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Sleep

Has it really been almost a month since my last post? Obviously, we’ve been really busy around here. Earlier this month, I singlehandedly took Benji on a nearly 8 hour plane ride to Singapore (and back). It was actually less scary than I thought it would be, although it was still very exhausting. Thankfully, he slept a little on our flight over and for the most of the journey back (thank you, Phenergan!). The 10 days we spent there were (as always) amazing! I wish we could spend more time with the folks, and in Singapore!

Anyway, this post is really to update you about Benji’s sleep. We have had a history of terrible sleeps with Benji, especially nighttime ones. If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you would know that we attended sleep school (which he flunked), Ferbered him numerous times, ignored, and read extensively on how to get our little man to sleep through the night. Each successful training period would very quickly be undone by sickness, and the most recent one, affected by his 12 month vaccinations done back in the end of November, all the holiday activities and travels, and a change in his daytime sleep patterns (2naps->1nap).

In the two weeks since we returned from Singapore, Benji went from waking up twice a night, to waking up nearly every hour. Very familiar – we last experienced that back sometime in August, where it got to the point where he was waking up once every sleep cycle (40 mins). This time, Bry tried Ferbering him (which got him to vomit), patting him, and camping out, but to no avail. We were exhausted and frustrated.

Finally, we decided to show tough love once again, and this time went with the Extinction method, starting three nights ago out of sheer frustration, at 4am. I remembered this moment vividly, as Bry kept getting cold feet, wanting to go in, only to be held back by my exhausted, half mumbles “just let him cry a bit more.” This “bit” turned dragged on until about 40 minutes later, when Benji stopped crying and put himself to sleep. It was a miracle.

The next night, he cried for about 15 minutes before sleeping, ON HIS OWN. He still woke up about 3 times in the night and whinged slightly, but each time, was able to put himself back to sleep within 10-15 minutes. Tonight, he cried for about 5 minutes before sleeping, once again, ON HIS OWN. How will he go for the rest of tonight? I’m not sure, but I have a strong feeling it won’t be as bad as it was pre-sleep training. Perhaps the previous sleep trainings helped him grasp the concept of self-soothe more easily. Or, maybe he’s more ready now than he was before. Whatever it is, we are thrilled and grateful that he’s sleeping better.

Now, fingers crossed he doesn’t get sick too soon after, so Bry and I can enjoy a few nights of good rest to catch up!

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Benji is a week away from turning 9 months. Whoah. These last 3 weeks have been kind of hellish. You know this whole sleep regression that people say happens at 8 months? Well, he got it. Yes, just after he got sleep trained. It got progressively worse really quickly. I remember very shortly after the first night he started waking up for a feed, he started waking up more and more, and refused to go back to sleep. One of the nights he was up for almost 2 hours. Last night he was up every other hour! We have stopped letting him cry it out because he has now learned to throw up, and also every time we go in to the room he would either be sitting up or, as he has learned in the last two days, standing up in the crib.

We are beyond exhausted. I think I can see a top tooth coming out, but it might just be my own imagination, trying to search for some consolation that this might pass soon.

Some people say it comes and goes within a week or two but we are now into week 3 and Benji shows now signs of progression.

Having said that, other than sleep, everything seems to be developing exponentially. He’s now crawling much quicker, lifting himself up with anything and everything he can use to support himself, babbling a whole range of consonants (even non-English ones!), playing with the old pots and pans we had meant to get rid of but that he found stashed in a corner, and taking formula in the daytime.  Being so mobile now, Benji has also started exploring everything he can in the house. This means: we need to babyproof our place!!!

He has also been going to daycare twice a week for three weeks now…and well, he has a ways to go with settling in to that environment. Separation anxiety is at its peak but he also has lots more giggles and is so playful when around us.

Every age is interesting with kids. And this one, is definitely the most so far…and one that’s also kicking our butts really hard. Every night I pray that he will learn to sleep like he did just 3 weeks ago. I’m still waiting.

