The Terrible Awful. Sleep training – Part 1.

For the last week Brad and I have been sleep training Vivian, and let me tell you, “terrible awful” doesn’t begin to describe it. With a full seven days behind us, though, I’m finally to a place where I would also describe it as “effective” and “successful”.

Honestly, I never thought I’d use a “cry it out” method. It just doesn’t seem to jive with my parenting style; I veer to the attachment parenting side of the street (breastfeeding, babywearing, and the like). I feel like a good, healthy fuss is enough practice at self-soothing.

In the past three weeks, though, my attachment parenting approach was working less and less for bedtime. For the first 5 months of her life, Vivi was pretty easy to put to sleep for the night. I’d usually nurse her into a deep sleep, then I would put her in her bouncy, or if that didn’t work, Brad or I would walk and rock her to sleep. Sure, there were times when the “go to sleep” process took an hour, but in the end, she slept 9-10 hours a night, so it didn’t seem so bad. Other than a few times when I just wanted time for myself, I was happy to nurse or rock her to sleep; it was relaxing for us both, and I loved the cuddles. If she woke in the middle of the night (which she usually did 2-3 times a week), I’d nurse her right back to sleep without any issues.

In the last three weeks, though, something changed. [Enter ominous music.] Vivi slowly began to resist falling asleep on the breast. Rocking her to sleep became increasingly difficult. Once Vivi went to sleep, she often only slept an hour or two before stirring; she just didn’t seem comfortable in the bouncy anymore. I decided to try moving Vivi into her crib, but no matter how deeply she was sleeping, the minute she got horizontal in the crib, BAM! She was awake, and she wasn’t happy about it! Once crying, I’d pick her up and start the nursing and rocking dance all over again.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came last Wednesday night. After five hours – yes, five hours! – of nursing, rocking, walking, car riding, and lots of fussing – Brad and I finally got her to sleep. Thursday night was just as rough as Wednesday night. Vivi just couldn’t fall asleep in our arms anymore, and the longer she stayed awake, the more miserable and exhausted we all were.

On Friday night, Brad and I weren’t sure what else to do, so we let her cry. After 15 minutes of crying in her crib, she got so frustrated and upset that she threw up! We were mortified and ended up snuggling her to sleep again that night.

As soon as she fell asleep, we started researching. One of my favorite parenting books, Baby 411, had highly recommended Dr. Ferber’s sleep training technique. After reading up on Ferberizing, we decided that we liked the approach and thought it handled “cry it out” in a more tender way than most. You don’t leave your baby crying alone for hours on end; you’re able to reassure them and tell them that you love them, that you’re still nearby, that they’re safe. Brad and I both reviewed the approach and agreed – on Saturday morning, we would start Ferberizing, otherwise known as “progressive waiting”.

The basic tenets of progressive waiting for nighttime are:

  • You have a regular nighttime routine for your child, something like bath, nurse, book, bed. The nighttime routine should be loving and relaxing.
  • After goodnight kisses, you put your drowsy baby into his or her crib awake.
  • You leave. Baby cries…. or screams.
  • After 3 minutes, you return to your baby’s room and reassure them that you are nearby but that it’s time to go to sleep. You can pat them, but you can’t pick them up (even if the baby is screaming and giving you the saddest look ever).
  • After no more than a minute or two of soothing, you leave the room. Baby cries.
  • After 5 minutes, you return to soothe. Baby will likely cry harder while you are in the room, but do your best to reassure him or her. Again, no more than 2 minutes of soothing, then out you go.
  • If the baby is still crying after 10 more minutes, you return to soothe… and then again every 10 minutes after that until the baby goes to sleep.

[Quick note: the 3/5/10 waiting progression is for the first night; each day adds additional waiting time. We modified the waiting times; we ended up using the 3/5/10 progression for the first 3 days, then we moved to a 5/7/12 progression on Day 4. On Day 7 we are still using a 7/10 schedule, though Ferber recommends a much longer progression (something like 20/25/30). My opinion on the waiting progressions: go with what feels right for you.]

So, the research was done, and the plan was in place. Now the hard work begins!

To get the play-by-play of our first week, check out Part Two here.

Not interested in the nitty gritty? You can find out what I learned and my tips for sleep training here.

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