Sunday, 9 August 2015

Sleep: You're doing it wrong

STTN.  EASY.  PU/PD.  NAPS.  CIO.  A whole bunch of letters that all spell the same thing: your baby is sleeping wrong and it's your fault.

After Q was born, I actually felt a whole lot of guilt whenever other moms would ask me how things were going.  They had that knowing looking in their eye that said they were expecting me to tell them how exhausted I was, and the last thing they wanted to hear was that Q was sleeping so much we had to wake him to feed.  Even as he got a little older, he'd sleep pretty much anywhere: in his carseat at a restaurant, while being passed around at a family reunion, and even in the audience at my dance recital (complete with blaring music).  At night, his favourite place to fall asleep was on M's chest after I gave him his last nursing session.  While I joked that this was probably a bad habit to get into and that we were creating a monster who would never be able to sleep anywhere else, I couldn't begrudge M the cuddle time with his baby after he'd been away from him all day at work.

Well, those chickens have come home to roost.

You rang?

Things started to go sideways somewhere around the 3.5 month mark.  Instead of falling asleep on the boob and being easily put down in his crib for naps, Q started waking the second his head hit the mattress and then requiring long sessions of rocking/walking/bouncing/patting to go to sleep.  Other sure-fire sleep inducers like the swing and stroller lost their efficacy as well.  Rather than falling asleep the second we started moving, I began having to take longer and longer walks to get Q to drop off.  And no matter what, he pretty much always woke up within half an hour.  Finally, my worst fear was realized when his nighttime sleep started to suffer too.  No more waking only once or twice to feed.  Now he was up at seemingly random intervals, as many as four or five times a night.  I was forced to admit that the dreaded four month sleep regression was likely upon us.

Then we went on vacation to Maine, although the word "vacation" doesn't really apply when you're stuck with a chronically overtired and overstimulated baby who is thrown into unfamiliar surroundings and is missing half of his usual sleep props.  Only once or twice did we achieve peaceful-baby-napping-under-the-beach-shade status, and more often than not we spent large amounts of time pacing the floor in our tiny beach rental trying to soothe Q for a nap in his Pack 'n Play.   I decided that when we got home, one thing was called for: sleep training.

Of course, because I spent all my money buying a baby because I'm a cheap bastard I wasn't about to actually buy any books on the topic.  All of that shit is on the internet now anyway.  I soon discovered what all of my experienced mom readers probably already know, which is that there are a bunch of techniques and pretty much no one agrees with anyone else except on a few key points.  Namely, that a baby Q's age should only be awake for a maximum of two hours at a time, and that I should be aiming to put him down "drowsy but awake" so that he could learn to fall asleep independently.  Here's what else I learned.

Things I'm doing wrong
  • Letting him stay awake too long
  • Nursing him to sleep
  • Rocking/walking/bouncing him to sleep
  • Getting him to sleep using his swing
  • Getting him to sleep using his stroller
  • Getting him to sleep using any kind of movement whatsoever
  • Taking him into our bed when he wakes at 6am so I can snag an extra hour of sleep
Things I'm doing right
  •  Nothing, basically

In a fit of panic that I'd already screwed Q out of having any kind of normal sleep schedule, I spent the next week trying to fix things.  I established a daytime schedule of feedings, awake time and naps.  I tried to anticipate Q's sleepy times and dashed him upstairs to his nursery at the slightest yawn or eye rub, and often even before then as the magical two hour window of awake time closed.  I refused to nurse before naptime, instead trying to create the elusive "drowsy but awake" state through other soothing techniques like songs and quiet time.  I laid Q down in his crib awake.  I let him fuss a little to see if he'd put himself to sleep, and when he didn't I'd pick him up and soothe him a little and put him back down.  

And my happy little boy, who barely cries at all, started crying with an intensity I'd never seen before.  Not just a few times or for a little while, but essentially any time I walked him into his room and closed his blinds.  It felt like whatever I was doing had basically made him afraid of being put into his crib to sleep, which had never been a problem before.  On top of which, none of it was working anyway!  Forcing him into his crib (instead of his swing or stroller) meant that he was getting maybe 30 minutes of naptime, if he would fall asleep at all.  By the end of one particularly horrible 90-minute nap attempt, M came home to find both of us in tears.  I was frustrated beyond belief and felt like a huge failure as a mother, since I was supposed to be making things better but obviously I was only making them so much worse.

Out of total coincidence, later that same week a local infant program that we attend was having a public health nurse in to speak about baby sleep and routines.  I steeled myself for a huge debate on sleep training techniques, and then asked my question about how to get Q on a better routine and make sure he was getting the sleep he needed.  And do you know what surprised me?  Almost every mom there (many of whom are parents of older babies and hence have been going through this a lot longer than me) said the same thing: just do what works.  If that was the swing, swing away.  If it was the stroller, lace up your sneakers.  The nurse chimed in as well with a comment that struck a chord.  She said to keep in mind that "baby sleep" has become an industry unto itself, so there's a lot of effort put into making parents feel like they need to buy into a specific program to help their child sleep.  And yet no one can agree on exactly how to do it.

It struck me then that for the better part of a couple of weeks I'd been stressing myself out about how Q was getting to sleep rather than focusing on just making sure that he was getting to sleep.  I was so pig-headedly sticking to my schedule that I'd totally stopped watching his cues and just listening to what he needed.  So I quit.  I took Q for a two hour long walk in his stroller the next day, and what do you know...he slept 1.5 hours of it.  We were both a million times happier.  That night, he only woke up once to feed.  It felt like he was thanking me.

I won't say that I won't try sleep training again at some point in the future.  And I've taken some tidbits to heart, including trying to make sure that I get Q down for a nap before he gets overtired, and attempting to put him down drowsy but awake.  If it's not working, I'll switch it up, and just do what works.