Sleep Training: Night I

Note to the Reader: Different parenting styles work for different families, and I ask that you reserve judgment about what we have chosen, remembering that our choices are not a reflection on yours. I want to be honest about this experience in hopes that it may help other families who have similar issues, or who may be considering sleep training and want to know what it's really like (you won't read these nitty gritty details in the books, folks!).

It's been a couple weeks since we decided to 'go with the flow'. Didn't work. Juna has become more and more overtired, as have my husband and I. Feedings are confusing, since they happen irregularly, and before and sometimes during a sleep period. Our usual tricks to get Juna to sleep aren't working, and it takes a good forty minutes to soothe her down, during which she cries, oftentimes awakening ten minutes later. When she does miraculously fall, and stay, asleep, Bradford and I hover over the video monitor, anxiously examining her little form, waiting for what we call those 'demon eyes' to show up on the screen. She doesn't sleep well in my arms or in our bed, she doesn't sleep in the stroller or in the car. We have tried literally everything. My stomach is in knots most of the day, and I am constantly nervous anticipating each sleep-time battle. I try very hard to enjoy the good moments between the marathon bouts of crying. Her little smiles delight me to the point of tears. When your precious little baby spends a lot of her day in pain or upset, you appreciate each gurgle and coo.

After careful consideration, Bradford and I decided we needed to get some help. My theory that Juna's 'colic' was really just overtiredness in disguise needed to be put to the test. We consulted with Sasha Hawkes, a family therapist and sleep expert, who is putting us on a plan to help teach Juna how to fall asleep on her own, without any crutches (like exercise balls and pacing). We are going to try a three-hour routine, to give Juna more structure and see how she responds. Since she's only 11 weeks, this will be a more gentle approach. No 'crying it out', though let me tell you, it's Night One and there is certainly crying involved. This little girl has an iron-will. Sasha has explained (and I agree) that children with this kind of perseverance need and crave boundaries. Juna, at all of eleven-and-a-half weeks, is looking for us, her parents, to structure her day.

Sasha has called upon Bradford to execute the first few days of our new plan. Juna won't get nursed to sleep anymore (thank goodness - nursing to sleep without burping often produces a very unhappy little girl later on), plus Mommy's hormones get in the way when Baby cries, making it hard to stay consistent, which is key. So here I sit, listening to Juna cry and cry in Bradford's arms, while he patiently shush's and gently talks to her.

We are well into our second hour, though the first hour produced some excellent results. Fifteen minutes of crying (she is held and reassured the entire time, by the way), followed by an easy put down (drowsy but awake) and eyes closed one minute later. Bradford and I congratulate each other on staying calm and consistent. I leave to get us a celebratory dinner from our favorite Italian restaurant, and forty-minutes later return to a very upset, crying baby.

Usually when Juna cries, so do I. Which is why, for the last two-and-a-half months, I haven't let my daughter make so much as a peep before rushing to her (much to the amusement of her wiser grandparents). No one likes to hear their baby cry, least of all me. My inner monologue screams during Juna's daily crying jags... "I'm a bad mother, I have no instincts, I'm not providing enough milk, her diaper's too tight, her clothes aren't comfortable, she's teething, she's gassy, she's hot, she's cold, why don't I know what's wrong with my own daughter?" and on and on. I try everything within my power to 'fix' the problem, going through ten or so 'solutions' until something works.

Today was a particularly challenging day. She seems to be teething (excessive drool, gnawing her fist, crying, smacking her tongue), which is early but possible according to her grandfather the dentist. There were many times she cried and I couldn't soothe her. No amount of bouncing, walking, shush'ing or singing worked. I slipped her into the wrap and went out for an early evening walk with my husband and dog, and Juna relaxed. She gazed around, wide-eyed and content, taking in the light that filtered through the trees, the cars on the street, the people we passed. And then she would turn her little head to look up at me, with a peaceful little smile.

Juna lives in the moment. She wasn't thinking about how hard her day was, or how much she cried, or how little she napped. She wasn't anticipating her next feeding, her bath, or her new nighttime sleep plan. And while part of me now wants to sob right along with her, and part of my heart feels like it's being ripped out of my body, I am comforted knowing that this will pass. My warrior baby is sad in this moment, and that's ok. The next moment, she might be peaceful. And the moment after that, happy. And the moment after that, mad. If I insist on Juna being happy and content all of the time, I am depriving her of experiencing the great spectrum of human emotions. And as Sasha reminded us, it's ok to hold her while she cries and tell her that we hear her without trying to 'fix it'. I look at this as practice for the later years, when a friend hurts her feelings, or she doesn't make the team, or gets her heart broken for the first time. I would never tell her not to cry in those situations. Life is sad sometimes. Life might be a little sad right now for Juna. It might be scary to have a tummy ache and not know why, or to have pain in her mouth and not be able to tell me. It might be frustrating to want to fall asleep and not know how. She's a brand new being, and it is my job to honor where she is and meet her there.

I'm not sure how the rest of the night will go, and I'm at peace not knowing. Right now, she is sleeping peacefully and has been for over an hour. She fell asleep in her crib, on her own. Not bad for our first attempt!


  1. I think I said it before that sleep is very important for more sleep. I let both kids fall asleep while breast feeding. They never had gas problems though and i must admit to a bit of of laziness here LOL and it was a challenge when they were two. I would have loved to have done what you are doing. When they were older I think we did this (its all hazy now) The key for my kids was making sure they got SLEEP. Sounds like you are doing great. I never have gotten the whole putting your baby down and letting them cry till they pass out method. Not my thing. (Most of my family went the that way and thought i was weird) I think children need to learn their parents will always be there for them. Parents can't always fix the problems but they can be the to love them. Bradford sounds like an amazing father and you are giving Juna and Bradford such a gift here. I know its hard to let Juna and Bradford have this time. Even if she is crying a lot during this its special time. Just go with you heart and you will have no regrets when in three years you are being drove batty by a strong willed 2 year old and you miss these 'hard' baby times. I think its great that Juna has two parents that love her and are trying to understand her. Be prepared there will be ups and down with any plan. Take some time to enjoy baby Juna because it goes by in flash.Oh and I wouldn't call what you are doing training but rather guiding and parenting Juna to a healthier way to fall asleep. Good Luck and keep that wine close you are going to need it. ;)

  2. As a mother who 24 years ago was sleeping on the couch while my husband slept in his bed because the only place my son would sleep is in his playpen and not in his crib without crying, I hear you. It took my daycare provider to set me straight and we took a different approach - sounding much like the one you are doing. It was three days, but after 1 1/2 yrs, I was back in my own bed and my son was in his. Now he is almost 26 and a functional, thriving young man who is the best part of my life. You and Bradford will be just fine. Hugs from one mom to another.

  3. I posted my thoughts before, just thinking-she might be hungry. Sometimes milk or formula is not enough. Sometimes they need a wee bit of cereal mixed with the liquid(milk or formula) of choice. Seen it work before. Check with your Ped. Wish you luck and will send up prayers for all of you.

  4. Thanks @Alyse, but our ped and I ruled out hunger as she was gaining weight very well and had the right amount of dirty/wet diapers. She suggested we not do cereal just yet. We are seeing great results just having her on a schedule, so I'm guessing she was just really tired! Thanks for your input though!
    @ Penny: originally I had imagined we would just nurse her down and let her sleep with us every night, but Juna had other plans! Different things work for different babies, and you have to do what works for you! I love your comment about how we are guiding, rather than training, her. I agree, and it sounds more gentle and baby-focused. She's the sweetest girl and deserves a sweet night of sleep!