Tough Love Take 1

I tried something new with Dominic on Friday – a little bit of tough love. Here is how that went:

"Daddy, let me tell you how it went. I, for one, was shocked."

Dominic wakes up from his afternoon nap after only thirty minutes of sleep.

I decide that he is still tired and that he needs to go back sleep. He doesn’t look like he stands a hope of doing that in his crib so I pick him up (can’t you already see how tough this love was?), bring him into the bedroom, lay him on the bed so that he can see me sitting at the desk, and tell him (nicely) to go back to sleep.

Dominic starts to yirp (this particular sound most closely resembles the offspring of a chirp and a yowl) in a way that let’s me know that he thinks this is not the best idea I’ve ever had.

I pet him and reinsert the pacifier (and reinsert the pacifier and reinsert the pacifier and reinsert the pacifier… repeat times 100).

Dominic starts to get increasingly upset.

I determine that now is as good a time as any to let him try to cry it out. I lie down right beside him on the bed, stroke his cheek (again, how tough is this love?), and decide that I will let him cry for five minutes before I pick him up…

I lasted for four.

And in that four minutes Dominic had worked himself up into such a shrieking, thrashing, red-faced, sweating, howling screaming mess that it took him 29 more minutes of holding and walking and soothing (29!!!) for him to calm down enough to suck on his favorite object in the world – the one that delivers milk unto him. Every time I tried to offer him a nipple before that magical twenty ninth minute he would take one brief suck, throw back his head, and scream with renewed vigor. He didn’t glare at me, but that’s only because his eyes were firmly screwed shut in order to allow him to better concentrate on broadcasting his sadness and rage as loudly as possible.


You would have thought that I covered him in honey, staked him out under a tropical sun and left him for the ants to find (stay tuned for Tough Love Take Five).

It’s a little funny now but it wasn’t at all funny on Friday. No matter how objectively ridiculous you think your baby is being, there’s no humour in watching them cry so hard for so long. I’ve only seen Dominic do that once or twice before, and then only ever because he was in physical pain.

Finding myself over the last couple of months unable to bear the prospect of leaving my child to cry himself to sleep has surprised me. I honestly thought he’d be sleeping in his own room within two weeks of birth and that we’d be putting him to bed alone and letting him howl himself to sleep on a nightly basis by now. Yet here I am still happily placing him in a travel cot beside my bed every night, holding him to sleep on those nights (about 30% of the time) that he doesn’t drift off without fussing, reaching down when he stirs and whimpers at 2AM to hand him back his dummy, getting up at 5AM to feed him well before he gets to the actively crying stage.

This issue of how to “best” help children sleep can be a contentious one in parenting circles. Emma Tom summarizes this well in The Australian:

“Like the other great baby debates of our time… controlled crying attracts extreme detractors and supporters whose polarised views leave little room for a sensible, midground approach. Critics claim these sorts of sleep regimes break babies’ spirits and cause irreparable long-term damage. Hardline advocates, on the other hand, have the disturbing habit of framing babies as deliberately manipulative, saying tough love is necessary to get the better of the calculating little buggers.”

I know the day may come when I decide that I want or need to be slightly less responsive to Dominic’s every cheep, but after yesterday’s performance I’m dreading that day. There was nothing controlled about Friday’s misery extravaganza. I don’t think he would have stopped without comforting before he screamed himself into a hoarse and desolate sort of exhausted.

So, parents, I’m interested in hearing about your approach to getting your kids to sleep. I’m not particularly interested in hearing your advice on the subject (no “shoulds” on this topic, please) but I am very interested in hearing your stories. What worked for your kids when they were young babies? What works now?

48 responses to “Tough Love Take 1

  1. Can of worms here Lis 🙂

    The only thing i can suggest is that what works now may not work tomorrow.

    Madam is 2.5 and has just recently started waking up again multiple times throught the night, for which I can hardly blame her given whats going on at the moment.

    it doe’s get better though, and then he’ll be a teenager 🙂

    • Thanks, and sorry about the complete lack of sleep I am quite sure you are all getting in that household at the moment with the new one on the scene. Hang in there for the next couple of weeks.

