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Month: October 2008

sleep training – battle of the wills

Note: After my brother’s wedding, I knew I would have a week of relative calm at my parents house. So I figured it was as good a time as any to try some sleep training. I wouldn’t call it a complete disaster, but let’s just say we’re no better off than when we started.

I’m trying to figure out a way to summarize this week here on the east coast, and all I can think of is that Z and I have had this battle of the wills, and Z has won. I don’t like to think of my relationship with Z as a competition, but that’s what it’s felt like at times – me willing myself not to go to him while he “learns how to self-soothe,” (aka cries) and he wailing so much, and at such unexpected times, that I can’t help but cave and go to him.

My parents have been helping – encouraging me to let him work it out, and distracting me with good food and movies and glasses of wine. It also helps to have him upstairs with the door closed while I’m downstairs with the TV on. But the kid can wail. And I think I could hear him through a dozen sound-proof walls, three states over.

The most frustrating thing is that I feel so good when I just bring him into bed with me and let him (and myself) rest peacefully. He’s so warm and snuggly and sweet. But for whatever bizarre reason, I feel like that’s a bad thing to do – or at least that I’m committing myself to always having him in the bed. What I want is for him to be able to sleep on his own, but to be able to break the rules from time to time. The problem is that he’s no closer to sleeping through the night than he was when this week of sleep training started, which makes me feel like I’ve failed, and tortured him with crying in the process.

Granted, there have been a few things to get in the way of true sleep training:

1) being in a new place at least three different nights.
2) lots of highly over-stimulating days with not nearly enough nap time.
3) me being alone in the room with him – no Dave to help me get through it.

So now we have to decide what to do next. I’m not sure I can take another week of all this crying, and despite the return to “normal” life tomorrow, I’m not totally convinced this method of sleep training will work for us right now. I’m tempted to suck it up for another month when Zekey will be a little older and a little bigger and truly able to make it the whole night without eating. (I find it impossible to tell the difference between hungry cries and attention-seeking cries. And I imagine it will be much easier to be consistent with sleep training when we know that he should simply not get hungry at night.)

On the other hand, there have been a handful of nights when he’s slept a good 5 hours to start the night (like he used to) which – if it stayed that way – would allow us to actually leave him with a babysitter and go out once in a while (something we haven’t done since our anniversary in early August). And there have been a handful of nights when he’s slept 3-4 hour chunks after the first 5 – which means just a bit more sleep for me which would be… well… nice. And this tells me he’s capable of keeping that more reasonable schedule on a regular basis if we’re strong enough to enforce it.

But the more exhausted and sleep deprived I get, the harder it is to do anything with any regularity. And while I sometimes feel like I’m back in the early days of survival mode, I know that this can’t last forever and that somehow or another, Z will sleep through the night. I just have to figure out what’s better/worse for now – listening to my sweet boy cry, or continuing to bend to his impressive will for at least a while longer. I’m thinking the latter.

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Zekey’s first flight

Against all intuition, we woke Z up at 4:30 am this morning to catch at 6:45 am flight to Denver, and then on to Philly for my brother’s wedding this weekend. I was absolutely dreading the flight – fearing karmic payback for all the evil thoughts I had about crying babies on planes before now, and just not wanting to be “that girl” with the screaming child. But you know what? Z totally surprised me. He was great.

We had a row to ourselves on the way to Denver and after an hour of quiet playing, he fell asleep in his car seat and didn’t wake up until we were ready to board our second flight. He slept through the landing, getting off the plane, changing gates and waiting in line. Amazing. The second leg was packed so he had to be on our laps the whole time. But he only fussed briefly, smiled at everyone, played with his toys, stared out the window, slept in Dave’s arms for a little while, and was generally pretty content… I’m just stunned.

He then slept almost the entire two-hour ride from the airport to the hotel, and then had nothing but smiles and giggles for his Omi and Opa. And to top it all off, he fell asleep in a strange crib with nearly NO CRYING. Who is this baby?


the happy healthy something whatever book

At the risk of sounding contradictory after my recent baby book-loathing post, I just finished reading “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” by Marc Weissbluth.

9:30 pm – After successfully putting Z to bed at 6:30 pm, he’s up to eat – right on schedule.

I have pretty mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, he talks a lot about fussy babies which definitely speaks to my current world view. On the other, he takes a pretty extreme stance on sleep training and basically tries (quite successfully) to convince you that if your kid doesn’t sleep well he will end up hyperactive, depressed, and learning disabled, and that the bad habits he has now will last well into his college years if you don’t take decisive action.

