Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Sleep training, again

I always like to start baby sleep discussion with a HUGE disclaimer - all babies are different and all families are different. You should be doing what works for you (baby + family). If what you are doing is working FOR YOU then why would you change? I'm a huge fan of sleep training because it saved my life, but I don’t believe everyone needs to sleep train. Some kids are good at sleeping, some parents are more able/willing to live with less sleep, etc. We sleep trained Adrian around 9 months using the Happy Sleeper method, and it was the best thing we did for our family. I swore that if we had a second baby I wouldn’t wait until I was desperate.

Then we actually had a second baby ...

Ian had pretty normal sleep, for a newborn. We knew a little more this time around, and we purchased the Taking Cara Babies newborn course, and he actually did better than Adrian had initially. But a four hour stretch doesn’t go quite as far when you’re chasing a toddler around all day and can’t ever take a nap or even just veg out on the couch. We broke down and bought a used Snoo at 6 weeks, and it did help but as he went through the normal ups and downs, and the four month regression, we were getting progressively more sleep deprived, and I was falling apart. We have a two bedroom apartment, so Ian shares a room with us and I swear he could smell me. He started waking up every time I would creep into the room or when I'd roll over in bed.

I’ll probably get into this more at some point in the future, but the first several months of Ian’s life were incredibly difficult for me. I had given birth, alone, during a pandemic. We were isolated, trying to care for a toddler and a newborn without any of the social outlets or help we had planned for. I don’t know if it was circumstances or just the luck of the draw, but I was hit hard by postpartum depression. I was trying so hard to be a good mom, a functional partner, a productive employee, and I was just white knuckling it through each day. I felt like I was watching my soul walk away from me down a long hallway, like I was dematerializing, like I might suddenly just dissolve in a puff of air. I cycled between rage and apathy and guilt, but the constant was regret. I regretted this baby. I resented the fact that I wasn’t even able to enjoy my toddler, who used to be the light of my life. All I wanted was to be alone, in a huge white bed, where I could sleep and no one would bother me. The thought of it consumed me.

We had said we would sleep train at 6 months, and Dustin was ready but I was so tired that I wasn’t sure I could do it. And there was this strange barrier for me - sleep training was my one hope. I kept telling myself that if I could just get some regular sleep that I would be myself again. I held onto that idea so tightly and it helped me keep going. But it also held me back because I was so afraid that sleep training would fail, and then I would have nothing, not even hope. I was convinced that if sleep training didn’t work my life would be over.

I was speaking to a therapist for my PPD and we talked about how this was ridiculous (not her words) thinking. Because if the specific method of sleep training didn’t work, we would try something else - a different method, a sleep coach, something. We would not just give up and accept never sleeping again. I knew this, but I still delayed.

By 7 months it was clear even to me that we had no choice because I’d hit a pretty brutal breaking point. In order to give me enough rest to get through the process, Dustin slept in the bedroom with Ian for a few days while I slept on the couch (something he'd been begging me to do for the last month but I'd felt too guilty to actually do it). I felt so much better after just a couple nights of rest that I knew this was the right decision for us. 

We share a bedroom with Ian, and will until it feels like he's sleeping well enough to move in with Adrian, so we set up a little bit of separation by finding the narrowest mini crib we could (the Bloom Alma Mini) and fitting it into our smallish closet. I hung a blackout curtain in the closet doorway, so that we can keep it dark for him. We have a portable noise machine under his crib. We had stopped swaddling when we moved him out of the Snoo, and now he uses a regular sleep sack. During the initial sleep training process we slept in the living room for two weeks, so that we wouldn't risk disturbing him.

We decided to go with the same method we used for Adrian, following The Happy Sleeper book. It's a modified Ferber method, which means you do let your baby cry but you do timed checks to reassure them that they aren't alone. We had already introduced a consistent night time routine, so it was really just a matter of accepting the crying. Ian is very vocal, and very stubborn, so I was dreading this. When we sleep trained Adrian she cried for a little over an hour for a full week and I didn't know how we could do it again.

