Friday, March 24, 2017

Sleep Training: Night 2

You may recall (since I just wrote about it yesterday) that we've started sleep training.

I was pretty nervous about Night 2, because I'd heard that the second night can sometimes be harder than the first, and also Will was going to be leaving right after bedtime to play in a hockey game. He'd be there for the initial put down (assuming it took <30 min like Night 1 had) and then gone for a few hours, and I was worried about being alone and her waking up crying. I wanted to take a shower, and I wanted to get some sleep, but mostly I wanted to not be alone to do the crying intervals. We'd tried this method for her evening nap and it failed miserably. We'd been told that if after 30 min it's not working, to end the nap and wait until the next time, so we stopped trying. She stopped crying and was her usual joyous self. But I was nervous about bedtime.

At about 8:15pm, after getting her all ready for bed, I nursed her - she fell asleep within 15 minutes like she usually does, but woke a bit when I stood up to put her in her crib (I was trying to wake her a little so I would put her down sleepy but not asleep). Good! This is what we want! She started crying as soon as I set her down, which was to be expected. I patted her, shushed her, kissed her goodnight and told her I loved her, and then I walked out to the sounds of her crying. I texted a friend that we were off to a loud start on night 2, and I whimpered to Will (who was in the bathroom getting ready to leave) that she was crying. I braced myself for a rough evening.

I went out into the living room to bury my head in my parent-friend chat groups...and, my friends, she cried for literally 2 minutes and fell asleep. I didn't believe it, and when Will left and was all "she's asleep! woo hoo! amazing baby!" I was skeptical. I believe I meekly shrugged and said, "maybe, we'll see." He left. And she stayed asleep. I had a glass of wine and some chocolate. I watched some Netflix. After over an hour, I was (mostly) convinced that she was out, and I took a shower (with the monitor in full view). I washed the pump parts. I was practically high off the 2+ hours of sleeping baby, and wasn't tired, so I watched some more Netflix. Around 11:30, Will was home and I finally got in bed.

At 11:40, I heard a little yelp from her room, and it made my heart stop for a second. Will was in the shower, and I just laid there, listening, not sure what to expect. She fussed quietly for 10 minutes but didn't cry, so I didn't go in her room (them's the rules). And then she was asleep again. At 4am, I heard some quiet fussing, but it lasted about 5 seconds - long enough for me to think, "Wow! It's 4am! She's probably hungry. Maybe I'll get up and feed her--oh wait she's asleep again." I thought about pumping, but decided to opt for more sleep. Same thing happened at 6am. And then she woke up for real at 7:30 (her normal wakeup time).

I did not enter her room between 8:30pm and 7:30am and she slept and slept and woke up happy and hungry (she ate for 10 min vs her usual 6). It's bittersweet. Last night was the first night of her entire life that I haven't fed her overnight. A part of me is sad about that, about her not needing me as much. I was just starting to like our little middle of the night nursing sessions (when they happened twice a night, anyway). I'm worried that my milk supply will drop if I'm not feeding her at night anymore. I missed her last night, and the 30 minutes we spent together nursing and playing while I got dressed before I left for work felt very short. But on the other hand, I didn't stumble out of bed and fall asleep in the glider while nursing at 2am. And tonight, maybe I'll even go to bed before midnight.

And of course, this could be a fluke. It's only been two days. By no means do I think we've wrapped this up. If this holds, it's been the luckiest, easiest sleep training ever. We may have a bad night tonight, or in a few nights. And surely we will in the future if she's sick or teething or going through some other development thing. She napped poorly (only two 30 min naps) the last two days, so maybe she was just extra tired. Maybe she'll nap well today and sleep less well (though I hear sleep begets sleep). But it's a good sign regardless, knowing she can do it. And knowing she can do it makes it easier to handle the crying. Not easy, of course, but easier.

This post was long, yes, I know. And maybe only interesting to me (and maybe not even to me). But I'm in "document it all" mode so that I don't forget. Here's a baby.

happy and awake and playing on our bed while I get dressed

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sleep Training: One Night In

We are one night in to sleep training (something had to change).

We spoke with the Kaiser Health Education sleep specialist, and she gave us some really great support. We talked about Margie's current patterns and our needs and wants. We talked about what I feel ready for and what I don't. We talked a lot. And we came up with a plan that incorporates it all.