12 am – He’s crying again. It’s only been 2.5 hours. Should I leave him for another 30 minutes? Could he really be hungry again so soon? I haven’t tried to sleep yet. What’s the point when he’ll be up in another half hour anyway? I’m going to ignore him.

Basically, beginning at four months, he recommends closing the bedroom door after you put your kid to bed, and not opening it again until morning. If he gets hungry at night, you should feed him, but only at set times and never more than twice in a night. If he cries in between those set times, you ignore him. Even if he cries a LOT. (Nap time is the same idea, but he puts a one hour limit on the crying.)

He says you can do whatever you want to soothe your baby to sleep, but once you put him down, you don’t pick him up again until the allotted sleep time is over. In this way, he says, you teach your baby to self-soothe and be able to put himself back to sleep after natural night and nap wakings.

12:30 pm – he actually managed to put himself back to sleep after about 10 minutes! Hurray! One point for me.

On paper, this all seemed pretty reasonable – until we tried to put it into practice this week. The first time we tried to put Zeke down for a nap this way, he cried for a full hour. We could have gone into the room to soothe him with our voices, but we decided from past experience that this only makes things worse. So we were just going cold-turkey with the crying it out – what Weissbluth calls the “extinction” method. (Could it get any worse?)

It was absolutely awful, and the only thing that kept us from going in to get him was the belief (bred from this book) that we would be sending him mixed messages.

1 am – I’ve been asleep for 15 minutes. He’s crying again. He could really be hungry this time – it’s been 3.5 hours. I’ll feed him.

Let me interrupt myself to say that I also read Elizabeth Pantley’s “The No Cry Sleep Solution.” But since Zekey was already crying so much even with our soothing and intervention, it didn’t seem like a viable option for actually getting him to improve his sleep.

2:30 am – Crying again. What time is it? God I’m tired. Did I feed him last time? Can’t remember. I’ll feed him again. Oops. Wasn’t really hungry this time. Mixed messages. So tired.

Let me also say that people have very strong feelings about this whole “cry it out” thing. And I’ve had a few people tell me in no uncertain terms that they think it’s a horrible thing to do to a baby – which of course makes me feel terrible. But they can’t possibly be as tired as we are right now, and they clearly don’t have a kid like our little Z. Or maybe they’re just better people/parents than we are. All I can offer them at this point is – “whatever.”

3:45 am – Crying. Really wailing. Now I know he’s not hungry. Shouldn’t be hungry until 5 am. But we haven’t changed his diaper all night. Did he poop? Dave – go change him. Really wet. No poop. Should have changed him at 2 am when I fed him. More mixed signals. Back in the co-sleeper. Now he’s pitching a total fit. Try to comfort him. Fail. Leave the room.

For bedtime we decided that Zekey shouldn’t need to eat more than four hours after he last ate. So if we put him to bed at 7 pm (last feeding at 6:30 pm-ish) then we would ignore his cries until 10:30 pm. The first time we tried this, he woke up after three hours and didn’t stop crying for a half hour when we finally couldn’t take it anymore. And sure enough, he was starving. In the interest of sticking to our plan for at least one night, we ignored him again when he woke three hours later and he cried for 40 minutes before we gave in. Again, he was hungry. And we felt awful. I’m not sure how many more times he was up that night, but we didn’t allow any more crying.

4:15 am – Crying stopped. He actually put himself back to sleep. Good. I’m wide awake.

Next night, we decided we would feed him every three hours, and now he’s been waking up every three hours for the past two nights. Weissbluth would probably say we have taught him to wake up every three hours, but until Zekey gains a bit more weight, we not going to try to limit his night feedings any more. Just enough to get us (and him) a bit more rest. That’s the idea anyway.

6 am – Somehow I made it back to bed. Dave gets up. I pull Z into bed with me. Next thing I remember it’s 8 am and we’re up for the day.

Basically – I’m more confused than ever. How do I know when he’s waking out of habit or waking because he’s actually hungry? And how do I know when he’s big enough to really make it through the night without eating? And I’m too tired to really stick to any particular plan, especially during daytime naps when I’m here by myself with no one to remind me why I’m listening to my boy cry. And why can’t I listen to my own advice and just trust myself to do the right thing one way or the other?

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