Well, Ian cried for over three hours at a stretch, and then woke up and cried again later the first night. I was in agony, in a very physical way, just listening to it. I wanted to crawl out of my skin, I wanted to quit. But what was I going to do? I was a shell of a person, I still hadn't managed to bond with my baby, I needed to sleep. So we kept going. We stayed committed to the method, we stuck with the timed checks and the scripts. He cried for two hours the second night. Then on the third night, we laid him down and he babbled to himself for 10 minutes and then fell asleep and slept through the night without crying. And every night since then he's gone happily to bed. After the first two weeks we moved back into the bedroom and it's been fine, although I do think that we probably wake up more often than we would otherwise, because I'm aware of even his small wake ups where he rolls around for a few minutes and goes right back to sleep.

The difference I felt was immediate. I actually had a follow up appointment with my therapist two weeks after we started sleep training and she always has me fill out a depression index survey, and the improvement was so huge that she thought there was an error in the system. Nope. It turns out that yes, massive sleep deprivation will absolutely make it hard for you to function. We are coming up on two months now and I feel like myself again in so many ways, and I've been able to bond with Ian. At night I can enjoy reading him a book and feeding him, knowing that he'll go to sleep and I'll have an hour or two to clean up the house or relax or (gasp) watch an episode of something. In the morning I'm excited to get him out of his crib and I appreciate his toothy grin so much more.

This isn't to say that he never wakes up! He's still a baby, he still wakes up, we are still tired a lot of the time. When he's popping a new tooth he'll need extra snuggles and help sleeping. If he's going through a developmental spurt he'll have trouble with waking up at night. We feel pretty confident handling those situations at this point, and I just trust my gut for the most part when deciding whether to let him handle it or to step in. He got sick over winter break (did you know that the roseola virus lies dormant in your body and you can periodically shed it and infect your baby and send yourself into a tailspin about how your baby could possibly be sick when you didn't even see family for the holidays?) and we did a lot of rocking and holding and comforting for a few nights. 

We had originally planned to drop all night feedings because his weight gain was good and he was drinking so much milk at daycare. That worked well for a couple weeks but recently we noticed that he was struggling with waking up around 3-4 am and having trouble going back to sleep. We tried watching his daytime wake windows, making sure his naps were the right length, etc. After a couple weeks we decided that maybe it was an indicator that he wasn't really ready to drop all night feeds. This might be because his solid food intake has ramped up and he's less willing to drink milk during the day. So for now we are back to one night feed if he wakes up around 3am. We'll adjust that when it seems like the right time for us. Adrian still did a night feed most nights until 17 months, when she gradually dropped it on her own. You can absolutely sleep train even if you don't want to night wean. 

Managing two kid's sleep schedules is still much more exhausting than one, but I am so grateful that they both have a solid sleep foundation. The weird upside to the pandemic for us is that we're both at home for evening routine, which was never the case in the past because we worked offset schedules. So for now we get to handle bedtime by alternating nights, with one of us putting Ian down around 7pm and the other one putting Adrian down around 7:30/8pm. Whoever puts Ian down comes out and handles the dishes/tidying, so by 8pm we generally have a fairly clean slate for the next day. 

Sleep training does not necessarily give you a kid who sleeps 12 hours a night without fail. I don't think that either of our kids is a naturally good sleeper. Even at nearly three years old, Adrian still has phases where she struggles with being awake for a few hours in the middle of the night. But because she has that solid foundation and feels comfortable putting herself to sleep she gets through most of it on her own. I will sometimes turn on the monitor at night and catch her rolling around, looking at a book, or playing with her stuffed animals. We leave her to it unless she calls out for us but if she needs us we'll come in and take her to the bathroom or offer some milk or just give her a hug and remind her that it's still night time. 

Big sleep transitions we'll be looking at in the coming year - moving Adrian to a toddler bed (insert scream emoji, I am not mentally prepared for this), moving the kids in together and getting them on a single bedtime routine. I'm not looking forward to these things, although I will really enjoy not having to creep into my room in the dark every night. But I feel confident that we'll somehow get through it, because I know that the kids are capable of sleeping independently most of the time.

