Lottie has come out the other side of her 6 – 8 week cluster-feeding-clingathon and has had a fruitful week of sleep training. She’s has settled herself to sleep in her cot for the past four days, which she’s struggled to do previously, and has also had some other day sleep wins, self-settling with only short bursts of protest crying before going soundly to sleep. She has also had day sleeps happily in her pram, in the car, the carrier and even once in the swing so all in all I feel like sleep-training progress is progressing.
In the evening, Lottie has still been doing her strange version of self-settling where she will lie awake putting herself to sleep without a sound for what seems like a surprisingly long time for a baby to be lying awake; her longest stint is 90 minutes so far. Nevertheless, eventually she gets there and goes happily to sleep. I’ve been watching her on the video monitor while she wriggles around getting comfortable, sucks her hands, and sometimes lets out some yelps as her eyelids start to close, pop open again, and then slowly shut as she settles herself off to sleep. I’m sure she’ll get quicker at this as time goes on; I’ve already seen improvement in just a few days. And thankfully, she’s still self-settling without a peep after her night feeds, and the dream feed is still working a treat. So happy days (and nights) for the whole family.
I don’t, however, want to paint a picture of sleep training being easy peasy. In fact, while we’ve been focussing on it all week, I’ve hardly left the house as I’ve dedicated much of my time to getting Lottie into bed as soon as I see tired signs, doing my best to avoid overtiredness blowouts which make it impossible for her to self-settle. This sleep-training stuff needs constant vigilance, even when you’re out and about trying to manage sleeps out of the cot. There have, of course, been quite a few times when Lottie hasn’t gone to sleep without a peep and her protest cries have escalated to what I call ‘tears’; this is a different cry from whinging, it’s more of an insistent screaming – more emotional and ear piercing accompanied by tears and is horrible to listen to for even a moment. But even this type of crying, incidentally, isn’t, in my opinion, bad for my child. No need to panic. I just sort of what Lottie needs and the hysterics stop. This ‘tears’ cry is clearly completely different from the stop-start whinging cry prior to going to sleep, which I am quite happy to listen to as I know Lottie is just frustrated that she’s not asleep yet. The only thing that stops this whinging cry is sleep, blessed sleep.
As pointed out by my sister in her post about her experiences training her son to self-settle, sleep training is not just for Lottie; I am learning as well. So I am learning not only which cries need attention and which don’t, but also what action to take if ‘tears’ crying does happen; usually a top-up feed, maybe a burp or a nappy change. And the key point is I have learned that I should not go in to attend to Lottie unless the cry is insistent, or if the protest yelps have reached a point where Lottie is overtired and needs help to go to sleep (a limit of 20 – 30 minutes for day sleeps and 60 minutes in the evening). That’s the hardest part of the training. Not going in when Lottie is clearly frustrated and whinging. But I keep reminding myself of a very simple and obvious fact which is the entire basis behind the idea of self-settling: just because Lottie is crying, doesn’t mean she needs me or my husband. This has become my mantra as I sit and listen and watch on the monitor and wait for Lottie to find sleep: whingy, protesting crying is not Lottie calling out for mum and dad; I am not ignoring my child when she is in need. What Lottie needs, and desperately wants when she is whinging in frustration, exhausted, swaddled and snug as a bug in her cot, is to go to sleep.
I’m not going to discuss ‘rods for own backs’ and ‘crutches’ and ‘bad habits which are hard to break’ because I know it’s up to each mother to decide how she wants to manage her child’s sleep. All I will say is that I have faith that Lottie’s sleep training will pay dividends for her sleeping habits well into childhood. If I was to give in and intervene in the self-settling process, giving in to the whinging and picking her up every time she peeps, all I would have achieved is interrupting Lottie’s process of drifting off to sleep and she would have to start over with the self-settling process which means more crying overall. That’s not helpful to Lottie. It’s also not helpful to Lottie to have her needing me to help her go to sleep; which means waking in the night and finding they can’t get back to sleep without help, forcing them to cry out for assistance. And it’s also not helpful to me to have a baby waking all night crying out for my help either. I am a better mother when I’ve had a good night’s sleep.
I am, even writing this post, quite defensive about my decision to sleep-train my child because of the controversy around ‘letting your baby cry’ and the accusations flung around about damage to babies which is no doubt aimed to make sleep-training parents feel guilty. I don’t, however, feel guilty. Not one bit. I believe healthy sleeping habits are just as important to Lottie’s development as good feeding habits. The more sleep Lottie gets, the happier, and healthier, a baby she is. And therefore I am confident that a small amount of crying as part of the process of training Lottie to go to sleep on her own is absolutely worth it for the long term benefits of Lottie being able to go to sleep on her own. No guilt. Full stop.