“I love sleep training. I love sleep training.” This is what goes through my head every time Henry sleeps through the night. “I hate sleep training. I hate sleep training,” is what goes through my head every time he doesn’t. With Henry’s pediatrician’s go-ahead, we started sleep training him at 4 ½ months. Sleep training requires persistence and consistency, which happen to be the two things I obsessed about daily in my pre-baby life. Routine is my middle name. Starting around 2 months we had already implemented a nighttime and naptime routine of feeding, books, song and sleep. At that time, he was not yet on a schedule, but the second I saw signs of sleepiness (eye rubbing, yawning, fussiness) I would start the routine. Henry’s naptime and bedtime routines are similar, except at night he gets a bath every other day. Each time, I zip him up in his sleep sack, we sit in the rocker, read a few books, I put him down in his crib, turn out the lights and sing him a song. He pops his thumb in his mouth, hugs his Ugly Doll, Babo, and falls asleep.
Starting from birth, I charted Henry’s feedings, poos, pees, and sleep. Once he started showing a general pattern I would put him down before he showed signs of tiredness. Two weeks before we started officially sleep training; I night weaned him. Each night I nursed him for a few minutes less and prolonged the time between feedings. The start of sleep training coincided with the end of Henry’s pacifier, which was a relief, as running into his room 10 times a night to replace the nook each time he lost it was getting old. He barely noticed it was gone.
Once we began a blend of the Weisbluth and Ferber cry it out methods, it took 3 nights. On night 1 we let him cry for 3 minutes, then went in to pat his chest and said, “Momma loves you,” and left the room. If he continued crying we let him cry for 5 minutes, then went in and repeated the comforting ritual. If he continued, we let him cry for 10 minutes, etc. Each time he woke crying, we would begin the 3, 5, 10 and 15-minute increments again. On night 2 we used increments of 5, 10, 15 and 20 minutes. On night 3 we used increments of 10, 15, 20, and 25 minutes. On night 4 he slept from 9pm until 5am without a peep. Hallelujah, it worked! Once he was sleep trained at night, we moved on to sleep training him for his naps.
What was peculiar about our sleep training experience was that Chris was not allowed to participate. This is odd considering Chris is an extremely hands on father. He loves getting down and dirty with the baby. Normally, moms don’t participate in night sleep training, due to the fact that the smell of her breast milk might upset the baby even more. Although he did everything he could to help, we discovered that Chris has a mental and physical affliction in the middle of the night – he can’t use his brain to direct his bodily functions. He would forget to put on his glasses and rush into Henry’s room clumsily. On multiple occasions he walked his lanky frame into doors, lamps, bookshelves, walls, etc. He often woke up franticly feeling around for Henry in the bed telling me to be careful, even though we never slept with Henry in the bed. Chris even picked Henry up out of his crib once, which is a big fat no-no according to Dr. Ferber. If you pick up baby during sleep training, he will think that if he cries long enough, he will get what he wants – and all that crying he did the last few days would be for nothing. We finally came up with a rule that Chris was not allowed out of bed between the hours of 11pm and 5am. His job at night was to give Henry his last bottle of the evening and occasionally wake me up when Henry started crying – I am a very heavy sleeper.
Choosing to sleep train is equivalent to selectively fighting in a never-ending war. He sleeps great for two weeks, and then when he is sick or we are traveling he gets off schedule, and we have to sleep train him all over again. On occasion Henry wins – I give in and rock him back to sleep (last night), but for the most part we hold the victory flag (this morning he cried for 20 minutes during his nap and fell back asleep).
Listening to his cries gets more heartbreaking as he gets stronger and more stubborn. As his screams get progressively louder and more dramatic, I feel a knot in my stomach. I imagine that he’s thinking “Momma, where are you? Momma come snuggle me!” It is agonizing. It sounds disturbingly similar to some sort of baby boot camp, and I’m the drill sergeant, but I know he’s OK in the end, because he wakes up giggly and spry. I suppose Henry is more regimented than most kids he knows, and it’s probably because I’m obsessive about feeding him and putting him down for sleep at almost the same time every day. It’s an interesting balancing act. When he’s off schedule he gets overtired and fussy, but we have to be flexible when we travel and when we visit with family and friends.
If I had to do it all over again, I would. I hear too many stories of babies who wake up to feed in the middle of the night at 12 months old, and I thank my lucky stars that Henry has been sleep trained since he was 5 months old. I need my sleep too.
Tip: The darker the room, the better baby will sleep.