Tag Archives: sleep training

Tough Love Take Two

Six weeks ago I tried to let Dominic “cry it out” for the first time. I was so tired that day that I decided to lie down next to him and see if he could calm down if I petted his belly instead of actually holding him. The experiment was not what exactly what you might call a success. It lasted a grand total of 4 minutes and netted me 29 more minutes of hysterical howling after I gave in and picked him up. I didn’t think I’d be trying controlled crying again anytime soon.

That was last month.

This is this month.

Until this month Dominic had been a relatively easy baby. I mean, I don’t have anything to compare him to, but I suspect that I don’t really have much to complain about (not that that’s ever stopped me). As long as someone stayed nearby to stick his pacifier back in whenever it fell out, Dominic would settle himself to sleep in his cot about 70% of the time. When he was about 10 weeks old he mostly started sleeping from about 10pm to 5am with only brief nocturnal wakeups to ask for his pacifier back.

Then he turned four months old.

Seemingly overnight, things changed. His Royal Babyness didn’t want to be put down anymore. Ever. He began insisting on being fed somewhere between midnight and 2am every night. He started to cry whenever Mike or I disappeared from his line of sight. He started to cry whenever we handed him to someone else (and sometimes even when other people merely looked at him). He started to cry whenever we tried to get him to go to sleep.

The hysteria at bedtime started around the time he caught his first cold, so we began walking him to sleep. We thought he’d settle back into his easier former patterns as soon as he felt better.

He didn’t. Two weeks later we were still walking him to sleep every night and for every daytime nap. He never napped for more than forty-five minutes at a time. Whenever I tried to get him down he’d wiggle and fuss and throw his head back and gaze around in the manner of a pudgy, horizontal meercat. He’d only drift off if I were singing to him.

When I got bored with Old MacDonald and his farm full of rabid roosters, starving kitties and mangy dogs I started singing Hush Little Baby. I don’t know anything past the first couple of lines, so my version goes something like this:

Hush little baby don’t say a word
Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird,
And if that mockingbird don’t sing
Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring,
And if that diamond ring don’t shine
Mama will buy you the whole diamond mine,
And if that diamond mine don’t produce
Mama will buy you a big fat moose,
And if that fat moose don’t taste fine
Mama will buy you a case of red wine…

I’d make up this sort of nonsense until his eyes rolled back in his head and he went limp, then I’d wait a couple more minutes – the pain in my back and shoulders growing by the second – before easing him gently into his cot, unpeeling my hands from him finger by finger and praying that he stayed asleep.

One night last week though, after he’d gotten us up to feed him/walk him back to sleep at midnight and 2 AM and cried for his pacifier every forty five minutes until 5 AM when he decided that he was hungry again, I was done with this new normal. I was so done that I told Mike during the wee dark hours of that awful morning that I didn’t know why we’d decided to have children and that I wanted to leave the baby with him and get on a plane to Australia. I was scarily close to being serious.

Since being done with the whole motherhood thing wasn’t really a viable option, however, I decided that I was definitely done walking the floor with twenty pounds of grumpy baby when I was pretty sure he was neither sick nor teething. My emotions couldn’t take it and neither could my back. Despite the dread I felt at the prospect of letting him cry it out, it was time for tough love take two.

Operation tough love take two commenced that very morning with Dominic’s first nap. I put him in his cot and I gave him his pacifier, his cuddly toys, and his blanket. I sat down in a chair by his bed where he could see me. I told him that it was time he figured out how to go to sleep without being carried around the room.

He let me know he wasn’t a fan of this plan, and his crying quickly escalated to red-faced, hysterical thrashing. I held my ground. I sang to him. I patted him. I handed him back his pacifier, but I did not pick him up, and after twenty minutes of theatrics he fell asleep.

Then. Less than a minute after his eyes had closed…

Our neighbors decided to harvest coconuts and they started falling onto the tin roof right outside his bedroom window.

Here I must pause and address those of you who have suggested that it is good for babies to learn to sleep through loud noises. That might hold with regards to the sounds of voices, traffic, and even the occasional dog bark. It does not hold for the sound of a coconut falling on a tin roof. A baby’s brain is understandably hard-wired to interpret that sort of sudden, intense noise as danger. This is because only people who did wake up when they heard that sort of noise lived to pass on their genes – the happy slumberers were all eaten by coconut-wielding saber-tooth tigers.

Needless to say, Dominic woke up. Needless to say I was livid.

I moved him from his crib into the small travel cot in our bedroom and started all over again. This time it took forty minutes of crying/singing for him to go back to sleep.

But this story has a happy ending. After the first day of crying every time I put him down, Dominic started to go down again with only minimal fussing, fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer. He’s been happier and less clingy, and I’ve been feeling less exhausted, desperate, and tempted to leave him with Mike and head to the airport. For now, we’re good.

I have a nasty feeling, however, that when the time comes for Tough Love Take Three: Whereupon We Stop Handing Him His Pacifier When He Loses It For the Tenth Time in Two Minutes, all may not be such smooth sailing. Stay tuned.

Mamas and Papas, got any Tough Love stories to share?

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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.

“JULIUS CAESAR HAD NOTHING ON THIS!!!” he seemed to be howling.  “YOU DID NOT PICK ME UP THE INSTANT I LET IT BE KNOWN THAT WAS WHAT MY LITTLE HEART DESIRED. THIS IS TRUE BETRAYAL! THIS IS TRUE PAIN! THERE IS NO ONE IN THIS WHOLE SAD, BAD, WORLD WHO LOVES ME! NOOOOOOO OOOOONNNNNEEEEE!”

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?