  2. I (obviously) have no stories of my own, but I appreciated what was said in this blog post of a Canadian mum of three now grown daughters:

    • Ooooh, I really enjoyed reading that article although I actually teared up at the thought of that little girl in the stroller – how I’m changing with this motherhood thing, seriously. Thanks so much for posting that link! Hoping you’re rugged up on a warm couch tonight enjoying a Sunday evening. Miss you!

  3. Seth is now six, he could not put himself to sleep until he was 13 months old. He sometimes slept four hours and sometimes was up every hour. We put four or five binkies in the crib, so that by the time he was 6-8 months or so, he held the ones he wasn’t sucking and now needed all of them to sleep. Sam, his brother, started sleeping through the night at six months, he barely cried during the cry it out experiment. He is three now and still uses his binky, but is a great sleeper. Seth is six and still wakes us at 5:00 or 5:30am. Sam can sleep til 7:30, no problem! Kids are different just like grown people. Chris needs 5-6 hours of sleep, I need 8! Best sleep advice ever, do whatever works for you and keeps you sane!! I have heard of next to nobody with any success crying it out before 6 months…it’s a tricky experiment! Feeling your lack of sleep, have been there the last seven years!!! Good luck!!

    • Interesting about littering the crib with pacifiers. I’ve had someone else tell me that they did the same thing with binkies in the stroller and their kiddo got the point where she wasn’t happy to go out for a walk unless there were five of them lying around her. Also, as far as advice goes – you can’t help but love the “do whatever keeps you sane.”

  4. This is an interesting topic for me. I have a terrible sleeper and a normal sleeper, who is yet to prove himself as good or bad in the sleep department.

    When S was born, she was the perfect baby. And I mean, the *perfect* baby. She slept through the night (11pm-7am) at three weeks of age. She could be put down in her bed for a nap at any time and without any noise would just quietly close her eyes and drift off to sleep. There was nothing I did that got her to do that, she just did it.

    Fast forward six months and she started waking, and crying, and feeding multiple times overnight. So I started solids at six months – throught perhaps she was hungry. Nope. So I put a breathable wrap around the cot walls thinking perhaps her dummies were falling out and she couldn’t find them. Nope. Finally we figured out that, due to her eczema, she wakes up itchy and hot, and incredibly uncomfortable – and she hasn’t slept through the night since. She’s 2.5 now and still wakes, and still needs us overnight. No amount of leaving her to cry will ever work – if we tried to shut her in her room and ignored her, she’d get upset, hot, and start to scratch, which would result in injuries.

    We went through a period of incredibly horrible sleep deprivation when she was at her most unsettled – about six or seven months of scraping by on a couple of hours per night, and both of us working during the day. To get through that bad patch, we started cosleeping, something I said I would never do. It got us through, she started sleeping better and we were able to transition her to a mattress on the floor, then back to her own room.

    These days she manages to go to sleep with sporadic parental presence and a drink of milk in her sippy cup. She stays asleep in her own bed usually until sometime in the wee hours of the morning, when she appears in our bedroom and we take her in our bed, sometimes for the rest of the night, sometimes not.

    She wakes every morning in our bed. And truth be told, we don’t mind. Actually, I sort of love it a little bit. There is nothing as good as morning sleepy cuddles with your babies 🙂

    Her brother is different again, he is a normal baby, he doesn’t self-settle, he likes to be fed to sleep which is natural and I’m happy to do it. It’s more important to me that my kids be healthy and happy, than them learning that they MUST sleep in their own beds. As long as we all get enough sleep (and we do), I don’t much care where they sleep. They are not going to be in my bed when they are fifteen. I am happy to gently parent them through learning to sleep until they get it.

    Oh my goodness. Longest blog comment EVER. Sorry about that.

    • Love long blog comments! Also really loving reading people’s detailed experiences, so thank you. It’s really nice to read some accounts that aren’t the “all nice and tidy” ones that are presented in less than half a page of text in the sleep training books. Also like your point that they’ll somehow manage to transition to sleeping solo before the age of 15, no matter what you do now.

