[Update: Three years after I wrote this post, we found ourselves once again facing sleeping issues, this time with our second baby. I wrote about it here, I think this “second opportunity” allowed us to explore alternatives to CIO sleep training and gave us a more complete insights into human baby’s sleeping issue. If you are struggling with baby’s sleeping issue and are thinking about sleep training your baby, I strongly recommend you to check out both this post and the one I wrote three years after.]
You have probably heard about CIO aka Cry-It-Out.
No it doesn’t belong to the likes of LOL Lough-Out-Loud. It’s a popular and full of pros and cons sleep training method for babies/toddlers.
When I first read about this method, I wondered which sane parents would be so heartless to let their vulnerable babies with needs cry for hours until they fell asleep, tired of crying (I thought passing out would be more likely). Well, seven months into parenthood, to keep being the sane parents that we had been, we finally let the baby cry.
I believe no parents likes the idea of letting their babies cry to sleep. It was the last resort. It was after they had tried everything, read every book, yet nothing had worked.
For our case, we didn’t start right away thinking about sleep training the CIO way. We had been praying about the sleep issue and one fateful day, during the dinner Hubby shared with me how one of his coworkers sleep-trained his four children using CIO and how it worked for all four. (Congratulations! How envious I was!) That night, same thing, Baby started to fuss (her way of saying ‘Okay Mommy, put me to sleep now’) so I nursed her, hoping that she would drift off to sleep but she wouldn’t. She turned and tossed, roamed around our bed and was back again to nurse. She was clearly tired and wanting to sleep but didn’t know how. This lasted for a while before we decided if she would ever learn to sleep, it was the time.
We got all the info we needed to know from troublesometots.com and were confident that we could do it. After making sure that Baby was well-fed, well-clothed, had no diaper issue and was in absolutely safe environment, we put her down in her playpen (yes playpen and not the crib yet because obviously she would be really upset when she learned about her parents leaving her to sleep on her own and we didn’t want her to injure herself in case she was tossing around in rage in the wooden crib. She could toss all she wanted in the playpen though). Switched the light off – only a dim sleep light was on. Told her it’s time to sleep and we would be just next door and we loved her. Walked out the bedroom. Closed that door. And the crying began.
The wailing seemed to last forever. Many times, trust me, many many times we almost gave in. But we knew had we gone back into the room and picked her up, the sleeping problem would be there forever. So we stuck to our gun, prayed hard and kept reading every article about CIO we could find on the net with the screaming in the background. I had to repeatedly keep reminding myself that we were doing this because it was the best for Baby. If I was prepared to say ‘NO’ and let her cry when she’s 3 and demands for things which I clearly know are not good for her, why should I not do the same right then?
She cried for a good one hour before falling asleep that night. Great! We were prepared for worse (remember the coworker? His first kid cried for 5 hours the first night. I had no idea how they could survive the battle!). We peeped through the door, the bedding was totally undone, a clear sign that a riot had just taken place. There she was lying on the mess, sleeping. After what seemed like ages long, the parents could finally resume some quality time together and had an uninterrupted whole night sleep because Baby slept for 10 hours straight that night!
The next day we were more prepared for the training. Having done more research, we figured out things we needed to fix and improve, as listed below:
1. Routine, routine and routine
We paid close attention to Baby’s schedule and also started to incorporate bedtime routine. If I haven’t mentioned earlier, the biggest mistake we did second to encouraging nursing and sleep association was to never instill a consistent sleep routine for Baby. She slept (or asked to be nursed to sleep, to be exact) as and when she liked. This bred another problem which led to the issue of..
2. Parents keeping baby awake for too long
We had no clue there is such a thing called baby’s maximum wake time and we ended up with an always overtired baby as a result. But babies sleep when they are tired, isn’t over-tiredness leads to sleeping better then? Tut. Tut. Not true. Overtired babies sleep poorly and the thus the vicious cycle.
3. Putting baby down but awake
She’ll scream the moment the bedsheet touches her. I know. But rocking her for hours till her arms dropped motionless before putting her down would only bring you to.. rocking her, again.
There are two very important facts all parents need to know about baby’s sleep. First, when they reach the sixth month of their life, they develop a superpower called ‘I remember’. The more scientific term for this is object permanence. You will know your sweet little bundle has mastered this skill when she starts looking for a fallen object or cries when Mommy is gone. Previously an object that was out of sight was literally nonexistence to them. But once object permanence came into the picture, they are capable of missing you. Sweet isn’t it? The problem is, they too will remember that someone was rocking them before they fell asleep, now that they are suddenly awake in the middle of night, how come they are all alone on their bed? Where is Mommy?! Thus the upset scream.
Second, babies’ sleep is very different from that of adults. As adults, we normally fall into deep sleep quite soon after we close our eyes, wake up probably once in the mid of night, roll over and continue sleeping till the alarm goes off. The waking up in the mid of night is usually when we enter our light sleep phase. Young babies have more light sleep phases throughout the night, but in most cases they are able to go back to sleep without getting fully awake. The case with babies who have learned about object permanence, however, is more complicated. During their light sleep phases, instead of going back to sleep like how they used to, they get themselves fully awake. Checking if Mommy is still around, huh?
Now if the situation before they fall asleep and the one they wake up in are always different, they’ll turn anxious. Which will then result in a baby who resists sleeping and wakes up way too many times throughout the night, checking.
4. Naps must happen
Because without proper naps, baby ain’t getting enough sleep and overtired baby cries more. Whatever it takes, make the naps happen. I used to backpack her for her naps three times a day during the training to make sure she napped. (Sleep-training for nap, writing soon for the next post.)
5. Use white noise
It works. White noise blocks other sudden noises which may cause Baby waking up startled. Baby cried for 30 minutes to one hour during the first three nights. On the fourth, we played the white noise, and she cried for 15 minutes only. We are still playing the noise for both bedtime and naptime until now. Do take note that it has to be played throughout the night, remember, they remember 🙂
Don’t worry about buying white noise generator, just google and download one from the net.
It was tough, and we were often left in doubt for whether or not it would work. I couldn’t really sleep during the first week of the sleep training even after Baby was asleep. Looks like I was too used to having Baby sleeping beside me, says who babies are the only ones going through the separation anxiety? 😉
But the rewards are worth it all. At the moment, Baby is already sleeping on her own and she sleeps 11-12 hours straight throughout the night. Yes, she would sometimes fuss a bit when we put her down and leave the room, but most days she would just roll over the moment we close the door. No crying.
Now I can lightheartedly say “Goodnight, Baby”.