OK, not Dr. Ferber. Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack. And not cry-it-out so much as what folks call “controlled crying.” But oh, how I love them all.
One week ago today, we had a baby–the cutest baby pretty much ever, incidentally–who liked a 30-minute session of rocking, singing, feeding, and occasionally for me to lay across her bodily in the crib before falling asleep. Then she’d sleep for 30 minutes, wake up, and I’d rush in to do a little rocking and laying-across to bridge her to her real sleep time. (The first 30 minutes were merely a sleep appetizer, you see.) If I didn’t get in there soon enough, she’d be fully awake and fussing, so I’d send another 20 minutes getting her to go down. Two or three hours later, she’d wake up for food or a wet diaper or some cuddles, and we’d oblige. 2 1/2 hours after that, she’d wake up for real, talking to herself, and fuss and cry unless one of us was in the room with her while she had her 2 AM playtime. After an hour, back to sleep, then back up again at around 5 for one last diaper change/bottle suck/cuddle.
Every three hours, she’d be up, which really, in the grand scheme of babydom, ain’t so bad. I’ve learned how to cram a full sleep cycle into 2 1/2 hours, so three hours was great. The whole “sleeping through the night” thing eluded us–five hours in a row was a two-time fluke, not an actual condition–and after a few half-hearted attempts at winging Ferberization, we figured we’d just gradually get her off her sleep dependencies (the swaddle and the bottle) and she’d figure it out on her own.
After Night #2 sans swaddle, when we were up every 45 to 60 minutes, and both RocketMan and I slept on the floor of the nursery, RocketMan made an executive decision: the sleep training starts now. Fortunately, the previous weekend I’d done a little browsing in Borders and found The Sleepeasy Solution, a straightforward manual that covers naps, weaning, swaddles, bedtime, night wakings, and even has a chapter for cosleepers (which we’re not). Best part? No long-ass chapters espousing sleep theory and telling me why my baby needs to sleep. I know why my baby needed to sleep. I just didn’t know how to get her there.
Sleepeasy Solution is a modified Ferber method, which some folks call “controlled crying”; others call it CIO, or “cry it out.” It’s not for everyone. Some people can’t stand to hear their baby cry for any length of time; some think it results in adult anxiety issues; others think it’s just plain cruel. Personally, I think that three nights of crying will not have any more impact on my baby’s future mental health than would, say, a week spent in the NICU. All that said, it’s no picnic.
Here’s the basic plan.
- Create a good sleep space. In our case, that meant blackout curtains for the doorways (remember, our nursery is a converted hallway); a white noise machine; and a red light nightlight. We like the red bulbs at night because the short wavelengths don’t make your pupils shrink. You can go from a bright to dark room, and vice versa, without night blindness.
- Create a sleep routine and begin it so that it ends at bedtime. For us, that means changing into the sleeper; reading a book quietly; diaper check; then turning out the lamp and doing an out-of-crib feeding. (I say “out-of-crib” because we’d long been using the never-recommended shortcut of feeding her in the crib so as not to rouse her too much.) Top it off with a verse of “Blackbird” whilst cuddling, then into the crib she goes, with her blankie, pacifier, and a kiss on the head. A word about the lovey blanket: my sister bought me the Comfort Silkie, which I stuffed in my bra and slept with for two nights so it smells like me. She wasn’t into it until we started sleep training, and now she clutches it like a lifeline. Write down the exact minute you left the room.
- Commence the graduated check-ins. This is the hard part.
- Start the clock when she starts crying. We used my iPod’s Stopwatch feature; the great thing is, it has a “lap” feature, so you can see the length of time since the previous check-in as well as the full length of time she’s been in there.
- At five minutes, if she’s crying, check in. The authors recommend standing a few feet from the crib and talking softly for no more than 30 seconds. If you want to give her a pat, that’s fine, but be warned that it might make her cry harder. For us, RocketMan talked sweetly and softly; for me, I discovered one full round of “Blackbird” is exactly 30 seconds long, and that’s what I did. Exit.
- Start the next lap. Next check-in is ten minutes later, same thing.
- Third lap: 15 minutes. And it’s 15 minutes for every subsequent lap.
- And presto! She’s asleep.
Except not. A quick clarification: The first night of sleep training was December 30, and we’d decided I’d go to say farewell to Annie’s Social Club a night early (mostly because I am loathe to go out on New Year’s Eve), and he’d go out New Year’s Eve. The plan seems counterintuitive–starting sleep training when one partner is absent–but it worked brilliantly for us. Why? Because we weren’t sniping at each other and second-guessing during the hardest nights. We each had a plan, and we stuck to it. And the best part was that I got a night off of baby duty, and then he did, and on the third night–when conditions greatly improved–we were able to trade off as usual.
I texted RM from Annie’s at 8:30, and his response was gratifying: “Asleep @ 10 minute!” When I got home at 11:30, though, he leapt on me at the door with a “Shhh!” Turns out that after her sleep appetizer–her 30-minute pre-sleep nap–the fun began. She cried from 9:30 to 10:40, when she finally zonked out. At 11:30, she woke up and ate half a bottle. And at 12:45 AM. And 3:20 AM. And 5:55, 6:40, and 7:10. By the 6:40 wakeup, she began crying in earnest again, and RM began the check-ins. A word about night wakings: if your baby’s weaned from night feedings, you can probably go without feeding her at all, but the Agent of Chaos still eats at night, so we’re working on weaning her as we sleep train. And there’s always the wet diaper possibility.
Lesson #1: During night wakings, check the diaper and change it if necessary. Feed her outside the crib, and put her back in while still awake. UPDATE 2/8/2010: ONLY do this if you haven’t done night weaning.
