Sleep Training my Firstborn

Sleep training: one of the more polarizing parenting topics out there.  Is it cruel and inhumane to let your baby "cry it out (CIO)" to teach them to fall asleep by themselves (without being rocked or nursed to sleep)?  Or is it ultimately good for them?  Parents' opinions are all across the board on this one and if you have spent any amount of time perusing American parenting blogs, forums, or books you've likely heard/read proponents of both philosophies passionately defend their viewpoints.

There are many, many opinions on baby sleep out there already, so rather than give you all my reasons for why I think what I think and chose to let my firstborn CIO, I want to simply share our experience and let it speak for itself.  I don't want to tell you that how we decided to implement sleep training is the right approach for everyone to take, but I do believe in the end it was the right thing for our family.

For those unfamiliar with the reasoning behind the CIO method, the idea is basically that babies have to learn to connect their sleep cycles together because they aren't born with the innate ability to do so.  If you let them CIO, they learn how it feels to settle back to sleep on their own and become able to "self soothe," rather than relying on a sleep aid (like a pacifier, swing, or being held, rocked or nursed) to help them go back to sleep.

I first heard about sleep training through the book On Becoming Babywise.  I heard rave reviews from friends and read it while I was pregnant.  (It was actually the only book on baby sleep I read until much later, when James was having trouble with nighttime sleep.)  I agreed with the philosophy behind the "parent directed feeding" model it presented, particularly the eat-wake-sleep cycle, and wanted my baby to learn to fall asleep without depending on help from me, so I planned to start sleep training using CIO as early as was considered healthy according to the author (around 2 weeks old if I remember correctly).

But once I actually had the baby in front of me, I was really unsure about starting CIO as early as Babywise suggested because all the materials I received from his pediatrician and everything I read from breastfeeding advocates stressed demand feeding (nurse WHENEVER baby wants to).  And James woke up A LOT at night to eat.  4-5 times per night was not unusual.

When he was a couple months old and still waking every 2-3 hours at night to nurse and when I read he should be waking only one, maybe two times at night by this age, I decided it was maybe time to give CIO a try.  I still wasn't really sure, though, since I read other places online that up to 4 months old it was completely normal and healthy for breastfed babies to wake up 2-3 times at night to nurse.

So my initial application of CIO was half-hearted at best, because I always worried in the back of my mind that I was starving my poor little child (who was small for his gestational age at birth, only 5 lbs, 13 oz @ 39 weeks) when he woke up and wanted to nurse and I refused to let him, so I was very inconsistent in my implementation.  I went through phases a few weeks at a time where I was all gung ho about doing it, and then when I wouldn't see any results or progress I would doubt myself and change my mind.

During the night if James woke and I decided to let him CIO (let's say it was a week I was really fired up about trying to get him to go longer stretches at night without nursing) I could never sleep myself while he was crying (it's a hard / maybe impossible thing for a mother to rest easy while her child seems so unhappy and distressed!), so then I would convince myself it was easier and more helpful to my own sleep to just quickly nurse him and put him back down rather than staying up worrying about him while he cried until he fell back asleep.  This whole conundrum did not help my consistency in implementing CIO either.

I also perused the good ol' internet for other strategies to try.  After consulting Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and internet forums, I tried for a while to do a "dream feed" (getting him up to nurse before I went to bed around 10 pm) with the aim that he would sleep longer into the night and not wake up to nurse as frequently for the rest of the night.  Sometimes if he woke only a couple hours after the dream feed I would try to let him CIO hoping he would fall back asleep on his own without being nursed first.  But this was all largely unsuccessful.

I continued my wishy-washy implementation of CIO until James was 6 months old, still thinking that maybe my son was different and needed the extra feedings for nutrition, but also wishing he would sleep for longer periods at night.  Meanwhile I was becoming absolutely exhausted getting up every 2-3 hours for 6 long months!

Ditching the swaddle around 5 months old, thankfully that part was easy!

At his 6 month appointment, our pediatrician confirmed James did not need to nurse for nutrition as frequently at night as he was waking for it (usually 3-4 times), but rather he was using nursing as a sleep aid.  The doctor also told me James should be sleeping 7-8 hour stretches and he was rarely sleeping 5 hours at a time at that point!  So I knew it was time to get serious.  And I was becoming desperate enough with my own lack of sleep that I was ready to try being strict with CIO.

Sometime soon after that 6 month appointment, our real breakthrough came during one excruciating night when James woke at 10 PM, midnight, 2 AM, and at 4 AM I decided enough was enough and I was going to stick to my guns and let him CIO for that 4 AM waking.  He cried for 2 WHOLE HOURS.  I was wide awake for the entirety of it and it was one of the longest 2 hours of my life.  (Probably only being in labor trumps the horrible 2 hour scream sesh in my level of desire for the whole thing to be over!) But at 6 AM he fell asleep for a couple hours and then awoke for the morning and greeted me with a smile as if nothing had happened.  It was seriously the craziest thing!

The even crazier thing: the next night he woke around the same times (10 PM, midnight, 2 AM) but no 4 AM waking!  He slept all the way from 2:30 AM until 7:30 AM and consistently dropped the 4 AM feeding from that point on.  So it literally took only one night of serious CIO to drop one night feeding. (!!)

From that point I truly believed CIO could work for James, I just needed to continue to be consistent as we dropped the remaining night feedings.  Even then, it took some time to get to the point where he was sleeping through the night (7-8 hours at a time with only one night feed) consistently.

All the SIDS prevention people are probs cringing at this photo...we never really did 
the sleep sack thing after he lost the swaddle :/ but thankfully he's still alive and kickin'
And then one day, he just slept from bedtime until morning completely out of the blue.  When I woke up that morning and realized he didn't wake up during the night I panicked a little because I thought something might be wrong with him!  Then I told myself it must have been a fluke because I didn't want to get my hopes up.  But then he did it again the next night, and the next, and finally after 5 nights I decided it was safe to admit we were completely done with night wakings.  He was just over 8 months old.  (Which, by the way, is a far cry from what Babywise says is "average" for babies who follow their methods.)

We actually were not completely done with night wakings, as they returned after our move to Brunei due to jet lag when he was 10 months old.  But just as soon as they appeared, they vanished again.  When he got to be in his own room, all it took was about 5-10 minutes of crying at most if he woke up during the night and he knew how to settle himself back down.

A world class sleeper by this point!
Stay tuned for my next post on what I learned from the whole thing and my genius plan to get Cameron to sleep through the night a lot quicker than 8 months old (that's working!)

No comments:

Post a Comment