Two of the biggest challenges for parents of newborns is feeding and sleeping. Since we have got the feeding part down, our next hill to climb is sleeping.
There is an impressive body of literature on sleep training, and on top of that, everybody and their grandmother has an opinion on the “correct” way to do it. I’m starting to realize that this is the case for everything related to raising a child – an impressive amount of (sometimes contradictory) literature, and everyone who has had a child claims to be an expert on everything.
The problem is that every baby is different, so what works for one baby may not work for another. Any single analogy is, while interesting, relatively useless as a guideline. When taken in aggregate, there are some patterns, averages, and ranges. So, out of these arise a couple theories.
One of the main schools of thought in sleep training is called the Ferber method. In a nutshell, this method is basically putting a baby down while she’s still awake and letting her fall asleep on her own (as opposed to nursing her, picking her up and rocking her, etc. to fall asleep). Even if she cries, you’re not supposed to rush to her aid and pick her up. In the ears of my mother-in-law, this might as well be called the Devil’s method. When we came home from our pediatrician’s office and told her that, with this method “the baby may cry for several hours,” we already knew she was not going to go along with it. No way in hell would she let BabyDumpling cry for several hours. In fact, I don’t think BabyDumpling has ever cried for more than ten minutes without being picked up. Even if GrandmaDumpling had gone to bed and the baby was with us in our room, she would rush in and try to take over soothing BabyDumpling if she heard BabyDumpling crying for too long.
Now, our pediatrician suggested we try this at our one-month visit, which is quite young for sleep training. I don’t think he believed for a minute that we could get it to work on a one-month old. But he probably wanted us to set up good sleeping habits.
I said in my last post that we were already cosleeping with BabyDumpling. Strike number one. GrandmaDumpling would never let BabyDumpling cry for more than ten minutes and would rush in to soothe her. Strike number two.
So this past week, I decided to take baby steps (ha ha) toward developing good sleep habits. I have a couple goals for her 3-month birthday:
- Stop cosleeping. Get her used to sleeping in her own crib.
- Fall asleep in the crib, rather than in my arms or in GrandmaDumpling’s arms.
- Learn the difference between night time “sleep” and day time “naps.” Night time sleep means sleeping for longer stretches, waking up only to feed, no playing when she’s awake, and lower stimulation all around (no music, no storytime, low lighting). Day time naps, on the other hand, should be shorter in duration (1-2 hrs), with a lot more stimulation when she wakes up in-between (talking to her, singing to her, giving her a toy, tummy time, etc.). I have (somewhat arbitrarily) defined night time sleep to be between the hours of 8am and 8pm.
- Remove one of the overnight feeds, meaning that 6+ hours should pass between her last night feed (let’s say at 11:30pm) and her first morning feed (let’s say 6am).
- Building on #3, sleep through the night. If we remove the feeding session between midnight and 6am, and she doesn’t get any playtime or stimulation during the “night time,” she should be able to sleep through that time.
We have already made some progress on these goals this past week. We moved her Dockatot into the crib and removed one of the railings on the side of the crib so that it’s open (and right up against our bed) and easy for me to reach over. Since she’s used to sleeping next to us on the Dockatot, this still closely mimics that but she is no longer on our bed. We have found that she is willing to sleep in the crib this way – hurrah!
BabyDumpling is also making progress on falling asleep on her own rather than in our arms. We basically lay her down when she’s still awake, stick a pacifier in her mouth, and then she sucks on it for long enough that she gets drowsy and goes to sleep. Now, this isn’t exactly “falling asleep on her own” because one of us still needs to be next to her to keep the pacifier in her mouth. If she sucks a couple times and then lets go, as soon as the pacifier falls out of her mouth (when she’s not in a deep sleep yet), she’ll start crying. Also, before she truly falls asleep, she often checks to see if someone is still next to her. For example, she’ll close her eyes for a couple minutes (while still sucking on the pacifier), and then open her eyes for a second. If she sees that I’m still next to her, she closes her eyes again. If she sees that I’m gone, she’ll start crying. Therefore, this is not really independently falling asleep because I have to stay next to her, with one hand on her pacifier, until she falls into a deep sleep. This can sometimes take over an hour. Nonetheless, this is still progress from the days when I would literally have to hold her for over an hour before I could put her down. So, yay!
We have also tried to remove one overnight feed, which has sort of worked. She can go 6 hours without feeding at night, but it’s not always from midnight to 6am. For example, sometimes her last feeding is 9:30pm and then she’ll need to be fed at 4am. But again, progress, so – huzzah!
Honestly, with this stuff, you can’t expect an overnight transformation so you take what you can get and celebrate the baby steps.
Plus, apparently it’s common for parents to experience “sleep regression” at around four months old because of a major neurological development around that time. So, even if we get all of this down pat in three months, we probably still won’t be sleeping in Month Four. It doesn’t exactly go out the window, because it’s not really a regression, but who cares about semantics when you’re not sleeping?
After two months with a newborn, I’m starting to see a pattern. And the pattern feels a lot like two steps forward, one step back, and then the entire dance changes. Babies grow fast – neurologically and physiologically. They can’t see colors – and then they can! They can’t focus past a foot in front of their face – and then they can! They don’t know their own hands and constantly whack themselves in the face – and then they don’t! Everything can change from day to day and week to week, so it feels like as soon as I’ve mastered one thing, it becomes moot a few days later because she has literally changed as a person.
One change that I experienced recently was seeing her smile. “Socializing” is also something babies learn, and her first smiles were spontaneous and accidental. I read that babies learn to smile purposefully at people they recognize when they realize that smiling solicits certain reactions (such as you smiling back at them, you paying attention to them and trying to get them to smile again, etc.), and it becomes another tool in their toolkit (instead of only knowing how to cry). GrandmaDumpling had said that BabyDumpling consistently smiled at her in the morning when she wakes up from her longer stretches of night time sleep. I hadn’t gotten consistent smiles from her and panicked, wondering if she recognized GrandmaDumpling more than me, because she spends more of her awake time with GrandmaDumpling (during the day while I’m pumping, napping, etc.). However, in the last few days, I’ve seen her smile at me when she clearly recognized me, and I realized there really was nothing to worry about. She was born to know who her mommy is, and I don’t necessarily need to be the one that holds her the most or plays with her the most for her to know me or feel my love. And, of course, seeing her smile at me, for even a second, made all the hardships of the past seven weeks worth it. I used to think that there wasn’t much reward to parenting, because I felt like I haven’t given as much to my parents as they have given to me. But it turns out that in the world of parenting, the give and take doesn’t need to balance – sometimes even just a split-second smile is all the reward in the world you need.