Sleepless in the Suburbs

November 6, 2010 at 7:01 pm | Posted in Little O | 5 Comments
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Would you really let this guy cry it out?

My son does not sleep. Does. Not. Sleep. Or maybe, more accurately: my son likes to nurse. Likes. To. Nurse. I suspect it is a combination of the two, but  the result is that he is nine months old, and we are in state of deep sleep deprivation. This is not a post to elicit sleep-training advice. If you have tried it, so have we.

Here is my rational analysis, although anything I say or do these days is far from rational since — have you heard? — I am really, really tired.

My daughter, Little Bug, was sleeping 6:30-7 by seven weeks. I know, I know, this is a statistical anomaly. As a result, however, I never had to contemplate “sleep training.” I thought I didn’t believe in it. Babies slept through the night when they decided to and mine, fortunately, just so happened to do so at a very early age. I admit: I was smug. My former nanny used to say to me in her Caribbean lilt: “Your second baby will NOT be like this. You will see.” Of course, I did not believe her.

When Little O turned seven weeks, and then eight weeks, and he was still up two or three times a night, I thought, well, yes, most normal babies do not really sleep until three months, and yes, we got lucky with Little Bug. So that milestone came and went. Fourteen weeks — the age at which most of my friends instituted a no-holds barred sleep training policy — came and went but still, I thought, he’ll do it any day. At six months — the oldest age at which I’d ever heard of anyone initiating sleep training — I thought: hmmm, we may be in trouble. But then he started to sleep. A bit. I was hopeful, and I was relieved because at seven months I was headed back to work. By this point, I’d put him down at 7 p.m., and some nights he’d wake at 2 or 3, but I could nurse him for all of five minutes and he’d go back down. Some nights he’s sleep all the way through, and some nights he wouldn’t. By that point I barely registered that little 2 a.m. blip. And, anyway, he’d be sleeping through the night any day now, right? These were the final throes of night wakings. They had to be. If he didn’t start sleeping by the time I went back to work, we’d do some sort of sleep training. Ferber, no-cry, whatever. We’d address it firmly.

Then I went back to work. And he started to teethe. And started daycare and, as a result, started getting sick. Colds, fevers, ear infections. How could I not go to him in the night? I went to work every day in a fog of exhaustion laced with caffeine jitters. Tim and I worked out an unconscious division of labor whereby when I heard Little O stir, I’d nudge Tim. He’d trudge down the hall to get the baby out of his crib and bring him into the bed. After nursing, and maybe falling asleep in the process, I’d eventually bring him back to the crib. Still, at this point, this was maybe only happening once per night.

Then, somehow, around eight months, just as my little baby was turning into a solid little crawler with six teeth and inhaling “real” food all day long, he had a total and utter sleep reversion. I swear he wakes up more than my three-week old nephew. At least he’s consistent: 10 p.m., 2 a.m. 5:30 a.m. And I indulge. I indulge because I’m too tired to sleep train. Because he doesn’t nurse all day and so I feel like I’m at least making up for it at night. Because he’s probably my last baby and I can’t bear the thought of giving up nursing (although, if he’s still nursing at 3 — no offense to you stalwart nursers who are still nursing at 3 — please say something to me!)

Last week we decided to get tough. Although I don’t — didn’t — really believe in sleep training (but, note that my reasons for this are because I assumed that, since my daughter slept so easily that children eventually would learn…), I felt borderline dysfunctional. I basically subsist on caffeine, a fact that is reflected in my complexion. I do not have the energy to exercise. I move through work as if I’m in a thick soup — simple projects takes me three times as long as they should. I am dull, in every connotation of the word. I am irritable, as many of those close to me have discerned. Perhaps noting my bloodshot eyes (for real), a co-worker gave me a book that seemed a rational amalgamation of all sorts of different types of sleep trainings, from Ferber to Weissbluth. In short: you pay attention to when your baby wakes and how much they eat each time. You anticipate the waking by one hour and, slowly, over the course a week, feed them a bit less every time. So, if your baby wakes at 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. and nurses for 8 minutes, you wake him at 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. and nurse him for 8 minutes the first night, 6 the second, 4 the third and then not at all. If they still wake, you can let them cry it out. The hard part of this is that, while it’s easy to go in a 9 p.m., it’s not so easy to set an alarm and go in a 2 a.m. We thus tried a bastardized version of this method and it backfired utterly — clearly you have to follow it to the letter. Here’s how the past several nights have gone.

Three nights ago: wake him up an hour early and give a bottle of breastmilk at 9 p.m. He wolfs it down. He sleeps till 5:30. Hallelujah! It works.
Two nights ago: forget to wake at 9, but at 9:30 give another big bottle of breastmilk. Perhaps we should have followed through and done the 2 a.m. precipatory wake up… anyway, he woke up about 3 a.m., but just cried for a little bit (we didn’t even go in the room) and went back down. Hooray! We are saved!
Last night: nurse (not bottle) at 10 p.m. (oops). Crying starts at 2 a.m. We will ignore. Be strong. The crying goes on and on and on. At 4:30 a.m. Tim caves and goes in and gives him a bottle. Writing this, I realize how harsh it sounds that we let him cry (now, granted he wasn’t shrieking the whole time, but he was definitely awake and fussy) for two hours. And — a ha! There’s the rub. Would you let your baby cry for two hours? No, us either.

