Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sleep Training (or Trying to help Babies have Healthy Sleep Habits)

Let me start by saying that there are no people in the world that Eddie and I love more than our babies. Every morning when we wake up, every night when we go to sleep, and every moment in between, we thank God that we have been blessed with Gracie and Luke. We never dared to hope that we would be parents to two beautiful children and even when they frustrate the heck out of us, we realize how lucky we are.

This may be a controversial entry because there are many people who do not agree with what Eddie and I decided to do tonight. For the past 11 months, we have had very little sleep. We've tried to trade off so that occasionally one of us has more than 4 hours of continuous sleep, but it has been very hard.

In the beginning, the babies would always fall asleep as we fed them their last bottle of the day. This continued until 2 months ago when both of them started to crawl. As their worlds became bigger and more interesting, night times became impossible. The babies wanted to play until they dropped. We had nights when the babies were so tired that they were rubbing their eyes, crying, falling over from exhaustion, but still they would not sleep. Some nights, we were up until 10 pm trying to get them to sleep. In addition, nap times during the day have disappeared.

Not only were we having issues with going to sleep, but we also had issues staying asleep. Both would start off in the Pack N Play, but first Luke, and then Gracie would end up in bed with us. We've loved having the babies in bed with us, but we've come to realize that sleeping with us means they wake up more and aren't as rested. They wake up at minimum 2 times a night and usually are up at dawn. They often needed to be fed a bottle and would only take formula, not water.

In July, I felt so stressed out about bed time that I started having a stomach ache as the sun descended. My No Cry Sleep Solutions book asserted that the babies needed a routine. So, Eddie and I started giving the babies a bath, then a massage, put them in their pjs and gave them their final bottle. This worked occasionally, but usually we needed to rock them or sing to them. 80% of the time, we had to separate them until they were both asleep. The problem continued to be that they kept waking up.

Then, 2 weeks ago, I called Aunt Bec in tears. I did not know what to do any more. I felt like I was a bad Mommy because my babies would not go to sleep at night and they were not taking any naps unless we were in the car (and with gas at $4 plus per gallon this was not an ideal solution). Aunt Bec calmed me down and reminded me about our friend Aunt Dev and her adorable kids, Patrick and Kate. Aunt Dev is very faithful about putting Katie down for her naps and nighttime sleep at very specific times. Because she is so dedicated to Katie's sleep, Katie is well rested and always seems happy. Aunt Bec told me that Dev firmly believes in the Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child book by Dr. Marc Weissbluth, MD. Dr. W. espouses the belief that not only do babies need sleep to be happy, but parents do too.

So, I ordered the book from Amazon and started reading. I felt like every sentence was written especially for me. There were my babies: short (if any) naps, struggles going to sleep and staying asleep, exhausted Mommy and Daddy. As I read Dr. W's book, I realized that as much as I want to hold Gracie and Luke to help them fall asleep, I am not teaching them the most important skill I can give them: the ability to fall asleep by themselves and stay asleep. To be well-rested, ready to learn, ready to grow, ready to be the best people they can be, I need to teach them how to sleep.

We immediately started making changes. We started saying goodnight to our toys, one at a time. We kept the babies in the room with their Pack N Plays when we gave them their last bottle after their baths. The change was instantaneous. The babies fell asleep right away and we were able to leave them in their Pack N Plays. However, not everything changed. They kept waking up several times a night. We tried to soothe them back to sleep, but it just did not work. The more we tried to soothe them, the more they woke up.

Today, we arrived home from a 6 day vacation with Nana, Aunt Bec, and the cousins. Rather than be well rested, Daddy and I were exhausted from the sleep disturbances caused by sleeping somewhere other than home. We did well getting them to sleep, but no naps again and several wake ups during the night.

After 40 minutes of trying to get the babies to fall asleep, Eddie and I made the decision to put the babies into their Pack N Plays and leave the room. The babies were tired. We saw all of the signs. They had eaten. They had their bath. They were just fighting sleep. We turned on the Piglet's Big Movie soundtrack, told them we loved them, and left. It was the hardest thing we have done to date. Even Luke's MRI wasn't as bad.

They started screaming immediately. Horrible, awful screaming-sobbing. Eddie had me turn off the monitor. We did not need it. We could hear them all the way in the back of the house. After about 15 minutes of them crying, I called Aunt Bec and she talked me out of going to them; it would defeat the purpose of everything we had done. Aunt Bec reminded me that Gracie and Luke know how much we love them and that we would never let anything happen to them. Helping them learn how to soothe themselves to sleep is going to be hard, but in the long run, it is critical to their growing and developing.

Then, at 33 minutes, there was silence. No crying, no hard breathing. Nothing. Sleeping babies. They figured it out on their own. It is currently 2 hours since the silence began and we have had a few incidents of Luke waking up. However, he tends to cry (not hard, just in his semi-asleep state) for just a few minutes and then it is silent again.

If you asked me when I was pregnant if I would ever let my babies cry for 30 minutes without going to pick them up, I would have told you you were insane. However, I love my babies so much, that I want them to be able to soothe themselves if I can't get to them. Eddie and I both want them to be able to put themselves back to sleep so that they can get the best rest they can, not just little bits and pieces of sleep.

I know this isn't the end, but just the beginning of Gracie and Luke learning how to sleep. It will be hard work both for them and for Eddie and me. The rewards, of course, will be happier babies when they are awake, more restful nights for babies and their parents. How amazing that will be!


  1. Hooray for you, Mama!!!

    It IS so hard to do, but so much better for everyone in the long run!!! Stick with it and it gets easier.

  2. Ahhhh this breaks my heart just reading this. Reminds me of myself a couple of years ago. I promise it gets easier!


Happy 10th Birthday!

There's nothing better than bringing cupcakes and having free dress on your 10th birthday! These two were so excited that they kept r...