Before Gini was born, I was certain I wasn’t going to co-sleep. Certain I was going to sleep train her as soon as appropriate. Sure, co-sleeping is what my mother, my grandmother and all the mothers before her had done but it was time for a change. How could I go into a practice knowing it could be so ‘dangerous’ for my baby? So I got the crib, a breathable mattress, and waterproof linen ready for her arrival.
Then, Gini was born. Her birth changed almost everything I had decided to do. The day I brought her home was a cold, rainy day. How could my baby sleep in her crib without the warmth of her mother? Also, I hadn’t yet become comfortable with breastfeeding and found it easiest when we were both lying down. That night, like many, many nights afterwards, the crib lay empty and neglected while Gini snuggled up with me and breastfed every time she woke up.
This continued for 11 months. Longer than I had supposed initially. In these 11 months, I had to overlooked many a stern glances from the pediatrician every time Gini’s sleeping arrangements were brought up. But around the time Gini was 9 months old, I began to realize being in bed with me wasn’t making her sleep better any longer. On the contrary, every time I as much as moved my arms or feet, every squeak the bed made, every snore her daddy let out was waking her up. Gini is a sensitive little one and all these interruptions at night were making her very cranky in the mornings.
By then, I knew co-sleeping had had its time and we, as a family, were ready to move into the next phase. But knowing something is not the same as implementing it. Both Gini and I got crankier by the day but come bedtime, we fell into the tried and tested nursing and rocking to sleep routine.
Months passed. Just before Gini turned 11months old, we met up with her doctor again to discuss a few things and he gave Gini a thorough checkup. He insisted we consider putting her to sleep in her crib for her own sake as she definitely needed more sleep than she was getting. He wrote down the number of a sleep trainer he patronized and gave us a clean bill to try out the method. “It can change your lives,” he said. I walked out with the number in my pocket, not sure what to do. Of course I wanted her to sleep and wanted more sleep for myself. But was I willing to try something so different from what we were doing? Was she really ready? The question that I was actually asking was, was I ready?
I started researching. I read about different sleep training methods, weighing their pros and cons. At last, I decided to take the plunge without the help of a sleep trainer. I felt I could do it better since I knew Gini through and through and would never let Gini cry distressed which might be difficult to do if we had an ‘authority’ at home telling us otherwise. I also decided to merge a few existing methods and came up with a plan keeping her individual needs in mind.
Did it work? Was I successful? Here’s what happened during the first week of our sleep training experiment:
Day 1 (May 6th, 2016)
Unexpected start. We had meant to buy a baby monitor and start sleep training from the 7th. But on the night of the 6th, as daddy went in to rock Gini, she began fussing and fighting sleep. Twenty minutes later, I heard daddy tell her, “If you have to fight sleep, do that in your crib. I can’t do this.” With this, he huffed out of the room. As soon as he put her in the crib, she let out a loud wail and I went rushing in, picked her up, hugged her and got ready to nurse her when a thought occurred to me suddenly. Why don’t I try what I am going to try tomorrow anyway? And there and then, a decision was made. I kissed her, said, “Sssshhhh, you are okay, mummy is right here with you, mummy loves you” and put her down. I started rubbing her back and repeating sssshhh. Things only got worse. She is not used to mummy being around but not picking her up when she is upset. My poor baby was confused and frustrated. But I repeated to myself, this is for the good of everyone. Learning to sleep is a vital life skill. After rubbing her back for 3-4 mins, I moved a few steps away from her crib. I wasn’t touching her anymore but I was very close to her so as not to make her feel abandoned. I kept up with the ssshhhh. After 2 or 3 mins (I didn’t really time all this), I moved a few steps further, stood by the door and kept up with the ssshhhh. I didn’t linger here too long and moved out of her room. That’s when I checked my watch. It read 9:01pm. I had gone in at 8:54pm.
Those 7 minutes felt like 7 lifetimes.
She was at her peak. I went in again after 3 minutes at 9:04pm and put her down (she was standing up). “You are okay darling, mummy is here”, I said and walked out. I went back after 5 minutes at 9:09pm, did and said the exact same things before walking out. As I shut the door this time, the cries had lost steam. The peak was gone. She was whimpering. Every few seconds, she shrieked but went back to the soft cries. It killed me not to have a baby monitor. I resisted my urge to pop back in as I knew she was doing what I needed her to do and having me around would only get her riled up again. At 9:20pm, she was quiet. I went in to find her asleep but in a reclining position so I picked her up and lay her down. This woke her but I couldn’t have just let her sleep like that. I walked out immediately. At 9:22pm, I went in again hearing no sound and this time again, found her reclining. I gently picked her up and lay her down and this time, she didn’t stir. She was asleep. I came out, expecting to hear her wake up. Till about 10pm, I was on the edge expecting it. But it didn’t happen. She stayed asleep. Again, I went in and stood there, watching my little baby sleep. My heart had broken into smithereens but at least, she was sleeping! I adjusted the covers, switched off the dim lights and left, feeling jubilant and dreading the night ahead.
