As I've learned in parenthood so far, every baby has their thing (or things) that are tricky to solve. Dakota's big one has been sleep. While I have always loved how alert, curious, and motivated she is, the flip side is that she has always fought sleep hard. While rocking her or nursing her to sleep worked okay for the first couple of months of her life, and the pacifier soothed her for a couple of weeks after that, Dakota reached a breaking point at 3.5 months where nothing worked. She resisted our assistance but cried when left alone. The books said "put her in her bed when she's drowsy but awake"... sure, except when you put her down she isn't drowsy anymore! Or she would fall asleep with a pacifier or a hand on her chest and then wake up screaming 30 minutes later, unable to fall back asleep. I was spending hours in the day and night by her bedside. I was at my wit's end, having tried seemingly everything and admitting defeat.
A couple of weeks ago, we had Dakota's 4-month checkup - I was in tears from sleep deprivation and feeling like a failure of a mom - and both our pediatrician and my husband, Chris, urged me to consider the thing I had fought so hard to avoid, at least this early on - sleep training or CIO. Just those phrases made me shudder. Which I suppose is ironic, given that as a Montessori teacher, I had always preached "self soothing" techniques. Now I get just how much easier that is said than done. I never quite realized that hearing your own baby cry makes your entire body tense, your heart ache, and your brain turn to goo. But with reminders of how much Dakota was crying at bedtime with us trying to help, and knowing deep down that self-soothing would indeed help her in the long run, I finally agreed to give sleep training (I like to call it sleep learning) a go. Enter our new bible: The Sleepeasy Solution.
This book's philosophy is based on "the least-cry approach", which at least made it more appealing to me. While it is definitely still a CIO method, it allows for check-ins, and caters to various family situations and sleeping arrangements, including room-sharing. The "no-cry sleep solutions" hadn't worked for us despite my best efforts, and this book helped explain why. "All children protest change, and the way they let us know they don't like the change is to cry." For many babies, constantly intervening when they are trying to sleep only frustrates them more and prohibits their ability to figure out how to self-soothe. This was definitely the case with Dakota, my headstrong little girl. I had to let her work off her own steam at the end of the day, and accept her struggle instead of trying to fix it.
When I finally agreed to give this thing a go, Chris told me the only way it would work is if I left the house after I did the bedtime routine with Dakota. I fought him, but then did a reality check, and realized I would most definitely not be able to hear her cry and not go pick her up. I recognized that I was skeptical she could really put herself to sleep, without a pacifier, swaddle, or any other aids. Being the amazing guy that Chris is, he sent me out for thai food and wine while he did the check-ins, on his BIRTHDAY. In return, I left him with beer and donuts and a crying baby. I think it's clear who won here. But in the end we all won, because Dakota only took 30 minutes to fall asleep on night 1, and really just cried off and on for that 30. I felt SO proud of her. As much as I knew going in to this parenting thing just how smart babies are, I still felt amazed and relieved that my 4-month-old really could self-soothe.
Since then, we've been sticking with our bedtime routines, and Dakota has been putting herself down for bedtime and naps. She typically takes about 10 minutes to suck on her fingers and look around, and then drifts off to dreamland. Sometimes she fusses but never for more than a few minutes. She no longer wakes up crying at the 30-minute mark, because she is just as she was when she fell asleep for the first time - on her own, no mama arms, no pacifier - and continues on to her 2nd sleep cycle. Our lives have improved drastically - Chris and I get to spend time together in the evening (like watch the Great British Baking Show...) and Dakota is much happier overall! I like to get outside and meet up with friends most days, so we've been doing some naps at home and some out and about. Since starting our sleep learning, it has only made her fall asleep more quickly in the carseat and carrier, without all the bouncing and singing I had been doing before!
This past week, Dakota and I traveled to California to visit my sister and nephews, and I was worried she wouldn't be able to put herself to sleep in a new environment. But with the same bedtime song, white noise, and sleep sack, she had no problem at all! I was so impressed. It made for a much more enjoyable trip with her cousins! That being said, as all things in parenthood, it is a gradual process, and this coming week I am going to start a little night weaning to hopefully cut down on some of our night feedings. But our sleep learning already feels like a victory, and most importantly, I have more confidence in her and she has more confidence in herself. Next stop: the transition to her floor bed! To be continued...