July 31, 2011

SITS: The Secret to Success is Sleep

I woke up this morning with Kira squirming on me and a little sweaty and my legs were unable to stretch out...it's not very often that everyone in the house migrates to our bed. Usually it's just a couple of extra bodies. And as awesome and as terrible as a family bed is, it has nothing to do with this post. But it does have a photo to go with it. So there you go. A photo and a post. Both about sleep.

One of the most powerful pieces of advice we ever received was when we were new parents. I thought I knew what it was like to not get enough sleep. Ha! I had no idea.

Graeden was a few weeks old and I wasn't getting more than 2-3 hours of sleep at one time. I'm pretty sure the perfect description of me was in fact: zombie. It must have been the same for Tymon because as he was on the phone with his mother one evening telling her about our struggles with sleep deprivation.

My middle of the night feedings often went like this: I hear cries and groggily turn to the bassinet next to the bed and get Graeden to nurse. Then I lay on my back with my knees up...the side view looking like this: o  /\. No need to get out of bed to burp him...or even sit up for that matter...I just prop my baby up against my knees to burp him. Then when I hear the magical burp, I lean over and put him back in his bassinet. It's the perfect set up. And the only way I could get through these feedings without totally "waking up" and being wired in the wee hours of the morning when I should be sleeping.

However, a recent incident had us frightened. In the middle of the night after I had nursed Graeden and put him up against my knees, the exhaustion took over and I fell asleep before hearing the burp. When I woke up, I found Graeden was under the covers and in between my legs. Um yeah. That's not so healthy for a newborn. It's more like life threatening. I'm pretty sure he could have suffocated like that or I may have even squished him or rolled him right off.

So, my mother-in-law's life changing advice? Don't feed your baby in the middle of the night.

She sleep trained 3 of her 4 kids starting right after birth. (One of Tymon's brothers was sick as a newborn and she didn't do it with him.) And I'm thinking, so that's it?! Just don't feed your baby? Sounds simple. Me likey. And it also happens to go contrary to everything we hear from the doctors and nurses say about a newborn's needs. Me double likey. Mostly because I disliked random nurses at the hospital coming into our room and giving us instructions about what we had to do as new parents with our son. Regardless as to the wisdom of the advice or not, I get annoyed with someone telling me what I have to do. So in this case, I was very intrigued about what we could do if I wasn't going to feed my baby on demand, every 2-3 hours, no matter what time of day or night.

What to do when baby cries in the middle of the night: 
Do wake up with your baby.
Rock him back to sleep.
Or walk him around the house.
Sing him songs.
Put him in the baby swing.

Do whatever you must but DO NOT feed your baby! Pretty soon, he will just stop waking up to eat. When this method is used with a brand new baby, it's not a big deal. They are already accustomed to not eating at night since pregnant momma didn't eat in the middle of the night (hopefully). But with a baby who is already used to eating every 2-3 hours 24/7? Well, that's a bit tougher. And I send my heart-felt condolences to you if you are in this situation.

Graeden didn't like his new way of life. And he cried. And cried. And cried. For a few nights. It was brutal. For us. For him. It took an hour or two trying to get him back to sleep. But we'd already discovered that the alternative was worse. The next few nights he whimpered a little but easily fell back to sleep. And by the end of the week he stopped waking up in the middle of the night completely. That first sleep filled night was on my 28th birthday. December 9, 2003. Graeden was 6 weeks old. And gave me the best birthday present ever.

I should mention that my definition of sleeping through the night changes over time. At first, it's about 4-5 hours. I nurse from about 11:30 pm - midnight and then again at 4 or 4:30am. Every week or so that time is extended by about an hour until the baby is sleeping for about a 7-8 hour stretch. And my body ceases to produce milk at night. I should probably also mention that there may be times of growth or sickness when reversion occurs. That's just a part of life but if you are consistent in not feeding the baby in the wee hours of the morning then the problem will fix itself soon enough.

