Thursday, December 2, 2010

Finding a Sleep Method That Works for My Family

Working eleven days straight without a day off. That's what set me over the edge. I could hardly function, and my daughter was still waking up every two hours.

About three weeks ago I was exhausted, desperate enough to order "Baby Wise" to see what wisdom I could find within. The next week, I burned out. I didn't want to be touched, was tired of nursing, pumping, being awake all night then working all day. I couldn't focus and I broke down.

For the first time since becoming a mother, I felt agitated with my daughter. I distinctly remember looking at her and feeling like I wasn't as happy as I used to be and felt so horrible for feeling this way. For the first time since having my daughter I seriously thought postpartum depression could be setting in. This wasn't like me to feel so helpless and unhappy. Of course this wasn't her fault, she's a baby and babies needs to eat, but every time she did I found myself feeling more annoyed. I was morphing into a different woman and it had to stop.

People kept telling me babies sleeping habits never last longer than a week or two.

"It's a growth spurt,” they'd say. Or "Maybe she's just teething."

Week after week nothing was changing, and I knew I had to do something about it, try something because I couldn't give my all around the clock.

"Baby Wise" showed up in my mailbox and I started reading it for ideas. At the same time I started reading "Attached at the Heart" a book by the founders of Attachment Parenting International. It was given to me at a birth expo and I turned to it during this rough time.

I'm not really into self-help books or things like this, so neither kept my interest long but I pushed through. Both books seemed to be bickering at the people on the other side. The tone of "Baby Wise" blatantly knocks on those who practice attachment parenting (which now I can see why so many people who live that way hate it) while "Attached at the Heart" is obviously bias towards their ways.

I decided to take one key principal I read in both--having a routine--and go from there, making my own system.

About the same time I'm coming to this realization, I notice one of my friend's Facebook status says she's Ferberizing her baby. Her daughter is a week older than mine and we've had a few heart-to-hearts about their sleep habits.

I had read a little bit about the Ferber Method shortly after my daughter was born as a way to help babies sleep. I'd read it wasn't recommended to start until your baby is emotionally ready between 4-6 months (keeping night feedings going if needed, until 6 months) so I kind of put it to the back of my mind.

I wasn't sure it would be for me having heard many negatives about the method, but I read a great little article about Ferber Myths and realized there was quite a bit of misconception surrounding what it involves. Some call it the "Cry it Out" method, and assume it means just letting your baby cry while you stand aside with no interventions.

Since I had a bit of knowledge of the method I was familiar with the term "Ferberizing" my friend used in her status. Instead of accusing her saying "How could you do that?" or "I feel sorry for your poor helpless baby" I did what any logical person would do, and asked her how she's doing it.

I did admit that I am a wuss and probably wouldn't be able to let my daughter cry. What can I say--The slightest whimper, we jump.

I asked her if she was following the time tables in Dr. Ferber's book "Solve Your Babies Sleep Problems," how long she waited to go in and check on her and if she picked her up. Her response was so simple yet so grand.

"I just feel it out," she told me. "If she cries a long time or really hard I just pick her up and put her back down when she calms down. The point is to help her fall asleep on her own"

That's it? No stopwatches? No strict rules. She just does what she feels is right in the moment. It's not rocket science.

I had borrowed "Baby 411" and read about different sleep methods including the Ferber Method and others found in "No Cry Sleep Solution." We already had a bedtime routine down but the "no cry" factor wasn't as easy as they make it seem. She cried EVERY night around bedtime because she'd be so overly tired, and then still woke up all night.

I know two years isn't a long time for some women to live without sleep (because people keep telling me this is a short time and that it will pass) but for me--A working mom who supports her family, sleep is necessary (not that it isn't for SAHMs too, don't get me wrong, everyone has their own sets of hardships but we're talking about ME here). Maybe if I was at home all day and didn't have any place to be, or could nap whenever I wanted (because on my days off I take naps with my baby and get much more sleep, although I know this isn't how it is for everyone, I'm talking about MY LIFE  so please don't get offended), it would be easier for me to handle. Or if was willing to burn my freezer stash and ask my husband to feed her four or five times a night.--But that thought brings on a whole different wave of anxiety.

