Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sleep Training 101

Warning: The following post is super long and grumpy. Oh yeah, and there are no pictures. Read at your discretion.

Despite the encouraging events of the day before, Thursday proved to be quite a challenge and I once again found myself smack in the middle of a wicked bout with the baby blues.

As usual, allow me to preface by saying that Alex is not a fussy baby in general and that grumpy posts like this one are merely an outlet for my stress as well as a way to precipitate interesting conversation. On the contrary, Alex is generally a very happy, healthy, and alert little man. He loves to smile and talk, and lately I find that I have difficulty getting a word in edgewise. He is very aware of things around him and has become more and more deliberate in his actions when it comes to interacting with his surroundings. He is not one of those inconsolable "crybabies" that seems to wail all day every day, with no cause, solution, or end in sight. He has a sensitive stomach that sometimes interferes with his eating and sleeping behaviors, but I would hesitate to label him as "colicky" because he is only fussy when he is sleepy.

That said, we've tried all the traditional methods of getting a baby to sleep, most with little success. Well, allow me to qualify that statement. Many of the methods eventually work to put him to sleep. It's getting him to stay asleep once you lay him down that is the real challenge. Our most reliable and efficient method of inducing sleep is one that I would highly recommend to anyone having issues with fussy babies. The miracle prop I speak of is none other than your run-of-the-mill rubber exercise ball. Freakin' awesome. Alex could be screaming his fool head off and as soon as you sit down on that ball and start bouncing, his chin drops, mouth hangs open, and his little eyeballs roll back into his head. And combine that with the ever-popular baby-butt pat - he cannot resist the magical power of the ball. Although it has been great for getting him to fall asleep, there are times I have sat on that dern ball for hours just to make sure he stays asleep. Like rocking, swaying, patting, and jiggling, it is only effective as long as you are still doing it.

That said, I reached my wits end yesterday after hours of bouncing and patting and holding. There is no "napping when he naps" unless I can perfect the art of balancing on a big rubber ball while asleep and holding a ten and a half pound baby. So I was especially sleepy and crabby. And what does Granny B say? If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

The issue I struggle with the most is how to decide which avenue to follow when dealing with Alex's sleeping issues. I am desperately afraid that the decisions I make today will drastically affect his future attitudes and behaviors, and as such, am having a hard time committing to one philosophy.

There are two very basic schools of thought when it comes to dealing with the whims of a young child. Some practice an attachment technique, which often entails carrying the baby around in a sling, nursing them on demand, and sleeping with them at night. While I'm not theoretically opposed to this philosophy, it doesn't happen to work with my particular child. He is not very fond of the sling, and lately, comfort nursing has become less of a surefire way to keep him happy. At times I have brought him into the bed with me at night, but doing so only for my own convenience. I assume that advocates of cosleeping have children who actually want to sleep with their mother. Mine doesn't want to sleep at all, mother or not, so bringing him into my bed does not seem to curb his distaste for bedtime.

Others advocate some version of the "cry it out" method. Before Alex was born, I was bound and determined that this was the thing for us. I knew it would be hard to let him cry, but I was convinced that it would be best for all of us in the long run. Little did I know how hard it would be once he actually arrived and I had to look at his unhappy face, what with its pitiful chin-bouncing and lip-quivering. As I mentioned in my previous post, we attempted to let him cry it out on a couple of occasions. We discovered that he would cry but that there was no "out" about it. This kid fights sleep like nobody's business. All the books and the wise folks on the internet kept describing these fussy children whose behaviors sounded nothing like the challenges that Alex was presenting. "Just pat him on the belly until he calms down." Uh, right. Alex would no more calm down from a pat on the belly than sprout wings and fly from his crib. In fact, something like patting him on the belly was more likely to send him further into his fit, as if I'm doing it just to taunt him. "Hi baby. Don't mind me, I just came in to watch you cry. And I'm not going to do anything about it. But, I hope this little pat on your belly makes you feel better." I started second-guessing myself and wondering if he was too young for this method. Ultimately, we decided that we would try it again once he had matured a bit.

