claire's sleep secrets/part 2: sleep training

A while back I wrote a post called "Claire's Sleep Secrets" detailing how we had gotten Claire to sleep through the night by about 3 months.  I stand by the advice I gave there - it gave us a lot of wonderful nights of rest and Claire was a happy newborn.  You can't ask for much more than that!  

But then the 4 month sleep regression hit us REALLY hard.  We stuck to our principles of letting her fuss a bit before picking her up, but she became more and more persistent.  At first she picked up her middle of the night feeding again.  Then she picked up a 3 am feeding.  Soon after she stopped letting us put her down awake - she would cry and cry until we rocked her down, sometimes spending 30 minutes or more confined to sitting with her in one of our arms until she fell asleep.  On her worst nights, she'd be up 5-6 times, ultimately ending up in bed with us.  We replaced the pacifier a lot.

I kept thinking to myself that this was the way I had planned to parent - I was finding the most in common with Attachment Parenting principles and I was scared of Claire feeling alone.  But then her naps went the way of her nighttime sleep - she was only getting short naps in the sling.  We stopped wanting to go out (it loses its appeal when you come relieve the sitter at midnight only to be woken up an hour later.)  We knew we had to do something.

We had briefly attempted cry it out at a bad time, around 4 months.  It didn't work at all - she wailed for over an hour (with lots of reassurance intervals) before ending up in our bed and the experience sort of scarred me.  I knew though that 6 months was a good age for forming habits, and after having a baby scream at me with her eyes completely closed (she was SO TIRED) one night I laid her down, closed the door, and left the room.  She cried.  Darrell went in after about 5 minutes and told her "we're here, we love you, it's time for sleep."  She cried some more.  Again, "we're here, we love you, it's time for sleep."  5 minutes later......total silence.  I was obviously terrified that something horrible had happened but no - I peeked into see her sleeping soundly.  Here's the craziest part - each time she woke that night (which was significantly less than usual anyways) she re-settled within 5 minutes on her own.  She didn't even demand a night feeding!  I thought for sure she would want to eat at least once, considering she had been nursing back down 3-4 times each night.

What we had been doing, we realized, was keeping her from learning how to put herself to sleep.  We had stolen that skill from her when she went through the developmental leap at 4 months.  Instead of reinforcing her skills, we coddled her a little bit too much.  At the time it seemed like the easy way out, but we were only making life hard for ourselves in the long run.

We resolved to do the same thing on night two - I spent the entire day a little bit nervous.  Surely it was a fluke....she would wail for an hour tonight, I thought.  But nope, the books were right.  She cried for about half the time she had the night before - less than 10 minutes.  We laid her down when she showed signs of being tired and there was very little fuss.  She awoke a couple times that night (I can't be sure what times) but her crying was so minimal that I hardly remember it.  She put herself back to sleep even more quickly.

Night three....I was terrified of.  I work out of town every Tuesday and Wednesday in my hometown & we stay with my parents.  She has a crib there, but it's in my room, so I sleep right next to her.  We laid her down when she acted tired at 7:15 ish, and she cried less than 5 minutes before falling asleep, just like Ferber said she would.  This evening she didn't wake up until 4 am - at which point she started crying, definitely realized I was in the bed across the room, and didn't stop.  I ended up having to leave the room to sleep on the couch in the living room where I slept until 7, when I went to get her.  She stopped crying pretty quickly after I left the room, but I'm nervous about how this will affect her sleep in the future when we're there - we may have to move the crib or my sleeping situation, and I'm not sure how we would make that happen.  Hopefully by next week she'll be sleeping through the night consistently and it won't be necessary to deal with the wake up when we're in the room with her.

Night four got even harder.  Have you ever heard of an extinction burst?  It basically means (in science) your subject is amping up the original behavior in a last ditch attempt to win the war.  Here you've got two choices.

1) Wait it out, knowing that this is just the peak of the mountain you have to climb over.

2)  Never sleep again.

Okay, that might be sort of dramatic, but it's mostly true.  Claire cried for almost an hour on night four.  What can I say?  She's smart and stubborn.  I was REALLY REALLY REALLY tempted to go in and save her but after letting the internet remind me that doing so would mean the past nights had been a complete waste and we'd have to start ALL OVER I instead grabbed a bar of chocolate and attached my butt to the couch for some louder-than-normal Gilmore Girls.  She did eventually fall asleep, only waking for a few minutes around 4 am and falling back to sleep really quickly.

On night 5 we were pretty much home free.  She didn't cry more than 5 minutes any subsequent night and we've all continued to sleep through the night.  Now she wakes up and babbles a little bit around 6 am (when she's really hungry) and I pick up her, bring her into bed with me, and we nurse and snuggle until about 7 am.  Sometimes after travel or a screw up in our schedule she'll revert to crying for a bit longer when she goes down, but otherwise she's been predictably good at putting herself to sleep at night.  In sum, sleep training kind of saved us all.  It's not something I ever thought I would do, but now that we're through it I feel like it was absolutely the best decision for our family and for Claire!

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