My negative attitude was developing because my lack of sleep. In my eyes, a few tears for a few weeks are better than nightly breakdowns from me and her, plus an exhausted mom who's sleep walking resentfully through the first two years of my daughter's life. I'd give it a try, and we could always try something else the next night.

I was originally ending my post here with the follow up post tomorrow with how it's working, but to avoid misconceptions of that people THINK I'm doing, I'm just going to post it all here, and make this a super long post.
What We Were Doing
We already had a good bedtime routine down. For weeks I would give my daughter a warm bath, massage her, read her a story, and nurse her to sleep. But when I'd set her down, if she didn't immediately wake up, she would within an hour and scream like crazy wondering where I was and why she was in her crib. I'd usually give in and bring her downstairs to hang out with us until I'd go to bed around midnight. This was WAY too late for her to be going to sleep, and probably one of the reasons she'd wake up every-other hour thereafter. When I'd give up and bring her to bed with me, I'd be kicked or slapped awake every half hour; and eventually put her back in her crib where the cycle would start over.

What We're Doing Now
In Baby 411 regarding the Ferber method, the key is to set your baby down awake. 

Exactly a week ago, I decided this was the night we'd change the routine a little. Two hours before her "bedtime" we danced and exercised around the living room using our mommy and me fitness DVD, or some dance thing on Exercise on Demand. We'd get riled up. She'd laugh hysterically and smile the whole way through. When I noticed she was getting tired from playtime, I moved on to bath time.

This was the time we'd still play, but more quietly in a warm bath. She'd wanted to nurse every now and again during her bath and I let her, since I know my supply is lower at night and she needs to cluster feed and stock up before bed.

After her bath I gave her a massage, turned on church music, sang to her and got her in her PJs. I'd also frequently say "it's time to go night night."

Then we'd move to her room where I turned on her lullaby CD player, and read her a bedtime story.

After that, her dad would read us a Bible story while she continued to nurse.

We finished off her routine with a family prayer and by then her eyes were drooping if she wasn't already asleep. This is where I made the biggest change. As I laid her down in her bed I kissed her and told her "goodnight" or "night night." She woke up, which was expected, and I set her down (awake), turned off her bedroom lamp and turned on her glowing stars.

Leaving the room when she started to cry was very very hard. Being away from her all day makes me feel guilty for leaving her when I don't have to. But I did have to. I had to at least try for the sake of my sanity.

Usually, I'd always pick up when she starts fussing. I didn't think I could take it very long but set a goal to give her 10 minutes to fall asleep, unless she started screaming.

By the time I got downstairs and turned on the baby monitor 30 seconds felt like 30 minutes, and I was ready to turn around and go pick her up. I told myself she had a full tummy, a clean diaper and a sleepy head though so I knew she was ok. She just didn't know her bed is a place for sleep.

After, get this--three minutes--She had stopped crying and started mumbling like she does when she's tired in her car seat. It's working, I can't believe it. I thought. Just four minutes later she was out like a light.

In a total of seven minutes she had fallen asleep on her own, after a loving bedtime ritual.

The best part?--She only woke up twice that night and I got two four-hour stretches of sleep for the first time in over a month. Granted, I had to be to work at 4am the next morning, so I didn't get to fully enjoy it, but this was a HUGE step.

My Adjustments to Ferberizing
I still fed her when she woke up in the middle of the night. Ferber, doesn't recommend you let your babies cry themselves back to sleep in the middle of the night until they're six months old.

My husband told me after I left for work and she woke up, he went to prepare her a bottle but by the time he got back upstairs she had fallen back asleep. He still woke her up and fed her, but it made me wonder if us sleeping in her room is causing her to stir and me to automatically feed her when I hear her.

I also don't follow the time outline Ferber gives of Day One 5min, 10min, 15min, 15min etc... Day 2, 10min, 15min etc. I just listen to her and go in when I feel I need to. With the exception of Day 2 she's falling asleep within 0-7 minutes.

