Thursday, 4 October 2012

Letting our baby cry it out...and a book review

It started innocently enough. The day we came back from our summer vacation Kaitlin woke up soon after being put down to sleep for the night. She woke up crying which was pretty unlike her. I ran up to her room to see what was the matter, soothed her for a few minutes and then went back downstairs. The next night it happened again. And again. The next night? Multiple wakings in a few short hours. It only got worse from there. I thought she might be going through a growth spurt as she was also waking up several times a night to eat, rather than the one time per night that she used to wake up. Fast forward six weeks later and this was no growth spurt. It routinely took us two to three hours to get her to finally fall asleep at night. We would start  by putting her to sleep around 6pm and she would finally be asleep for the night around 8pm or later. I would rock her to sleep, with the pacifier, and lay her down in bed when she was about 95% asleep. I thought this was letting her fall asleep on her own - after all she wasn't 100% asleep when I put her in her crib. But after five, ten, fifteen up to thirty minutes later she would wake up crying. I found it easier to run up the stairs and try and sooth her with the pacifier as quickly as possible rather than leave her to cry - sometimes if I caught it just right she would seamlessly go right back to sleep. But most of the time she wouldn't.

At this time she also started waking up 2-3 times per night to eat. Since she is a breastfed baby I know it is normal for them to still wake several times a night at her age to eat, and I am fine with that. The problem was each time she woke up she slept for shorter and shorter lengths of time after going back to sleep. And she didn't eat a full meal every time she got up. Sometimes she had a four course meal and sometimes she just had an appetizer. This led me to believe that she wasn't actually waking up every time because she was hungry - she was getting used to waking up and getting attention, so she continued to do it. She started waking up for the day at 4am and wanting to play. Not cool kid, not cool.

It also started effecting her naps. It always took me a while to get her down for a nap, but once she was asleep she would be down for 45-60 minutes, if not longer sometimes. But then she started waking up 10 minutes into her nap, crying, and I found myself bounding up the stairs just as I did at night to try and sooth her immediately. I knew this couldn't continue. It was getting worse and I knew I was contributing to the problem. But what could we I do? I thought she was too young to cry it out and truthfully I was scared. She has a set of lungs on her and she is incredibly stubborn. I was terrified that she was going to scream her head off for hours at a time and I knew I wouldn't be able to handle it.

Two weekends ago, after we finally got her to go to bed after a couple hours of this game we played, Brian and I were getting ready to go to sleep. It was about 10pm and I was looking forward to getting a few hours of sleep before she woke up. And then we heard it. She was awake and crying. We looked at each other with dread and wondered why on earth she was waking up at this hour. I knew that if I went in there to sooth her things were going to just get worse and worse. There was no need for her to wake before midnight for a feeding or to be changed. She was waking up out of habit and out of depending on us (ie, ME) to sooth her back to sleep. I just laid there in bed. I couldn't bring myself to go in her room. Brian looked at me and I said, "Don't go in there, she's just going to have to cry". I'm sure he did a little happy dance inside because he has been wanting to let her cry it out since day one.

So we sat there and let her cry. I turned the volume off on the video monitor and tried to ignore it the best I could. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes passed. Still crying. I could tell that it was her tired-why-am-I-not-asleep-anymore cry, not a cry meaning she needed help or was in pain. Fifteen minutes passed. And went quiet. I quickly looked at the monitor to make sure she was OK and what did I see but our baby sound asleep. Sixteen minutes. That's how long it took for her to cry herself back to sleep. Once she was asleep she stayed that way until 2am, which was pretty late for her first night feeding (she had been waking up around midnight or 1am for her first feeding with the second one a few hours after).