Here's what we decided:

  • We're not night weaning yet. I'm just not ready to give up nursing Margie to sleep (my baaaaaaby I want her to neeeeeeed me) (yes this feels selfish but it is what it is), and she is still getting a decent amount of calories overnight. I'm ok with two night feedings, and I know she can go 4 hours between night feedings (biologically, she could go all night). She will likely drop one of these night feedings on her own, and at that point, I'll support that and go with it. But I don't want to force the issue yet.
  • We are doing a modified version of crying it out. It's an "intervals" approach. I think this is technically Ferber.
    • Nurse her to sleep, but try to put her down drowsy and awake. Ideally, after I nurse her, I pass her along to Will so he can put her down. The goal here is for her to not be asleep in our arms - to get used to falling asleep in her crib, so that when she wakes up she isn't surprised not to be in our arms, and she knows she's safe to go back to sleep. This really resonated with me. It's a concept that makes sense.
    • If she starts fussing, let her fuss.
    • If fussing turns into crying, let her cry for 3 minutes. Then send Will in (as the non-lactating parent, so she doesn't think she's getting fed) to pat her, shush her, and reassure her. Stay in the room for no more than 20-30 seconds and then leave.
    • If she keeps crying, let her cry for 5 minutes. Repeat Will going in.
    • If she keeps crying, let her cry for 7 minutes. Repeat Will going in.
    • If she keeps crying, let her cry for 10 minutes. Repeat Will going in.
    • If she keeps crying, let her cry for 10 minutes. Repeat Will going in. Repeat indefinitely.
    • Once she falls asleep, if she wakes up and it's been 4+ hours, I'll feed her. If it's been less than 4 hours, and she is fussing, let her fuss. If she starts crying, repeat the 3-5-7-10 intervals.
We started this last night around 8:30pm. By 8:45, we were putting her down, drowsy but awake. She went from fussing to crying in less than 5 minutes...and the crying was rough. She cried these loud screaming cries, guttural and heartbreaking. I cried. A lot. Big, unsuppressable sobs. Poor Will was dealing with a crying baby and a crying wife and I just couldn't stop myself. But he stayed strong, though I know it was hard for him too, and we kept an eye on the clock and stuck to the schedule.

After 3 minutes, she was still crying. He went in, did the shush, and left after 30 seconds. Still crying. After 5 more minutes, she was still crying. He went in, did the shush, and left again. Still crying. During the 7 minute stretch, she seemed to be calming down when Will went in, like she knew he was in there to reassure her. As soon as he left, she started crying really hard. That might have been the worst. But then...she didn't even make it to 10 minutes before falling asleep (I think it was around the 7-8 minute mark). She just...fell asleep. Around 9:15pm. We're talking a total of around 20 minutes of "crying it out." It was horrible. Some of the worst minutes of my life. But then it was over. And she slept.

Just before midnight, we heard her start to fuss, but didn't go into her room (it had been less than 4 hours since she'd eaten). She must have fallen asleep, because she didn't ramp up to crying, and we fell asleep (and I can't sleep while she's crying). At around 1am, she woke up and was fussing a bit. She hadn't eaten since 8:30, so I figured it was time. I fed her, she fell asleep, I put her down, and she slept until 3am. At 3, we heard her start to fuss, didn't go into her room (again, it had been less than 4 hours since she ate), and we all fell asleep. She woke up at 5am, and since it'd been 4 hours, I fed her. She fell asleep, I put her down, and she slept until 8am. She successfully put herself to sleep twice in the night - that's two times when ordinarily I would have gone in and nursed her back to sleep. 

So. More details than you maybe wanted, but I wanted to document this situation. I know it's a pattern of one. And there's no guarantee that tonight will be the same or better. But we're going to try it again, because it seems like she's ready. And knowing that she can do this, and be ok (better than just ok - she was great, her normal happy self today), will (I think) make it easier to do it a second night. We'll see. I might cry the whole time tonight too. If she fusses to crying in the middle of the night instead of self-soothing, I might feel broken again. There's no way to know until we're there.

But for now, I'm glad we started trying. And I'm hopeful for better sleep ahead.

PS my friend Lyz has an excellent new column at Jezebel and her latest piece is very timely.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Let's (Always) Talk About Sleep (LOLSOB)

I'm not coming from a good place as I sit down to write this. I'm not my best self, or even close. I sat down to start writing this over a week ago, when I was about two weeks into a really tough sleep pattern, and thought I might be losing my mind. Then I took a week of maternity leave. Then Margie had a couple of nights of good sleep. I thought I'd delete this draft, and not subject the internet to one more blog post about babies who don't sleep well. I'm not unique, and it's tired material. (har har har) If you're sick of hearing me pitifully weep into the void about baby sleep, please feel free to ignore this blog post.