She woke up at 12:50am (3 and 1/2hours) and two more times before waking up for the day at 7. I nursed her all three times as I couldn’t go cold turkey on her in one night.
Gini fought and resisted the first nap of the day despite being extremely drowsy. As a result, she was very irritable by afternoon. To avoid getting her overtired, I put her to her crib early at 7:20pm and prepared for lots of crying but surprise! No crying at all. Very mellows whimpers, the kind I have never heard from Gini. When I went in at 7:25pm, I found her asleep. But again, she was sitting and sleeping so I lay her down. Thankfully, it didn’t wake her up. She woke up briefly at 8:40pm. I went in once to lay her down. Again no crying. Only whimpers. She went back to sleep in 10 minutes. Woke up at 11:30pm with a soiled nappy. Changed and put her in her crib. She played by herself this time for half an hour before falling asleep.
But I did a booboo. I woke up at around 3:30am and out of habit, put my hand over hoping to snuggle Gini. I panicked when I didn’t find her and screamed. She was sleeping peacefully in her crib and my loud scream woke her up and she cried. So I brought her to bed with me and we snuggled for four hours till we woke up for the day at 8:00am 🙈
Put her in her crib at exactly 8. Not a peep! Went to check at 8:15 anyway and found her fast asleep on her tummy. She woke up at 2:45, went back to sleep within 5 mins. No crying only a little fussing. Then up for the day at 10 past 7.
Again went to bed at 8:01 without a peep. Didn’t stir till 1:50am and soothed herself back to sleep in 5 mins. Woke up at 4:00am. I went in, stroked her cheek, lay her down and she was asleep in less than 5mins. She woke up again just after 5:00 am. By then, I was too tired so I brought her to bed with me. I felt terrible doing it. It felt as if I was undoing all the good of the last few days. We woke up for the day at quarter past eight.
After the night before, I was not feeling too hopeful about this sleep training experiment. I know the books talk about a mid-week regression. They also say one must persevere for a week at the very least but I was beginning to get hopeful of an early success. Ah well. Gini went to sleep at 7:49pm and was asleep fairly quickly. Perhaps in 5-7 minutes. There was no crying but a bit of fussing. Woke up at 12:00am and settled herself to sleep with minimal effort. Woke up again at 6:00am. This time I fed her and put her back. She was asleep within 5 minutes of putting down. When I went in to rearrange her blanket, I found her sleeping in a reclining position. I tried to lay her down properly but she woke up. This time, for good, much to my dismay. I needed one more hour of sleep 😭
Put her to bed at 8:00pm. Though she didn’t wail or cry out, her protests today were louder than the last few days. Today was the first day of us using the baby monitor and I saw her pacing up and down in her crib, occasionally protesting till about 8:25pm after which she settled down and fell asleep. Both her naps today were long and restful and she was perhaps not very sleepy at 8:00pm. Roused at 2:30am and resettled herself without any intervention within a few mins. Woke up for the day at 6 and refused to go back to sleep. Perhaps our days will have an early start then!
Put her in her crib at 8:00pm and slept without too much fuss within minutes. I heard some fussy, sleepy sounds on the monitor at 2:00am but she didn’t wake up, thankfully. Settled herself in a different position and was fast asleep quickly. I woke up at 6 expecting her to wake up. But she didn’t. I woke up again at 7 expecting the same. But she didn’t. Finally I stood near her cot for a long time watching her breathe deep and sleep peacefully like an angel. Finally she roused on her own at 8:00am and woke up smiling. Well done, Gini baby, well done. STTN? ✔️
So have we mastered sleep training (I prefer calling it sleep coaching for no good reason)? I wouldn’t go to the extent of using the term ‘mastered’ as we all know that with babies, things can and do change. But are we getting more sleep as a family? We are. Is Gini more rested? She is. Is she comfortable with the new way of going to sleep? She is! Have I decided to renounce co-sleeping once and for all, never to use it again on any probable future babies? Of course not! I think things are not as ‘black and white’ as many would have us believe. Sleep is a delicate matter and both methods have their place under the night sky. It depends solely on what the baby needs, on what’s best for her. And also, on the parents’ intuition. Don’t let a book or a person scare you from either of these methods. When done responsibly, both can be enjoyable. Good luck!
PS: I didn’t buy any book on sleep training. Whatever I know, I learnt it online. Like I said, I mixed a few different methods to arrive at one for Gini.
If you’d like to give Sleep Training a try, talk to your pediatrician first