Do I still sometimes dream about getting to sleep/read/sleep without interruption for a full weekend? Absolutely. But for now I'll take this.


  1. This is such a thoughtful and honest post. Thank you for sharing the reality of sleep deprivation and baby sleep.

  2. Thanks for sharing. We sleep trained my first at 4 months because I was losing my mind. Everybody else I talked to who sleep trained said their kids screamed for 10 minutes, 20 minutes, GASP 40 MINUTES. Mine went for 1 hour 59 minutes. 2 hours was our cut off and we were about to stop. She cried for ever an hour every night for the first 7 nights. Like you, I was breaking going forward with it, but couldn't go back, and then we all slept. I make sure I tell my story honestly in all its raw truth so other parents get a "bad case" scenario to refer to as well. Thank you for sharing this because I know another parent out there needs to read this and hear this. And I totally agree that having developed a solid sleep foundation through a method that works for you gives you the confidence to deal with other sleep phases as they come up. Wishing you and your family the health and sleep in 2021. <3

  3. We sleep trained our child to put herself to sleep at...age 8. I highly recommend your method! (To be fair, she actually was a pretty good sleeper until age 5 or so, and would drop off quickly as part of the bedtime routine, so we didn't realize how important it really was. You are definitely setting yourself up for a much easier way forward. I'm glad you've been successful and found a way to start bonding with your son. Doesn't it feel like magic those first few nights of a full night's sleep?

  4. I've been following your story since Adrian was born, and I wanted to thank you for the honesty and authenticity with which you write. Our first is about 6 months younger than Adrian, and so much of your journey aligned with ours. We're currently expecting our second, and I'm reading your posts about juggling Ian with avid interest!

  5. Glad you are doing better! Sleep deprivation is horrible and it truly turns you into a different person. You can barely care for yourself, much less someone else. When it's possible, post-pandemic when the kids are a bit older, you should see about treating yourself to a weekend in a hotel and make your big fluffy bed dreams come true! You could ask for it as a collective gift for holidays and/or your birthday too - one friend pays for one night in the hotel, another for the next night, another person pays for a massage or room service, parents/in laws babysit. You can technically make it happen at home with a babysitter but I'd recommend another location so you don't feel the need to tidy up or take dishes to the kitchen or anything like that. You could even hire a cleaning service to come in while you're away so that you come home to a clean apartment (can you tell this is my dream? haha!) Just know that this isn't forever and you're doing great!

  6. Rachel, I was just wincing as I read this to think how you've been suffering. I am so sorry and then glad that you've found a way to deal. Thanks for posting and here's me sending wellness and sleepiness thoughts your way, radiate, radiate.

  7. I wanted to say thanks for this post. I commented on Instagram specifically asking if you’d write up sleep training. I have a 6 month old (so a few months behind Ian) who is also very vocal and stubborn and a screamer/shrieker. Anything she doesn’t want sends her into a very loud tailspin so I was dreading sleep training but also knew we had to do it as she was waking up 8+ times a night and everything was awful. Your post gave me the gumption to get started and after 3 nights with 6 scream/filled wake ups on night 4 we were down to 2 and night 5 down to 1, which is a feed. I cannot begin to describe the relief I feel at 7:30 knowing that she will just sleep instead of having to shovel food down my throat as fast as possible knowing she’ll probably wake up any moment, and then why even bother going to bed because she’s probably about to wake up anyway. The first 6 months were so so dark. Bay Area wildfires kept us indoors for the first 8 weeks - the pediatrician said “don’t take her outside unless the air quality is green and it was literally never green. Then the no sleep, the colic, the tongue tie and breastfeeding troubles - just so damn hard. Finally seeing a little light at the end of an exhausting tunnel and I think maybe becoming a parent wasn’t a life-ruining mistake after all? This ramble is mostly to say feel you on the PPD post too. After just one night of getting more than 3 hours of sleep I felt so much better.

    1. I'm so late to this, but I'm so glad that it helped! Sleep is truly life changing, and I hope there's lots more for both of us in the future!


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