With my firstborn M, I was very focused on breastfeeding and making sure she got enough milk. So here I am worrying about breastfeeding, and in between feedings, she decides she does not want to sleep. Lack of sleep for baby made for a cranky baby and a stressed out mommy.
I should have known that getting M to sleep as a baby would be a struggle, because it started even at the hospital. Initially, I was worried because that first day after she was born, she would fall asleep soon after she latched for a feeding. Newborns are often sleepy in the first 24 hours (hey, that delivery is exhausting for them too!), so I reminded myself of that and continued to at least offer nursing to her. Then the next night came, and it was the complete opposite. She was more awake and fed for a long time, but even though we could lay her peacefully in the bassinet afterwards, she was soon up crying again, and back on the breast she went. Breastfeed your baby every 2-3 hours? More like every 30-60 minutes!
When we got home, every time we tried to lay her down, she would start crying. My husband and I would take turns holding her, she would settle, only to start crying again when she touched the bassinet. Even our dear dog tried to cover his ears to block out her loud wails. M’s cries seemed relentless. She continued to cry when she was rocked, she cried in her swing. I desperately tried everything. Lullabies from our phones, white noise machines, rocked her in her carseat. Maybe the little red light from the cable box is what’s keeping her up? Let me cover that with some black tape. Nope, that wasn’t it.
Similar to how I kept a regimented schedule for feeding M, I also wanted to start her early on sleeping routinely in the bassinet. I would rock her, but when her eyes would droop, I would lay her in the bassinet and hold my breath....5 minutes later she was crying, and I picked her back up and rocked her again. We would go back and forth with this until eventually we were both exhausted.
The worst of it came when M was 6 weeks old. She would fuss and fuss and feed and fuss terribly in the evenings, feed and fuss at night, then feed and sleep during the day. Well, I was not about to have a child who didn’t know her days and nights! I was by the book with M. We started a nighttime routine. Everyone wants to watch some tv or read? Nope, lights out for everyone by 7:30, and my husband and I would lay next to M while she was cooing on her playmat, not ready for sleep, but me secretly begging her to figure out that this was her bedtime.
We stayed consistent with a routine and the time we settled down for the night, and can you believe that M started to sleep for longer stretches more and more as the weeks went on. We had survived the 6 week growth spurt, and M fed regularly and finally decided to sleep in between!
With my second daughter, E, fortunately, it was easier at the beginning. She would feed and then sleep on her own between feedings. I was encouraged by the good sleep. Surely this meant she would be sleeping through the night by 2 months old!
Then came the next 9 months. The thing was, E fed great and slept well in between her feedings at night. It was just that she would still wake up every 3 hours. M, as hard as she was at the beginning, stretched out with her sleep early on, sleeping through the night by 4 months old. E had always slept well between her feedings, but she would still wake up at that third hour. Something had to be done.
Empowered by some patients I had recently talked to about their 9 monther’s sleep, I decided to take the plunge. E needed to cry it out. E was growing; she fed well during the day; and she went to sleep at the same time every night. All signs to me that she was ready to stretch out at night. She needed to sleep through the night for all of our sakes. After her last feeding around 8PM one night, I laid her down and the wails started the second she hit that crib. I stood my ground and walked out of her room, and I turned on her baby monitor. And stared. The cries caused the monitor lights to blink red, and I turned off the sound but continued to stare at my daughter, determined she could do it. It took an hour, but E finally dozed off and, how about it, stayed asleep the rest of the night. The next night, I followed the same routine, and E screamed after she hit the crib, but this time only for 30 minutes. I was able to breathe again. A night or two later, E finally slept all the way through the night!!
It was hard to know what the right way or the wrong way was to sleep train, but I had to do what was right for the girls -- and for me. The first time around with M, could I have let her cry on and on for an hour? I don’t know. For E, I knew she was capable of sleeping longer, so I just had to take the chance. Every child is different, and we also have to do what we are comfortable with to help our children sleep. Crying it out isn’t for everyone. It was almost harder for my husband who wanted to jump to comfort his baby, but I knew E was okay. She just needed to get used to a new routine. And during all this sleep training, we, as moms, return to work, we continue our routines at home, and, because moms are awesome, we manage to function normally on little sleep. Thank goodness they eventually started sleeping through the night. Now, M is older and has other fun sleeping problems, but that’s a whole other story.