On Sleep…..

Why is it that with parenting, everything is so polarizing? Breast or bottle?  Vaccinations?  Discipline?  Sleep? All of it requires that you read so-called expert opinions and feel guilty for choosing either side because the opposing team leaves you doubtful and confused.

I have a ten month old boy who is clearly adorable. (duh)  He’s aware, engaged, well-adjusted, friendly.  When we go out in public, it never fails that someone comments on what a happy baby he is.  What a happy boy, they say.  Or he is such a well-behaved baby.  You are so lucky, blah blah blah.  These compliments are nice, but I can’t help but feel that his temperament is most likely something he was born with and not something I am responsible for.  I was blessed with a laid-back, smiley, easy kid.  And for that I am really grateful.

The one hang-up?  He is ten months old and he doesn’t really sleep through the night.  At all. And by that I mean that I feed him once or twice (and maybe occasionally three times) between the hours of 7pm and 6am.  It is highly unusual if we wake up in this house with a full night of sleep.  Like in the past 5 months, it’s happened maybe 3 times.  The truth is, I don’t necessarily care all that much.  I stumble in his room when he cries, I feed him, I stumble back to my bed and return to sleep.  After 10 months of breastfeeding, he’s got it down and he’s a fast eater, so the whole process takes maybe 6 or 7 minutes.  That’s it.  Where I am concerned is when I tell people this, and they look horrified or say that their baby slept all night at 7 weeks old.  Or if someone is telling me about these terrible sleep problems she is having, and later in the conversation, I discover that she means her baby actually needs a midnight feeding and this hasn’t happened since month 3 or something.  Most of all, I worry that this won’t go away on its own and I will end up with a toddler with massive sleep disorders and learning disabilities or something and that it will be all my fault for not “sleep training” him so that he gets proper rest. Oh, mommy guilt.  Gets you every time.



I’ve read it all.  When Jude was about 16 weeks old, he was up at night more than he was asleep.  I was working full-time as a teacher of 150 high school students, and I was getting up every hour and a half with a crying baby at night.  I simply could not function.  I read Ferber’s book (or the chapters that applied to us anyway), and I thought I did “cry it out.”  I say thought because in hindsight, it was “simmer it down” more so than cry.  He whimpered off and on for maybe 30 minutes at a time throughout that first night, and then he gradually stopped.  After that, he slept through the night (well till 4am which is good enough for us and a vast improvement at that time), and I really thought CIO was torturous but a miracle solution.  In hindsight, I am at least happy that Ferber’s book taught me that I don’t have to immediately respond to every little whimper and I can give my baby time to soothe himself.

Then came a bad cold, and really….. what heartless woman can leave her sick baby crying?…. so of course I was up with him for that.  Soon after that came the insane growth spurt he had at 5-6 months where he’d eat hungrily and gained a ton of length and weight to prove it.  So after that we settled in to a pattern of one feeding at about 3am.  He goes to bed at 7pm, so this is 8 hours, and I really didn’t think it was that bad.  Sometimes he’ll get me up at midnight as well, but he seems hungry as he eats, so I am at a loss as to how I can say no.

The past few weeks, he was having nap time woes (as in NOT NAPPING AT ALL).  I quickly realized that daytime sleep is where I gained my sanity, not overnight sleep, and I couldn’t take it anymore.  Three other moms I trust shared their love for this book.  I tore through the book as soon as I got it, and the daytime nap solutions are really working for us already, so all is well you’d think, right?  Except that as I read, I am again struck with the what is wrong with my baby questions when I read about nighttime sleep.  He certainly does not fit the profile of a kid with sleep disorders of any kind.  He cries, eats quickly, goes right back to sleep, but I can’t help but think that he “should” be able to sleep all night.

So here are my questions – Should I be worried?  What are the chances that I am establishing something awful that will need to be amended when he’s older?  “Should” he be soothing himself back to sleep at this age without the food I provide for him?  How do I know if he is genuinely hungry?  Most importantly, be honest with me, what ages were your children when they really, truly, reliably slept through the night?  Did they do it on their own, or did you do something to help them along?

