Thursday, January 27, 2011


*This is a post I've debated back and forth about writing, because it involves something fairly controversial in the various parenting worlds I inhabit, namely sleep training. I completely respect that families have different ways of working with a child's need for sleep, so I want to be clear that this is my reflection on what ended up working for us, not a suggestion for anyone else.*

We did sleep training with J when she was about nine months old, after a rough couple of months when it became evident that sleeping with us wasn't working for anyone and she was way too big for the co-sleeper. It was one of those things I swore I'd never do that ended up being the right thing for us. We tried to do it gently, coming in every few minutes to reassure her - but at nine months old our bean was way too smart. She was very clear on what she wanted, and one of us reappearing every five minutes just increased her clarity. So we ended up biting the bullet and letting her "cry it out". We have a video monitor that was a lifesaver - I could look at her face and see that she was not scared, sad, or in pain. Just pissed off and trying to figure out what to do about this whole going to sleep by herself thing.

The weeks leading up to the first night of sleep training were super rough. J was too big for the co-sleeper and unable to go to sleep or stay that way unless she was physically in contact with me. It had to be me, and since she needed to go to sleep at 6:30pm this was a problem. All night she would wind her little fists into my hair, clutch at my neck, wake up several times to pat my face with varying intensity, and start to scream if I left the bed for any reason. Bedtime was a battle, every night. I had a bloody lip from her accidentally headbutting me while shifting position, scratches from her fingernails, and bags under my eyes from sleep deprivation. Finally I realized what was going on - I had become J's lovey, her security object, and I wasn't very good at it.

So we did it. Everybody says it takes three days and the child will go to sleep on her own. This was not our experience. We never had a night as long as the first one (it took her almost two hours to go to sleep) but it took two weeks for J to really get the hang of going to sleep on her own without any yelling or tears. However, she started sleeping through the night once she was down - twelve hours at a time - from the first night. That felt like a win. She had more energy and a calmer attitude during the daytime as well, confirmation to me that I wasn't the only one not getting the sleep I needed before. After two weeks we high-fived each other, bought a murphy bed for the living room and reveled in being one of those "lucky" couples who got a good sleeper. It had taken a little longer than the mythical "everyone" claimed, but we had finally arrived. We would never have another disturbed night of sleep again.

Which wasn't exactly true. Every time J is close to a developmental jump she hits a rough patch sleep-wise, and we are up in the night for a stretch of a few days. Changes in schedule are rough, too -Christmas completely screwed her up. I'm learning that is normal. And she doesn't always sleep only in her crib - if she is sick, or especially tired or we are on a trip she sleeps with us.

She has a new lovey now - Lamby the stuffed lamb. He is so much better at it than I ever was. Lamby goes to bed with J every night, and never leaves her to go do grown-up things because it's not even 7pm yet or in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. She can sleep with him on her face, headbutt him, use him as a pillow, throw him over the side, whatever. He is hers to control, reliably, which is part of what security objects are for. Mothers, I have decided, should have a different role.

A few nights ago at 1:30 my baby girl woke up crying- a painful sound that is nothing like the way she cries when she is having a hard time putting herself to sleep. She had gas, I think, and after two long frustrating hours that involved pacing, trying to sleep with her, hysterical upset and finally a long warm shower together she loudly passed gas and then passed out on my chest. I had already pulled out the bed in her room, we were in it, so I called an exception and we stayed there 'til morning. I marveled at how much I loved getting to sleep with her, now that it was a treat instead of the only option. I didn't sleep as well as I do in my own bed. But only because I was too busy savoring the weight of her against me, the way her hair smells like cookies, and how even with habit broken and fast asleep two small hands found their way, gently, to my face, my neck, my hair.

J, nine months old after two weeks of working at it.


  1. Funny that i am reading this while holding baby C, who is having one of those sleep troubled nights, i think from a virus at day care :(
    Who makes lamby?

  2. Lane - I linked to him on amazon! Gund baby? He was an Easter gift from J's godfather.

  3. The video monitor has been soooooo wonderful for us too. Worth every penny. I also said I would NEVER let my baby cry himself to sleep, but at 5.5 months he was getting me up every hour and a half to go put his pacifier in his mouth for him (he was in his crib) and that's when we did it. He cried 35 minutes the first night, 30 minutes the second night, and has slept 11-12 hour nights without tears ever since (except as you said, when he is hitting a developmental milestone, or not feeling well). But then he gets past that and is a great sleeper again. So glad you are all getting good sleep too. It is such a blessing. But I also agree with you that the occasional night he needs some extra snuggles in the night is also special because it does not happen every night anymore. Thanks for your post. I really enjoyed it.