Meanwhile, I just made an appointment with our Maternal and Child Health Nurse for a check-up to make sure his sleep regression is really just developmental, and that there’s nothing more healthwise instigating this mania.

More updates later.

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That nasty, persistent flu I wrote about in my previous post took an even further downward spiral and eventually kept me mostly sequestered in my room for three whole days! But I’m finally over it and am now up and about again.

Whew! I’ve been meaning to write updates on lots that happened in the last week. It was a big one for little Benji! The first I’ll report on is that Benji is now sleeping through the night. He has also in the last couple days started taking his morning nap again without much struggle and without needing me to nurse him to sleep. 

We started on this sleep training journey almost two and a half weeks ago. I was diligent enough to record it on my blog the first day we started, on July 10. Although many friends and even research studies have reported success with this rather gnarly method of sleep training called “Controlled Comforting,” or, more popularly known as the “Ferber method,” I was a big skeptic. I was sure that my son who was once upon a time a pretty good sleeper but turned rather difficult at around months 5 and 6 (due to waking up to nurse often during his growth spurt and when we were traveling) was an outlier and would not succumb to any kind of training. Why was I so skeptical of this method? I think it’s because I kept talking myself out of it. When Benji was crying non-stop for hours on end (yes, HOURS; his record was 2 whole hours), doubt set in really deep in irrational parts of my brain and I managed to convinced myself that it was not going to work.

But it did. It eventually did. And begrudgingly, I’ll admit that Dr. Ferber’s method, painful as it was, WORKED for us. It was not easy and I don’t think it is for a lot of people. Most of our friends who (bless their hearts) wrote us about the method told us to stick it out and forewarned us to have a heart of steel before trying the method, but I did not realize it was going to be this difficult. I was really on the verge of giving up…and I would like to write out some pointers to hopefully provide a clearer picture to any parent who is thinking about trying this method and how you can make it work for you.

1. Set small goals. We tried Ferberizing Benji in the day AND night but quickly realized that this was too difficult for us and Benji. He was SO sleep deprived the first few days because he could not sleep in the day, and took forever to fall asleep in the night. An overtired baby will take even longer to fall asleep. So at around the 3rd day, we switched strategies and only Ferberized him in the night. Our first goal then was simply to have him fall asleep on his own in the night, and sleep through the night (for at least 10 hours).

2. Be PATIENT. Be prepared for days and days and days (and days and days) of crying and crankiness. When we first started the method, we were a bit too positive and thought Benji would “be Ferberized” quickly, possibly by day 3, as some people reported. But this turned out to be not true for us. Benji cried for probably a good 10 days straight. Some nights waking up at midnight and crying for an hour or so before settling himself to sleep. While we like to think our kids are the best, we have to be realistic and realize that our kid might really be the outlier and take a slightly longer time than others to be sleep trained. I was VERY impatient, and as mentioned earlier, kept thinking to myself “are we there yet? Are we there yet?” And after a few minutes, when I didn’t see any results, started doubting the method. When in actual fact, Benji needed more time and thank goodness, Bry, the believer, was there to prevent me from impulsively walking into the room several times and picking up my child to soothe him.

3. Expect fights with your partner. Bry and I were constantly bickering during the nights we sleep trained Benji. I kept wanting to soothe Benji but Bry kept talking me out of it. It was a difficult situation and we both wanted the best for Benji, but it was difficult to try to reason anything when your baby is screaming his lungs out for minutes and hours. 

4. Be strong. Between us, Bry was obviously the stronger one. He truly believed the method would work. And even when he started doubting the method, he realized there was no other better alternative and in a way had no choice but to continue with it. There were moments when I hated Bry’s stickler for this method, but boy, am I glad he fought hard with me to keep doing it!!

5. Have a supportive network. Look online or offline for people who have done this and who are able to support you through the sleep training. Online, I remember going to forums and reading people’s success stories with this method. My friends on FB would respond to my desperate pleas for comfort and encourage me to keep going with the method.

