Thursday, May 22, 2008

Night, night

With my son's four-month birthday coming around, my husband and I have begun the process of sleep training. For those of you who aren't parents, what that means is that we're contemplating how we can get the munchkin to fall asleep on his own, sleep without being in someone's arms, and stay asleep for longer stretches (though we still expect him to wake up once or twice a night for a while to eat -- he's growing pretty fast).

Once you start doing the research on "sleep training," you quickly see why it's such a hot topic. There seem to be two predominant schools of thought -- 1) you are a parent, and you signed up for sleep deprivation, so just deal with your kid's habits and preferences, or 2) put him in a crib, close the door to his room and let him "cry it out." In a week or so, he'll sleep like an angel when you put him down.

I know lots of families who opted for the second choice -- or I should say, parents. I assume the kids weren't voting. It seemed to work well for them. They all admit it was tough -- that they hated hearing their kids cry -- that they cried themselves. But they come out of it saying, "It was the best thing we ever did." That's great. I'm glad it worked for them. Their kids do seem to sleep well and be well-rested -- more power to 'em all.

I'm not cut out for it. I just can't do it. I've spent the last three months and three weeks working hard to get the little guy to trust me -- attending to his physical needs as quickly as is reasonable, playing with him to help develop his mental capacity, praying with him to nurture his spirit if I can, cuddling and loving on him to address his emotional needs as well. After all that attentiveness (tempered with realism -- I'm not saying I've been his slave), it seems inconsistent to me to then put him down and communicate to him that he can cry all he wants -- I'm not listening.

The "cry-it-out" advocates argue logically that it's not neglect -- it's tough love. It's like taking your kids for their shots. You know they'll hurt, but it's good for them -- it's what they need. Or, it's like giving them the opportunity to learn a skill that will serve them in good stead. I buy it. I'm glad it worked for them and their kids. But I choose a different way.

I found a book called "The No-Cry Sleep Solution." It's the approach I choose to take with my son. I've found already that it's a misnomer -- there's no way you can change a baby's sleep habits with NO tears at all -- but I like that it sets forth a way you can respond to the baby's crying with soothing efforts, and still guide them to form new, healthier sleep habits. We're in week 2. So far my son's gone from taking 40-minute cat naps 5 or 6 times a day (exhausting to cycle between sleep and wakefulness that much), to sleeping an hour and fifteen minutes to today's triumphant two-hour stretch at a time. Once I make more headway with daytime sleeping, I'll focus on his night-waking -- he's a frequent muncher in the wee hours, and I know there are gentle ways I can get him to go longer stretches of sleep -- him and me, that is.

At the heart of it, I think it's been difficult because to some extent, I don't know if my heart is in it. The idea of changing his sleep habits seems bent on the assumption that it's a *problem* for him to fall asleep in my arms. I don't see it as a problem at all, but a blessing and a joy. It's a little inconvenient when I want to take a shower or eat a meal, but it's a miracle nonetheless. I know that in the long run, he needs to get used to sleeping on his own. I definitely don't want a high-schooler who still needs mommy to smooth his hair to fall asleep. I get that. But for now, I love to cuddle him as much as I can. He's already rocketed from 6 pounds to 12 -- from a skinny, wrinkly, fussy newborn to a playful, rounded, inquisitive infant who giggles and laughs when he's tickled. I'm all too well aware of how rapidly his changing self will outpace my ability to get in all the baby-time I'll crave.

So I'll continue to sleep-train. I'll keep easing away from him in bed to get him used to sleeping without mommy's warmth next to him. I'll keep extending his naps with extra nursing as he starts to awaken. I'll watch for chances to ease him into his bassinet or crib (both places where he plays happily but absolutely refuses -- loudly -- to fall asleep). I'll keep nudging him toward independent sleep -- and when he's snoozing in his crib all night, someone can tell me how to fall asleep without HIM.

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