Saturday, January 26, 2008

Crying it Out

Molly slept through the night from the time she was 8 weeks old until she was four months old. I'd nurse her to sleep, gently put her in the crib around 9pm and she would sleep until 630 a.m. After the first 8 weeks of no sleep, we had it all figured out.

Once she was four months old things changed. I had anticipated this to a certain extent based on this excellent article on about wakeful 4 month olds. First she started wanting to go to bed at 7:30 p.m. That was great, and was accompanied by a 3 a.m. wake up. I knew she was probably hungry so I had no problem getting up to feed her and put her back to bed until 6:30 a.m.

Then she started waking up at 12:00 a.m too. I figured she was having a growth spurt so I fed her twice in the night without worry.

Then the next she started waking up a third time only 2 hours after she last ate AND not wanting to go back to sleep. On top of that, she stopped wanted to go to bed at all, even with a nice long nursing session. Now we had a problem. The less sleep she got, the fussier she was. The less sleep I got, the less I functioned in all areas of my life. We had not let Molly cry for very long for the first 4 months of life because we felt that developmentally she needed to learn to trust that we would meet her needs and that if we left her we would always come back. I think part of her waking up more at night to play indicated that she had learned that we would come when she called, especially since she was demonstrating her understanding of cause and effect during play. I did not want to let her "cry it out", which is basically a technique of encouraging a child to learn to go to sleep on their own designed by Richard Ferber.

On the other hand, all the "no cry" techniques I tried would induce sleepiness but result in screaming once I laid her in her crib. We even tried putting her in the bed with us one night, which we vowed before she was born we would never do. Molly enjoyed this immensely and grabbed by mouth, rolled around, and stared at me intently, but she did not ever sleep. I was terrified that if we let her cry in her crib for a while that we would damage her, especially if you read what proponents of attachment parenting say. I wanted Molly to start to learn that she was OK when I was not with her at night, and that we would come back as we always did. I read another book that advocated a Cry It Out Method that did not involve going in the room periodically to reassure her. This book had a great deal of research about all the bad things that happen to children who do not get enough sleep. This book was also pretty alarmist, but did point out that my job as a parent was to make decisions that will help her grow and develop and that will sometimes make her unhappy in the short run. Establishing bedtime and naptime routines in an overtired child like mine, will almost always produce crying.

Molly is learning so much about the world and trying so hard to get control of her body so she can do the things she wants to do. When I put her on her tummy, she desperately wants to crawl or manipulate a toy. She also loves that she can do things that we react to. So when it comes time for sleep, even though she is tired, she doesn't want to stop all this learning. As her parents, we have to set limits on that and make sure she gets enough rest. This produces crying, but in the end, she doesn't know what is best for her. That is our job.

So I talked to as many mothers as i could and I asked them when and how they helped their child get enough sleep. I was amazed to learn that they all had done some version of "crying it out". One mother I talked to had 5 children and she said she had done it both ways, but that the child she had not set this firm limit with about sleep, did not ever sleep at night until he was 2 years old when he finally had to do a cry it out sleep training with him. She also told me that it was the hardest thing she had ever done and acknowledged how hard it is to let your baby cry, but that at this point it is the only way for Molly to start to learn that she is OK. My own parents pointed out that since Molly cannot crawl or walk, she may need to cry for a while to expend her extra energy so she CAN sleep. It is recommended that sleep training not be initiated until your baby is at least 4 months old and has doubled their birth weight. I probably would not have considered it at all if I did not see that Molly understood the idea of cause and effect. Babies all develop at different rates, so some babies would not start to show this sign until they are a little older.

So we committed to it for a week. We chose to do more of the check and console method than to leave her in the room without going in until she sleeps. So now I feed her then sing to her a little and put her down. The first night she cried immediately. We let her cry for 15 minutes and then went in and patted her, talked to her and left. This went on for 90 minutes. I got in the shower where I couldn't hear her and let my husband do the consoling. She finally went to sleep and woke up at 5 am for a feeding and went back to sleep until 7 a.m.

The second night she didn't cry for the first 10 minutes, then cried for 50 minutes before falling asleep. We checked on her regularly consoling her a little each time. She slept for 30 minutes then woke up and cried again for 20 minutes before going to sleep until her 4 a.m. feeding. She easily went back to sleep. We noticed her crying was much less intense. It was still so hard for me and I had to et in the shower again.

The third night, she was actually happy when I put her in her crib as she sung to herself for 20 minutes before she started crying. This time she did not solidly cry she would cry on and off more lightly for 45 minutes before she fell asleep. She did wake up once and cry for 5 minutes, but she went back to sleep until 5:45 a.m. when I fed her. She then went right back to sleep until 7: 30 a.m. she is napping better during the day now and is not as fussy and I am better able to get my work done during the day too.

We'll keep at it, but I do think it is working. I think that it is sad that there is so much alarmist talk about different methods of parenting. Each side says the other side is damaging. My mother doesn't recall getting messages like this about parenting. It is really paralyzing when there is some "expert" saying that every other choice is harmful. In the end permissiveness is not parenting, and we all need to be educated about how to assess and respond to the unique developmental needs of our own children. My fears about how to respond to this developmental stage were peaked by everything I read, but the idea that different things work for different children is missing from mainstream parenting literature. What helped me the most was to talk to as many other mothers as I could as long as they were not fanatical about their devotion to a particular parenting dogma. The fanatical books are producing fanatical parents and we need a voice of reason to lead us through the muddle of parenting.

1 comment:

Kacie said...

it is absolutely disgusting to read that you let your daughter cry it out like that! you should have child protectve services called on you for neglect! babies do not know how to "manipulate" you like you think, and crying for 5 mins to them is like you screaming and bawling for 20+ you feel good and refreshed and loved after crying like that? or do you feel tired and weak and exhausted and alone? this is horrible, and if i knew where you lived i would take that baby and hold her and rock her and just give her my love and attention....that is all she needs and wants, and you as her parent, provider and protector should give her that instead of treating her like an enraged animal by staying away, need help!!