Debating With Myself About Sleep Training

I really can’t complain too much about how well Babycakes sleeps. I’ve mentioned before that she’s always been a bit of a crappy napper (other than the three days we were in the hospital), but besides the first night home when the hubs and I had no clue what the hell we were doing and Babycakes spent the majority of the wee hours screaming her poor little face off, she’s really had great night sleep. By three weeks she was doing a consistent 6 hour stretch, and by 12 weeks was hitting the 10-12 hour mark every night. We had a bit of a sleep regression…thing around Thanksgiving, and since then she’s been back to waking anywhere from one to three times a night to eat. Additionally, while she was taking four pretty solid 45-minute naps a day, she suddenly started resisting naps at the beginning of January and then transitioned to three naps. She might be on the cusp of another transition down to two naps, but I’m not sure yet.

We’ve also been working on an earlier bedtime. When she was still room-sharing with us, we’d all head to bed around 9:00. This started getting a little tricky once she began sleeping those monstrously long stretches. Babies make noise in their sleep, which disturbed me, at least. And it’s kind of hard to keep from disturbing baby when you’re snoring, or tossing in bed, or getting up to go to the bathroom, whatever. That was the main reason we decided to move Babycakes to her nursery once she hit the 3-month mark. Doing so also meant we could work on putting her to bed earlier, like by 8:00, and still have a little time to be adults before heading to bed ourselves (which for a while was still close to 9:00, at least for me). Granted, that “adult time” tended, and still tends, to consist of cleaning up the kitchen from bath time and doing baby dishes and maybe finally checking some email and, occasionally, watching a TV show or that Netflix that’s been sitting there for two weeks. We have a great bedtime routine in place, and have for a long time, and the sleepy sweet spot seems to be pretty consistent between 7:30 and 8:00. (Seriously, there’s a sweet spot. Too early and it takes forever for her to fall asleep on her own. Too late and there’s the chance, if she doesn’t completely conk out while nursing, it’ll take forever for her to fall asleep, and then she has a wakeful night. I tested this last night. It was a little rough until about 1:15.)

For quite a long time, I’d say since she was at least a month old, Babycakes hasn’t been completely lights-out when I set her down after nursing. She’d be all swaddled up, full of milk, and nice and warm, and when I laid her down in her cradle, she’d do this little resettling thing before truly falling the rest of the way asleep. Even when we moved her to her own room (and went cold turkey on swaddling because she managed to accidentally flip herself on her tummy that evening), I’d lay her down, she’d do a little stretch, then settle for the marathon sleep session.

Suddenly, sleep training started to creep into the conversation. “She’s old enough now to learn to go to sleep on her own.” That’s usually how it’s phrased. And this was something I’d known for a while, long before any relatives mentioned it, or before the baby development books brought it up in force. I think she was already kinda doing this, but I wasn’t laying her down wide “awake but drowsy”, which is what sleep training basically requires them to be. Nursing to sleep is very appropriate, especially for newborns up to 3 months of age, but even beyond that if it works. And I think it’s important to really tank Babycakes up before bed. Plus she really only eats well when she’s going to sleep, not after she’s woken up (which is why the eat-play-sleep routine during the day hasn’t worked for us, at least not yet).

I’ve been a little obsessed with her sleep for a long time, particularly once we moved her to her nursery and she seemed to settle into a predictable routine revolving around her waketimes and naps. But after Thanksgiving, I felt like I was being bombarded by so much information – and let’s face it, a little bit of pressure from a lot of different sources – to start working on sleep training. Since the beginning of December, I’ve been gathering as much information as I can get my hands on about sleep training methods. I’ve read everything from the Ferber Method (also known as the dreaded “cry-it-out”), Elizabeth Pantley’s “No-Cry Sleep Solution”, the Sleep Sense program by Dana Obelman, Nicole Johnson’s Baby Sleep Site, and many others. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has weighed in. I won’t deny that there are babies out there who need sleep training so that everyone in the house can get a full night’s sleep. I’m talking about the babies who wake up every two hours or less. So yeah, there’s definitely a time and place for sleep training, if it’s what the family needs, right? Otherwise, why would there be so many pediatric sleep specialists and sleep consultants out there, promising personalized sleep plans to help your baby learn to fall asleep and stay asleep for that magic 12-hour night?

No one method seems to jive with our parenting goals and ideals, and while I can cull a lot of suggestions from each that, altogether, could make a method that’ll make me, the hubs, and Babycakes happy, it’s so overwhelming and confusing, I’m not even sure if it’s something we should systematically attempt at any point. They all contradict each other. One resource says to start working on sleep training at night, another says to do it first at naptime. One says to respond quickly when baby cries in the night, another says to set a time frame that you’ll wait (sometimes as long as ten minutes or more!) before responding if baby doesn’t go back to sleep on her own. Some say to keep baby alert during breastfeeding (have the “experts” ever actually tried doing this?), others say that because breastfeeding is so relaxing for both mom and baby, it’s an acceptable way to get baby nice and drowsy. Some say to keep baby fully awake during night feeds, even if it means changing the poor little one’s diaper in the middle of things, while others say to keep it quick and simple, not to change the diaper unless it’s a stinky one, and not to worry if baby falls asleep while nursing (though a lot of night feeds in our house happen when Babycakes isn’t even fully awake to begin with).

I recently shared a humorous but oh-so-true new mom’s take on the whole sleep training thing that illustrates how ridiculously all the expert advice contradicts itself. And here’s what I’ve determined about all the “rules” of sleep training:

guidelines

I’ve been a big proponent of following my own maternal instincts when it comes to our daughter, and while I know I’m obsessing over how much she sleeps, how well she sleeps, how she falls asleep, whether she can effectively self-soothe when she wakes up in the night, etc., she’s really doing awesome at the sleep thing. I know that.

Plus, there is stuff out there that basically says not to worry about sleep training at all because it’s more of a societal thing rather than a developmental need, it doesn’t really work, and baby will figure it out when she’s ready.

See why I’m debating with myself over this?

For now, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing. Babycakes generally is well-rested, happy and healthy. I’m sure at some point, we’ll have to decide on a game plan for our own version of sleep training. I do miss the nights when she was sleeping 11 or 12 hours (and waking up between 7 and 8 rather than 6 and 7, as has been the case the past several mornings), but overall we’re not desperate for sleep.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to put Babycakes down for a nap.

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