But then the last three days, we're back to awful sleep. And I barely feel human. I feel like a walking, mumbling, zombie of a person, stumbling around trying to make my brain feel like more than a lump of nothing inside my head. And I have to get these feelings out there, not because I have some sort of unique perspective, but because I need to not just have this cycling in my head. And maybe seeing this will make someone else feel less alone. At the very least, it's not just in my head. Maybe I'll look back on this and laugh someday.

The topic of baby sleep is fraught with controversy. There are more methods of "sleep training" than I care to count, and I can't keep track anyway. The most popular discussions boil down to some version of letting them "cry it out" (aka let them cry themselves to sleep) vs. not (aka getting up and soothing/nursing every time baby wakes up). It's not black and white, but it can seem that way. And it can feel that way. And it's completely overwhelming and I have no idea if it would be less so if I were a fully functioning, not sleep deprived zombie of a person, but that's who I am and that's how it feels.

Up until the last few weeks, I wasn't anti-cry-it-out, but I wasn't in any hurry to do sleep training either. Part of me wasn't sure it would work, part of me didn't really think it was necessary because waking up 2-3x/night was pretty manageable. I didn't want to fix what didn't feel broken, you know? But now I feel like I'm in a different world. After over two weeks of mostly-not-sleeping, we're starting to discuss Sleep Training. We have an appointment with a health educator from our hospital on Wednesday to talk about options. I have a feeling the conversation will go something like, "here are some options, do what you feel comfortable with," which is only mildly helpful, I think. But maybe talking it out with a person will end up being helpful. Maybe we can make some sort of plan.

For context, right now (at ~6.5 months old), a good night of sleep looks like: bed at 8pm, feed at 11:30pm, 1:30am, feed at 4:30am, awake at 7:30am for the day. Eating every three hours or so. Most nights look more like: bed at 8pm, awake a few times between 8-9pm, awake at 11, 1, 3, 5, 7. Occasionally, awake at 11, 12, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. It's been every 1-2 hours for the last few weeks (with the exception of a couple good days). Sometimes she wakes to eat, sometimes to fart, sometimes just to fuss. Right now, I'm getting up to try to soothe her back to sleep by whatever means necessary. She's rejecting Will in the middle of the night, only seeming to want me, even if she doesn't want to nurse. Once upon a time, she'd have a first stretch of 4-5 hours, and then wake every 2-3 after that. That was fiiiiine. Do that again, Margie!

Last night at 2am, I tried to hold off - I waited in bed when I heard her wake up, to see if she'd soothe herself back to sleep. She wasn't even crying loudly, just whimpering to herself, and it had only been an hour since I'd last fed her. She sounded uncomfortable though; my instinct was that it was likely gas. After 20 minutes, I couldn't take it. It felt unfair to leave her alone in her room, uncomfortable, crying, so I got up and gave her gas drops (simethicone) and nursed her back to sleep. She slept for another hour, followed by two two-hour stretches with nursing in between. Those two hour stretches felt positively luxurious after the one-hour spells. Perspective, eh?

And I know we're lucky. She takes a pacifier (most of the time). She's nursing well, and breastfeeding is going great at this point. She's an otherwise healthy, happy baby. It could be much, much worse, and I know that. And I try to stay grateful for that. But I'm still wracked with guilt and exhaustion and indecision.

We've been advised by a few friends that I should leave for a few days, leave Will home with some bottles, and have him do the sleep training. They say it's easier for both mom and baby if mom is not there. This is one theory. And a part of me agrees. But part of me feels guilty, like I'd be abandoning my baby. I've literally never spent a night away from her. I worry my milk supply will lessen if I'm not feeding her during the night, since I don't feed her while I'm at work either. I worry that we'll lose some of this special connection if I'm breastfeeding less often. I worry that she's waking up to nurse and be comforted by me so often because she misses me, and that we won't be as bonded if I'm not doing that (I know, I know). But I also worry about my own health, and I know I need to sleep. Will says he's ok to do it, but I don't know if I feel ok doing it. I don't know if I feel ok not doing it. Last night I started a sort of meditative listmaking around 3am, where I started thinking of which friends live close by, have an extra bedroom, have no children, and would let me cry on their shoulders as I feel guilty about running away from my baby. I am not mentally capable of handling this right now. Which I guess is the point.

