully deciding what you really feel is right for you and baby Noah. Now, a long comment to a long post! :)
    Mama guilt is one of the toughest issues to combat, you're not alone! I think we're all really good at focusing on what we think we're doing wrong. I for one would love to say that I solely practice attachment parenting but I really just find it too difficult! And you're right, the labels don't help. I always feel like I'm 'cheating' when I go against a philosophy I usually go with. I really believe that childen need their person to be there when they need them but out of necessity I also believe that a rested mama is leagues better than a strung out exhausted mama who is resenting being needed 24/7. It is also debatable to me what need means, does my baby really need me at every squeek, or do they really need me to be strong and give them the opportunity to learn an important new skill, like falling to sleep, even though I would prefer to shield them from ever being upset. I think all child rearing philosphophies are open to picking and choosing from.
    Congrats on a bit more sleep and Noah growing and learning! :)

  3. I'm so glad things are starting to look up for you guys!

    We are starting a bit of a new routine tomorrow once G's new mattress arrives. I'm excited and a little freaked, but I know bit by bit it will be ok.

    Take tonight -- she is asleep now, but the moment I decide to go to bed she'll wake up and want to nurse and it will go on like that all night.

    In fourteen months I've never slept more than 5 hours at a time, but I'm coping. Stay tuned :)

    And much love!

  4. I completely understand how you are feeling. With my 2nd son, now 4, I just could not co-sleep with him after 8 or 10 months. I was not getting any sleep, neither was he. I was miserable. I was exhausted. It was making me bitter towards him. My husband would hear me actually call my precious son names in the middle of the night! He wanted to nurse ALL night!! It made me want to stop breastfeeding!

    I really wanted the whole thing to work, but it wasn;t. I felt like a co-sleeping flunky.

    I couldn;t get him to sleep at night w/o nursing a long time. I would nurse him and then have to try and sneak away, but he would wake up...and then I would resent him more for having to go to bed at 8pm with him...

    I tried against my will and intuition to let him CIO, I would cave after a few minutes...

    Finally my husband began taking him in the other room to sleep with him each night on the extra bed in there. It was a pretty good solution for all of us. I was a happier mama. He was a happier baby.

    By the time he was one, we were able to lay him to sleep on his own.

    And your right, each family and baby is unique and I am happy it is working out for you!

    And lol, I am sitting here typing between contractions with baby #3....

  5. Wow- thanks for the comments ladies. I'm always so impressed to hear from different mama's and hear about their unique experiences. To me, it's all a bit of trial and have to find what works for you.
    Victoria- I couldn't agree more with the label issue. I love many of the aspects of attachment parenting but I also feel it is equally important to teach a child how to handle some of life's adversaries on their own. Mary Beth- thank you for sharing your experiences on co-sleeping.

  6. Oh and congrats on baby number 3 Mary Beth! Good luck with the labour and delivery! xox

  7. Johanna- you're doing great! Although you know that. :) I hope you didn't write this as a need to justify what you were doing. Because hey, your baby, your rules! You are doing fantastic and you'll be a better mama for coming up with things and sorting through them on your own (well, you and Winslow).
    Sometimes if Abby woke and acted hungry I'd give her a sippy of water so she'd know it's not worth it to wake up if she's not getting to nurse.
    Do you enjoy nursing him more now than before?

  8. This is why you're his Mama. You're the one that is suppose to know how to do this for him and for you. I think it's important to be thoughtful and sensitive to your family's needs when taking on this sort of situation. I think you're doing a great job. We did something very similar and my cute kid is a VERY good sleeper now. (He's a better sleeper when Mama is in charge because I'm more consistant cough cough ha ha ha) You're on your way to a full nights sleep. I have no advice because every family is different. Just keep following your Mama instincts :)

  9. Uff dah!! Glad you're getting there. Sounds like you've done all the research and are in a good place. Is your milk supply sufficient when you only feed once at night. That was always a problem for me. Anywho, glad you're on the right track!!

  10. Wonderful! I agree with all your rules, and you and Winslow have done WONDERFULLY!!! I am so happy for Noah, and for you guys... *sigh* and I was worried your "long" post was about failure.. I'm calling you right now, since we are almost at 2 weeks now since I've seen you...


Oh goody....I love comments!