I’ve been blessed with good sleepers. All three of my babies were excellent sleepers as newborns, giving me nice long stretches of sleep. I’m lucky, I know. But don’t hate me just yet… because after all of my bragging, karma reared its ugly head and bit me, hard.
My daughter, who had been sleeping 10-12 hours a night, hit a regression at 5-6 months. I’m still not sure what happened. I used to be able to place her in the crib and she’d fall asleep on her own, sucking her two little fingers. When she cut her bottom teeth that must have bothered her. The glorious finger-sucking stopped, along with long naps and nighttime sleep. Before I knew it, she was waking up 4-6 times per night. I didn’t know what else to do, so I nursed her back to sleep each time. She’s in her own room, in a crib. This was exhausting. I never knew when she was going to wake up. As exhausted as I was, I was afraid to fall asleep because she could wake up at any time, and waking up after being asleep for 20 minutes is the worst kind of torture. I was averaging 3-4 hours of broken up sleep each night.
Naps were a joke. I’d nurse my daughter to sleep, and place her in the crib. But she wouldn’t have it. I had a choice. She’d either get the sleep she needed by sleeping on me, or she’d wake up after five minutes of nursing.
This went on for 2-3 months. Then she had a stomach virus, followed by a short hospital stay. In the hospital, my daughter picked up every bad sleep habit imaginable. She slept on me 24/7. When we got home, she wanted the same treatment. Out of desperation, I tried co-sleeping. But since she wasn’t used to that, she had no idea how to sleep in my bed.
I have two older sons, and a husband who works late at night. During these desperate days, I’d tell my older kids, “Please take showers and put on your pajamas. If you haven’t heard from me yet, just start reading, I’ll be there when I can.” The guilt of this repeated neglect was killing me. Luckily, they usually followed my instructions. The 9-year-old lead the way, and sometimes I’d even find my sons in their bunk beds waiting to be tucked in.
I was so tired that I was afraid to drive. All I thought about was getting some sleep. I looked at the clock constantly, calculating how many hours of sleep I had gotten or not gotten. It consumed me.
I finally realized that it was time to reach out for help. So I consulted my friend Shana, a sleep coach. She listened to my story, and then set me up with a plan that restored my baby’s sleep, my sleep, and my sanity.
Shana’s approach isn’t the “cry it out” method. It’s gradual and methodical. And while it takes weeks, it works.
I started off sitting near my daughter’s crib at bedtime. I used what they call “touch and voice” to help soothe her to sleep. I shhhhed or sang to her and patted her. She was upset, but I was there to calm her down. After a few nights I moved away from the crib, using only voice to calm her. Then I moved to the doorway and sat quietly, so she could only see me. Once she could put herself to sleep without needing me to help her at all, we moved onto the nighttime wakings, getting rid of them one at a time, using the same methods we had used for bedtime. Eventually, she learned how to fall back to sleep on her own in between sleep cycles. Once that was completed, we used the same treatment for nap times. I’m not going to lie, she cried. It was difficult, but she wasn’t alone. We did it together, with help from our sleep coach.
Fast-forward a few weeks. We did it! My daughter now goes to sleep on her own at night around 7:00 p.m. and falls asleep on her own for her two naps. I still nurse her at around 5:00 a.m., and then she goes back to sleep. Even though Shana tells me the baby can probably do without that feeding, I still feel like 10 hours is a long time for her to go without eating, and I’m absolutely fine with this plan. If she doesn’t wean herself off of that nursing session, Shana has given me the tools to know what to do when we are ready to cut out that last feed.
Now I emerge from my daughter’s room around 7:15 p.m., and I have quality time with my boys. I can supervise their showers and bedtime routines. We are reading “Harry Potter” together. When my husband is home, we get to have quality time too. Most importantly, I feel like myself again. Before we sleep-trained my daughter, I felt like a prisoner in my own house: I was the only person who could nurse her back to sleep. Now, I can put her to bed and actually leave the house for some time with friends, or just to run errands alone.
During my daughter’s naps I can get chores or work done around the house, or I can eat lunch in front of the TV, alone. My parents and husband can put her down for naps now, since nursing isn’t required, so I have flexibility during the day if needed.
Most importantly, I don’t dread evenings anymore. I get into bed and fall asleep with ease, since I know I won’t hear from my baby until 5:00 a.m. The entire dynamic in my house has shifted. And it’s glorious.
I know some folks will disagree with me on the choice to sleep-train my 10-month-old. But I’m OK with the decision. I’ve had time to sleep on it.