6. Read carefully about this method, and check your steps. I like this website that outlines the method systematically. This website also gives a great 10-day “what to expect” guide to the method.  It took us about 5 days to get the Ferber method right. Initially, out of habit, we were still making nursing the last activity before putting Benji to sleep. Which was not ideal since we want Benji to be able to soothe himself to sleep and not require my boob  to help him do that.

I was also very concerned at the start of this training, about psychological harm to Benji, if any, especially since he was going through a bad phase of separation anxiety when we started this sleep training. I read an onslaught of information online about cortisol levels in babies during sleep training.  One site that really broke down information into digestible bits for me, is scienceofmom.com. Written by a scientist-now-mom, the author wrote a series of articles about sleep training and I read up every single one of them. One of them, about “helping babies cope with stress and learn to sleep” was particularly interesting. As mentioned in a previous post, this article by Dr. Canapari, a doctor who specializes in childhood sleep problems, was also extremely helpful, especially his reminder about “extinction bursts.”

7. My child can do more than I think he can if given a chance. This is a bold statement to make for a 7 month old (now 8 months!) but it helped get me through some of the interminable nights. One of my friends wrote me and said she adopted a bit of the controversial Babywise mantra, which is that she is giving her child the confidence that s/he has what it takes to sleep independently. And sometimes, I adopted that mentality and ran with it. At times, when we went in to check in on Benji during those minute long intervals, Bry or I would say to Benji “it’s hard, I know, but you can find a way to soothe yourself to sleep. You are capable of it.”

8. Be consistent. Both parents need to be consistent with the approach. You also need to be mindful of the routines, and make sure at least for the duration of the training, that your baby is following the same routines everyday. It’s basically an experiment!

Later, I’ll also write about how we got him to nap without much struggle in the morning. We still have his afternoon nap which we haven’t quite worked out as yet, but we will get there eventually!

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This little man has not been very happy since we landed back in Melbourne. In an earlier post written a week ago (has it already been a week?!!!!!!), I had written about our bold move to sleep train Benji using the Ferber/Controlled Comforting method. Thanks to all who commented on the post and encouraged me to stick with it. Personal friends of mine and Bry’s also cheered us for trying out this technique, swearing by its efficacy.

We FINALLY saw *some* improvement tonight, on night number 6. Benji fell asleep after 30 minutes of crying, versus 50 to 60 minutes the last five nights. Okay, I *sorta* lied about us being on night 6 of this journey. Early on, we did not follow all the steps of this method to the tee. For the first couple days, we still made nursing the last activity before his bedtime, and I still had quite a bit of skin contact with Benji during the intervals I went in to comfort him (tho I was always able to resist the urge to carry him). We did not realize how stubborn this little guy could be, and how crucial it was to play by the rules! There were also a few early morning wake-ups before that went on for almost an hour that just broke me, and I caved and either fed him or held him to sleep.

Two days ago, we made the executive decision to really stick strictly to the steps and even in the early morning when he would wake up to cry for some comfort, we would still use this technique. So tonight really was night number three.

While we have seen *some* improvement in terms of sleeping through the night, for example, we have consistently cut out one night feed (he was waking up TWICE; once at around midnight and another at around 4am to seek comfort), Benji still wakes up during that time and cries for at least 30 minutes before finally sleeping.

I would love to think that my brave little trooper has what it takes to calm himself and go to bed like a big boy but everytime those cries and whines start, I start doubting his ability – and my decision to do this. The longer he cries, the more it breaks me.  Like it did multiple times in the wee hours, and even more so early this morning. He slept till past midnight but woke up at 215am and cried intermittently until 415am, that’s two whole hours! Both Bry and I were losing our minds; we were in such a quandry: if we pick him up and tap him to sleep, which is what he wanted, he will sleep for sure, but will that undo the hard work we’ve put in to this training? We were both beside ourselves and kept snapping at the other; I wanted to end it, but Bry challenged me and asked me for an alternative plan. Then he wanted to end it and I questioned if it would ruin everything. Not fun to be arguing with your spouse at 415am, half asleep.