  5. Sleep, precious sleep. I want it. I need it. Here’s how my experience went. At about four months we started to sense that Andrew was trying to drive the bus with his crying. One thing I did to sort of build up my tolerance was let him cry for a few minutes before I picked him up. Okay, maybe it was like one minute. He has always been decent at naps and such. One thing I did was read a sleep book. It helped me to have more confidence about what he should be doing when and helped me develop a schedule. But we didn’t even try letting him cry it out until 6 months. We did the thing where we made ourselves let him cry for graduated periods of time. First, 5 minutes. Go check on him… pat, pat, we love you. Go back to bed for 7 minutes, then go in and check, then 10 minutes. He never really ended up crying for more than 15 minutes. And we felt like we were making real progress… and then he got sick with various things like ear infections and little colds and we were back to square one… because I’m not really one to ignore my sick baby. So long story short… I kept getting up to nurse him whenever he got up at night…. until he was about 11 months. And that was my breaking point. I was pregnant and soooo needing a full nights rest that I was desperate. We went back to graduated crying it out and finally at 12 months he consistently started getting 11 to 13 hours of sleep at night. In my case, baby sleep was more about what I could emotionally endure than it was about Andrew’s ability to self soothe in the middle of the night. He has always been a brilliant napper. Hardly a peep when he went down for a nap. It might have been much longer before he slept through the night if I hadn’t been so desperate for rest because of the new bean on the way. I concur with the general consensus that every baby is different and every parent is different and for the most part you just have to go your own way. My sister is hardcore. They let their baby cry it out at like 3 months (it took a long time, like a month) and it worked for them… but I could never do that! But their kids are wonderful sleepers so who’s to say!?

    • Huh. Interesting. And, yeah, the two steps forward one step back thing is interesting. I’ve noticed that with Dominic too. We’ll go a stretch of nights where he settles quite nicely in his little cot by my bed, then we’ll have a couple of nights like the last couple where he flaps and sqwarcks (how DO you spell that word?) and thrashes his toys around and shows no signs of settling for ages and will only sleep after being picked up and put down a couple of times over the course of an hour or so.

  6. It all depends on the baby! Baby one (now nearly 4.5) – still doesn’t sleep through (was a night waker from birth), baby number two – 2 years younger, goes down without a peep. Now either I’ve grown less sensitive to crys over the years and therefore heart rending wails don’t bother me OR Mr-nearly-two just gets the whole night-is-for-sleeping idea.

    • I suspect it’s the later. I don’t think any mother (except one who has perhaps reached a total breaking point and is COMPLETELY exhausted) could sleep through heart rending wails.

      • Oh, I dunno – you learn pretty quick that they are not as heart rending as they first appear :).

        • amen to that 🙂

        • Yeah, there are different types of cries, aren’t there. I am slowly learning to temporarily ignore (or, at least delay response to) the “I’m whiny and complaining but not really upset” cry. There’s one sort of cry though – the “I’m really sad or scared or hurt” cry that I think would be pretty hard to ignore at any point. We’ll see.

          • on a similar vein a wise nanna who a few in here would remember fondly said to me once.

            “it doesn’t matter what sort of cry you hear when it follows right after a thud, just walk to where it came from, its when you DONT hear a cry immediately following a thud that you RUN”

            Wise words from one sorely missed 🙂

          • That made me smile. I never actually heard her say that, but I can imagine it perfectly.

  7. I used to kneel on the floor on a cushion and lean into C’s bassinet, roll her on her side and rub her back until she fell asleep. This could last up to 45 mins. If it went longer than that I would give up and feed her, or cuddle her, bath her, play etc.. and then try for sleep again later…
    I thought I would be able to cope with crying – I couldn’t.
    It is a foggy season! You’ve got that right.

  8. Disturbing lack of male voices so I will represent this most maligned of the species when it comes to thoughtful and engaged parenting…
    and my advice can be synthesized into one exquisite concept and word:Valium. (The only decision is whom to administer it to.)

    And remember Nancy and I have a 25 and a 20 year old and both do regularly sleep through the night now, so clearly we did something right in this arena.

    (Oh and as I write this I do so with Lisa Borden’s porch in Arusha sipping a coffee so be very jealous!)

    • WHAT??? I AM so jealous. I would give a lot to be sitting there with you guys having coffee and just listening. Oh, and as for valium (which is sold as diazapame over the counter here) we’re out at present. But don’t think I haven’t been tempted to dose myself (and, therefore, Dominic) in recent months.

