Is this a familiar picture to you? Crack of dawn? Sleepy baby that refuses to let you leave her alone in her room? Husband on the couch because he needs that extra hour of sleep before his work day? Karate kicks to the face while you finally start to drift back to sleep? Then you’ve probably reached the level of desperation that I did a couple of weeks ago.
Let me give you a little bit of a background story. Piper has never been a great sleeper. Ever. I read countless books and listened to ALL the advice on getting baby to sleep through the night. I followed all the rules. Put her down awake, don’t let her fall asleep while eating, teach her to self-soothe. And guess what? Piper WAS sleeping through the night at EIGHT weeks. It was incredible! I went back to work looking rested and glowing and couldn’t stop bragging about my perfect sleeping-through-the-frickin-night-hallelujah baby. I gave myself all the pats on the back and congratulated myself on a job well done. I had done the impossible!
Well, guess what. This little thing called the “four month sleep regression” reared its ugly head a few weeks later. All of my hard work went flying out the freaking window. Piper was up and down all night long. What no one told me was that the “four month” sleep regression can turn into the “five month” sleep regression which rolls into the “six month” sleep regression and so on and so forth. You get the picture.
Because of daycare, Piper was sick often and was constantly battling a snotty nose, cough, fevers, etc. We went back and forth between sleeping in the crib and the “DayDreamer” (see this post for more info on this miracle baby contraption) right next to our bed. We tried to swaddle with arms in, swaddle with arms out, no swaddle, humidifiers, essential oils, pitch darkness, night lights, earlier bedtimes, later bedtimes, hypnosis, voodoo, witchcraft, and wizardry. Nothing was a permanent fix.
Bottom line: from four to twelve months old, Piper was very wishy-washy with her sleep. She would sleep through the night for a few weeks
and then go through a few weeks of insomnia/sickness/starving-feed-me-now-before-I-wake-up-the-neighborhood episodes.
I kept telling myself that we would eventually do some serious sleep training. November and December brought along an extended hotel stay, a new house, holidays, and lots of visitors. In doing my research, I knew that sleep training while going through other major changes do not mix, so I held off.
All through the holidays, Piper spent half of her nights in her crib and half of her nights in our bed. I didn’t want her cries to disturb our guests, so I always rushed into her room the second she made a peep and whisked her off to our bedroom. Of course, Piper eventually made this a habit and I was absolutely exhausted.
As soon as the dust settled after the holidays and we were feeling comfortable in our new home and our new routine, I knew it was time. I had been contemplating the Ferber method or “Cry it Out” for quite some time.
Dr. Richard Ferber is the founder and former director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital in Boston. His method basically says that whenever an infant is physically and emotionally ready (typically between three and five months), they can be taught to self soothe and go to sleep completely on their own. In order to accomplish this, babies and parents must first establish a consistent, warm, and loving bedtime routine. You must then put your baby to bed fully awake and leave the room. This will very likely result in some tears, which begins the “cry it out” portion of the method. Ferber suggests that a “progressive waiting” structure makes it a bit easier on both baby and parents. You can re-enter the room and briefly soothe your baby (without picking him or her up), but then you must leave once more. This assures your babe that you are nearby, but you’re not putting up with their crap! You extend the amount of time between visits more and more each time.
“The theory goes that after a few days to a week of gradually increasing the waiting time, most babies learn to fall asleep on their own, having realized that crying earns nothing more than a brief check from you.” –babycenter.com
Let me tell ya, there will be tears and not just from your little one. This shit is not for the faint of heart. Mamas are wired to respond to their child’s cry, so this method goes against every instinct you have ever had. So, let me repeat, this is not for the faint of heart.
I am no expert on this method. All I know is that I followed the instructions I found on the internet and it worked like a freakin’ charm. After precisely five days of crying it out, Piper became a new child. She has now been sleeping a solid 11-12 hours per night for the last month. CONSISTENTLY. Like, I get a full night’s sleep every. single. night. I had forgotten what that was like. I wake up in the mornings and leisurely get ready for my work day feeling refreshed and energetic. Five days of crying was SO worth our new rested lifestyle.
Here is a brief overview of our bedtime routine:
7:30 – Bath with lavender essential oil and calming music
7:45 – Pajamas, lavender lotion, & a bedtime story in our dimly lit living room with no extra noise or distractions (TV, music, etc.)
8:00 – Lullabies with mommy in a rocking chair in her dark bedroom.
(Side note: Piper has a sound machine set on “white noise” right next to her crib and I usually diffuse calming or “sleepy” essential oils.)
After about 5-7 minutes of lullabies and some snuggling, I say my goodnights and “I love you”s, lie her down in her DockATot with her blanket and her binky, walk out of her room, and close the door. Ever since completing the Ferber method, I can now watch Piper on her video monitor as she kicks and plays and talks to herself and then peacefully drifts off to dreamland all by herself. No more hanging over the crib and patting her back for half an hour and then tip-toeing out of her room, praying to baby Jesus that she doesn’t hear me go and start wailing.