New Year’s Eve, she went down at 6:50 PM; fell asleep at 7, and woke promptly at 7:30. Here are my notes from that night:
5/10/Q@15/Q@15/Q@15/WD @ 1:25
Translation: Checked in at 5 and 10 minutes; quiet at 15 minutes. That meant that at the 15-minute mark, she was quiet or just complaining. This, to me, is the most important part of the sleep training.
Lesson #2: Don’t check in just because the clock tells you to; listen to your baby.
Has she been crying only intermittently? Is she just fussing? Was she crying two minutes ago, but is quiet now? If so, don’t check in. Restart the clock and wait another interval. The last thing you want to do is remind her that you’re around and upset her all over again.
So on Night #2, after the 5 and 10 minute check-ins, she cried off and on for 50 minutes, getting gradually quieter, so I didn’t check in at all. I did, however, notice that after that 50 minutes–around 9 PM, she began crying again, harder. I suspected something had changed. This is the other hard part: how do I check her diaper if I’m not supposed to pick her up? Nothing to lose, I figured–worse comes to worst, I’ll have to start all over again, and it can’t be any harder than it already has been. So at the next check-in time, I crept up to the crib, felt her diaper, and yep! Wet. So I picked her up, changed her diaper, singing the whole time, put her back down, gave her the blankie and paci, and left. By 9:30, she was sound asleep.
Lesson #3: If she’s on her way to sleeping, and she sets off again, check the diaper and change it.
The rest of the night tracked like the night before. Un-fun. After two hours of 20-minute naps interspersed with crying, I got her up at 7:15 AM, figuring it was morning, so treat it that way. That day, we began the nap training, which was similar to night training, except that we leave her in the crib for an hour; if she’s asleep at the 60-minute mark, let her keep sleeping; if not, get her up. Start the check-ins if she’s really wailing. The first day of nap training, she only took three 30-minute naps, not nearly close to the 2-3 hours recommended, so after her third nap, we popped her in the sling and she conked out for two hours–slept hard enough that even when we took her out of the sling, watched a movie, spoke in regular voices and had all the lights on, she still slept. You’re not supposed to let them nap in the evening, but she was tired, and the last thing we wanted was starting the night routine with an overtired baby.
Lesson #4: If, by 4:30 PM, she hasn’t slept enough, stage an “emergency nap”–go back to the surefire nap technique so she gets the sleep when she needs it.
Night #3, she was asleep within 20 minutes, and required only the 5-minute check-in. By 9:51–her scheduled post-appetizer wakeup–we hovered at the clock. But she slept on. And kept sleeping until 10:20, a full hour after falling asleep, when she required only two check-ins. At 11:20, she woke again, this time for a wet diaper and small snack… and then she slept from 11:35 to 4:35.
Five hours. That’s officially sleeping through the night. After a half a bottle and a diaper change, she slept from 4:45 to 9 AM. Four hours. Insane.
Her first nap the next morning? 90 minutes long. 90. MINUTES. LONG.
And last night, Night #4? Down at 7:20 PM. Asleep at 7:22. I kid you not. At 10 PM, I woke her for a “dreamfeed”–gently waking the baby so she doesn’t need as much to eat in the middle of the night. She guzzled 6 oz., thanked me for the diaper change, and was asleep within two minutes of putting her back down. Woke up at 3 PM–without crying, by the by, just chatting to herself–and RM changed her, fed her, and after a long bout of talking to herself, she woke up at 8 AM, cheerful and bright-eyed.
That’s five hours and four hours again, for those of you keeping score. And a full night with not one tear.
Of course, napping this morning had her crying for 30 minutes. But they say naps are always harder.
Great job! But didn’t you feel horrible hearing her cry?
Actually, no. I didn’t cheer, but I didn’t feel horrible. I felt pretty awful when I’d go in for the check-in and she’d look at me, face crumpled up like Mr. StayPuft’s “Why did you shoot me?” look. But in I’d go, and out I’d go, and plug into the stereo with RocketMan’s headphones. Keep in mind that we can’t go into another room and turn up the TV–her nursery is just behind a curtain off our living room. So we had to keep the sound down and the headphones up.
What really made me feel like Mommie Dearest was hearing her the next morning. She sounded like me after a long night of singing Pat Benatar–in everything I’d read online, I hadn’t seen much about the baby crying herself hoarse, and that’s what mine did. She’s still hoarse this morning (and her nap crying didn’t help), but I’m hoping in a few more days she’ll sound more Julie Andrews and less Lindsay Lohan.
Do you worry about the long-term effects of letting her cry?
No. If I do the math, in the last 96 hours, she’s cried for roughly six hours, or 6% of the time. And she cried consistently, and hard (what we call “Fifth Gear”) for maybe 90 minutes, all told. Is that fun? No. Did she like it? Hells, no. But if the little Agent of Chaos is doomed to grow up feeling unloved and anxious because of six hours of crying spread out over 96 hours, then we’re doing a lot more wrong as parents than just sleep training.
What if she goes back to her old habits?
If, by the end of two weeks, she’s consistently gone back to crying for sleep and waking every three hours, then we’ll call the last two nights a fluke, and try something else. But I don’t think that’ll happen.
If you managed to stick with me this far, thanks. I know it’s been a long blog, but I often can’t find the real downlow on stuff like this, and I appreciate reading other people’s experiences. And, as always, I only have five months’ worth of parenting experience, so scrap everything I just said and head over to Regretsy for some fun New Year’s reading.
And also, go Steelers.