Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing will likely depend on your point of view on such matters, but we finally had to bite the bullet and start sleep training Nate. With crying.
Dang if it isn't working like a charm.
Earlier this year, one of my girlfriends, whose daughter was born within weeks of Nate, sleep trained her baby. Well, her husband sleep trained the baby. They used Ferber and said that the first few days were bad, but the results had been astounding and completely worth it.
I never thought we'd do any sort of cry it out. If you'd asked me, I probably would have said I was actually pretty anti-CIO, and so I thought of my friend's daughter with a mix of envy over her good sleep and wariness over the means used to achieve it.
Nate has been, shall we say, widely varied in the sleep department. After he left the round-the-clock-nursing newborn stage, he would sometimes go six, seven, eight, or even nine hours before waking in the night to be fed. He has always slept in his own bassinet or crib. But we always had to rock him to sleep and then wait until he got into the middle of a sleep cycle before easing him gently into the crib, holding our breath and praying the whole time that he wouldn't wake up. He had to be swaddled to sleep, otherwise his arms would flail around and he would clutch at his face and pull out his pacifier and generally work himself into a frenzy.
His naps, with notable exception, tended to be problematic, because he'd almost always wake up after one 45-minute sleep cycle, unwilling to be coaxed back to dreamland. After I discovered that I could hold him through that first cycle and into a second to get longer naps out of him, I spent several months holding him through huge chunks of every nap.
Then he started waking up multiple times every night. If he woke after 4 a.m. or so, it was more or less impossible to get him rocked back to sleep and placed back into his crib. Occasionally I could lie down with him in the guest room and nurse him back down, but if he didn't fall asleep nursing, I was completely out of luck. As David can attest, I am not a pleasant person to be around when I've been awake since 4 a.m.
He also started rolling over from back to belly, and keeping him swaddled began to scare me. He was busting out of even the Miracle Blanket, but he wouldn't go to sleep with his arms loose, so we bought a Woombie. The Woombie kept him contained, but he seemed to be getting pretty annoyed at being able to move his arms within the blanket, but not up to his face where he wanted them to be.
He started to refuse his pacifier. Like, BOOM, he was just done with it altogether. Spit it out every time it was offered, and screamed about it, as if to say, how dare you stick that thing in my mouth?
Mostly, though, he just seemed really mad as I tried to rock him to sleep for naps, or as one of us tried with varying degrees of success to get him back to sleep at night. Clearly, the kid was tired and wanted to just be asleep already, and whatever it was that we were doing wasn't helping.
All in all, we were confounded, and frustrated, and I was beginning to dread the nighttime as much as I had in those early, sleepless months. I reasoned that if he was crying while we rocked him or held him, was it really that much different if he cried in his crib? (Obviously crying alone because he's scared or needs comforting would be something altogether different, but I trusted that we'd be able to tell the difference.)
So two Saturdays ago we set out to begin sleep training. I expected him to cry for an hour or more when we put him down that first night. This was not, I thought, a kid who knew how to just go to sleep on his own.
I'm thrilled to say that he proved he wrong.
Nate cried and fussed for about 20 minutes that first night when we put him in his crib-- unswaddled, no less. And then he WENT TO SLEEP. He woke up a couple of times through the evening, fussed for less than 10 minutes each time, and WENT BACK TO SLEEP.
We did have a nasty bout of crying after I got up around 3:00 to feed him. I changed his diaper first, then nursed him, and I think it all just woke him up too much. But he did get back to sleep, and he slept until ten after seven.
Naps have been more difficult, just like every "sleep expert" says they are. If I catch him at the right time, there is almost no fussing, but if he gets overtired at all, there are definitely tears. But here's the thing-- his crying sounds exactly the same whether I am holding him or not. I honestly believe he is upset because he is tired and wants to be asleep, and when I just get out of the way, he'll go to sleep. He still takes more than his share of one-cycle, 45-minute naps, but he's getting better and better about stretching them out, and even going back to sleep after waking up a bit. (In fact, he is in a second sleep cycle right now, after some momentary transitional noises a while back.)
PEOPLE, IT IS NO EXAGGERATION TO SAY THIS IS LIFE-CHANGING FOR ME. I have more predictable chunks of time during the day to, say, shower or eat. I know that we're not going to be running upstairs for a half hour at a time all evening to get him back to sleep. He immediately dropped from consistently eating twice in the night to only eating once, and I'm not entirely convinced that he still needs that one feeding. (He doesn't wake up crying in the night, but if he wakes and doesn't go back to sleep within 10 minutes or so at a certain point in the night, I feed him.) He is still such a lark, and often wakes around 5:40 or 5:45, but I've been waiting until 6:00 to go to him in hopes that he'll eventually stop waking quite so early.
I kind of want to smack myself in the head for being such a naysayer and waiting for so long. Perhaps it wouldn't have worked before, though, and he is just ready to sleep on his own now. I don't believe this is right for every baby, but it is working amazingly well for mine.
Now if only I could train myself to fall asleep more easily after that 3 a.m. feeding . . . .