The following is for anyone that might be curious and/or have some time to kill waiting for a holiday flight, and most importantly for future me, to remember.
Quite sometime before Leila was even a twinkle in her father’s eye, I started absorbing parenting information. I suppose that happens when many of your friends and acquaintances start begetting the next generation, not to mention the years spent teaching Sunday school and several months in a job with eagerly expecting parents. Breastfeeding and sleep seemed ubiquitous topics of conversation amongst mamas. I became familiar with terms like co-sleeping and family bed and sleep training. The latter being of particular interest as it defied the stereotype of a raggedy sleep-deprived new parent. I learned that more day sleep, not less, was the trick to a good night sleep for baby, and that some babes would fall asleep at 7 at night and not wake again until the following morning.
Sometime during my pregnancy I embraced my utter lack of desire to read anything and decided that between this alleged maternal intuition I was supposed to have, the sound advice of our pediatrician and the growing community of mommies in my life we would be good to go as new parents. I was right. Well, for a time at least.
For the first days and weeks of Leila’s life I instinctively nursed and cuddled her and did well with sporadic bursts of rest. The miracle of Netflix and the ability to stream Downton Abbey made staying up a bearable task. Then, exactly three short weeks into life she up and slept seven hours in a row. It followed a particularly long day in which she only seemed content nursing and napping on my chest. I thought it was an acceptable trade. For the next five weeks her nighttime sleep continued to be erratic, but frequently included stretches of four to six hours. In the first month of using cloth, her diapers almost always leaked both day and night, so I kept up the routine of changing her right when she stirred and then nursing her, sometimes to sleep, sometimes just to comfort until she dozed off a couple hours later.
Then two months happened. I could nurse her to sleep sometime between 7 and 11, depending on her mood, and she would stay asleep almost all night. She’d stir around 2 or 3, and I’d quickly pick her up and nurse her and then she wouldn’t wake again for several hours when I would nurse her again and sometimes get another stretch before any of us girls officially woke up for the day. At her two month appointment we asked, and our pediatrician said we could start tweaking bedtime to make it sooner rather than later. At two months and one week she slept 9 hours and 45 minutes without a peep. I thought maybe, just maybe, we might be those parents that could sheepishly admit that our sweet babe began sleeping twelve straight hours at the tender age of three months.
Then four months happened. On top a fever, we’d whisked her out of town to spend the Fourth of July at the farm. She hardly slept. I was sure it was a fluke. Over the next six weeks we were only home twelve days, and her sleep continued to be rougher than usual. Instead of only needing one or two feedings to go 12 to 14 hours, she started waking three or four times during the night. During her four-month exam our pediatrician suggested reading a book or two and coming up with a plan for when we returned home. I had already borrowed a couple from my friend.
The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night by Elizabeth Pantley
I took time to read the first one while we were away and thoroughly enjoyed it. I found the author’s words gentle and hopeful. She emphasized consistency and encouraged parents to find whatever method worked best for them and their little one, whether that method is hers or another approach. I also appreciated that she clarified that this process was behavior modification, not training. (Just like with Wrigley.) The fact that she said babies were not ready until six months was icing on the cake as it validated me not being in the least ready to start just yet.
When we returned home we moved out of the pack and play in our room to her crib in the nursery and started a consistent bedtime routine. She fell asleep like a champ. I optimistically thought our babe would return to her old routine, or better. That did not happen. Between 5 ½ and 6 ½ months her sleep digressed to waking every two hours. On at least two occasions it took her over two hours to fall back asleep.
In the meantime I began the second book. The meat of the book was essentially the same as the first, though it offered practical modification for parents that chose co-sleeping. If you skip the introduction and the conclusion, which offers a heaping dose of exceptionally gratuitous judgment, I definitely recommend it. Her phrasing and explanation of a couple things, particularly bedtime, just made a lot more sense to me. I also thoroughly appreciated how she normalized babies not sleeping and contextualized “sleeping through the night.” However, I think judging a sleep-deprived parent is unnecessarily cruel. The author proudly touts a belief that no baby should cry, ever. The rational part of my brain might have been able to extricate the essence of her point and move on, but I was exhausted and felt like a total failure and became terrified that if Leila cried for one second in the process of falling asleep I would completely ruin her. Like beyond the help of future therapy emotional devastation.
We tried the second author’s method, but the “no cry” did not happen. Leila became hysterical when I did anything other than nurse her to sleep. And I would have willingly continued to do so if it had continued to work.
At her six-month appointment we desperately asked our pediatrician what he would do. He suggested Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth and summarized a plan that involved helping Leila learn to self-sooth and consequently sleep through the night by leaving her for 10 to 15 minute increments. Ben was ready. I thought was ready.
Two days of waking up with a raging sleep-deprivation-induced hangover passed before I got desperate enough. Upon recommendation of our pediatrician we’d already taken away the binkie and the blanket (that we shouldn’t have been giving her in the first place but used to help put her to sleep). We reintroduced a lovey, which took in the absence of the other comforts. Finally I took away the boob too. I didn’t plan on it. It took 30 minutes to put her to bed without it. Then she woke up after 80 minutes and I caved and nursed her again, but when even that failed and she returned to crying hysterically I finally felt compelled to give the “shuffle” a legitimate try. She cried uncontrollably and I held her tight, hunched over her crib singing softly and completely and utterly unsure of myself. Almost an hour later she fell asleep. Sometime in those 55 minutes I decided I would put her to sleep without a “crutch” (binkie, blankie or boob) and I would not nurse her again until after midnight. Then she woke up at 12:30, 2:30 and 4:30 and I nursed her back to sleep each time until she woke up for the morning at 6:30am. I decided I would try this method, and then when it inevitably failed we would purchase an air mattress and I would move into the nursery.
The second night she never got hysterical and fell asleep after only 30 minutes. More amazingly, she stayed asleep for six magnificent hours. She woke up three times between midnight and 6, but I only needed to nurse her twice and the third time was able to soothe her back to sleep with pats and shushing. By the third evening she was down to one feeding after five. The in-between was a bit of a blurb, but I do know that each night I became more confident, and for the first time in almost three months started feeling that blessed motherly intuition and trusting it again. Exactly sixteen nights after it all began, Leila fell (almost) tearlessly asleep all by herself at 7:30 and stayed asleep until 5:15.
We’re a little neurotic and OCD with bedtime around here, but our pumpkin now falls asleep easily on her own and stays asleep for 10 to 11 hour stretches. Then I nurse her two or three times and she sleeps a bit more. For the past month we’ve been trying to tackle naps. I figured it was impossible, but she consistently goes down for two naps of about 30 minutes without passing out milk drunk .
And it is okay she’s not much of a napper. I’m just grateful for our silent nights.
Note: An hour after I hit publish, a leaky diaper woke Leila up and it took all of 90 minutes for her to fall back to sleep. Then she woke up again four hours later. Since the shuffle, she’s slept through the night in spite of travel and time change and sickness. Of course, there would be a rough patch the second I made a public declaration.