Puck & Pearl
If you’ve read my previous posts about sleep, you know that I deliberated quite a bit as to wether to try some of the cry it out methods to aid in A’s sleep. Eventually, I always came back to the same thought/feeling: that my main goal at this early stage of A’s life was to form a loving and trusting bond with him. Letting him cry seemed to contradict that goal and undermine my efforts. So, finally, I decided to firmly stand on the side of “NOT” letting A cry it out.
My father, the pediatrician, reminded me repeatedly that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against responding to baby’s every cry at night, and advocates sleep training. Otherwise, my father warned, your child will wake up repeatedly through the night to see if you are there (especially as your child is developing OBJECT PERMANENCE, the understanding that even when an object is not in full view, it exists).
And he was right. A went through a period (between 9-12 months) of waking up frequently through the night and crying, as though to check to see that we were still there. We responded each time in a similar manner: either my husband or I (or sometimes both of us, much to everyone else’s amusement) would rush to soothe him. Again, we stood firm on wanting to convey a sense of trust in us, even if it meant going in there 100 times.
Teaching the skill of “going back to sleep on your own” was something that I felt A would be ready for at a later stage. At this early age, the first year of life, I felt like the greatest gift I could give him was my unconditional love, and my presence (not a teaching about falling asleep). So we continued to stay firm- My husband was in total agreement with me, which helped the process along, especially in light of everyone’s impression that we were doing it wrong.
Conveying our caring support became even more critical after A’s younger sister was born when he was only 12 months old. We did not want him to feel abandoned suddenly. Our solution was to put a mattress down on the floor by his crib in case one of us needed to go in to sooth A during his night time awakening.
And then the miraculous happened. When A would wake up in the middle of the night, my husband would go into his room, take him out of the crib and then lay down with him on the mattress. We noticed that after that point in the night, A would sleep soundly (no more waking up), even if my husband left him there to sleep alone. So why not just start out putting him on the mattress and then skip the step of putting him in his crib? And that’s what we did. At that point, A started sleeping through the night on his own on the mattress beside his crib (around 13 months).
What happened? My father said that it’s unheard of…it can’t happen. But it happened. And we did nothing different from what we had previously done. We continued to cuddle with A to sleep, and then we would leave him to sleep the rest of the night on his own. And night by night he would surprise us by sleeping through….11 hours straight.
The original idea which motivated me was a psychological one: to make sure that my baby felt secure in the knowledge that I would always be there for him at night. The goal was to instill in him a sense of trust that he would eventually internalize to the point of no longer needing to check to see if I was there.
But, honestly, I think that A sleeping through the night was purely a biological phenomenon. Even as I watch my younger baby, M, struggle to fall asleep or maintain sleep between cycles, I realize that sleep is not easy for very young babies. Being able to easily go from one (45-minute) sleep cycle to the next is not something that babies do without help. It seems absurd then to expect them to put themselves to sleep. At some point that changes, a baby grows up, and his brain is more easily able to sustain longer sleep.
Despite the success story of A’s sleeping through the night, we still have another sleep dilemma: it takes A about an hour to go to sleep and he does rely on one of us to be in the room! This is something that people who have used the Ferber or other CIO methods do not have to deal with. I will write more on this later.