  9. hey lisa… here’s my experience as an aunt of 10: all baby’s are completely different!

    I remember one nephew who was a real cry baby and had a volume like Pavarotti. The whole street would know when he was crying and that was pretty much all the time, especially at night… He would never stop only when you shook him up and down ALL NIGHT. (I remember sore arms :).

    When his mum (a single mum) couldn’t cope anymore, she decided to stop breast feeding and give him bottles. Many family members have spent a night over at their house to care for him at night, so his mum could get some sleep and not wind up crazy… and then suddenly one night… after six months, he suddenly transformed into a totally happy and easy baby and steady sleeper. We don’t know the reason, it just happened.

    The crying period was very hard, but I am proud of my sister for asking the help she needed, so she could become a good long term mum for her son.

    Today mum and son (5 years old) are relaxed and live very happily together. He’s so proud of her and looks after her, sings like an opera star and when he laughs the whole street knows he’s laughing 🙂

  10. I trained baby no. 1 to sleep through at 9 months old it took 3 nights, baby no. 2 slept through at 6 weeks herself, baby no. 3 I trained from the beginning to settle himself, baby no. 4 I tried but she wouldn’t and she eventually slept through herself at a year, baby no. 5 I have trained at 7 months to sleep through and is sleeping 12 hours at night. I only train mine to sleep through when they are having 3 meals a day, but tried from young to get them to fall asleep by themselves by putting them down awake and going in every 1 min, then after 3 mins then 5 mins, but I give up after an hour or so and try again after 20 mins. Whilst mine were crying I would have to get busy and listen to music or watch tv so I am a bit distracted and not concentrating on the crying.

    • Five. You’re amazing. Seriously. I am finding this whole theme of “you can do everything you know how to do and it’ll work fine with one child and not with another” fascinating. And glad number five is sleeping through for you.

  11. Hi Lisa, stumbled across your blog somehow, and can’t resist giving my thoughts on getting babies to sleep at night! With my first baby, I’d read Gary Enzo’s book (can’t remember the title) and was determined to ‘do it right’, so by the time she was a couple of weeks old, we started the controlled crying. It was a NIGHTMARE! I only allowed myself to go in every 15mins, so I would be pacing the floor outside, watching the clock, crying myself until I was allowed to go to my baby. And she would cry hard-out for up to an hour… It took months. She finally did learn to do what we wanted her to do, but with my second baby I was a little easier on both of us, and then there was my third baby.
    He had reflux, which wasn’t diagnosed till he was 5-6mths old. What this meant is that he wouldn’t sleep more than an hour at a time during the day, and woke every night at 11pm, and couldn’t sleep more than an hour at a time without screaming. So for many months we got by on around 4hrs of broken sleep. I didn’t even bother trying controlled crying with him, he was already crying and it wasn’t even slightly controlled, lol! We finally got him on the right medication, and the first night he slept till 3am I was so excited I rang my dr and left a message to tell her with the receptionist – who was a little confused as to why I was so happy about it 🙂
    By the time I got to my 4th baby, I was a lot wiser. He started reflux medication at 3wks, I did whatever it took for us all to get sleep, and everyone was much happier! 🙂
    What really hurts is that now that I know the signs of reflux, I’m almost certain that my first baby had it. So all that crying was because she was in pain… and my instinct (that I refused to listen to) to comfort her was right. She is now 8yrs old, and I often wonder if what I did somehow damaged our bonding… sigh.
    I think the best advice is to do what you need to. Dominic looks gorgeous, you’re obviously in tune with him and at some point when you start feeling fed up with doing what you’re currently doing, THAT will be the right time to get a little tougher. Until then, enjoy him! Enjoy being the centre of his universe – it won’t last forever.

    • Welcome! And thanks for sharing your stories. After last week’s experience I can completely imagine how hard it would have been to pace the floor outside waiting for that 15 minutes to be up. And for what it’s worth, you sound like you cared and would therefore have been an overall responsive mum, so I suspect she bonded (or attached, to use psych lingo) just fine, though I can understand the wonderings. Mothering seems to be such an endless string of decisions so far, and plenty of room to second guess.

