Friday, June 3, 2011

Sleep: Part II

And then there's Son #2...

I considered Son #1's sleep "training" to be generally successful, so I was quite confident that I would know what to do when Son #2 was ready for the same kind of treatment. I knew I wouldn't do it before six months of age, but I thought I would surely do it earlier than 16 months this time around. I was happily dispensing sleep advice to other friends (and random people on the internet) based on the technique that worked with Son #1.

But when Son #2 came along, there was a very important variable I hadn't considered: breastfeeding. Son #2 was a nursing fiend. I've mentioned before that he nursed every hour. I'm not really exaggerating. I swore I wouldn't have him in my bed at night. I swore I wouldn't nurse him to sleep, so I wouldn't fall into the "trap" of having no other way to get him to sleep. I swore this up and down until I got home from the hospital, snuggled up in bed with him to nurse... and fell asleep that way. When I attempted to put him into his crib in our bedroom, he woke up.

And that was that. I would nurse him to sleep in our bed, fall asleep along with him, and wake up sometimes an hour later with him still happily attached to my breast. I'd then flip over, move him to the other breast, and go back to sleep.

He wasn't attached to my breast all the time while sleeping, but he woke often to nurse himself back to sleep, or because he was actually hungry. I actually felt quite well-rested for the first 10 weeks or so, because I didn't have to wake up all the way to nurse him, and I didn't have to get up out of bed when he awoke.

The interrupted sleep did start to catch up to me, but by 11 weeks or so, I could see no alternative. It was just so easy! Baby sleepy? Great! I'd nurse him to sleep, leave him on the bed, come back when he got hungry again. Then, when I went to bed, I just curled myself around him with a boob exposed and let him have at it while I slept.

Granted, I'd often wake up to milk-soaked sheets. Once I had a hickey on my breast where he'd latched in the wrong place. It didn't really hurt, but it was a little weird to look at until it healed. And it got a little wearing that only I could get him to sleep, and that whenever he woke up, I had to drop whatever I was doing to go upstairs and nurse him, sometimes for 30 or 45 minutes.

Because I was already so strict with Son #1's bedtime routine, Son #2 just tagged along for all the steps of the routine. I'd basically just nurse him while I read books, sang songs, etc. When he was very small, he'd hang out on the floor outside the bathroom while I bathed his brother. As he got older, he'd crawl around and explore. At some point, we decided he was old enough for the two boys to take their baths together, and they still do to this day. That's the nice thing about having two kids of the same gender, I suppose.

The point is, Son #2 just started to fit naturally into an already-established bedtime routine. This was a great blessing, because he seemed to decide on his own that 8:00 was bedtime for him, too. I'd finish up with Son #1's bedtime, say goodnight, take the baby to my bedroom to nurse him to sleep on my bed, and then leave him there (girded with pillows so he wouldn't fall if he happened to roll) while I continued to have my quiet evenings. Except having to return every so often to nurse him back to sleep. This got a bit annoying when I had company over or something and had to leave for half an hour to nurse; I admit that.

When he was six months old, I decided to try a modified Ferber method again, hoping to sleep train the baby sooner than I had his brother. On the night that I decided to start the process, I decided also that it was time that Son #1 stay in his bed instead of falling asleep on the landing against the gate (as mentioned in the previous post). I figured, why not do two sleep-trainings for the price of one?

Well, I got Son #1 to stay in his bed, sure, but Son #2 would have none of this nonsense. He wanted boob, and he wanted it now, and I didn't have the heart to refuse him. He was just a little baby. He didn't understand "Lie down and go to sleep now." He wanted to NURSE. I gave up quickly on that idea and decided to try again when he was older.

It was at that point that I realized something very important. If what you're doing just doesn't feel right, it's really okay to trust that instinct. Listening to the anguished cries of my six-month-old baby alone in the dark for the first time in his life, in a crib instead of on Mommy's bed, cold and lonely instead of snuggled up to Mommy, I knew he wasn't ready for this. I knew he couldn't handle what he saw as abandonment. I knew he didn't understand that it was "for his own good" or any such nonsense. No. He was a baby, and he needed his Mommy.

To be honest, those months and months of sleep deprivation took their toll on my short-term memory. I don't have as clear a memory of exactly how and when we finally transitioned Son #2 to a crib in his brother's room. I believe I got to a point where Son #2 would start out the evening in his crib in our bedroom and that I would then bring him into our bed when he woke up to nurse. I know that at 12 months, we put his crib in his brother's room, but I couldn't figure out how I was supposed to night-wean him without his crying waking his brother up. So I gave up on that for the moment and brought him back into our bed. Son #2's sleep saga was much more convoluted than Son #1's was.