Armed with this one small victory we decided to let her cry it out at bedtime the next night from the first time we laid her down to sleep. No more sprinting up the stairs for me. Once we put her down to sleep that was it. I had read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth several times before but didn't really pay attention to the cry it out information. I didn't want it to come to that. I wanted Kaitlin to have good sleep habits before it got to the point of having to let her scream her head off in order to fall asleep. I had always thought if I had to let her cry it out then I was failing as a mother. I was failing at giving my child the proper tools to let her fall asleep on her own. And to a degree I was right. I was failing at this one thing - running up the stairs to sooth her immediately and to give her the pacifier (which was becoming a nuisance because she would cry as soon as it fell out - the very reason I wanted to avoid using a pacifier in the first place) was teaching her the wrong way to fall asleep. My intentions were good but the results were bad. It turns out letting her cry it out was the proper tool that I was missing.

That second night we let her cry it out I had read all the information by Weissbluth about crying it out in his book. I felt prepared now that I had a plan, we were going to follow his "extinction" sleep plan, and I even felt good about having her cry it out. We had gotten to a bad place and in order to make sure it didn't get even worse we needed to act fast. Our pediatrician had advised that sleep habits are more solidly formed by month 6. We still had time to change Kaitlins (and my) bad habits before they became a more permanent - and hard to resolve - issue. Of course, I wasn't looking forward to the crying part, I was dreading it in fact, but I had to remind myself that letting her cry was teaching her how to fall asleep on her own. She was capable of getting to sleep on her own - she had done it before and at a much younger age when it is usually hard for babies to do so. I knew she had in it her, we just had to get her back to that place.

Not only did I want her to get a full night of restful, uninterrupted sleep, for her own good but I also wanted my nights back. After Kaitlin went to bed was the only time in the day that I had to myself. I wanted to spend it eating dinner with my husband and relaxing, or doing work or writing for this blog more than once a week. Selfishly I wanted more time for myself. When she was waking up several times over the course of two or three hours I was never fully able to relax until she hadn't made a sound for over an hour. I could never really relax, always checking the monitor to see if she was starting to wake up, checking to see if I had to get ready to run up there.  I am fully aware that I helped create the situation and that I was making it more stressful than it probably had to be. I was also aware that it now needed to stop.

Weissbluth offers three different sleep training methods - no cry, maybe cry and let cry. No Cry meant (duh) that you didn't let the baby cry at all when getting him to go to sleep. This usually involved a family bed and/or other methods to stop the baby from becoming upset and crying at bedtime. This was the solution that he least suggested, though he does offer some information about it. Maybe Cry basically uses the Ferber method of cry it out (gradually lengthening the time you let the baby cry before checking and consoling). He mentions that this method is "easier" in terms of not having to hear  your baby cry for long periods of time, but can be harder in the long run and take longer to get lasting results. Let Cry meant that you would let the baby cry as long as it took for him to fall asleep. Kiss the baby goodnight, shut the door and don't go back until morning (or, until they needed to eat during the middle of the night, of course). I knew in my heart of hearts that the Maybe Cry method would not work for us. Kaitlin was already depending on us too much to fall asleep. I knew that if we kept going in there to console her she would just get more and more worked up. So, we went with the Let Cry method.

That second night I was nervous but had to act confident that we were doing the right thing. If she could sense that I was unsure or nervous she would pick up on it right away and we would be off to a bad start - babies have that weird sense about them. So we gave her a bath, fed her a bottle and then laid her down to sleep for the night. She cried for nineteen minutes. Nineteen! That was all! Nineteen minutes was what I was scared of all this time. The next night she cried for eleven minutes, the following night she didn't cry at all. Sure, it still took her a little while to settle herself and she fussed here and there, but soon enough she was sleeping peacefully and it didn't involve any sprinting up the stairs. We were finally making progress.

