When Mike and I went to the birth classes that were required by my birth center before Charlie came along, we listened intently to the parenting tips they delivered, because they felt like they came from a conscious place and aligned with our values. They advised co-sleeping, with the baby in between the mom and the wall - with the logic that it would allow the baby to breastfeed demand, it would let mom get more sleep since she didn't have to shuffle to the baby's room and they swore mom could never roll on top of the baby. As we walked out to the car after class, Mike and I decided we were both on the same page with it.
"This all sounds reasonable, we can co-sleep with her for the first few months and then move her into the crib."
So cut and dried, right? We felt like we had it figured out. I dreamed about her little body snuggling up next to me in bed, her angelic face near my chest.
And after Charlie arrived, on our first night home from the hospital, I realized co-sleeping was not going to work for us.
As I've alluded to in previous posts, Charlie was pretty fussy in those early months. Her favorite pastime was crying and she had zero interest in being snuggled or rocked to sleep. We tried all the S's from the Happiest Baby on the Block book and she fought every one of them, tooth and nail. Add in that she is incredibly strong, so swaddling her was an epic undertaking. It often took both me and Mike, one of us to hold her arms down, one to wrap the swaddle - as she screamed and flailed and kicked the whole time. It sucked, royally, but she couldn't sleep without it. The few nights she spent in bed with us were unhappy on both party's end. Charlie had (and very much still has) her own agenda, and co-sleeping was not on it. My vision of us spooning blissfully ended up being a reality of Charlie sleeping in her own room from her first week of life on - and it was better for her and better for us.
That still didn't make for her being a great sleeper though. I loathed swaddling her so much that I opted not to do it for naps - a big mistake, because she ended up not sleeping or waking up quickly from the Moro reflex. My own naivete' didn't help - I didn't know just how much newborns needed to sleep in the beginning, so when she woke up in the morning, I thought she could stay up a few hours and was perplexed when she was in sobbing, screaming breakdown mode 45 minutes later. She also refused to nap in the stroller or carseat and just screamed harder, which only led to more tears on my end too. After a month of meltdowns (including an epically terrible one at her one month pediatrician's appointment, when Mike was conveniently out of town), I felt totally helpless. Like a failure. And that was when I started asking for help. My mom lovingly bought us a Snoo. My friend Rachel, who had a one year old of her own, recommended following Babywise. Mike's family swore by scheduled feedings.
So I got into action and tried to corral Charlie into something of a eating and sleeping routine. At first it was like herding kittens (a very upset kitten at that), but eventually we settled into an every 3 hour feeding cycle, where she fed ideally right waking up after a nap. Babywise recommended 1.5 hour naps for her age at the time but Charlie never willingly settled into that pattern and I was pulling my hair out trying to get her to sleep that long, so eventually I just gave up and let her natural sleep patterns happen. From around two months on, her naps were short and erratic. She was not connecting sleep cycles so most naps were something like 31 minutes long exactly, even with the Snoo (which is awesome btw). Most of our days were spent at home, trying to keep us on a somewhat of a schedule, which I logged like a maniac to see if there was any kind of pattern that emerged. There wasn't. However, because she was at least getting some naptime in, Charlie was better rested and getting a little happier. Which made for a more sane, loving and productive Amy. But bedtime was still this hour-long stressful rigamarole of swaddle, bouncing, pacifier, baby voodoo - all to get her to go to sleep - sometimes just to have her wake up 30 minutes later. Charlie didn't enjoy it (read: screamed her little lungs out) and it wasn't exactly marital bliss either.
It all came to a head when the 4 month sleep regression hit, conveniently when we were vacationing in Key West. After basically wrestling her to sleep, she was up every two hours for three nights straight, crying like a maniac. Rocking, bouncing, soothing made it worse. Feeding didn't get her to go back down. We were banging our heads against the wall and exhausted. On the fourth night, we made the call. It was time.
Warning - this is a very hot button topic, so if you're not onboard, you might want to stop reading. But if your kid is like ours and you want your nights back, your relationship back, and/or your child to sleep independently, let's carry on.
Sleep training is often dubbed "cry it out" because your child essentially cries themselves to sleep as a means for them to learn how to fall asleep on their own. When I was pregnant, I thought I would be totally on board with doing this, no sweat. Then Charlie showed up... and it all changed. As a parent, you don't want your precious-perfect-lightbeing-angel-baby to cry if you can help it - and this is basically making her cry! For long stretches! Mike and I were both a little hesitant at first. On an earlier tough night, we dabbled with sleep training when Charlie was around 3.5 months old, using the Ferber method of checking in at set times. At first 3 minutes, then 5 minutes after that and so on... It works for some babies, but for Charlie, it only made her more angry (read: screaming furiously) so we scrapped that after one night.
After devouring a zillion sleep blogs and sites,I read Precious Little Sleep, the best sleep book ever, and joined their amazing facebook group. And in all my learning, I knew we needed to do the extinction method with Charlie. Almost as scary as it sounds. You put them to bed and leave them. And let whatever happens in there, happen. But as strong willed as our little bug is, I knew that we needed to pull out the big guns and just go cold turkey. I couldn't take one more night of rocking and praying for the stars to align for her to sleep. We needed some consistency and ease in our life.
On the Monday after the Key West shitshow, we put Charlie to bed, made sure she was safe, turned off the light, turned on the white noise, left the room and said a prayer. Once she started crying, I immediately wanted to go in and comfort her, but experience had showed me that only made it worse for her. So we sat on the balcony and had dinner, with the volume down on the monitor because I couldn't bear to listen to her scream but I still wanted to make sure she was ok, so I watched the sound bars just rise and fall as she cried her little heart out. After dinner, we came inside and she was still going strong, so Mike took a shower and I tried to listen to a podcast - but I could still hear her wailing away through my earbuds. For a while, I slumped outside her door and wanted to go in sooo badly but I knew that wouldn't help, and only force her to cry for longer stretches the next night. It was heartbreaking and one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I even turned the AC down and put a little fan in her room so she wouldn't overheat from all the screaming. Like Mike reminded me, sometimes doing nothing is the hardest thing. But eventually... eventually, she gave up and fell asleep on her own. TWO HOURS later. Her poor little exhausted body. I finally exhaled the breath that I didn't even realize I had been holding.
The next night she cried for 45 minutes, the next night 15, the night after 5 minutes... and so on. Now it's a rare day when she cries at all when we put her down for bed. She also dropped the swaddle and pacifier during the cry-it-out sessions. Now, almost two months later, I thank my lucky stars that we held strong and did it. Granted, it's not always perfect, and yes, there are still some night wake-ups and feedings but the process of bedtime is a joy. Nap time is much easier too, putting her down is a breeze and her naps are nice chunky blocks of time, not the 31 minute crap naps. At night, we do our evening routine of bath, boob and bed and she's pretty much out cold.
Having Charlie learn independent sleep gave us hours of our life back, lowered our stress level and made her a more well-rested kid. She is SO much happier and I was too - we weren't stuck in the house and isolated for naps anymore. Now she can sleep in the carseat, the stroller, Mike's chest... hell, she will even will fall asleep on the floor.
Yes, sleep training is an extremely personal choice - and there are a whole bunch of ways to go about it, and this was the right one for us.