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Sleep training is something I felt unsure about. I’ll be honest, the idea of letting my baby alone in his room to cry sounded like torture for both of us, and it just wasn’t in the cards. It sounded like something that a “mean mom” would do, and I am not a “mean mom”! Most parenting philosophies are either strictly for or strictly against sleep training, with not much middle ground. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen my post about our decision to sleep train.
I felt like our story needed to be shared, because it is so common for so many new parents, but it isn’t really talked about. It’s sort of like your cross to bear when you become a parent. You know that you will be sleep deprived, but you don’t know how impactful it will be until it happens. And then when you try to talk about it with other people (other parents included), you’re met with, “Yeah that sucks. Well, he’ll get it eventually. See ya later!”
There are so many things I wish I would have known about infant sleep before M was born, which I talked about here, but this is our personal story. So for the sake of all of my friends with new babies, and for all of the moms out there on Pinterest searching for some solidarity when it comes to their baby’s sleep, here is our sleep story.
Before and during my pregnancy, I was adamant that any children I have will sleep on their own, in their crib or bed. It’s better for me. It’s better for them. Everyone wins.
When I had M, my feelings on sleep changed. I was totally fine, and even preferred, co-sleeping with M. In this sense, I’m talking about co-sleeping as room-sharing AND bed-sharing. My cousin gave me a great book called Sweet Sleep from La Leche League International, and I loved it. I was pro co-sleeping, and we went with that for a few months. The majority of the time, M slept in his bassinet next to my side of the bed. Once he started to fuss, I would put him in bed next to me, and nurse him back to sleep, and he would often sleep there for the rest of the night with me.
The problem with this, (for us, anyway), was that even though M would nurse back to sleep he was still sleeping fitfully. I’m sure this was because he would be woken up by snoring or other night time noises. But he would wake up to nurse again way more than he needed to. I should clarify that he was out of “eat every 2-3 hours” stage that newborns are in during their first month, and he was gaining weight perfectly. He could have been sleeping for longer stretches at night, but wasn’t able to because he was sleeping too lightly in bed with me or in the room with us.
During this stage, I was fully against any kind of sleep training. Sleep training isn’t for us, I thought, M is only young once, and he will eventually be able to sleep on his own. I don’t ever want to hear him cry because he feels abandoned by me. I won’t deny him the snuggles and the love that he needs right now because I feel tired.
After night upon night of rocking, bouncing, walking, gently setting the baby down once he fell asleep, and then walking away only to hear him squawking again 4 minutes later, and then repeating the process to only have M sleep in 75 minute increments for the remainder of the night, we needed a solution.
I was depressed. And exhausted. And resentful towards my husband, and sometimes towards M. I felt guilty for not knowing how to help my baby to sleep. I must be a bad mom, I thought, because a good mom would know how to help their baby sleep and feel rested. And that is NOT what I’m doing right now.
I looked into everything. We bought different swaddle transition sacks. We tried introducing solids and formula, even though there is plenty of research to say that solids and formula do not help babies sleep better. It was a myth, and I knew that, and we tried it anyway. Needless to say, they didn’t work.
So we started sleep training. Sleep training, if you’re not familiar, is exactly what it sounds like: a process of training your baby how to sleep. There are no-cry and cry-it-out sleep training methods. We started with one that was purportedly a no-cry sleep training method…
Which doesn’t exist. Let me be very clear: there is no such thing as a no-cry sleep training method, except in the case of the aforementioned unicorn babies. The other 99% of babies that require some form of coaching or training to achieve independent sleep will fuss or cry to some extent during that training period.
So we moved to a gentle sleep training method. I purchased the Sleep Sense program and we started to train. The first night was hard; M cried. The second night was easier; M cried much less, and put himself to sleep. The third night, I was extremely depressed and sleep deprived, and I didn’t have the energy to listen to him cry. We stopped training for a bit, and restarted Sleep Sense.
His crying became so much worse. It got to the point where he was inconsolable. The only thing that would calm him down was nursing, and as soon as he was off of a breast, he would begin bawling again. It was excruciating. I would walk him and bounce him and cry with him, and plead with him to take a deep breath and stop crying, only to put him back on a breast, where he would finally fall asleep.
M was so exhausted that night that I was able to put him in his crib, and let him sleep. I was so anxious that he would wake up and find that I wasn’t there, that I made a makeshift bed on the floor next to his crib. I laid on my yoga mat and stared up at the crib, crying silent tears because I had failed my boy. And I had failed myself. I had been up every hour for more than 24 hours, and there had been no resolution. Something has to give.
It was here that my husband, who I tried to spare from this experience, woke up, and asked me what was going on. I started bawling, and I told him what had happened. “You need to let me help more,” he said, “You’re doing too much of this on your own, and I want to give you more support, but you’re not letting me.”
Ugh. He was right. I was trying to do all of the things. I wanted my husband to sleep so he could be well rested for his daily responsibilities, but I wasn’t giving myself the same consideration. I was shouldering all of the daytime and nighttime responsibilities of baby care, and it was killing me.
“Okay,” I agreed. I would stop trying to be Wonder Woman, and I would accept help when I needed it.
This was the night we decided to fully commit to sleep training, and help our boy learn the sleep skills he so desperately needed. No more pussyfooting around with a so-called gentle sleep training program that put more stress on my son and my psyche. We would commit to solution that may be harder in the short-term, but would pay dividends in the long-run.
I did more research, and found Precious Little Sleep. The author, Alexis Dubief, was just a sleep deprived mom like the rest of us, who needed a solution to her son’s sleep problems. So she researched the shiznit out of the subject, and became an expert. She wrote a book, and it’s fantastic.
This is the first book that I read that didn’t make me feel like a failure for my son’s sleep issues. For the first time, I just felt like a normal mom, with a normal baby, who was going through normal infant sleep problems. And for the first time, I had hope. I had hope that we would get through this and that M would learn how to sleep well and to sleep independently, and that I would stop feeling resentment towards by beautiful boy.
We implemented the strategies in the book, and this time, we are seeing ACTUAL results. We’ve created a combination of gradual extinction processes, and it’s working.
Has it been tear-free? No. There have been lots of tears. From M and from myself. But there is progress. He’s learning to put himself to sleep, and he’s sleeping for 4 hours or longer at a time. He’s happier during the day, and he is actually interested in his toys and books now. He’s okay to be set down for a few minutes without feeling abandoned. And he’s finally understanding naps. Oh, the glorious naps. No more fussing, just settling and sleeping.
Will this be the end of our sleep problems? Not in the slightest. I know there will be more sleep issues that pop up; regressions, teething, illness, travel, etc. But I’m optimistic that my husband and I have the strategies to handle those problems when they arise. I don’t feel helpless OR hopeless anymore. We know what to do, and we are comfortable doing it.
The bottom line is that we went through a lot to get to where we are now. I struggled with a lot of guilt about being viewed as a “mean mom” for sleep training my son. Which is total B.S. Sleep training doesn’t mean I love my son any less than any other mother out there. If you decide that sleep training isn’t for you, that’s great! Go you, and I hope you have success with that for your family. If sleep training is for you, that’s great! Go you, and I hope you have success with that for your family.
Whatever you choose to do, embrace it, and let the haters be damned. You’re not a mean mom. You’re an amazing mom, and you AND your baby deserve to be well-rested. Do what you gotta do mama. If you’re looking for extra support, be sure to check out the Brilliant Mamas Support Group on Facebook. I’d love to have you, and you’ll get nothing but support and high-fives, and virtual hugs from me. Can’t wait to see you there!
What has your experience been with infant sleep? Let me know in the comments below!