  12. Hi Lis 🙂
    I must say that you’re doing really well at listening to Dominic and it sounds like you’re really in tune with what he needs 🙂 You’re going to find a solution that works for you both.
    I think both of my girls were quite similar with sleeping: from about the 3 to 4 month point they just had to be left alone to sleep. Before this they could be cuddled or fed to sleep but afterwards we had to treat them a bit like canaries: put them in a dark, quiet, solitary place.
    It was difficult to figure out with Anna- even the professionals at sleep school (when aged 3 mths) commented that she was just so awake and aware, she didn’t turn off. Before sleep school I wasn’t recognising when she was tired and didn’t know just how often she needed sleep. Anna was staying awake for up to 5 hours before showing tired signs. I learnt to put her to bed after she had been awake for 2-3 hours (depending on age). A consistent series of sleep associations was what worked: change nappy, read her a story, wrap her while singing “Twinkle twinkle little star”, sing for 2 verses while holding her wrapped in the dark room, put her down, close the door and leave. That all sounds very simple but the singing routine only arose out of despiration. Anna was so tired and couldn’t go to sleep because when ever I was in sight or touching her it would make her more alert. Having tried everything else I crouched down by the side of the portacot (we were travelling) where she couldn’t see me and sang to her because it’s all I could do. I was shocked when it worked- she began to calm down. Then I retreated to outside the door singing and she was eventually calm enough to put herself to sleep. After repeating this routine for all day and night naps I would just have to wrap her and sing and she would settle down for sleep. Anna started to sleep through at about 3-4 months and only started to wake when her little sister woke her in the night at age 3ish. Now she sleeps through 2 out of every 3 nights, but settles back down well. At 18mths Anna adopted a special toy, Lamb, and he is essential for sleep.
    Evie is a much calmer, less sensitive child than Anna but is no less alert. She would be wrapped and ready for bed but even as a very young baby she would just stare at your face and not close her eyes. I remember one time Evie was in Matt’s arms for 2 hours just staring at him. Evie was a very “sucky” and hungry baby, you just had to brush any part of her face and she’d go into a frenzy trying to latch on to anything. She loooved a dummy (Anna didn’t, and boy did we try). Being a second child it was much busier and Anna decided to toilet train herself when Evie was 2 months old. We would just have to put Evie down in the bassinet with her dummy to help Anna- and found that Evie started to self settle. We just put her down and let her do it.
    Evie started screaming when going to sleep at about 7 months. After trying a little bit of patting her to sleep (which seemed to work a couple of times) we soon found out that we could be in the room trying to calm her crying for up to 2.5 hours or we could leave the room and the crying would take 15 mins. So I suppose this was controlled crying: bedtime routine and leave her for 15 mins, then go in and resettle after 15 if she was still crying (which would usually be a case of lost dummy). It tooks 15 mins the first night, 7 mins the next and gradually faded away to nothing.
    Evie only started to sleep through the night when she gave up breastfeeding at about 13 months old. For a couple of months after she would wake out of habit and I would attempt to feed her and get bitten- later I just replaced the dummy and picked her and sang like her bed routine. Now at 18 mths she sleeps though- unlike her elder sister!
    I hope that helps. We used a few different tools: dummy, controlled crying, singing, firm bed routine, holding to sleep (in early days). The main thing is that we were guided by what the baby needed- there is no one solution. You’ll get there 🙂 Hope that wasn’t too long. Big hugs

    • Fascinating. Seriously. And “we had to treat them a bit like canaries: put them in a dark, quiet, solitary place”… Super funny. Dominic’s quite a sucky baby too. Thanks for sharing all of that.

  13. Can I recommend a book to read about the subject ? Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child by Marc Weissbluth. My daughter has read about all the books out there and this one is her favorite. She does not do 100% of what the book recommends but swears by it ! She has a 3 1/2 year old girl and a 2 year old boy. Both have developed into good sleepers. Well rested children equal happy parents. It would be hard not to pick your little guy up and cuddle him anytime he fussed – he is such a handsome lad. Good luck

    • Thanks, Sue. Yeah, he’s a cutie, and roly poly. All the Laos women say he is “tuoy kheng hen” – “Very fat and healthy”.

    • This is the book I read that helped me figure out what Andrew’s sleep needs were. I found it to be very helpful. I was pretty much on my own on this front and had no idea about when he needed to sleep, etc.

