From the April 2017 issue

On Board the Sleep Training Train

A southeast Michigan mom and writer discusses her decision to sleep train her son when he was 8 months old.

My mother likes to tell a story about the first night she brought me home from the hospital – she says I slept through the night. That night, weighing nearly 10 pounds, I gave her seven, maybe even eight hours of sweet, silent respite.

I blame her – and that story specifically – for the delusion I’d so fully convinced myself of while pregnant. Of course I was going to give birth to a sweet, sleepy, calm baby. In fact, I remember telling a coworker I couldn’t wait to give birth so I could get some sleep, since I spent the last few months of gestation with pregnancy-induced insomnia.

But when Theo, my perfectly healthy, 7-pound firstborn, came into this world, that delusion quickly shattered. The first few months of his life, he’d sleep in two-hour stretches at night. By the time he hit four months, he was becoming more difficult to put down at bedtime, so we resorted to co-sleeping. That didn’t help either – despite being snugly nestled in the crook of my arm, Theo was waking every 45 minutes all night long.

Around that time a friend, who’s not yet had children, posted an article on Facebook purporting that leaving children to “cry it out” causes emotional damage and attachment issues. I knew better, but many moms don’t. They think sacrificing their sleep, and their sanity, is the only way to be a good parent. And articles falsely stating sleep training is detrimental posted by people who’ve never endured the first year of a child’s life aren’t helping.

I’d already been researching sleep training, educating and readying myself for the time my husband, Dustin, and I would tell our son goodnight, lay him down in his crib and wait for him to cry himself to sleep.

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It sounds heartbreaking, doesn’t it? But what’s really heartbreaking is living your life in a haze of chronic sleep depression that can turn baby blues into debilitating postpartum depression and anxiety. What’s heartbreaking is knowing you’ll go to bed exhausted and awake the next morning even more tired, leaving you unable to enjoy these precious moments with your baby. What’s heartbreaking is feeling resentful of your child because your needs – which are just as valid as his – are going unmet.

When my son was 8 months old, Dustin and I decided we were ready. We prepped all week by making sure we had an appropriate schedule and wake times and a familiar bedtime routine. We read stories, said our prayers, sang a song, turned on our white noise machine and kissed our baby goodnight. We laid Theo down in the crib and shut the door. And he started to cry. In 15 minutes, he was asleep.

Of course, an hour later he woke up and howled for 45 more agonizing minutes. It was a while, maybe a month, and many, many tears before he’d sleep through the night. Some nights he’d fall straight to sleep, while others he would fuss for a half hour. Some nights he’d cry for hours during the night, despite my best attempts to comfort him. Because sleep training doesn’t mean completely ignoring your baby come nighttime. It means you’re teaching them an invaluable skill – to fall asleep independently.

My son’s never been one to sleep through the night consistently, but now there are far fewer tears. He entertains himself with the stuffed animals that keep him company in his crib at night as long as he’s feeling fine. But he doesn’t hesitate to wail for me if something needs fixing.

Now that he’s nearing 2, Theo’s an on-demand hugger and learning to give kisses. Sometimes we walk through the house holding hands, because why not? He’s always been fiercely attached to me, but now he’s becoming more fond of his dad. They laugh and dance and carry on at bedtime until I have to remind them it’s time to relax and settle down. Once we’ve read our stories and said our prayers and sang our bedtime songs, I turn on our white noise machine and kiss my baby goodnight and lay him down in his crib. He waits for me to pull his little blanket up under his arms and he lays his head down and I leave. And then he babbles quietly until he falls asleep.

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