I have to admit that I was furious at everyone who assured us that this technique was a sure winner. But the person I was most upset with at around 4am when my child was still not sleeping, was Dr Ferber. How is it that this technique is so popular and if it is so great, WHY IS MY CHILD NOT SLEEPING PROPERLY AND, WORSE, OVER TIRED IN THE DAY?!! Benji was a really happy baby until 2 weeks ago. His giggles have significantly decreased, his vocalizations a more subdued…and his alertness a little less sharp. I’ve been trying to elicit some babbles from him (yes, I’m an over anxious Speech-Language Pathologist parent to an infant who still has yet to produce any babbles. No consonants. It’s a *little* worrying.) and with his attention span and mood so low these days, I can hardly get him to do anything without him rubbing his eyes or pulling his ears.

We gave up after 2 hours. Screw Dr Ferber for now, I thought. I need my happy baby back. Benji has been really quite overtired the last few days from all the extended crying. His anxiety to nap during the day was also heightened. We had originally tried the same technique for daytime naps but that got too stressful for us and mostly for him, so we cut that out and are now solely concentrating on getting him to sleep properly in the night.

BUT. Tonight’s record of sleeping after 30 minutes of struggle gave us a slight glimmer of hope and reinstated a little – just a little – my faith that this technique could work with Benji. Was last night’s episode the much feared “extinction burst” (Thanks, Dr Craig Canapari, for your very helpful post that I read and re-read amongst many other posts about this technique!) and that we survived it means we are over the hump???

Another night to test out this method. I’m holding my breath on this one.

I’m trying to type this post in the middle of Benji’s uncontrollable sobbing. My stomach is churning, my palms are sweaty, and my heart is racing. I keep telling myself “think big picture, think big picture, think big picture.”

We are trying to Ferberize Benji, as Bry called it. Last night he decided to take the plunge and introduce the “controlled comforting” method, similar to Dr Ferber’s somewhat controversial method that a lot of people associate with the “crying it out” technique of sleep training. Our health nurse encouraged us to try it, especially since Benji has been waking up more than usual to seek comfort, as well as taking longer than before to fall asleep. This is going to be quite unsustainable in our household with both Bry and I returning to work pretty soon.

Using the “controlled comforting” method, we had our usual nighttime routine with him: bathe, moisturize, read a book, feed, cuddle, Bry steps in and pats Benji till he’s sleepy, and then places him in his crib. As expected, Benji started screeching once Bry left the room. Bry decided to let him cry it out for 2 mins, and then go in for 1 min to comfort him, and then leave again this next time for 4 mins, and then keep extending the time he’s left alone by 2 mins extra. I whimped out at 4 mins; Benji was freaking out so much, I couldn’t take it.

Bry and I talked about this a lot last night; he really wanted to try it. So did I, but it was a lot harder than I thought. But after doing more reading and, yes, praying about it, I decided to really commit to trying to sleep train him. We know that training him earlier will be more effective than later.

In line with my promise to Bry to really try this method, this morning, I singlehandedly rolled out the harsh treatment during his morning nap.

Hence this post. Now. I needed something to distract me from his cries and blogging really helped pass the time more easily — and it did. I was able to drown out his cries more easily than last night when I was sitting on the couch watching the clock tick.

After the 6th minute run (the 3rd interval), he finally caved in and fell asleep. He still needed me to soothe him but I think he was so exhausted from the cries that he fell asleep within seconds after I patted him and had zilch energy left to check to see if I was still around after.

I just went in to take a peek and the little screaming babiac (baby maniac) is now our little sleeping angel, looking all cherubic like he did below. Ah, if only he can sleep as easily in his cot as he does in the baby carrier or stroller.

Whew. So this method supposedly takes between 3 to 10 days to take effect. Let’s hope it works.

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