  14. With our first we read every book and tried every method because there were no other children to distract us from our quest for a perfect sleeper. We thought we failed the test because she didn’t sleep through the night until she was 7 months old. And then we had our second. She had a lot of barriers to sleep, such as reflux, tongue tie, colic, eczema. So she did not sleep through until she was 18 months old. But with our first two, when it came down to it we used cry it out with a whole lot of instinct mixed in. We would try a few nights of cry it out and then quit and then take it back up when we thought the girls were ready. Eventually it worked and we never let them cry for more than 5. The cry is the thing. If it made me cry or made me anxious or upset then I went with that and picked them up. There is something to the mom’s instinct. I try not to doubt my gut feeling because when I do, it generally means an illness goes ignored or I regret it later. I know this is very vague, but I came to realize after my second and all her issues that every author of every book and every parent of every child is not the parent of MY child. And God made us a parent not so we can pass the test but so we can fail it. Hard lesson for me, the worst Type A I know.

  15. Yes. Well. I have blocked most of it out. Seriously. It was horrible — the no sleeping, the crying, the dropped pacis. But I do remember seeing Z’s pediatrician at 3 months and crying to him to give me permission to let Z ‘cry it out’. He very nicely told me that babies can’t self sooth until about 6 months. I was appalled. And crushed. And so so so tired. Zoey was/is not a good sleeper. But she is an awesome eater. So there’s that. I think the thing that finally made the difference to me was just semi-accepting that sleep is a challenge for her and us. We did finally “Ferberized” . . . which sort of worked but also made the Suck IT List on my blog so . . . there ya go. All I can say is that it does get better (even for the bad sleepers) and that I have a great deal of empathy for you. xo

    • Thanks, you (she types, after just having held Dominic to sleep for the second time this morning). Though, both times he dropped off within five minutes, so maybe I can’t complain. (Not that I was, complain, that is. I was just hinting at complaining.)

  16. Lisa, my kids are 12, 10, and 8. Our first was our worst sleeper. I still wonder if we missed reflux or something. (I hadn’t even heard of that until she was >2 years old.) This child screamed every time we put her down until she was well over 1 year old. Naps, nights, every time. It was hell. “Cry it out” really didn’t work for us, but I left her in her bed crying when that’s all I could do for her, when I was at the end of it and slipping fast.

    Our second child was the dream sleeper. Put him down drowsy, he would sleep. We had to check on him in the morning b/c he would be happily playing in his crib and we didn’t know he was awake. Wonderful. Delightful. We’ll take five more of these, please!

    Our third, also a boy, had a rigorous routine. He had to sleep on his side, with a pacifier, with a burp cloth over his head. (I know, how did we ever figure that out?!? He could lose the pacifier sometimes and still sleep, but if he wiggled out from under the cloth . . . no one in the house slept until it was back on his head.) A hat wouldn’t soothe him like the cloth, so we used the cloth. If the routine was followed, he slept all night and woke up happy.

    Today, my 12-year-old and 8-year-old fall asleep soon after going to bed, wake up at a regular/slightly early time, and rarely complain about a bad night of sleep. My 10-year-old, however, takes forever to fall asleep, wakes during the night more often than the other two, must be woken up most mornings, and is groggy before breakfast. But, at least we are past the “cry it out” phase!

    Best wishes during this phase. It can be very tough!!

    • A cloth over his head, hysterical. Right now Dominic will go to sleep about half the time by himself if I lie him down, put the pacifier in, tuck blue dog under one arm, bunny under the other, and cover him with a blanket.

  17. I was exactly like you. Just couldn’t do it. Convinced that Judah actually was much worse when I tried to let him “cry it out”. Convinced also that he was fussier the rest of the day or the next day after those attempts. Arguements with the husband, who was okay with leaving him to cry longer (he, however, does not have mother hormones driving him instinctively to baby’s side!).

    In the end we’d do a bedtime routine, I’d let Judah fuss a little, and I’d put him down when he seemed tired. If he really cried, I’d comfort, feed, whatever. Generally in my personal opinion, he fell asleep pretty quickly when he was actually tired. Since I didn’t force him to bed, he didn’t learn to hate the bed. Most of the year when I put him in his bed he peacefully and even gratefully drifts off to sleep. There are exceptions and odd days, but I think it’s generally worked without crying it out.