Like I said, I am no expert. All I can do for you now and is give you encouragement and a few helpful hints.
- The number one thing that you MUST understand before beginning this method of sleep training is that it requires 100% commitment. You simply cannot half-ass this. Once you have decided you’re ready, GO ALL IN and give it at least a week. Dr. Ferber claims it takes approximately 4-7 days before your babe gets the hang of self-soothing. It took Piper exactly five days. Hang in there, mama.
- Give your kiddo something of comfort. Piper is addicted to her Little Unicorn deluxe swaddle blanket. It’s very thin and breathable, so I don’t worry when she throws it over her face. Piper is also a big time binky (pacifier) baby. Anything that you may think will bring your baby a little comfort, just go ahead and stick it in the crib with them. You may even consider something that smells like you.
- Make sure your baby watches you leave the room. No tip-toeing or crawling out (you’ve done it, don’t lie). It’s important that they aren’t fooled into thinking you’re still there because it will only make them more upset once they figure out you’re not. That will give any kid a complex.
- Make your “comfort visits” VERY brief, if you even visit at all. Go in, lay your baby back down, give him or her a soothing pat or two, remind them that you love them and that you’re nearby, then promptly leave again. I stopped visiting altogether on day three because it just seemed to make it harder on both of us. You can customize your visits however you wish, but Dr. Ferber stresses the importance of visiting less and less every night.
- STAY BUSY! Listening to your little baby have a full on “Exorcist” episode after you leave their room is not going to be easy in any way, shape, or form. However, keeping yourself occupied will help you resist the urge to run in and scoop them up. I created myself a routine of chores to keep busy for at least an hour after laying her down (yes, for the first two nights she cried for OVER an hour before calming down). I did all the dishes and cleaned the entire kitchen, vacuumed, folded laundry, and drank lots of wine while doing so. My house has never been cleaner than it was during those five days. Sitting down and listening to her cry just gave me major anxiety. I do not recommend it.
- Stay away from mom groups or anything that may present you with CIO naysayers. I made a HUGE mistake on night two and started perusing the comments on a CIO blog post. These women were calling the mom who wrote the post horrible names and saying she was neglectful, etc etc. Some moms feel very strongly against CIO and they aren’t afraid to start berating you for doing it. Trust me, having someone call you a “monster” while you listen to your baby scream like a banshee in the next room is more than enough to make you break. Just steer clear of anything or anyone that may make you feel bad about your parenting choices.
- Once again… I cannot stress this enough… STICK TO IT. I wanted to give up dozens of times, but I forced myself to stick to it. After I put Piper down on the fifth night, I said to myself, “I can’t do this anymore. If she cries again tonight, I might just quit.” Guess what? I walked out of her room and I didn’t hear a peep. Not one peep. I watched Piper rub her blanket on her face and kick her legs for about twenty minutes on the monitor and suddenly her eyes were closed and she was still. Of course, I had to run in and check on her 47 times to make sure she was breathing, but I’ll be damned if that child did not put herself to sleep that night! But, that’s not all! She did not make a peep until 7:00 the next morning. And honey, we have never looked back.
People are going to have something to say about every parenting decision you make. If “Crying it Out” isn’t for you, then that’s 100% okay. I will never judge you or look down on you for that. Momming is hard work, y’all. Let’s not make it harder by degrading each other’s choices. I can promise you that Piper continues to be a happy little girl and shows zero signs of PTSD from her five days of crying herself to sleep. She still loves, trusts, and relies on me. Our five minutes of lullabies and snuggling before bed are the best five minutes of my day. We giggle and and sing and nuzzle each other’s noses. She doesn’t talk much, but I talk to her and tell her about all of my hopes and dreams for her. She listens and smiles and cuddles into my chest. Then, thanks to CIO, Piper knows it’s time to say goodnight, lie down, and rest her little head. Thanks to routine and consistency, Piper always knows exactly what comes next in her daily life and that makes her a much happier baby. Not to mention, the solid night’s sleep that she gets makes her waking hours so much more pleasant and her little brain is more capable of developing. Oh, and did I mention that Mom and Dad are WAY less grouchy?
I will admit that I was skeptical about writing this post. I absolutely recommend giving CIO a shot if you’re at the end of your rope. If it’s not your thing, then please don’t berate a mom who wants to give it a go.
I see you, mama. I see you curled up on the couch with pillows over your ears trying to block out the sounds of your precious little one hollering for you. I see you looking for reassurance that you’re doing the right thing. I see you and I’m rooting for you! You will both get through this and you will both be better for it. Don’t give up. Brighter days (and LOTS more sleep) are ahead!