I know Ferber says to cry it out, but when we tried that (a second time and for real this time) for naps and bedtime not long ago,  it only left Jude feeling panicked and HATING his bed and left me feeling frazzled and guilty.  I know that works for some children, but I also know that crying increases levels of cortisol and in some babies (mine included, in my opinion) that only leads to a terrible hyper-alert kind of state that is anything but conducive to sleep. I cannot handle crying for longer than around an hour.  I know that Ferber and Weissbluth say that you really have to let them get it all out, no matter how long it takes.  They also say if the crying episode leads to vomiting, you go in the child’s room, silently clean him up, and lay him back down in the crib.  I know as a parent, I am supposed to set perameters for my child and enforce rules, but that is so so so not instinctual for me, I just can’t be that much of a hard-ass.  I also don’t like thinking of “training” my child to sleep like he’s a dog or something.  I wonder if sleeping is a developmental milestone like rolling over or walking and perhaps I shouldn’t rush it.  On the other end of the spectrum, I adore Sears on basic baby care and discipline, but I also know women who follow his ideas exclusively and they have 3-year-old children who still nurse often and need their attention at all hours.  That might be fine for some families, but I simply cannot do it, and I want Jude to have an independent spirit as well.  I know mothers who follow either model (Ferber or Sears) stringently and have children who seem less than happy and thriving.  I also know families who follow these plans stringently and have seemingly perfect kids.  To each his own.

If I have learned anything these past few months it is that you are the best mother you can be when you are authentic and are doing what feels right for you and your family. My problem is that neither of these extremes or ideas seems right for us.  None of them have worked.

So mamas, what do you do to get your little ones to stay asleep?  Is there a golden ticket?  Do I wait it out till he’s ready or take a more active approach to prevent further problems?  Cautionary tales?  I’m all ears.

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14 thoughts on “On Sleep…..

  1. Tami

    So, this will be a book….but you asked for details and I want to give you everything that worked for us. 🙂

    I read Babywise. I honestly cannot remember all that it said, but I do remember totally disagreeing with a lot of the book, but kept many of the ideas as well.

    The biggest part of what I took from the book was a daily schedule/routine. Caleb thrived on waking at the same time each day, scheduled feedings, etc. With that, Caleb slept through the night around 13 weeks , I think. When I say that, I mean he went to bed around 7:30, I would wake him up around 10 or 11 to nurse him (just in case he really WAS hungry) and then he would sleep until about 6. When I returned to work, his routine changed and he began waking up once to eat and then would go back to bed for the rest of the night. At about 4 months old, I stopped waking him up before I went to bed. (and he would sleep straight through the night most nights, waking around 6) It didn’t last long because I also started to work when he was 4 months old. The once a night feeding turned into twice a night a few weeks after I started. At 6 months old, he then started to wake three times a night to eat. Like you said with Jude, he would quickly go right back to sleep after about a 5 minute feeding. I didn’t mind once a night because it was so fast from start to finish, but three times got to be too much. I was tired, he was tired, Stephen was tired and we were all getting short tempers. I talked to his doctor at a WBV and he told me that Caleb was of a good weight, was growing well and I no longer needed to feed him in the middle of the night because he gets plenty of food during the day. At 6 months old, I did what I said I would never do. I did the “real” CIO.

    I never had a problem putting him to bed. It was just the middle of the night wakings that were a problem. *I* created the bad habit of him needing ME to fall back to sleep. He needed to learn to soothe himself.

    The first night was pure HELL! If you do decide to follow what I did, Scott will totally have to be on board. Because I was nursing, I could NOT go in the room to soothe him because he would smell my milk and go even more nuts. (This was KEY to CIO being successful for us!) Night one, he woke up, Stephen went in, changed his diaper and said it was time for bed. Of course, Caleb cried. We let him cry for 5 minutes, then Stephen went back in patted him on the head, gave him a kiss and said it was time to sleep. Repeat at 10 minutes, 15 minutes, etc. I will say that Caleb did not cry the entire time, but there was definitly a lot of tears. (on his part and mine! I hated to hear him cry!) This lasted for 3-4 hours. (yes, it was horrible!) At one point, I figured he really may be thirsty from all the crying, so we gave him a bottle of water…which he wanted nothing to do with! We had another episode after that stretch but it didn’t last as long. The next morning we were all tired and I just hoped and prayed we had done the right thing.