    It gets better when he can grab his own paci.

    • Yeah, that’s pretty much where I’m at. I’m OK letting him fuss a little and whine and make that half-hearted cry along the lines of (I’m not happy with you right now, I’d really rather be picked up, but I’m not super upset). But when super upset kicks in… I’m not leaving him to that. Hope Judah’s gotten less fussy for you as the week has progressed.

  18. Sleep is such a fraught issue and can make you feel like a failure. With my son, Oliver (now 7), he started sleeping through the night on his own by about 4 months. He woke up pretty early in the morning for a long time. However, my drama with him was that he wouldn’t sleep longer than 45 minutes during the day and I was under the impression that he definitely needed to. All the books I read (stupidly) told me this was a must. So I’d try to resettle and to my shame I let him scream and cry more than I should have because I was told this was what I needed to do (especially to follow those baby routine books; chuck them in the bin!). I took him to a sleep day stay place and they said he had the loudest scream they’d ever heard and didn’t really suggest much else. After that hopeless visit to “experts” I chilled out about it, especially while he was sleeping well at night. And you know what? He just started sleeping longer spells during the day by the time he was around 8 months without any intervention from me. I think he was just developmentally ready for it. He went on to be a brilliant night and day sleeper. He took day naps right up until he started school!

    My daughter, in contrast, was a shocking sleeper from day 1. She was always so alert and took forever to wind down. She would screech herself to sleep no matter what I did. Before her birth I read a lot more around sleep (especially by Pinky McKay) and attachment parenting. I decided that I would be a more present mother and follow my heart. Well! Louisa (now nearly 3) tested me from the beginning. She slept in my arms and never in a cot during the day until she was close to 12 months old. She hated the car seat, hated the pram, only wanted to be on top of me. At night, we co slept because she just would not be separated. At first I thought she might have reflux or something, but it turns out that she is very spirited, attached, and hard to wind down. When I went back to work when she was 12 months old she was waking up to 10 times a night (every 45 mins to an hour) and I dreaded the nights. So many people encouraged me to take her to a sleep school and/or use controlled crying with her. There were many nights when my resolve wavered and I thought “this will be the night when I close the door and leave you to scream”; many nights when I called parenting hotlines. But by the light of day I stuck to my belief that for whatever reason this child needed me to parent her not only during the day, but throughout the night. Things slowly improved throughout her second year and now as she nears three she is a reasonable sleeper. She is starting to drop her day sleep, I still breastfeed her to sleep at nights (although not when I’m occasionally away on business; my husband and her nanny have found other ways to settle her), I often sit with her and pat her off to sleep, and 6 or 7 nights out of 10 she sleeps through the night. I am so proud that I didn’t give in and do what seemed easiest at the time. Not because I think leaving a baby to cry is evil, but because it wasn’t right for her. At one point I visited my paed and he said that whereas controlled crying may work on kids with relatively easy going temperaments, it can backfire terribly with kids who have spirited/high needs personalities. My daughter is such a one. She is confident, funny, attached and happy now and I credit a lot of that to the night time parenting she demanded and I gave her. Mind you, I resented the s**t out of her at times; I lived on Vitamin B and about 3 or 4 hours sleep for the longest time. But I look at her now and think “I got through it”, “it was worth it”.

    When my son wasn’t sleeping for long periods during the day I attributed it to some failure of my parenting. When my daughter came I realised that all kids are different and they need and demand different things. The trick is making yourself feel that it is okay. There’s all this language about “creating a rod for your own back”, or “starting as you mean to go on”, or “rock them to sleep now you’ll be rocking them forever” etc etc. I steadfastly ignored such language with Louisa but not enough with Oliver. I regret that now, but didn’t make the same mistake twice.

    Good luck. Good sleep!

    • Oh, wow. Louisa sounds like she might just have broken me altogether. I remember tracking your status updates and feeling sympathetic (in the way that people who have never have kids feel sympathetic – i.e., without really understanding how horrendous that could be). I’m so glad they’re both in a better place with sleeping now that the wee early days. Thanks for sharing!

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