I still call what I'm doing a version of "Ferberizing" because it's using the key principal of setting my baby down when she's awake, and leaving her room while she falls asleep, even if she cries.

How it Went This Week
I'm not going to lie and say it's all been easy. We've been trying this for a week, which isn't long but it's the best week of sleep we've all had in over a month. Coincidence? I think not. But I hope this post doesn't jinx us.

Night two of our modified method was much more difficult than day one. She fussed for about 15 minutes total, but I went in and soothed her every so often until she fell asleep. That was the worst of it so far.

Night three we did the same routine, I nursed her until her eyes were drooping or closed, I woke her up to say good night and she fell asleep within five minutes.

Night four she fell asleep after three minutes. But she woke up after about three hours and I fell asleep nursing her in our bed and kept her there until I went to work at 4am. I paid a price with no sleep, but I was ok with not "sticking to the plan."

Now get this... Nights 5 and 6 and 7, we did the same routine. But when I woke her up with her kiss goodnight, as soon as I set her down, she closed her eyes and went back to sleep! I've never been able to put her in her bed awake and have her do that (except for one time when she was a month old and fell asleep while I went to the bathroom).

She still wakes up to eat at night but instead of the piercing scream she used to give, wondering why in the world she's in her crib, she kind of does this whimper/babble thing, and looks around. Because she knows she sleeps in her bed, that I'm right there in the room with her and will come pick her up. 

Torture? Damaging? I don't think so. Do I think because of this she's going to grow up to me a mass-murdering maniac? No. In fact, she seems happier now. She's taking a longer, consistent nap for her daddy during the day and isn't cranky at night.

I could argue that she used to cry more when my husband would try to bounce or sway her down to sleep, or when she'd stay up late with us, fussing all night because she was overly tired. It's as if she has learned what's coming next, and now that she's going in her crib milk drunk and half awake, she knows that's where she falls asleep and no longer needs to stay asleep in my arms.

My husband and I are having conversations again, actual alone time. And I can function at work.

Contrary to what Ferberizing critics will tell you, the CIO or "cry it out" method, which can be traced back to the book "The Care and Feeding of Children" is not the same as Ferberizing. Regardless, I took a few ideas and developed my own approach. And so far, it's working great.

I've been tweeting about my success with Ferberizing (or rather, my modified mehod), and of course those who disagree have lots to say about my damaging my daughter. But I won't get into that. The commotion brought me to another mom who says the Cry it Out method is the best thing she's ever done for her family. (FYI, her post is 'R' rated for language, but here's a piece I love):
"So to all you struggling mothers out there, who have been told how cruel cry it out is, and have so much guilt around the idea that you won’t consider it, don’t. It certainly isn’t for everyone, and I am in no way advocating letting your child scream hysterically while she vomits and hyperventilates, just so you can catch some Z’s. What I am saying is that it’s not as bad as you think, and when and if you’re ready to consider it, know that you’re a good parent for helping your child learn to sleep. I didn’t love it, I still don’t like when it takes her a few moments to settle down, but I love that I can see the light and love my child again."
Do I think it would work for every family? No. Do I think you should let your babies cry for an hour while you stand by filing your nails? Of course not.

Once again it just goes to show what works for one baby may not work for another. And I'm brave enough to admit that.

So Lil' J fussed in bed while falling asleep for a few moments a few nights and now there's not a peep at bedtime. I know this may change some from night to night. We'll continue adjusting as she grows and gets teeth, and who knows, maybe she'll just freak out some nights and we'll do something different. But overall, right now, this small sacrifice on both our ends is making a world of a difference in our lives.

As a mom, we've gotta use take our instincts into account when choosing what's right for us. Doctors and well-(or not so well)-meaning moms don't always know what's best for YOUR family. In only a week I'm already SO MUCH happier, feeling healthier, and refreshed, and my daughter is growing beautifully, learning balance and routine.

I attribute much of this to our new method. But who knows how Spawnie #2 will be.