This is a guest post from one of my families I recently worked with. Michelle recounts her struggles and triumphs as she goes through the process of helping her son learn how to get healthy sleep.
Was it just like teaching? Teaching, my profession, sometimes daunting and associated with many opinions about how it should be done. No, I could bare that. Temporarily, sleep training felt like something worse. This dreaded feeling, for some, is what writing an essay last-minute feels like. One must account for the early morning hours when you’re wishing for it just to be over. This is how my thoughts began to unfold in the case of my sleep training experience. I sum up my mesmerizing and intangible experience of teaching my son the beauty and necessity of healthy sleep here.
I didn’t know as much as I know now, but what I did know made me feel I was close to seeing a successful sleep pattern develop. This daunting, but very necessary process glittered it’s light in glimmering ways. My son was happy most of the time however, I noticed that he was needy and clingy at bedtime. It had been so wonderful holding him over my shoulder until he fell asleep in those early months, I didn’t want to put him down. As the weeks went on, his wakings increased and he didn’t always need or want to feed every time. This is when I was able to put my trust in a professional child sleep consultant an acquaintance swore by, Jenn. Not long after I began training, the very light that once glimmered began to shine as bright as a spotlight. It shone not just on our son’s need for rest, but the need for rest for the whole family.
In a Mommy group, a sleep consultant had spoken to our group one afternoon and it really got us moms talking. Talking on Facebook, talking in person, mentioning important facts from books, but it was just not quite enough for my focus to be particular for my son. Again, like writing a university essay. Back then, whenever I would listen to all the talk about everyone else’s research and writing concerns, I’d have very little energy and belief of my own to truly accomplish my goal.
This is what I realized in the first few minutes of my son’s crying. I had to focus, pay attention to the schedule, sharpen up my routine, commit to consistency, and trust in the one-to-one exchanges I would have with Jenn.
I liked beginning with the intervals. They gave me purpose to my presence and helped me start with the contact I had so regularly had with my baby. The first might, my husband and I agreed to begin. This was an accomplishment in itself. The team was going to work together! It must have been in that tidal wave that our sleeping son also rode until 4:30am. It was possible, but we weren’t out if the woods yet, as Jenn said.
Just a week before my consultation with Jenn, I had been up 7 times in one night. I knew something wasn’t right, but I just couldn’t pin it myself. My son’s sleep wasn’t consistent or consolidated for the best outcome, a happy baby, happy mom and happy family. My back began to get sore carrying my cuddle monkey around. I’d carry him once at bedtime, until he fell asleep, and then again an hour later when he woke. Sometimes he had a feed then and almost always, he breastfed before midnight. We even went to Europe for two weeks in August. I was looking forward to getting back and starting solids at his six month birthday.
Needless to say when we got back, I kept to our usual wakings and breast feeding and formula combination. This is when people told me all about how a little bit of solid food will get him to sleep better. I still listened to opinions about how I should care for my son. However, he was a healthy weight and height without solid food, so I didn’t think too much about combining the food with the training.
The intervals kept me going for three nights. On night 3, my son cried for almost an hour and a half. As the training unfolded, this was the dreaded wakefulness I had heard my mommy group talk about. With the success of the first night under our belt, that light had shimmered and gleamed a little. The cry changed over the course of the week. It went from the cry of a tearing baby to a crying call. Though, he would have wakeful periods of up to forty minutes for a few more days. I made myself a tea and remained awake near by. I let go of feeling the need to comfort him as the interval times expanded and by week one my son was successfully self-soothing and following routine. Naps started to fall into place and he was sleeping more.
If we all had had a say when we were babies, chances are we would have wanted a lot of sleep, a schedule that was predictable and wakefulness that was joyful and happy. It is now four weeks after sleep training. He naps regularly, is very content to go into his crib awake and he even napped elsewhere over Thanksgiving (twice!). Other people are noticing his demeanor. His rest, and mine, has made my time with him more engaging and appreciative. I don’t have to tip toe around so as not to wake my husband, which I once did many times a night. We are sleeping not in small increments of time anymore, but in the sum of a whole night’s sleep. The one thing I know for sure is, unlike my essay writing, I wouldn’t wait until the last minute to sleep train. Like many an essay written after prolonged procrastination, this research and follow-through may count the minutes too, but the results and habit will not be broken.