My son is almost 14 months old, and he’s finally sleeping through the night (11 hours) and taking 2 one-hour naps a day! Our road was a long one, fraught with uncertainty, guilt and exhaustion but looking back on it I don’t have any regrets and I really don’t think I made too many mistakes. Maybe that’s just my optimistic predesposition, but I know my son and through it all I did what was best for him.
Here’s our sleep story. I hope my personal experience can encourage someone else because I believe the biggest mistake I made was to second guess myself.
Before he was born, I read Babywise and I knew that’s what I wanted for my child. I wholeheartedly agreed with the notion that sleep is vital to proper brain development, not to mention great for keeping a family’s sanity. I should have known that first night in the hospital that I was in it for a long haul. Through the fogginess of my post c-section drugged up state I remember the way my husband and I took turns taking Jake into the bathroom because he would not stop crying for more than 10 minutes at a time, pretty much the whole night, to give the other a chance to rest.
From the first night home Jake has been sleeping in his own bed in his own room. The novelty and excitement of having a new little person in our lives made it easy to wake up every two hours to feed him. I was pretty much in a daze day and night, but I accepted it easily. I was happy, convinced that I would only have to do this for a couple of months before I could start to really sleep train him and get my nights back. We spaced feedings to every three hours and for a while it worked great; he was on a consistent schedule and things seemed to be progressing in the right direction.
Around 3 and a half months he even had a couple of nights where he slept for 5 hours at a time. And then, everything changed. Suddenly he reverted back to waking up after only three hours, sometimes after just two, sometimes after only an hour and a half. I was baffled. Then I realized he was teething. My poor baby got his first two teeth at 4 months old! Since then I’ve been half-heartedly trying to get him back on a schedule.
Personal Sleep Truth #1: When your baby is miserable you don’t give a damn about what books say, what friends say, when the last time you fed him was or how much sleep you’ve managed to get in the last week. Your world revolves around calming him, soothing him and making him comfortable.
For the next several months I was trying things out, observing his habits and looking for a schedule that would work best with his natural inclinations. The problem was he was just not consistent, and he always seemed miserable. In all that time I could probably count on my left hand the amount of times he woke up actually happy. Around 6 months I tried to gradually take away his night feedings one at a time. It didn’t work. I would go in there, pick him up, hold him, try to rock him, walk around with him…NOTHING worked. He wanted his bottle and that was that; he wasn’t comforted by my presence alone.
Personal Sleep Truth #2: Don’t second guess yourself. If you feel your baby is different and conventional wisdom doesn’t work for him, especially when you can see he’s miserable, don’t guilt trip yourself with thoughts of what should be. He is different and conventional wisdom doesn’t work for him.
Of course after all that stress and uncertainty I just wanted to be there with him. After all that’s what he wanted too. Around 11 months, my mere presence did comfort him greatly and I was able to cut out the bottle. So at bedtime, I would lay down next to his crib and hold his hand through the slats until he fell asleep. When he would wake up crying I would again lay down next to his crib and hold his hand. He would calm down and sleep. To be honest it made my heart so full! I don’t think I will ever forget the feel of his feathery touch as he was looking for my hand or the strength and warmth with which he grasped my finger once he found me. I’m glad I was able to experience that if only for a brief period of time. The only problem was I was still exhausted and still waking up three times a night, and his naps during the day were inconsistent and often much too short.
Personal Sleep Truth #3: You’re ready when you’re ready. If the thought of hearing your child scream for 30 minutes because he’s desperate for your presence makes you die inside and you simply don’t want to put him through it, don’t. Wait until you both are ready and do what works for you!
Two weeks ago I took heart and finally settled on a technique. I knew it would be hard, but I also knew that if I was consistent it would work. Basically I set specific hours for sleep no matter how long or short his naps were or what time he woke up in the morning. The morning nap is at 9:30, the afternoon nap at 3:00 and bed time at 7:30. I knew I would not be able to let him cry it out completely by himself. Instead I settled on this: I would give him a kiss, set him in his crib and walk out. He would cry desperately and every second of it killed me. Two minutes later I would go back in and give him back his noonie, which he had thrown across the room, give him a kiss, lay him down and walk out. I have never let him cry for more than 5 minutes before going back in. I just couldn’t do it. The first day I repeated this over and over again. He would fall asleep each time after 20 to 45 minutes of protest. I considered it a success. The second day was actually worse and once it took him a little over an hour to settle down to sleep. By the third day it was getting easier and I’m happy to report that he slept a full night by the fourth night! The naps took a little longer to fall into place but I just stuck to it and he now consistently takes 2 one hour naps a day.