It’s been about 3 months since I wrote about The Dreaded 4-Month Sleep Regression, so I thought it would be appropriate to update on how our sleep is going and what we’ve learned since then. When I wrote that post, I was so exhausted and so emotional. I was, quite literally, crying on my keyboard. I spent a great deal of my time consumed with worry about her sleep and so unsure of myself about how I was handling it.
Something I read time and time again when scouring websites and blogs regarding sleep regressions was to be careful to NOT create a new bad habit or sleep crutch during regressions. It’s easy to do when you’re desperate and feel out of options, but it’s a really easy way to make a temporary sleep regression turn into a permanent problem. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s exactly what we we did.
Over the last 3 months, I have reached my limit of sleep deprivation several times and decided that I’d had enough and we were finally going to cry it out, once and for all. I have sobbed in the middle of the night. I’ve cursed, flinging covers around as I tried to nurse Wren back to sleep for the 13th time that night. I’ve gotten so frustrated and resentful. At who? My helpless baby who doesn’t know any different? My husband, who offers to help constantly (but has no boobs)? The problem is, though, that I reach this limit and make this decision in the moment, out of desperation and emotion, but later, when I’ve calmed down… I always convince myself that it’s not so bad and back out. We’ve probably started and quit sleep training 5 or 6 times in the last few months, never making it more than 1 day.
I kept convincing myself that it was just the sleep regression, or a phase, or it was teething, or it was her tummy, or any number of other excuses. But never just the simple fact that she had no idea how to go to sleep without help. If she woke up, even just a little bit, she couldn’t go back to sleep without nursing. This turned into a vicious cycle. I was beyond exhausted because Wren was waking up every 60-90 minutes.We were bed sharing and I was so desperate for every ounce of sleep I could get, so every time Wren started to stir, I would just stick my boob in her mouth in hopes of keeping her mostly asleep. And so the cycle repeated itself every hour or so throughout the night for probably 2 months. I was sleeping in 20-30 minute increments, at best, and I was enforcing the sleep crutch.
I will also note that I was sometimes spending more than an hour trying to get Wren to sleep for each nap time. I honestly felt like most of my life revolved around her sleep. I was living in such a fog. I had no energy, no drive to accomplish anything. I was just barely going through the motions.
At Wren’s 6 month check up, we were chatting with our pediatrician, who we love, about all of Wrens milestones (which she’s surpassing like a champ!) and she asked about her sleep. After discussing it further with her, she suggested we check out two books on sleep training. Both were books that generally support the”cry it out” (CIO) method. She told us that these are the books that she read and followed with her own children. We completely trust her so we decided to give one of the books a shot.
I have two very close friends who have used the CIO method to let their babies learn to soothe themselves to sleep. Both kids learned this skill very quickly and have been great sleepers and happy, well-adjusted kiddos. I’ve seen first hand that it works and that it didn’t scar these little ones or hurt their relationships with their parents. But, still. I have had a really hard time with accepting and embracing this method of sleep training.
Anyway, I decided to read “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” by Marc Weissbluth. The other book was “Solve Your Childs Sleep Problems” by Richard Ferber. I’m not a huge fan of Ferber, so I chose not to read that book. I won’t go into great detail about Weissbluths book, but I will say that I really liked it and I felt like it didn’t just give a one-size-fits-all solution. It is clear in the book which method he thinks is quickest and most effective, but he also gives many other options, acknowledging that strict CIO is not for everyone and that there’s no one method that will fit and work perfectly for every child.
Finally, months of sleep deprivation, a suggestion from our doctor, and the knowledge I gained from the book gave me enough willpower to stick to my guns and commit to sleep training. I’d read in the book, and many other places, that if you are consistent, their sleep will improve rapidly, usually within a week. I did not believe this was going to be true, especially not with a 7-month old who had become accustomed to nursing to sleep EVERY single time for her entire little life. But I was wrong.
Letting her cry herself to sleep for naps hasn’t been that hard for me. I know she’s okay and I can tell she’s just complaining. Nights have been harder. I think it was an adjustment for me to learn to sleep without her, too. The third day and night was probably the worst. She cried A LOT every time I laid her down and she woke up often. The fourth day was like magic. Like she suddenly understood that sleep is awesome and she can get there by herself. That night, she slept a 5 hour stretch, followed by another 6 hours, then 3 more. We’re now ending the first week and I’m truly amazed how her sleep has changed already. She falls asleep for every nap usually within 10 minutes and she’s sleeping appropriate lengths at night (we are still nursing 2x/night).
Last night was a great example of how huge this shift has been. We’ve been meaning to lower her crib mattress for a few weeks now since we knew she was just around the corner from starting to pull up, but life kept us busy and we hadn’t done it yet. Around midnight when she woke up for her first feeding, I looked at the monitor and she was STANDING in her crib. Mind you, this was the first time she’s actually pulled herself up and her crib was still at the highest level. So obviously, I ran in there and grabbed her and brought her to our bedroom so Aaron could fix her bed. Since we had disrupted her usual routine, I was going to break the rules and rock her or nurse her back to sleep. After probably 10 minutes of trying to get her down while she squirmed and fought against me, I decided to lay her back in her bed. She immediately settled and went to sleep.
It’s almost sad, in a selfish way, to realize that she really doesn’t need me for that anymore, but mostly, it is a huge relief. I feel like we really allowed her to gain a valuable skill and I’m finally feeling human again. I know I’m a better mom, wife, friend, sister, etc, when I’m not borderline insane from lack of sleep and I know Wren is better off having healthy sleep habits. This is certainly not the last difficult thing we will have to do to ensure her happiness and wellbeing. Parenting isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it.