    Night two. I made sure to be extra quiet and just waited for another night of tears. Sure enough, he woke up in the middle of the night. Stephen went in after 5 minutes and Caleb settled down. We held our breath and waited to go back in. RIght at 10 minutes, before Stephen went in to soothe, he fell asleep. I knew he would be up any minute, so I went ahead and pumped, just knowing I would have to get up. Only, he never woke back up! Hours passed! He did wake up one more time that night and cried for a few minutes, but we didn’t have to go in there.

    Night three. Woke up once crying. We never had to go in.

    Night 4….slept from 7:30pm – 7:30 am. He has continued that sleeping pattern ever since. (He does go to bed a little bit later now, but still sleeps through the night.) We even made it through 2 year molars with a sound sleeper! That is a huge victory!

    I know CIO is not for everyone. I also know that it worked so well for us. Two nights of bad sleep were SOOOOOO totally worth it. It hasn’t messed with my little buddies head at all! He is the same happy baby, ok big boy, as he always has been. Even the first day of doing CIO, he was totally happy and laid back…like he didn’t even remember it happening.I know many families who have tried CIO, and they also got quick results. At 10 months, Jude should probably no longer need middle of the night feedings. Of course, I am not a doctor. Definitly check with your doctor before starting the process….but I am pretty sure it would be totally fine. I also know a lot of families with children Caleb’s age – almost three years old – who still do not sleep through the night. Some of them are totally against CIO, and others have tried other forms. I do know that no child will go to college unable to go to sleep by themselves, so you will find something that will work for you and your family… I promise! 🙂

    PS…..HOW is Jude getting so big! He is just precious, but he is supposed to be tiny still!

    1. I know! He’s so big, and time is flying too fast.

      I appreciate your sharing all of this, Tami. It’s refreshing to hear so many different perspectives. I think if I can get to the point of complete exhaustion or frustration, I could probably CIO. My problem now is that I don’t mind it so much since his feedings are so fast, and I seem to wimp out on CIO or not want to deal with all that in this case. I only worry that, like you said, he will be 3 years old and a terrible sleeper because I never did it. I do occasionally let him cry for small periods of time – especially to get a nap in when I can tell he needs one. I’m hoping that will help foster a little independence and avoid any major problems in the future. Maybe? Let’s hope so. 🙂

  2. This childless woman has nothing to say other than you have the most adorable child ever. When did he get so big?! Love you Katie Mae. Hope things work out soon.

  3. Ahhhh, sleep. I am certainly far from having all the answers, but I will share what my experience has been with my three little ones so far. For me, it seems, sleep has a lot to do with a child’s personality. My oldest slept amazingly as a baby. In fact, all my kids slept really well in the early months. And when their personalities started to manifest (like 3-4 mos) they became very different. Kai stopped being a great sleeper at about 6 months. After that it was always a fight. And when she gave up naps at 18 months I thought I would lose my mind. So, imagine my surprise when Ivy fell asleep in her bed alone at the age of 6 months while I was busy calming her sister down in the other room. The first time Ivy fell asleep with no patting, begging, or coercing I actually thought something might be wrong with her. Even today at the age of 4 she can fall asleep anywhere. In fact, she just fell asleep this past Sunday in the cart at Harry’s.

    Traveler seems to be going the route of his oldest sister. I have to pat him down to get him to nap. And many nights he wakes up at least once. That is unless he sleeps in bed with us in which case he sleeps all night with no problems. You can imagine that it is a tempting solution most nights.

    My approach has been to just acknowledge that these kids are all different and require different approaches. What works for Ivy doesn’t work for Kai and vice versa. And no good can come from comparing them so never let anyone bait you into comparing your child’s developmental milestones with theirs. When it comes down to it kids and adults aren’t all that different. Some sleep really well. Others need less sleep or have a harder time getting to sleep. I have a feeling that sleeping is much like temperament or personality in that you’re born with a tendency toward a certain sleep habit.

