Sleep and self-sufficiency

August 11, 2008

Kimberley writes:

Tonight my husband and I had our first near-fight regarding the ongoing saga of getting our 14-month-old daughter to sleep better. Thus far we’ve pretty much been on the same page (we were both happy co-sleepers back when co-sleeping seemed to work), although I’ve suspected that he was more comfortable with crying-it-out (CIO) as a sleep strategy.  Now it seems we might be heading toward heated discussion, as I am unwilling to accept CIO.
 
Our daughter has never been a terrific sleeper. She did pretty well with co-sleeping in the beginning, but typically woke a couple of times a night.  I chalked it up to her being so young, to nursing, to her needing us to soothe her, etc. I weaned her much earlier than I had planned (6 months) in an attempt to break her of all-night nursing (she refused to nurse consistently during the daytime, but more than made up for it at night). Though the weaning helped a bit, the bottle remained a very big crutch until just a month or so ago. At 9 months, we began putting her to sleep (with the bottle, rocking, singing, walking about, and, if all else failed, lying down with her for awhile), then placing her in her crib (located in our bedroom). She was usually asleep at the time she was placed in the crib, though sometimes she might be drowsy and quickly drift off on her own. Although she might wake a couple of times (sometimes for milk, sometimes not), she would go back down with minimal comforting. With this pattern, we typically put her in bed with us if she woke anytime after 3am or so (which occurred on most nights).
 
Over the last few months, things have become far less predictable.  She fights going to sleep, and sometimes won’t settle for anything but her swing (which, fortunately for us, goes up to 35 pounds!).  Regardless if she goes to sleep with little fuss or needs the swing, she has been waking at least a few times overnight.  This has been so tiring for us, that she is typically in bed with us by 12 or 1am (when I come to bed after working on my dissertation), though she remains restless even while co-sleeping. Sometimes it takes her over 30 minutes or more to go back to sleep. She might take a few sips of water, then I’ll put her back between my husband and me. Though I might rub her back a bit and sometimes have to stop her from trying to sit or stand up, I generally leave her to put herself back to sleep.
 
The husband and I are now considering our next move(s). We’ve thought about moving her to her own room now, though I’m not sure how she will handle sleeping in what she’s come to think of as her playroom.  And, as indicated above, we’ve begun to talk about CIO. The funny thing is that over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been able to get her to fall asleep in her crib by herself for naps during the day. Whereas before I might rock her or place her in her swing (then transfer her to the crib after she’s fallen asleep), I’ve been trying to catch her just as she gets tired and place her in the crib. To my utter surprise, she’s generally been going to sleep without me with very minimal fuss (usually a tiny bit of whining). I’m not sure if I should keep working on the naps, then eventually try putting her down at night alone. I can live with a little whining, but cannot tolerate what I call her “hysterical cry.” There seem to be so many variables at play that I don’t know where to begin–the swing dependency, (partial) co-sleeping, an exceedingly spirited, active, but good-natured baby who is unaccustomed to crying much at all (and thus very quickly devolves into hysterical crying), the foreignness of her own bedroom, etc. 

You’ve made one thing very clear and that is that you are unwilling to accept Cry It Out methods. Just remember your conviction on this. It seems to me that if you gave in and tried it, you just wouldn’t feel right about it. It’s really tricky getting kids to sleep once they’ve learned to fight it and can sense that there just might be something more interesting to do than settle down into blissful slumber.

The naps sound very promising at the moment, so I would go with that. Can you build in a little routine that she would learn to associate with going to sleep, such as read a book, close the curtains, sing a song, it doesn’t really matter what as long as it’s the same. Then when you feel the time is right, you can replicate this routine at night to try and get the message across.

If you want to move her to her room, she may not be too pleased at first, but actually kids are on the whole quite adaptable and if you persevere for a few weeks you might find it goes ok. The main thing is to realise she would probably need some extra reassurance during this time, so there might be a lot of sitting with her trying to help her to sleep in her own environment.

It’s a difficult transition (probably more so for the parents), but I think if you take baby steps in the direction you decide, with sensitivity, slowly slowly, your gorgeous happy, confident little girl will be able to take this step.

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At 14 months, would you?

March 26, 2008

Colleen writes:

I am grappling with a near 8 month old who is deeply entrenched in the need to nurse to sleep, has super spidey where is mommy sense, and well, gets me up too many times in the night. He naps brilliantly twice daily but we get a three hour stretch maybe onceevery 2 nights, and otherwise it’s up every 1.5 hours.

It sucks, as you know, but I am staying home with him now and can somewhat afford to be groggy. When he is 13-14 months, however, I am starting grad school in a program that is very very demanding–neourscience, dissecting cadavers, and lots of physics probs in the first semester. The director of the program tried to intimidate me out of coming because a student with a three month old dropped out last year after a month (not fair, not cool, but she is the boss).

Obviously, you don’t know me or my kid, but can you give me an idea of how rested and ready to cope with life you felt at 13-14 months? It would be a big help to me in psyching up to go or maybe making a big decision to take another year and consider a program that is not going to try to scare me off.

Colleen, RESPECT going out to you for deciding to study neuroscience. This post is really tricky for me to answer, because at the end of the day, the real answer is IT DEPENDS. And I think it depends primarily on 3 things.

1. Your child.

I have to say that my 14 months old is a hell of a lot easier than my 8 month old was. Remarkably easier. But that doesn’t mean he’s a sleeping dream, or isn’t difficult at times, but it does mean that most of the time I’m not a walking zombie anymore. Your child is probably the aspect of this that you can least control, but I’d say working towards some kind of sleeping plan, slowly, slowly, so that you might envisage some kind of sensible blocks of sleep towards 14 months might be useful. That said, there are times when no sleep plans work and a kid just needs their mommy, so go with your gut instinct on what your kid can handle.

2. You

There are still going to be some sleepless nights, some tantruming episodes, some throwing food on the walls, some near-concussion falls (hopefully not too many) and to some extent I think it comes down to the personal question of how you balance the committments in your life. If you have to front up to dissect a cadaver after being up all night with a fever-y toddler, will you cope okay? I like to think sometimes that we do what we have to do and we get through, but I still tend to think we should try to maintain a modicum of sanity in the process.

3. Outside help

I think this is the most crucial aspect. How much support/babysitting/childcare/emotional support etc you will have at your disposal. If the people around you are incredbily supportive and you have good childcare arrangements, this could really make all the difference.

I’m sorry I can’t look into my crystal ball and tell you whether your child will be an easy or difficult 14 month old (and whether you’ll be getting much sleep). In my experience, yes, I’m getting more sleep, and yes, it’s a lot easier generally. But do I feel like embarking on a neuroscience degree? No. But then I never did without kids either!

Go for it Colleen.