This morning as I left for work, I nearly cried looking at her little round face and touching her soft baby skin. I held back tears on the bus as a friend texted to tell me it was ok. I'm choking back sobs typing this right now. The physical pain of hearing my baby cry and choosing not to pick her up was not something I was prepared for. I didn't expect such agonizing guilt and feelings of helplessness, and I didn't realize I could be so obsessed with sleep - mine or someone else's. It's all I think about and all I talk about. It even takes over my giant running list of "emotional labor" type to-dos I'm always wrestling with. It's torture.

I'm still not sure what we'll decide to do. Sometimes I think sleep training sounds and will feel cruel both for me and for her. Sometimes I think it will teach her necessary independence and we'll all sleep better and be better for it. There is no overall right answer, and I don't even know if there's a right answer for our family. And what if we do it, and it doesn't even work?

So. Sleep. Does your baby do it? How? When? What did you do to help it? How did you decide? Let's talk about it.

Monday, March 6, 2017


Margie is 6 months old today, and I'm full of feelings. Rather than try to eloquently and poetically describe my current mental state, I thought I'd share some recent highlights and lowlights.

Last night, we ate dinner as a family. Margie sat at the table with us in her booster seat/high chair and mashed some banana and avocado around, occasionally eating some of it, while we ate our full meals. It was pretty magical.

Last night, she also decided that 1-3am was the perfect time to be awake and playing, unless she was being held and rocked to sleep. Ok, perhaps "decided" isn't the right word, but that's what happened. This happens on occasion and I don't understand it. But either we hold/rock her, or watch her play in her crib (leaving the room results in tears that lead to meltdowns).

Right now, we're in a very mama-heavy phase. It's beautiful and sweet and I feel so loved and needed by this not-so-little creature. It's wild to see her developing emotions and feelings and needs that she expresses with her eyes and her limbs. This weekend she was particularly clingy, contentedly spending hours sitting in my lap, arm draped around my neck or side. She's not feeling well (teething! but no teeth yet!) and that's translated into what I'm sure if she had words would be "mama mama mama". It's exhausting, but her tiny chubby hands are so sweet when they reach out for me that I just scoop her up and snuggle her sweet baby smell.

The mama-heavy phase, of course, translates into nighttime, and she's only content to be nursed (or occasionally rocked) to sleep by me. The Dad Tricks that used to work are no longer sufficient: it's mama or nothing. And the teething means we're up a lot to nurse. I try not to mind it, and generally I don't mind it. I remind myself that there's only this relatively short period in her life when she'll need me in this specific way, and there's something kind of awesome about this time. But it's also very difficult and exhausting.

Did I mention I'm tired?

We hosted our first play date this weekend - we were going to go to the park but rain cancelled those plans, so we invited our friends and babies over for an all day open house style play date. Generally, folks came in two shifts, and it was super fun to hang out with parents and babies...and we had an excuse to get the house in order. It's *finally* getting to a place that doesn't give me anxiety, so that's a pleasant side effect.

In terms of baby things, lil Marge is sitting like a champ. She loves to sit and play with her toys, and has started reaching for things without toppling over. She also loves to stand up, and practice walking - I call it the Godzilla Stomp. She doesn't really roll consistently yet, though she's rolled from back to front a couple of random times. I'm a little scared she's going to skip straight to walking. She's starting to enjoy bathtime - she splashes her hands around and it's very, very cute.

I can't believe this little nugget has already been out in the world for 6 months. Our lives without her seem both so distant and like they weren't all that long ago. I can still recall the ease of babyless life, and sometimes I do miss the ability to just hop in the car and go, or to grab tickets to a show last-minute. I'm tired from the pumping and the wakeful nights and from being stretched too thin. And I don't really like the cliche of "it's so hard but it's so worth it"...even though it's true. I love this little bug and if I keep writing about her I'll start to cry. Can I still blame postpartum hormones?

At 6 months, I can see glimmers of how life might return to something that feels like normal. Not the normal we had before, but also not the normal of newborn life. I can see the light that looks like more predictability with sleep schedules (oh, we're not there yet, don't worry) and getting into routines for our family. I can see how this eventually becomes less like survival and more like living.