    As far as sleep training, I wimped out on CIO. I lean more toward the co-sleeping mentality though I think my kids all need their own beds to sleep in most nights and certainly cherish the nights I get to sleep in a child-free bed. I guess my only advice would be to take your cues from Jude. I’m far from being an expert, but I would find it hard to imagine that he’ll be 7 years old and incapable of sleeping through the night because you allowed him to nurse a couple times a night at this age. Kai is the child I brought into bed with me the most when it came to middle of the night crying and for the most part she sleeps well every night now. And I doubt anyone who meets her would accuse her of being anything less than independent. I’d say if none of the extremes work well for you then mix and match ideologies until you find a combination that works.

    Bottom line, if you have an intuitive feeling about how to handle (or not actively handle) Jude’s sleeping habits I say go with it. And don’t worry too much about ruining his future sleep habits by soothing him through a rough patch. You are the mama. Trust yourself to do what you know is right for your little one! : )

  4. Anna

    It is very ironic that I found your website today and this is my first update……I have had a really rough go of sleep with my first (and only) child. He didn’t sleep through the night until he was 15 months!!!! I was a mess. My husband works full time, carried a pretty heavy stress load at work and I was nursing so I have never leaned on him at all for nighttime help.

    My son would wake every hour some nights but always 3-4 times a night. We followed Ferber at 6 months and got him down to only 2 (and I would still nurse at both those wakings). Then my in laws came who were comepletely againste CIO at all so we reverted back to every hour. When they left (at 10 months), we resumed CIO and it was harder than the first time. He was older and more stubborn. He cried every night for two weeks when he would go down the first time, middle of the night got better but it was all rough and I couldn’t handle so much crying. Finally I started changing my approach and would go in, lay him back down, give him the binkie, and cover him up, if he cried, I’d rub his back briefly then leave my hand on his back til he settled in, then I’d leave. After a week of that, I would just put my hand on his back and not rub, until he settled down, gradually I was able to just give him the binkie, recover him and leave. Then he slept through the night!!!!! Yippee!!!! We still have a few set backs here and there but his nights are way better and 99% of the time he sleeps 8-7, his naps are way better and he is a happier, less cranky child.

    I would agree that every child is different and the approach has to fit your family. I do know several people who have 3-5 year olds who still don’t sleep well because they have never done any kind of sleep training. I also know several people whose kids slept well in the beginning and had major set backs later! So I think it is worthy of something but you have to decide which route to go. Soothing themselves is a big accomplishment. I hope this helps.

    1. Thanks for your story, Anna. It makes me feel better (more normal?) that he doesn’t sleep all night yet and it reminds me that there are lots of ways to help a child sleep. For you, comforting him in small ways worked best, and it wasn’t a strict plan. Thanks for telling me this. I guess in the grand scheme of things, 10 months (or 15!!) is a small part of my life. 🙂

  5. breanne

    You said you wanted an honest opinion, I hope you don’t regret asking 🙂 My way is probably not right, definitely not better, but it’s my way.

    The way I looked at the first year was from a professional stand point. A new brain is like a damaged brain. When I am educating families on strategies for taking care of their brain injured family members, I preach schedule, consistency, and boundaries. An immature, primitive brain needs little stimulation, a routine, and direction. I decided between my work schedule and a husband that works six 12 hour days, I had to have a schedule that would give direction to my child’s primitive brain, give me some sanity, and allow for flexibility so Carter could learn adaptability.

    Like Tami, my pediatrician highly encouraged Ferber’s CIO. After reading the book, I learned she was right-it is not torture or mean, it is progressive waiting. Carter gets all the emotional reassurance he needs without being picked up. His pediatrician also said it is the only proven sleep strategy with long standing results. She also told me after 12 lbs, there is no reason to feed him at night. Night-time is for sleeping, not eating.

    I too ‘didn’t mind’. Carter might be my only child, so what if I hold him or rock him in the middle of the night. I liked him needing me. Then I realized what I was doing. I liked to be needed and I noticed the lack of boundaries were bleeding into other areas as well. So at 15 weeks, one night of crying for about 15 minutes, and we have been sleeping ever since. Unlike Tami, he does wake up when he’s teething or sick, but I’ll take it once a month or so.