After pondering these options for hours on end Thursday, I finally decided to phone-a-friend and called my mommy for some reassurance and sympathy. If anyone could relate to my predicament, it was my mama. When I was a difficult child, she often wished me on myself. Now that it seems to have happened, she is feeling guilty and claims she didn't really mean it, or at least, she didn't really think her wish would come true. Despite her guilt, she can't help but giggle when I relate stories of Alex's sleep aversion because she says it's as if I were relating stories of my own infancy. As usual, she gave me lots of sound advice and made me feel much better. She told me not to be so encompassed with what may or may not happen in the future. Just go with my gut and know that any decision I make will be the right one because, well, I'm the mama, and mama's usually right.

And my gut is telling me that it is time to start letting him cry. By now he is two months old and is quite smart, if I do say so myself. Although some will disagree, I fully believe that he is very aware of how to get what he wants and that it will take some tough love to get him to realize that I am the one in charge.

When Alex woke up at 1:30am on Friday and could not be consoled by anything but bouncing on that dadgum ball, I decided it was time to bite the bullet. I brought him into our bed, laid him next to me, and let him cry...

Aside from occasional shushes and pats on the belly - which now do seem to calm him a bit - I kept quiet and still and waited...and waited...Man, the lungs on this kid! Although it is heartbreaking to know your baby is upset and that you are not able - okay, willing - to do anything about it, it just seemed like forcing him to self-soothe was the best solution to his problem. And after about 45 minutes of on and off, he finally calmed down and fell asleep. He still woke up three hours after his previous feeding, but I was nonetheless very encouraged that he actually fell asleep more or less on his own.

I decided that was the beginning of Sleep Training 101 and that the next day we would begin implementing the cry it out rule at naptime and see where that got us...


Oliver said...

Where did it get you, where did it get you??? I'm dying to hear the rest of the story!
Lots of love,

leah said...

Hey he cant help it hes so smart and thinks he deserves all the attention.........he is JUST LIKE HIS DADDY!!!! The mini "chosen one" :)

Amy said...

Although I completely understand what you are going through you may find it encouraging turned out great! You were a wonderful challenge! I've learned so much from you from even before I knew it was you! Have faith that everything you do with love will be the right thing.
Love ya,
Your Momme

Marjorie W. said...

Sarah, have you asked A.'s pediatrician about this? (I'm guessing you probably have but thought I'd throw it out there.) Usually if a baby is happy and smiley most of the day and then the Big Fussy hits at evening time, it's classified as garden-variety colic. Some babies have a form of stomach reflux that I guess would be similar to heartburn or indigestion in big people and that condition can make them very unhappy, too. (I'm remembering stuff from my Dr. Sears baby book here, and you mentioned something about A. having a sensitive stomach.) The cry-it-out thing is working because he's literally wearing himself down. It's good that you stay with him while he does this, even though it's probably ear-splitting and hard to listen to. At least he knows he's crying in a safe place rather than all alone where he can't hear your voice or be near you, KWIM? No sense adding to whatever is freaking him out. One other thing I do remember reading is that some babies are highly sensitive to their environment, i.e. noise, lights, movement, visual stimuli -- in essence, their senses get overstimulated and then they have to fuss to release that stress. I don't know how solid this theory is but it might be worth taking a closer look at what Alex is exposed to on any given day as far as sensory stimulation goes. (BTW, that same article also noted that babies with this tendency tend to have above average IQs and do well in school later on!) I had some sleep deprivation with Baby #3 for the first few weeks and I so sympathize with your frustration. It's true -- when Mama ain't happy, life gets pretty darn scary. Hang in there. This, too, shall pass! (And I agree with your Mom about not worrying about the far future. Just focus on Now and getting some rest yourself.) Alex sure is a cutie-pie!!!!!! Now if he will just keep up with his beauty sleep so he'll stay that way!

Much love,
Cousin Marjorie