  4. funny how everyone has such staunch views on sleeping issues. and it's true, it's whatever works for YOU.

    we also co-slept in the beginning but by 10 months it was clear that napping there was a hazard and none of us had enough room or slept well at night. at 10m she started napping in the crib, and we switched her over at night at 12 months.

    the first 2-3 wks were really hard. but there were other transitions too -- ie, starting to walk, down to 1 nap/day, no nighttime feeding, teething, so there was a lot going on. we tried everything except letting her CIO -- e.g, holding, bouncing, walking, singing -- then one night she just didn't want any of that and we had no choice but to lay her down and let her CIO after sitting a while. those were the hardest nights ever. but same as you, she started sleeping 10-12 hrs/night without waking, and our lives changed.

    now at 20 months she only likes to play on our bed, so I miss what you're describing as a lovely exception. secretly hoping one day she'll want to crawl back in...

  5. We didn't do CIO, but we too got to good nights of sleep eventually, which is the ultimate goal right? :) It took a little longer, but that was ok. Phinney is almost always in his bed now too, but this past week when he was sick he spent a few nights with us. I feel the same way, I don't sleep as well when he's in our bed, but in the middle of the night he reached over and patted my shoulder with his little hand. Gotta love that. :)

  6. Thanks for the link! And thanks for posting, at the risk of criticism. I think it is helpful to share what worked for you. I also think Baby C sleeps better in her own room(since 4 months or so) (with the occasional exception for sickness or teething), and it's much better for us.

  7. It is so fascinating to me what values families place on sleep training and co-sleeping, culturally speaking. As liberal and alternative-minded the northwest is, 90% of everyone I know does not co-sleep (although many have tried). On the other hand, pretty much 90% of the foster families in Korea that take care of waiting babies for adoption co-sleep, whether the kid is a good co-sleeper or not. Babies are babies, and moms are moms, can they really be that differently wired around the world? These foster mommas are older though, don't work outside the home or do much beyond 24 hour childcare, so maybe it is the demands of our dual-income our lifestyle that requires adequate sleep, or maybe our culture places a higher value on it. I'm curious if the younger generation Koreans still cosleep with their children. ANYWAY. So glad you figured out what your family needs and that you know enough to break the "rules" every once in awhile. There is something so sweet about snuggling up with a little one.

  8. Sarah - I agree that it's a rather interesting phenomenon. When I lived in Russia the first time my host family's four year old still co-slept with his mother, but she had moved out of her husband's bed to cosleep with him. During my time with them she transitioned back, and it was interesting to observe.

    In making the choices we did I often thought about what my role with J should be, and how our sleep arrangements would reflect that. It is my impression that in some co-sleeping cultures and families the mother IS a lovey, of sorts. Especially if there is breastfeeding involved. Which, if it works, is just fine.

  9. Everybody has to do what's best for them. Frankly, I think a lot of it is trial and error, don't you?

    We were one of the lucky ones, the Precious never slept with us, we moved his sleeper from our room, to just outside our door to his own room by 3 months. He slept 12 hours all the way til 6 months of age. Then of course, with all the developmental milestones and teething, that pretty much ended and I visit the little chattering monkey when the need arises. We have let him cry it out (we can usually figure out his real distress from his pissed off cries) and it worked until Christmas. Suddenly we were back at square one and he was up 2 or 3 times a night due to teething, hunger or just plain awake and wanting to party.

    Sleeping with us has never been an option cause he doesn't want to SLEEP in our bed. He wants to party and crawl around at 3am. Believe me, I tried to get him to sleep with us - after being awake with his squirmy self or 2 hours - but we're all happier with our own space. My husband gets up very early to go to work and the last thing I need is to have HIS cranky tired, worn out ass to deal with as well.

  10. Long time lurker coming out of the shadows on this one. Thanks for posting. I have come to admire the intentional parenting choices you and Andrew make for J, and with a fussy/gassy/cranky almost 8 month old who wakes up hourly at night - I needed to be reminded that having a baby CIO can be beneficial for all involved. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  11. I am also coming out of the shadows to comment on this particular blog. You and I were once in a support group together which seems like a life time ago. Now you are a mother to a precious baby girl and I am a mother to two precious twin boys. My bubs are now 8 months old and we are working on the sleep issue starting with nap time. We recently made the transition from co-sleeping (with me and using a co sleeper) to cribs. Its nice to hear from another parent that the same method we are using will eventually work to some extent. There has been a few times that one (or both) babies have ended up back in the bed with me, but instead of it being a 'have to' feeling - its feels more like "I absolutely love this feeling" Hopefully soon we'll hit the mark where sleep last an entire night.

  12. L!!! I remember you darling - find me on facebook, I want to see pics of those darling boys!