*I would like to add that we had previously let her "cry it out" here and there. On multiple occasions, when I was too fed up to sprint up the stairs again, we would let her cry. And boy did she cry. I never let it go longer than 20-30 minutes, finally caving in and going up there to settle her. Why letting her cry it out suddenly seemed to work better I don't know. Maybe it was her age, maybe it was my confidence, maybe it was dumb luck. Whatever it was I am grateful it happened*

Unfortunately, just as we were making progress we had a few setbacks - two steps forward, one step back ay? Right after we got her to be able to settle herself and go to sleep fairly easily, my mom came to town for a visit (who wouldn't want to play with Grandma all the time??). Also around this time Kaitlin decided that she only wanted to nap for 30 minutes at a stretch during the day, if she even fell asleep at all. Sleep promotes sleep and trying to get an overtired baby to fall asleep easily at bedtime is no easy feat. On top of all that Kaitlin also figured out how to roll over in her swaddle, and was starting to escape the swaddle more easily. There were a myriad of issues cropping up around the same time and we faced a lot of challenges. One night while my mom was babysitting she cried for a solid half an hour before she fell asleep. The next night, after two failed attempts at napping without a swaddle (and going six hours without sleeping in the morning) she cried for a solid hour - and I mean she screamed her head off. It was torture. This was the nightmare that I was envisioning cry it out would be for us. After an hour I finally went up to her room, sleep training be damned. I couldn't stand it. As soon as I got up there I realized that she had a soiled diaper - something that makes her scream during the day as well. Once she was reswaddled and changed she fell asleep in a matter of seconds (no doubt because she was exhausted from all that crying). 

Since those two setbacks though we have steadily been making progress again. Over the last four nights it has taken Kaitlin about 15 minutes to settle herself to sleep. Sometimes she cries, sometimes she talks to herself and blows bubbles, sometimes she just wiggles around trying to get comfortable. She also wakes up less during the middle of the night - now only once or twice and just to eat - and is able to settle herself back to sleep then as well. Sometimes it takes her a half hour to get back to sleep, but I don't go back in there to help and she eventually puts herself down. 

Despite the hiccups over the weekend, I still strongly believe in the cry it out method because we have experienced its successes first hand. And we are only at the beginning of the training. I know there will be more hiccups along the way - teething, crawling/walking milestones, sickness and growth spurts are all bound to mess up our daughters sleep. And there will be times when she really does need attention and to be comforted in the middle of the night. But I finally feel like I have a solution that works - and will continue to work for us - as long as we follow it properly.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child was a great book and I fully recommend it. In the beginning I found it really wordy and scientific - there are dozens of examples regarding studies and facts and figures about sleep and children/babies. I found it hard to read when I first got it because I was looking for fast, quick information and I feel like you have to dig around a bit to get the info that you really need from this book. But the information is there - and there is lots of it. I find myself referencing different chapters as different situations or problems come up, and even rereading the whole book just for a refresher when I feel myself going off course. The book offers a lot of information for parents of colicky babies as well, which I have heard is very useful. And - even if the cry it out method didn't work for us - I would still recommend this book to all new parents simply because it offers a lot of in-depth information about how babies sleep and the science behind it, which is pretty fascinating. One of the first things I learned from this book is that, for babies, sleep promotes sleep. The more sleep a baby gets the more her/she will sleep. Is your baby overtired? Put them to bed early - sometimes as early as 5pm if needed - and they are bound to sleep longer. This was one of the first things I started doing with Kaitlin at around 8 weeks old when I first read this book. I moved her bedtime from around 8pm to 6pm. I was worried that she would be wide awake at 3am but wouldn't you know she still slept until her normal wake up time of 6-7am. That simple change added two hours (on average) to her daily sleep totals, which was huge. Weissbluth explains that different parts of a babies brain holds the information on how to sleep during naps and how to sleep at night, so you have to train each one differently. I could go on and on, but really you're better off hearing it from the man himself :)

As I write this tonight I am writing it in peace. Kaitlin put herself to sleep after about fifteen minutes of wiggling around. It has been quiet in our house since 7:15pm, I have a glass of wine in my hand and I feel confident again as a parent. I know that we did - and are doing - the right thing for our baby girl. And because of that we are all sleeping a bit better at night.