    Now we are doing CIO all over again to initially fall asleep at night. He always fell asleep nursing. When I weaned him, he also went down to one nap, so he was exhausted by bed time. For the last 2 months, he has needed 1 more book, or he wants to cuddle. It was sweet at first. But 10 minutes turned into 90 some nights. I told myself all over again how I didn’t mind. If I didn’t really mind, why was it on my mind so much and why was I relieved when he went to sleep in 10 min vs 60 min? Obviously, I was gaining something by playing martyr otherwise I would have done this a long time ago.

    If it is weighing on your mind, and you are worried about it, maybe it isn’t working for you. My pediatrician has a son a few months older than Carter. She couldn’t do CIO. So her husband and mother did it. You need to get some sleep. Jude will still smile at you everyday, give you hugs and kisses, and think you hung the moon regardless if you feed him at night or not. You can’t nurse him forever. He only has 10 months of a memory now. Old habits are indeed hard to break.

    And, if you want to keep with your current soothing strategy, who cares? Jude isn’t going to go to college with a boob in his mouth (well, not yours at least :)) Jude is your baby. You get to decide what to do and how to do it. Nobody else gets to make that decision.

    1. Breanne – Thanks for responding! I love that I have received so many comments on what works for all of these different moms. First of all, maybe we should just get Carter and Jude to spend time together…..Jude goes down awake without a sound and puts himself to sleep (even when I am gone from the house) but wakes to eat, and Carter has just the opposite tendencies. 🙂 They should educate each other.

      I don’t necessarily take issue with CIO as a philosophy; I just don’t think it’s right for ALL families. It seemed to work for Jude at 5 months when he “whimpered it out,” but when we tried again last month (simply because I felt like a bad mom for having a night-waking son when everyone else’s sleeps), he only progressed to far, far worse over the course of the 3 days rather than better. Yes, I gave up after 3 days, but when Ferber claims it works in around 4 and it was making matters worse for us, I jumped ship because I felt it wasn’t right for our family. For J, after 3 days of “Ferberizing” at 9 months, he’d scream and cry at the SIGHT of his crib and stopped putting himself to sleep as he’d always done. I know Ferber says in the book that it works faster for some kids than for others, so I should buck up and be in it for the long haul, but hour after hour of J standing and screaming feels like the opposite of my intuition, and nothing good has ever come from my ignoring my gut or my heart.

      Again – I have no doubt it works really well for many, many families. But even in this small forum 3 people have had different experiences with it. Tami’s worked like a charm, but I know Carter still wakes occasionally to test the waters. Anna found that soothing more than Ferber suggests worked better than his exact plan. For me, it worked at a certain age and then was disastrous. I’ll never say never, and who knows if we attempt it yet again one day, but I just know it’s not the solution that is working best for us at this stage of the game.

  6. every kid is different, yeah, yeah, yeah you probably hear that a lot, but do what your gut tells you, throw out all the books and everything and just go with your gut. our mothers didn’t have as much parenting advice and we turned out okay, then again you shouldn’t listen to anything I say, my babies were both stomach sleepers and we let them sleep that way from the beginning.

    1. Thanks for commenting! So true, Sarah. The thing that gets me is that BOTH sides of every issue have research to back them up, so in the end I do just follow my gut, but I feel a little guilty about that since a lot of moms view sleep patterns as reflective of discipline or something.

      By the way – My friend’s mom is a L&D nurse, and she recently attended a training seminar on how to prevent SIDS. They said the most recent research shows the 2 best things you can do are breastfeed and have a fan in the room to keep the air circulating. Makes you wonder what sleep recommendations will be in another generation or 2. 🙂

  7. I didn’t have anxiety with Hope’s sleep schedule, but I did with potty training. She wasn’t potty trained until she was nearly four. I had many of the same anxieties as you and then my mom told me “they’ll shame her out of it in college.” I knew at some point in time Hope would be potty trained, she wasn’t going to start college at 18 in pull-ups.

    This too shall pass! I think we Moms are just hard on ourselves.

  8. I don’t have any advice, just wanted to let you know that you are not alone. One of my first blog posts was the restless night syndrome and I did a daily video post of trying to transition Zion out of my bed and into the crib at 11 months. He is now almost three. He sleeps in his own bed, but it is an ongoing battle! We have had a good streak lately, but on a bad night he might fight sleep for hours and go to bed at 1:00 am! Sometimes I feel like I need more sleep than he does. He always been this way.

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