Sunday, August 07, 2011

The never ending sleep issue

A co-worker of mine gave birth to her first son one day before I gave birth to Emma. A few weeks ago she emailed several of the new moms at work to see if they had any advice for working with her son to establish a strong sleep pattern. The sleepless nights and crying were taking a toll on her. I recalled how many times I've asked for advice on the subject and the many sleep issues we have had. I forwarded her query onto another co-worker who's son is now about 14 months old. I remember her coming to work exhausted because her son just wouldn't sleep at normal hours. He seemed to keep her up constantly through the firs year. I liked her advice so much I asked if I could share it here. It seems we will always struggle with the topic of sleep so why not offer another perspective! It also helps to realize we really are all in this together!

Here is the original email:
"Jake is now 4 months + 9 days and is still waking up every 3 hrs (if not less) in the night. Not all wakings are hunger-based, but I’ve found the most effective way to get him back to sleep is by nursing him (I know… wrong method). Last night, with a FULL tank, he went to sleep at 7pm. His first waking was at 8:30/8:35/8:40/8:45 (paci finally worked), then 12 (feeding), then 2:45/2:50/2:55, then 3 (feeding) and then didn’t want to go back to sleep. By 4am, Israel decided that he was going to let him cry it out. Rough night…

So we are now forced to do some sort of sleep training for Jake. Can you please tell me what you did, whether you felt it was effective, what you would’ve done differently (if anything), etc.? Any words of comfort would also be appreciated for my breaking heart…"

My coworkers response:
"First, I TOTALLY feel your pain!! We had to let Calder cry when I finally had enough at about 5 or 6 mo. He was still getting up 2 or 3 times every night to nurse & it started getting worse so his doctor said he was a good candidate for crying since he clearly wanted to play when he woke up (nothing else would soothe him…not, the swing or even nursing when it was at its worst). She told me to use ear plugs (helpful) but it is very emotionally painful. Andy had to be the one to check on him (every few minutes) or just to sit with him (which just made Calder madder it seemed, but made us feel a bit better). I just couldn’t sit there & watch him cry & reach to be picked up!! Anyway, since I do all the feedings I thought it was fair that Andy deal with that!

Fortunately, we only had to do it a few nights (& occasional other times). My concern is always that I don’t know if he is just crying because he doesn’t feel well. (Unless he has a fever, how can we tell!?) So another helpful thing the doctor told us is to just give him Tylenol when he is having one of those nights (so you rule out him wailing because he’s not feeling well). (She said a few nights of Tylenol won’t hurt.) …Then, if that still doesn’t work after a ½ hour or so, do the sleep training. (sigh.)

When Calder was younger we didn’t let him cry, but we did bounce him to sleep on a Pilates ball, & if he kept waking up (like Jake did last night), we put him in his swing to sleep. That usually kept him asleep until his regular wake up times & then I could usually put him back in the crib after the feeding. I think this happened randomly, but regularly when he was 3-5 months old. I totally believe that every baby & family is different, and you might all be ready to (& need to) do sleep training now even though I wasn’t ready yet!

They say breastfed babies wake up more (don’t know if it’s true), but it’s so easy to breastfeed them back to sleep that it becomes hard NOT to do it! I still occasionally feed Calder at about 5 AM. (He’s 13 months old now.) …but then if he sleeps until 7:30 after that, it’s worth it to me. Rocking, etc. has never worked for Calder at all. (He would just get more upset.) Breastfeeding was/is the only thing that really works, so, of course, I do it. Yes, some people might think I’m “giving in” or being a weak parent, but he is a pretty good sleeper now has mostly stopped getting up, so maybe he just needed the extra nutrients? …or the extra love? (…at least that’s what I’ll choose to believe for all my wake-ups!)

It seems that most rough nights can be blamed on teething, growth spurts (needing more food), or being sick. …& then sometimes a little bit on just wanting more time to play, be with mom, etc. The problem is that it’s so hard to tell what’s going on! I usually give him a night or 2 (occasionally more if not totally desperate for sleep) to see if it might be health related, then, if it’s starting to be a pattern, we let him cry. Here’s the “method” that we have evolved into using: We go in & pick him up for a few seconds (try to calm him, but he usually screams, especially as you….) then put him back down, walk out of the room & let him cry if he must. We call it “ the reset.” When he amps back up to full pitch, we go in & do it again. Or, if he starts at full pitch we wait about 10-15 minutes to see if he’ll calm down before we reset him again. Now, when we have to do this, we usually only have to reset him once, since I think I knows that we’re not going to give in & let him nurse, play, etc.

Alright, I already wrote more than you will have time to read! Good luck. Remember that everything is changing & like everything with babies, it won’t last long! (We kept reminding each other “There is no ‘this.’”….as in “I can’t do ‘this!’” since it is always changing….both the good & the bad things!)


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