Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sleep - Second Only to Food and Water

When AK was born, I had accepted the fact that sleep would be a precious commodity.  I fully expected that I would live the first several months in some variation of deprivation and that I would just learn how to exist on far less than I had grown accustomed to.  Therefore, I wasn't overly surprised when this truth became my reality.

The first three months, I became surprisingly comfortable with being roused by my perfect little girl sleeping in her cradle by the side of my bed.  I even took her out of her swaddle and brought her next door to her own, virtually unused, nursery to nurse so husband could continue his slumber.  Truth be told, I quite enjoyed my special time with her.  Something about it being night, dark and quiet made it so simple.  I relished these times, as tired as I was.

And.  Then.  I went back to work.  Full time.  She was three months old.

Still committed to breastfeeding as long as she wanted (within reason - I wasn't interested in nursing my four-year-old), I began a relationship with my pump and immersed myself back into my high-powered career.  I got myself up every morning, after being woken anywhere from three to six times a night.  I dressed in my best, did my hair and make-up and hauled myself to work.  Only to feel like I had been hit by a freight train - over and over again.  For five excruciatingly long months, this process continued.

I won't lie and say that it took me until she was over eight months old to think about sleep training.  I had thought about it many times.  I had even given it a few half-hearted attempts.  But, and listen to this one - the most important thing about sleep training is that you have to be completely and 100% ready to do it. Finally - she was 8 1/2 months old and I was truly, beyond ready.  I knew that I had to do something or I would cease existing.  Not kidding.

To many parents, the term sleep training can be scary, sad and overwhelming all at the same time.  One of my best friends, with a four-month old, recently said to me when talking about the dreaded sleep training "I am preparing myself for blood-curdling screams."  This broke my heart.

Back up to a week before sleep training was going to begin. I had read five books and didn't like any of them.  Anything from rapid extinction, which is the infamous "Cry it Out" method to Ferber's controversial methods also involving crying.  I just felt that none of these were exactly what I needed.  I must note that, for many many many parents, these methods work perfectly and beautifully.  They are just not what I chose to do.

I finally found a book that sounded like it would work for me.  It is called The Sleep Easy Solution: An Exhausted Parent's Guide to Getting your Child to Sleep and, after about two chapters in, I knew it was for me. What I had was a baby that loved to eat during the night.  She went down just fine, she just couldn't stay asleep because she was awoken by her belly - or so she thought.  After reading it cover to cover and being fully committed, I launched into action.  I set up my "Sleep Station" so I could track her wakings and get a step ahead of her by waking her to eat.  I then wrote my feeding plan.  In essence, it planned to decrease the length of her feedings each night until she flawlessly and seamlessly kept sleeping.

Was I a bit unsure of this program?  Of course I was.  But, I needed something and this just felt like the right thing.  I do not lie when I say that my child, who was waking several times each night, became a perfect sleeper - in just one week.  With so few, if any tears that I honestly cannot remember anything other than a new-found blissful slumber.

Fast forward - 8 months later.  She is now 16 months old.  She goes to bed around 7pm and sleeps until 7am.  She sleeps soundly for 12 hours a night.  The only exception to this is if she is sick - then any "rules" go out the window and I tend to my girl however and as often as she needs.  When she's back on her feet again - it's just like riding a bike and she's right back at her 12 hours.

In these 8 months, I have worked with three other parents to successfully and relatively painlessly sleep train their little ones.  (One parent is T.  You can ask her personally how well we did together!)  And, the kicker? No three kids are the same.  EM was all about her Momma - all the time and refused to sleep out of her Momma's presence.  EJ is a 19 month-old who had become accustomed to escaping the crib and getting in bed with Mom and Dad.  WC is a 6 month-old who loved nursing so much, he would have rather nursed than slept.

I am not a professional sleep consultant.  And, I give credit where credit is due:  first and foremost to these parents and secondly to this program.  I did not quote this program word for word and I did not suggest it exactly as written to each parent.  After all, every child is different and a plan must be designed for that individual child.  But.  There is proof in the proverbial pudding and I feel a connection with helping others achieve something that is integral to surviving, integral to growing as a parent and integral to raising a healthy child:  SLEEP!

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