Thursday, November 20, 2014

Know when it's time for #baby to CRY IT OUT (+ tips for surviving the painful experience)

Babies. They melt a mama's heart with goo-goos and sweet smiles, but they have a powerful ability to produce confusion and self-doubt in us too. Babies cannot tell us what they need with words, so we are in a constant guessing game. And once we have it figured out, thrilled with our new-found ability to decipher the tone of each little cry, a baby will totally switch it up. Growth spurt. Teething. An sudden decision to push away a spoon if it comes too near the lips. Waking in the night, even if once a solid sleeper.

For me, the night thing triggered more self-doubt than any other. What was I doing wrong? Why do my friends' babies sleep? Why is my 9-month old baby not sleeping through the night? Should I know when it's time to "cry it out"?

It came to a point where I was exhausted and depressed and totally beating myself up because my baby was not sleeping through the night. I was doing something very wrong. Or so I thought.

It turns out, it wasn't so much my own failure after all. I was simply being a good student; my baby had me expertly trained. He was waking in the night as all people do, but he was calling for me instead of soothing himself. He was standing up and shaking the crib rails. And I magically appeared, every time. I talked to him and fed him and held him. When I put him down after he'd been asleep in my arms, he woke and cried. So I held him some more until he finally stayed asleep from pure exhaustion. Two hours, sometimes even three hours had passed.

Eventually, he began to greet me with a huge smile and silly babbles when I entered the room sometime between 11:00pm and 1:30am. He was happy to see me.

So now I think I understand the tricks he was playing on me. Is yours training you too?

How to know when it is time for baby to "cry it out"

  • You tried no bottle feeding at night and he went back to sleep. This means baby isn't waking from hunger. Note: A hungry baby will continue to cry. You have to feed a hungry baby. So if food isn't provided and the crying ceases, you can probably check food off the list. Until the next growth spurt, anyway.
  •  Baby is obviously sleepy. He falls asleep quickly once you attend to him. He keeps his eyes closed or rubs his face. This means that the baby does not think it's time to get up and he wants more sleep.
  • The crib transfer is impossible. If baby is soundly asleep in your arms from only a few moments of cuddles or rocking but he startles awake upon the slightest hint of crib transfer? There is a good chance he is playing you. He is comfortable in your arms and thinks being put down alone is a terrible idea - so he plays up the traumatic experience until you pick him up again. And the two-hour, up and down, transfer-failure misery begins.
  • You notice pure joy upon seeing you in the middle of the night. Baby wins. He got what he wanted; he wanted you, in his room, holding his fuzzy-PJ clad body.

Once I finally admitted to myself that all these things were happening, I knew I had reached the CRY IT OUT zone. It was time.

How to survive "cry it out"

Hearing my baby cry is difficult at any time. Hearing him cry when I knew he would likely wake his school-aged sister was even more difficult. Listening to his cries turn to piercing shrieks of misery (even though it was merely a few minutes) was torture. But for us, it was necessary. It was very brief and effective. Here's how to get through those moments if this method is right for your family:

  • Prepare yourself. Give yourself a pep talk all day long. Remind yourself that it is going to be bad, but it is necessary and will not last forever. It is a means to the better sleep the entire family needs.
  • Prepare the family. One of my main reasons for going into baby's room each night was that I did not want him to keep his sister awake on school nights. So during the day, I took the time to explain to her why he needed to cry. I offered for her to switch rooms with me. She wanted to stay in her room, so I told her to come to us and sleep in our room if his crying is keeping her awake. By giving her this option, I freed myself of that anxiety. I also prepared my husband, by reminding him that I would be stressed and upset. I asked for his support to keep me strong and to not go in there himself.
  • Turn off the baby monitor. When the crying began the first night, I turned off the baby monitor. He eventually became so frantic I could still hear him, but at least it was muted from down the hallway.
  • Use a timer. Just in case I were to fall asleep (ha), I turned an alarm on my cell phone for 10 minutes. Once the 10 minutes passed, I checked the monitor and heard continued baby whining/crying. So I set the alarm for 10 minutes more. When I turned the monitor on once again, the sounds were reduced to mild, intermittent whimpers - sleepy sounds. I could relax again. The timer helped me to track the actual time. Two minutes of baby crying feels like an eternity at 1:00am, so understanding that 10 minutes was only 10 minutes actually helped tremendously. In total? Crying lasted 22 minutes the first night. I followed an identical procedure the second night and it was 26 minutes. We have not had to do this since. He sleeps!
  • Ask for help. My husband is much better at tolerating the baby's cries than I am, and he could simply fall back to sleep once I switched off the baby monitor. Meanwhile, I held my breath and strained my ears to hear the sounds from down the hall. I worried and nearly brought myself to tears (okay, maybe there were tears). So I shook my husband's shoulder and told him to help me. Selfish? Maybe. Irrational? Perhaps. But the act of him talking to me and allowing me to put my anxiety into words helped so much. I could not do it all alone.
  • Remember that babies forget. Your child will not hate you in the morning. Chances are, he will greet you with the same smile and glee as he has every morning. Your day will go on and you can take pride that you accomplished a critical and extremely challenging parenting task.

If you are at this point with your baby, I feel for you. But I am proof that it is worth it. Tell yourself that the first night or two may result in an hour of torture. Be strong. Remind yourself of the basics of psychology and reward - intermittent reward (i.e., inconsistency) reinforces behaviors the most. Once you commit to "cry it out", you must to stick with it. You will be relieved when your baby sleeps through the night.

Give it one hour for three or four nights. I suspect you will not need that much time or that many days. Good luck!

UPDATE February 2015: 
I appreciate all the comments, both positive and negative, regarding this method. (At this point, the negative is becoming repetitive and nasty, so comments have been turned off and others deleted.)  I am not a baby nor a sleep expert, I simply chose to follow my pediatrician's instructions based on my concerns. I know my child and other mothers know theirs. I do not condone "mommy wars" and I wish every mother the very best. Do what works for your family and your beliefs. In my case, my 9-month old at the time cried for no more than 25 minutes, each of two nights. He was safe and protected in his room. And ever since, he has slept through the night. He wakes happier and has a better day because he is properly rested. I appreciate the concern; parenting is hard. I am happy with my choices and my baby is well adjusted, very happy, and rested. Good luck to all the moms and dads out there. As always, I wish all the very best. 

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