So here we are with a big, jolly, nine-month-old baby who won’t sleep and parents who are utterly spent and have no idea what to do next. I’m not complaining — TRULY I am not. I’m just confused. In the end, maybe I simply have a child who likes to get up and be warm and cozy next to his mama in the middle of the night and, if this is the heart of the matter, do I really need to do anything anyway?

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  1. I really, truly feel that little boys need sleep training. Both of my daughters did well with minimal training. Ned? A disaster. I finally pulled the plug around 5 months after I monitored his eating, saw he was “learning” and just said – “Buddy, you are tricking me, we are done.” I think it may have been easier because I stopped nursing around that time. With my newest she sleeps through most nights so sometimes we will feed her a little but never before 4 am – if she wakes up earlier we let her cry and she’s only done that twice. Ned by the way slept through the night (eliminating TWO wakeups) after 3 nights. Yes, he woke up Penny but she survived. The problem I intellectually have with the reducing the amount of formula/timing of BFing is that they don’t really understand why you are partially responding to them. I figure – it is better for them if I just don’t go in until 6 am. [If it is 5:45 am, fine – because they can’t tell time.] But they know when it is 2 am as opposed to 6 am because they are only partway through a sleep cycle. I also think it is mentally harder to partially respond even though I am very responsive to crying (well, except random tantrums) during the day.

    It is so tempting to start co-sleeping or keep going in because it is precious time YOU have with your baby. But then I realized that being fully awake in the morning and actively being with them before heading into work was better quality time than in the middle of the night. We can have conversations and play time that is stimulating. Plus there is YOUR survival to consider and sleep deprivation affects marriages, job performance, relationship with your kids, etc.

    What does your husband say? We both read Weissbluth on what should be happing at 4-6 months (btw, he says no night feeding after 9 months that the babies don’t need it), we got on the same page and he was excellent about bolstering my reserve at 11 pm and 2 am when Ned woke up.

    Good luck – eventually you’ll figure it out. One option is to do sleep training by one parent – so you stay in bed and let your husband respond (or not respond) but basically pass off responsibility entirely. Some moms even leave the house and sleep elsewhere for a few nights.

    • Thanks so much for this thoughtful response. Interestingly, my husband has a much more difficult time than I with the crying! He always caves and goes to the baby, and I get furious that we have to start all over. Last night I made my husband sleep in the guest room and said I would handle it — although we also pretty much gave up last night (out of exhaustion), and I fed at 1 am. Then at 4, when I KNEW the baby wasn’t hungry, I let him cry a bit to suss out the situation — and after 10 minutes my husband was out of the guest room like a shot to “rescue” him. Here’s the second half of the problem: as mad a I am that he ruins our half-hearted attempts at sleep training, I think it’s, like, also totally endearing and cute that my husband can’t let him cry. So the issues go on and on and meanwhile no one is sleeping! 🙂

      • It’s the same way here: I’m the “breaker of babies” and my husband is the softie. However, since little H nurses, when my husband went in he just got angrier, so that cured things. Little H is such a better sleeper that I hardly mind him getting me up once a night. For some reason the “years are short” idea is really present in my mind these days, and that pretty much eliminates (most of) any frustration I feel (usually).

  2. This “Would you let your baby cry for two hours? No, us either.” made me laugh. I’ll tell you why–I would and did and wouldn’t really recommend it to anyone. (Except myself.)

    When my second wasn’t sleeping through the night, either, I told a nurse about it. She told me that breastmilk is not nearly as filling as formula, so breast-fed babies will tend to wake up more. After hearing that, I didn’t feel so … upset when he would wake up. He was hungry! Though, I was still tired and irritable and everything that comes with that.

    I will not tell you what you should and shouldn’t do, but I will tell you that you are the best mom for that sweet, little boy. You. Are. Awesome. Don’t let anyone tell you different. So you won’t let that sweet boy cry (as the training requires), that is your decision and the one you think is best for you and your baby. Those who beg to differ can take their opinions and shove them up their…you know what. (Maybe a little harsh but oh well.)

    I hope you get some sleep soon. I sincerely do.

  3. If it makes you feel any better, our perfect puppy who has always loved his little room (crate) and slept as late as we have, has suddenly started wimpering in the night. At 1 a.m. last night, thinking his crying so rare, and that he must be in pain, I pulled on sweats and took him outside at 1 a.m. (at least babies don’t ask for that!), where he proceeded to play with a stick and NOT rush to the bathroom.

    The only differences is, when I woke to John throwing on his sweats to take Blue outside at 4 a.m., and told him about the 1 a.m. frolic, John changed his tune, got back in bed, and gave a firm “Blue, NO Bark”, which Blue slowly obeyed. If only babies were so easy…


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