I did finally read Ferber's actual book, and I have to tell you, Dr. Ferber has a lot of really good information about sleep in general in that book. His sleep advice doesn't only apply to babies, but to kids, teens, and adults as well. I agreed with almost everything he said about everyone except babies. He claims that babies no longer need to eat at night at five months of age. I think this is a blanket statement that isn't true for all babies. I think some babies stop night-nursing on their own at a young age, while others do still need it longer. I do think his method of "controlled crying" is better than just leaving the kid to scream in the dark until he falls asleep from sheer exhaustion, as the parent's continual return does reassure him that someone is nearby. I also think he has good tips for how to gradually night-wean from bottle or breast, if you choose to go his route. Be aware that Ferber's methods do involve crying.

I believe it was at around 16 months that we finally got Son #2 to sleep in his crib in the room with his brother, rather than in our bed at all. I was stubborn enough by then, and fed up enough with sharing my bed with a squirmy toddler, to decide that he was not coming back into our bed even when he woke to nurse, which I knew he inevitably would. I felt there were more advantages than disadvantages at that point to his sharing a room with his brother and to my having to go in several times a night to nurse him. Remember "If the solution is worse than the problem, you don't have a problem"? Well, the solution was no longer worse than the problem by then.

It's not in any of the developmental books I've seen, but I truly think something magical happens at 16 months that allows you to make changes to sleep habits that you couldn't make before. Maybe some great leap happens around 15 months that leaves them with a greater capacity to adjust to change, but what I couldn't accomplish at six or 12 months, I was able to accomplish at 16. With both kids. Go figure.

I got Son #2 sleeping in his crib the whole night, although not through the night, through simple persistence. Whenever he woke up, I'd go in, take him out of the crib, nurse him lying on the floor of his room, then, once asleep, I'd put him back in the crib, haul myself back to my bed, lather, rinse, repeat until morning. I believe at some point, I found I was able to put him back in his bed while still awake, as long as he'd finished nursing, and he'd go back to sleep. It was usually three times a night that he woke me. For a long time. I got so tired of lifting him over the side of the crib that we decided to convert the crib to a toddler bed long before we had expected to, oddly enough, also at 19 months, the same age at which we had made the change with Son #1.

We bought a house and moved, and the pattern continued for a week, when we decided to buy Son #2 a twin bed for his second birthday, just as we had done for Son #1. Then, at least, I was able to nurse him lying in his bed instead of on the floor!

After about two months of that, I hit that "I've had enough" point, where sleep for me became more important than anything else. I figured that I wouldn't be able to night-wean him without completely weaning him, so, as I described in my nursing story, one night I simply refused to nurse him. He woke several times asking to nurse, and I simply refused, told him there was no more milk and that he didn't need to nurse anymore. It only took about three nights of this for him to stop asking for it.

From there, things gradually improved, sleepwise. First, I would lie with him, my back to him, in his bed, until he fell asleep. I had to go in a few times a night for another month or so. I realized at some point that I was no longer being awakened quite so often. But sometimes it was taking him 45 minutes to fall asleep at first, and I was getting very antsy lying there with him every night until he would finally fall asleep. The next step in the sleep-improvement project was to get him to fall asleep without me in his bed. I think this was the key to getting him to sleep through the night, because if he did awaken, he'd know how to go back to sleep on his own. Again, it just took gentle persistence and consistency from me. I just got up from his bed and told him to go to sleep, returning every so often to remind him that he was supposed to be, you know, going to sleep. A few nights of this, and he did.

So I'd stay for a few minutes - say, 5 or 10 - and then leave. And then Son #1 caught on that, hey, wait a minute, how come I always stay with Son #2 and never with him. So I started staying with one for 5 minutes, then the other for 5 minutes, and then leaving. I do kind of miss those days where I'd say good night and leave the room, but I suppose I can give them 10 or 20 minutes to snuggle before bed. :) Anyway, I'll have to see how things change once the baby is born.

All I can say is, thank G-d for smartphones and booklights.

By about the three-month mark (April or so), I was ready to say that we pretty much were sleeping through the night. Certainly there are nights where one or the other (or both) wakes for no apparent reason, or because one or the other is sick, or because one or the other has a bad dream, or because they're cold (I can't get either of them to stay under a blanket, or to get back under a blanket when they get cold. Grr.)

I guess I get about another 3 months (until Son #3 is born!) to enjoy this general sleeping-through-the-night thing. As you can see, the sleep trajectories of my two sons has been quite different, but the end result is the same. It's kind of interesting.

In Sleep: Part III (still to come), I'll expand on what did seem to be the same for both kids, and what I think is true for most kids. The test will be what happens with this next kid!

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