Here we are just a couple of months later and well rested. We used the no feeding at night method with the rest of our children. The only one who rebelled against sleeping through the night was Evan. It took him a month to buy into the program. When all is said and done, that's not too shabby.

I didn't think I'd be sleep training Kira for a while. I was worried about her more fragile physical state and thought she may actually need to eat often. It turns out, though we may have issues with her heart in the future, at present she is doing very well. Let the sleep training begin! We started as soon as we got back from our family reunion. She's done marvelous...the easiest of all children to get into a sleep habit. She goes to bed between 10 and 11 pm. We wake up anywhere between 4 and 5 am. Once it was 7 am. I woke up earlier...but find it counter productive to wake a sleeping child so early in the morning just because I experienced my milk letting down.

I'm pretty sure getting enough sleep is the reason why we have had so many children so quickly. We're running on full energy instead of reserves. Our kids also move out of our room at 3 months of age. Except not Jocelyn. Jovana was staying in her room so Jocelyn slept with us for several months. In fact, she's kind of still with us...though sometimes will sleep in her own bed. Maybe she'll like her room better when Kira moves in.

Most parents we share our sleep training story with ignore it. Months later they are still talking about being up at least once and maybe twice in the middle of the night. At that point, I just smile and nod since I've already shared one of my most powerful life lessons. And really don't have any other helpful hints to help with the problem. However, we have had a few families thank us for sharing the sleep secret. And that makes the polite nods and occasional eye rolling responses worth it. The secret to success is most definitely found in getting a good night's sleep.

9 Riveting COMMENTS:

  1. We actually did something similar to this when our kids were 3 or so months old. I agree that sleep is SO important to keep the family happy and functioning.
    It's funny though, how every family has their own ideas of how best to run a family. We expect our kids to sleep all night, and sleep in their own beds. And they do, with very few exceptions.

  2. We also expect our children to sleep all night in their own beds...but like to snuggle with them when the sun comes up. Sometimes, we have to remind them that they can't sneak into our room until there is daylight outside. And that discussion is usually good for a time before needing to be repeated.

  3. Someday we should talk about this. I am interested because I do not mind the cry it out and for round 2 I want to approach it differently.

    Hopefully we will be living in a home too so I won't be stressed about the neighbor hating me.

  4. Wow. Where was this when I needed it most?! Awesome Bridget!

  5. @Aimee - Each child is different and while a house would be nice if you had an infant like Evan (who resisted sleep training for a month), it wouldn't matter if you were in an apartment if your next is like Kira. She calms down easily with a binkie in a matter of seconds. I've only let my kids cry it out a few times (per kid). Outside of the week +/- of sleep training, crying before bed has rarely been an issue. We try to comfort them as much as possible in those first few days. Namely because we feel bad for them since they are so little (all were between 7.5 and 9 pounds when we did it) but also because we want to foster security with "meeting" their needs...and we meet midnight hunger pains with hugs and loves. Ha ha. I know it won't work for all kids/families. But I think it would work for most kids if the parents could deal with crying for the first few days.

    @Ann - Maybe you should have whined to me about your lack of sleep earlier. I would have shared! Ha ha. For now, how about putting this away in your mental notes for either your next child or a sleep deprived friend.

  6. I would have loved this information years ago, but we survived. Thank goodness my kids only woke up once or twice in the night and went right back to sleep.

    Congrats on the new addition!

  7. I love the pictures! Congrats on your new little one. I can't believe it's been a year already since our twisted sister reunion.

  8. What a good idea. My first 2 were such good sleepers early on, but these twinners were much harder. Wish I would have known this then. You don't think they get hungry at all?

  9. @Camey - I do think they get hungry and that's why they cry. BUT it's okay to go a handful of hours without eating...that's what they did in the womb when you went to sleep at night, too. So, it's nothing they haven't already experienced. Best wishes with your twins...I've heard when one wakes up so does the other. I'm sure feeding time is frustrating to you...feeding one while the other cries. Unless you're super mom and can feed both at once.


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