By the time Toby was six months old, we were all pretty stressed...
Like most young babies, Toby woke up several times a night. But since he didn't know how to fall back asleep, whenever he stirred, he'd cry out for us to rock him back to sleep. Of course, we adored our sweet baby, but waking up many times a night was SO tough. Sleep deprivation makes you feel like a walking zombie, and waking up multiple times a night is an actual form of torture, no joke! During the day, I also wasn't able to be the energetic mother I hoped to be, since I was basically cross-eyed with exhaustion. (I felt like this guy:)
The sad thing was, Toby was tired, too. He would wake up really cranky and spend the morning yawning and rubbing his eyes. At even the smallest annoyance, he would burst out crying; he was just always exhausted. After all, he wasn't sleeping deeply, but instead was just dozing, stirring and waking up all night.
Desperate to find a solution for all of us, I would try reading sleep books while breastfeeding and half-falling asleep myself; they were confusing and talked a lot about the philosophy of sleep, versus just telling me what to do.
Finally, I was chatting on the phone with my friend Allison one morning, and she recommended the book The Sleepeasy Solution. Figuring out how to encourage your child to sleep can be very emotional. Everyone seems to handle it differently, and of course, every child is unique. But after a lot of agonizing, we bit the bullet and decided to give it a try...
Sleep training is not easy, and we were really nervous to get started.
First, Alex and I created a bedtime routine for Toby to help him wind down. We put him in pajamas, changed his diaper, turned on the white noise machine, read a couple stories, sang his three favorite lullabies, put him in his crib with his beloved pillow pet, said "Night night, we love you," patted his belly twice, and then walked out of the room and shut his door.
But then Toby started crying.
That first night, my heart was in my throat. As Toby cried in his nursery, I sobbed in the living room. I called my own mom for reassurance that we were doing the right thing. Alex basically spoon-fed me ice cream. (He didn't find it as hard as I did, thankfully! Otherwise we would have both lost it.)
The Sleepeasy Solution made a few great points, which I repeated to myself as a pep talk:
* "You're helping your child get the sleep they desperately need." I must have repeated that line a million times to myself.
* Consistency was KEY. Although I desperately wanted to go into Toby's room and rock him to sleep, I knew that it would make it harder for him if I kept interrupting him.
* Toby was not crying because he was hungry or wet. He was just saying, "I don't want to go to sleep! I want to hang out with you guys! I don't know how to fall asleep, and I'm frustrated!" That dialogue helped me remember that he wasn't crying for a need other than wanting help falling asleep, yet he needed to learn that on his own.
* It's ok for a child to feel frustrated sometimes. Sometimes I still catch myself thinking that Toby should feel giggly and giddy all day long, but that's not really true, right? After all, if a child cries because he doesn't want to get into the car chair, you'd still buckle him in; or if a baby wants to eat a giant brownie, you'd say no, even if that upset him. It can be empowering for a person to conquer frustrations; that's part of life. Learning to sleep felt similarly important to me, even if Toby didn't enjoy the whole process.
* Picture your child sleeping peacefully and soundly. Picture them waking up happy the next morning. That was a REALLY helpful visual and reminded me why we were doing this!
The first night, Toby cried for more than twenty minutes, which was excruciating. The longest twenty minutes of my life! He seemed so small and helpless, and I really doubted our choice. If hearing Toby cry went against my maternal instincts so strongly, was this all a big mistake?
But then he fell fast asleep. The next night, he cried for eleven minutes. The next night, three minutes. The next night, one minute. And after that, barely at all! We couldn't believe how quickly it happened. (Naps were another story, but that's a whole different post:)
HOW SLEEP TRAINING CHANGED OUR LIVES
Sleep training truly changed all of our lives.
Now that Toby knows how to sleep, he loves loves loves his crib. He even reaches for his crib when he's tired at bedtime. And he adores his bedtime routine. Experts say that toddlers thrive on predictable routines and rituals because it makes the wild world feel safe. Toby actually scolds us if we miss a step ("Fan!" "Blanket!" "Song!"). He's much happier and more rested during the day.
Sleep routines also make traveling easier. When we visit California or England, Toby adapts quickly to time changes because he knows his bedtime rituals so well, so we're actually able to travel more often. And it's easy to have an evening babysitter because we can rely on him going to bed easily and sleeping the whole time we're out.
Alex and I are well rested, too. During the day, we have lots of energy to play with Toby, as well as work, hang out, whatever. We also have grown-up time in the evening once Toby is asleep, which we really cherish (even if we're just making pasta and watching Mad Men reruns:). It's great to know that every evening at 7:30pm, we will be able to relax together on the sofa, while Toby's cuddled up in bed.
So, not only did sleep training turn out to be a good choice for Toby, it also was good for us. And I really think it's ok to look after yourself as well as your baby. You know how on an airplane, they'll tell you that if there's a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will fall down from the ceiling, and you should put yours on before you help your child? I think that's true of parenthood overall. When you want to be a great and energetic parent, it helps to take care of and nourish yourself, as well as your children, don't you think?
Sleep training was one of the hardest parts of parenting, but it was the right method for our family. Although I know it isn't for everyone, I'd highly recommend The Sleepeasy Solution. If we have a second baby (fingers crossed), we'll definitely try it again when the time is right. One book said that it's not just about having a well-rested child, but a well-rested family. After all, you're all in it together, right?
So, I'm really curious: What do you think? Do you think it's valuable to teach your child to sleep on their own? Or do you think kids will figure it out in time anyway? Would you feel okay letting your baby cry—or not at all? Of course, everyone needs to figure out what works best for them and their sweet babies. I would LOVE to hear your thoughts...
P.S. Update: Another mom's sleep-training experience; The funniest book.
(Photo by Meaghan Curry Photography)