Now naps - that's still a whole other ballgame :)


  1. Oh! We are in the same situation! Our daughter is 7 months old and wakes up sometimes as often as 5 times a night. I am beyond tired and have trouble keeping up to our 3 year old during the day. Something's gotta give!
    Now I know she is not hungry 5 times a night but nursing is just the easiest (ok, and the laziest) way to get her to sleep. The pacifier sometimes does the trick but it's becoming a crutch that isn't solving the problem of multiple wakings as I have to rummage around in the bed, find it and stuff it in her mouth!
    Have you tried to do away with the soother? I would love to know what you've tried and what's worked.
    Thanks for the post, it's so comforting to hear about another mom going through the same tough times. It makes it all a little easier.

  2. Hi Carsen - Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment! Im so sorry to hear that you guys are in a similar situation, and you have a 3 yr old to chase around all day! When Kaitlin first started waking up multiple times a night I thought it was a growth spurt so I nursed her all the time too. And maybe it started that way...but it quickly evolved into a habit, not a need.
    The pacifier was becoming a crutch for us at bedtime. Every time she cried the only way I could get her to stop and fall back to sleep was to give her the pacifier. I was thankful for it and loathed it at the same time. It was getting to the point that every time it fell out she would wake up and cry!
    Since we started letting her cry it out at bedtime we hardly ever use the pacifier anymore! She might take it when we first lay her down in her crib but 99% of the time she spits it out so that she can talk, fuss or cry. Since I dont run to put it back in again she has gotten used to falling asleep without it! Even for naps she doesnt use it anymore. I really only use them when we are out running errands and she is fussy, it still helps calm her down a little bit then.
    I highly recommend reading Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Each chapter even has a quick recap for tired parents called "Action Plan for Exhausted Parents" that you can quickly reference until you have the time/energy to read the chapter in its entirety. It even has recommendations for stopping night wakings if you are still cosleeping.
    Good luck and let me know how it goes!

  3. We're going through this with our daughter now. If you mentioned it, I must have missed it, but how old was she when you started sleep training? We tried at 4 months and it didn't work - she's almost 5 months now and thought we'd try again. You know how things change quickly for little ones. The trouble is our 2,5 year old son sleeps in the bedroom next to hers so when she cries during the night he wakes up and comes out of the room sometimes up to 6 times a night. Lately she's been waking and crying at 5am so my son has been getting up to START HIS DAY at that time. It's been hell and it's progressively getting worse as we try to calm her as quickly as possible as to not to wake our boy. Oy. We're tired. And so totally drained. I'm hoping once we're ready to give it a solid go we may just have to live with our son waking. It's tough though, really really tough. How is she doing now? Still sleeping well?

    1. My son is 19 weeks and after a weak attempt at sleep training, I'm considering letting him cry (our rooms are just so close... I need ear plugs) but I am curious how it all worked! It looks like Kaitlin is over 2 now and she looks happy so I'm assuming it all went well and I know you're busy but a little update would be super helpful!!!

  4. I have a question about early bedtimes. I havent found anything that describes how you get them to stay asleep when you move their bedtime up. When i moved my dd`s bedtime to 8:15 from her usual 10 pm she would just wake up after 45 mins and be wide awake. We still star her routine a 7:45 incase she really does stay asleep. I cant imagine how i would put her down at 6. FYI she is only 14 weeks old so maybe its too soon for an early bedtime?

  5. I just started sleep training 2 nights ago and oh my goodness it's been amazing! My baby boy went from waking up 8 times a night to just once to eat. He is almost 5 months old and I'm wishing I did it sooner. but naps are going terribly. He puts himself to sleep after about 10 min of crying but sleeps only 20-30 min. Let hem cry after that? Or call that a nap? I've fead healthy sleep habits happy baby but I don't remember him addressing this particular problem. Any advice?