If there is one theme that I’ve heard repeated over all the mommy-blogs I read, it is “never say never.” Before you become a mom you have plenty of plans and ideals for how you will mommy, what you will do in certain situations. But until you actually have a real little person with their own personality, preferences, and needs you can’t really know what you will and won’t be willing to do. Once you have that little person to care for and find yourself in those real life situations you do what is best for your family and baby, whether that matches up with your previous plans or not.
My first “never say never” moment was the decision to give Lewis a binkie. Having worked with kids I saw way too many who still had their binkies at 2 and even 3 years old. I’ve never liked binkies, even for younger babies. How are they supposed to learn to talk and express themselves if you are popping that thing in their mouth every time they start making some noise? Plus, it’s gross. And it can mess up their teeth if you use it too long. We held off until Lewis was 2 months and when we finally decided to give him one we used if very sparingly, mostly only on long car rides or in stores when I wasn’t able to take him out of the stroller to comfort/nurse him. At 6 months he has already pretty much lost interest in it, and I think that few months of use was just enough.
My next big “never say never” decision started this weekend. Sleep training and letting him “cry it out.” I hate hearing him cry even for a minute or two, and since he was born I’ve held/comforted/nursed him at the first sign of upset. He hates to be lying down at all, so has never liked to be put in his crib awake. We quickly got into the habit of nursing him to sleep for bedtime and naps, and then setting him down (or not) to sleep. Bedtime we’ve enforced that he sleeps in his crib, but naps he’s always been allowed to sleep in the bouncy seat. (Or on me. Who can resist those sweet baby snuggles??)
I love the closeness of nursing him and the wonderful feeling of having him fall asleep in my arms. Everyone told me that I shouldn’t get him into that habit, and that I needed to put him in the crib when he was “sleepy but not asleep” so he could learn to fall asleep on his own. I disregarded this, not seeing how I could ever just put him in the crib to put himself to sleep. He’d be so sad! He needs me! He’d cry for hours!
So how did we get from that to deciding to start sleep training with him? He’s never “slept through the night,” and I never minded getting up a couple of times in the night for a quick nurse and then putting him back down. He is a very frequent nurser during the day (at six months we’re still nursing every hour or two) so there is no way I’d expect him to go twelve hours without nursing at night. For a while we were on a nice schedule where he’d be up around 1:30 and 3:30 for a nurse and then wake again around 6:00 at which point we’d bring him into our bed and he’d sleep there for another few hours. This little routine was working great, but unfortunately when he was around 4 1/2 months (almost two months ago) it all changed.
I’m not sure what happened, what triggered it. A growth spurt? The diaper rash we’ve been fighting? The onset of separation anxiety? Whatever caused it, he started waking up even more frequently, sometimes only sleeping for half an hour to an hour at a time. On top of that he became super sensitive to being set down. I’d nurse him and he’d drift peacefully off to sleep, only to wake and start crying the instant I put him in his crib. As soon as I picked him back up he’d be asleep in my arms again, but I just couldn’t get him into the crib. Often it would be an hour or two hours of setting him down, having him wake up, calming him back to sleep, trying to set him down again, over and over. Obviously this was not a fun time for either of us.
I tried to work through it, thinking he’d eventually get over this “phase” and go back to his previous sleep habits, but after two months of this and no end in sight it was time for a change. The past couple weeks I’ve been frequently falling asleep on the couch with him in the night, waking up an hour later with a stiff neck and still unable to get him into the crib. I’ve been feeling exhausted, emotional, and headachey. I finally decided it was time to try something different, for my own health and Lewis’ too. The frequent waking can’t be any better for him than it is for me.
As soon as I brought up the idea Chris was in full support. He has probably just been waiting for me to suggest it. We set Friday as our planned start date, and I worried about it all week, thinking of how we would be up all night with a baby who couldn’t be consoled. I have gotten more sleep the past two nights than I had at any point in the past two months. With all the sleep problems I was lucky to get 3 consecutive hours of sleep, and I was always up for a minimum of half an hour between each chunk of sleep. With the new plan we are only out of bed 5 – 10 minutes to nurse (a little longer if he needs a diaper) and then we are back to bed. He has been barely crying when I set him down, usually just complaining for a couple minutes.
We decided to go completely cold-turkey on every aspect of this. He is going into the crib for all his sleep – both bedtimes and naps – and he is getting put down fully awake (but tired) each time. He won’t be swaddled anymore, since it seems like he can better soothe himself if he has access to his hands, and he was getting way too big for the swaddle blanket anyway. Bedtimes he will sleep in his new big boy sleep sack I made, and naps he can sleep with a blanket over him (or kicked off of his feet.)
He is doing so great with every aspect of this, I really am amazed and incredibly proud of him. The first night we set the limit that we would allow him to cry for 15 minutes and then re-evaluate and go to him if need it, but he didn’t even make it to that 15 minutes. He calmed himself down and quietly played with his leopard, once in a while making some little noises but not as if he were really upset. We’ve had a couple little hiccups, like earlier when he was asleep for a nap and I walked into the room only to have him open his eyes and catch sight of me. He woke right up so I took him out and let him play for a while and he went back to nap about an hour later.
I am so thankful for how well this is going, and I know it is only going to get better as he continues to adjust to our new routines and to learn what he can expect.