Friday, September 7, 2012

Counting Sheep

Ok, so sleep has been an ongoing thing for us since birth. We got into a good pattern for a few months where Ten was waking every 2-3 hours, and then from about 7 months on (the details are fuzzy…) she’s been waking up on average, every hour. Sometimes 30 minutes, sometimes as much as 2 hours, but usually an hour to an hour and 15. She would not accept daddy helping to put her back to sleep, it had to be me, and I –HAD- to nurse her to sleep, or she would freak out. We’ve tried co-sleeping, and don’t mind it on an occasional basis, but it doesn’t work for us full time for many reasons. The last little while I’ve been admitting to myself that our current situation was not working, and we needed a change.

We started with the ‘normal’ sleep inducing tactics- noise machines, temperature, making it darker, keeping her in our bed, keeping her beside it, keeping her in a crib, sleep earlier, later, etc etc etc all with not really any difference.  I’ve been reading No Cry Sleep Solution, and I believe in the tactics in the book—however at 2am, I have a horrible habit of being too tired to keep going, and so I resort to whatever works- so, usually nursing her back to sleep. I believe she is/was developing a very strong association between nursing and falling asleep. When she woke up, she would cry and protest, because she was angry! Hey! I’m tired and I want to sleep, and the only way I know how to sleep is to nurse, get over her and nurse me! Makes sense, right? But not as easy to change, at least not gently. 

NCSS (No Cry Sleep Solution) talks about getting baby to pull off the breast. Nurse until the baby is very relaxed and on her way to sleep, then insert your finger into her mouth, unlatch her, and then put your finger gently under her chin and hold it closed. If she protests, then let her nurse again, and try again in 30 seconds or so. Continue doing so until you are able to unlatch without protest. If it takes 10 tries, that’s fine, since your aim is no crying.  After you get her unlatched, your next step is to help her fall asleep without the nursing. To start, you’ll wait until she’s almost asleep, then place her in her bed, and continue to rub her back, or pat her, sing to her, whatever calming device you have. If she cries, pick her up, settle her, and try again. Keep going until it works. Eventually, you’ll be able to place her into her bed when she’s just sleepy, and not almost asleep, and she’ll go to sleep on her own.

One of the reasons I love the NCSS is that the author repeats over and over two things- one- that it’s ok for things to take time, because that’s how you make changes without crying. And two- that if at any point the plan becomes distressing for you or baby, then to stop, and try again another night. No pressure, no “you have to let her cry for x minutes, do not go to her before hand”. No absolutes.

So, we tried this routine, and within a week and a half or so, I noticed that Tenley will allow me to unlatch her no with virtually no fussing. The problem is that she hasn’t quite transitioned into being able to fall asleep after that yet. So we kept going. And going. And going. And I was exhausted. And getting angry at my baby because I was so tired I didn’t have the energy to attend to her properly during the day. I knew that we needed something else to happen. After one particularly bad day, I admitted to myself that I needed something a bit… stronger, for lack of a better word. I needed to enjoy my baby again.

Sleep training, crying it out, all of that… isn’t in my books. It’s nothing I’ve ever considered. But I knew I needed a change, and so I started looking. It’s hard to find a balance when you’re an attachment parenting who has also realized that you need more sleep. I won’t, can’t, let my baby cry along in a crib for hours (or even 10 minutes!) while she claws for me, simply in the name of ‘making her’ learn how to fall asleep. I do however, need a gentle method that will help me, help her learn how to fall asleep on her own. That seems to be the difference in the books I read and enjoyed, and the ones I wanted to burn. Mainstream parenting books will tell you it’s acceptable, required even, for you to force your child into sleeping by themselves. It just didn’t seem right to me. I want to be there on this journey with her, not deposit her in a crib to fend for herself.

I decided that what I would try is a modified version of NCSS. I needed something that would work faster, before I lost my mind. I knew that there would be fussing, some crying even. But we don’t endeavour to leave her alone crying ever, though we are human, and she has cried alone, for a few minutes at a time, while we gather ourselves and then return to the room. So, here’s what we do now;

First, we start with a good bedtime routine. I’ve noticed that Tenley goes down to sleep easier on nights we manage to get a whole lengthy routine in. Bath, change, into jammies, and books with dad. Then I go in and turn her music on, and nurse her. The music is more for me than her, as I stay calmer when I have music on. We also try to make sure she’s had as much dinner as she will take (She’s 9 months now). After nursing, I get up and dance around the room with her for a few minutes, maybe five or so. Then I place her into her crib, and if she stays lying down, I rub her back, or play with her hair. If she stands or sits up right away, or at any time when I’ve been rubbing her back, then I let her, and I go sit in her rocker, and read my book. I spend time leisurely reading and unwinding at the end of the day, and she alternates between standing, sitting, playing with her puppy in her crib, as well as babbling and singing, and yes, sometimes even yelling at us. At good points, she’ll lay quietly petting her puppy, or rolling over and over trying to get comfortable, and others she’ll be standing at the end of her crib yelling. I let her do it. She’s learning. She’s exploring, and she’s ok.

If she starts crying, and it lasts more than 20 seconds or so, I go, hug her again, and we resume dancing. I remind her it’s time for ni-nights, and once she’s calmed, I place her into her crib again, and resume patting, or head back to my chair, and keep reading. I try not to place pressure on her, and I do this as many times as she needs. Eventually, she settles, lays down, and slowly closes her eyes. Sometimes she does this with me rubbing her back, or with a hand gently placed on her back, sometimes she does it by herself while I’m sitting and reading. In general lately, this stage takes 45 minutes, or sometimes even more. It’s a long time. Much longer than it used to take to put her to sleep by nursing. But again, that’s ok. She’s learning, and I’m giving her space to do so.

She’s still waking more in the night than I would like. I’m still exhausted most days, but we’re making progress. About 50% of the time now, I can go to her in the night and cuddle her, and not have to nurse her. This cuts the time I am awake by half. One out of every 5 times or so, dad can even go in and get her back to sleep. And during the falling asleep stage, dad is now almost as good as mom—so I can have some alone time during the 45 minutes she’s falling asleep, which is very restorative! These changes show me that things are improving.

On average, she is still waking up every 60-90 minutes. But she’s having more longer stretches lately than before, she’s going back to sleep easier than before, and for dad as well, and she’s able to put herself to sleep in ways other than nursing. She’s also teething really badly right now, which I think is attributing to some of the remaining wakeups. I have a feeling once she makes it through this bad stage of teething, we’ll notice a lot more changes. I know that in time it will take her less time to put herself to sleep, but I’m ok waiting. She’s learning gently, without fear and abandonment, and that’s worth it. Last night she fell asleep on her own in her crib after only a few minutes. She slept for a while, and then woke up upset- was very obviously teething. She stayed awake for a bit with us, and then we all went and laid down together in bed, and I nursed her again. After she stopped actively nursing, I unlatched her, moved my arm, and went back to reading my book. She looked around a bit, and then rolled over and went to sleep. She slept for four and a half hours. That right there, worth all of this.

So no, I know my methods are not for everyone. I know that they may not be ‘strictly AP’, and I know that there are still some who will say that I’m wrong for doing so, since I am still ‘sleep training’. To be honest, I care a lot less now. I’m confident that I’m finally doing what works for our baby, and our family, and to me, that’s the most important to me.