Here's a question from N., the gist of which represents a significant number of emails that I receive.
to try sleep training. I am very sleep deprived and it is causing
marital strife. Our baby gets up at night every hour to three and
sometimes he will only fall asleep while lying on us. Naps are a joke
as they simply don't exist or, if the do, they are 5-45 minute catnaps
in my arms….there is no schedule. I am not functioning well and it
is terrifying me! I would like to try CIO when my baby turns 3 months
but I have a feeling that within 10min our baby will begin screaming
fits and my husband won't (right or wrong) go for this…he will only
let the baby cry for 5-10 ….I'm willing to go for much longer because
I am that desperate!
First and foremost, this is SUCH a tough age. I remember the panic I felt when I realized how much longer this whole infancy thing was going to last. At the time, I couldn't imagine making it "to the other side." A few thoughts: First, your baby actually does need to wake up at least a couple of times during the night to be fed. That doesn't mean she needs to wake up every hour for that nourishment, but it's good to keep in mind that the vast majority of infants need their stomachs re-filled every 3-4 hours or so. Second, you may find that your baby hits 3 months old and naturally starts sleeping longer stretches (and not necessarily on top of you either). These shifts may occur naturally, without you doing anything at all because those first 2.5 months are filled with huge biological changes that are settling down right about now. But if your baby DOES continue to wake up every hour or two and does not settle down easily afterwards and if you simply can't go on like this much longer, you can certainly consider some form of gentle sleep training methods.
As I mentioned in Part I of the 3 to 4 month stage description, this is the only stage that I am somewhat hesitant to recommend because the distress levels of the baby really do need to be monitored by the parent. But on the other hand, there are several reasons why we included this stage — in the book — as one of the
possible periods to sleep-train:
1. There are DESPERATE mothers like the one who posted the question who can't go on feeling sane without some change. I don't know this particular woman's circumstance, but many mothers also either need or want to go back to
work by the time their child is 3 months old. These mothers often have no
choice but to try SOMETHING. My main point is that if you feel you
have to do something, don't try sleep training at 4 months if you can avoid it and earlier than 2.5 months isn't wise either.
2. We have heard remarkably consistent reports from parents who did
gently sleep train (i.e., not CIO methods, more like "no-cry sleep
solutions") at this window with great success. Although I personally
didn't feel comfortable doing any kind of sleep training with my boys
this age (especially since they were 4 weeks premature and I had "issues", let's just say…), I strongly
feel that it's important to provide the developmental
and let parents make the decisions for themselves.
3. I think it's important to consider the unique properties of each developmental stage and think about whether there are some special considerations that should be made in terms of methods that might work best. From my perspective, I'd like to emphasize that whatever method is used
during this period, it shouldn't result in letting the baby cry for
more than 5-10 min max (I don't know about your baby, but mine cried
more than that if they were in their carseat and I stopped at a red
light). This is the only age at which I'm careful to dissuade parents
from picking a method that will involve prolonged distress because
the baby is simply biologically incapable of regulating intense distress by herself; she
needs mom and/or dad to bring her back down (of course, some babies DO calm themselves down at this age, but very few can do so when they are really, really wailing).
If you find that your baby doesn't take to sleep training easily during this age, and you feel you need to stop, then there ARE things you can do to maximize your own sleep. Some common suggestions: (1) Enlist your partner to take half the night shift and you do the other half. So, if you're breastfeeding, you can consider pumping or supplementing with formula and asking your partner to take the 10 pm – 2 am shift and you can take over for the 2 am – 7 am shift. That way, each of you are at least getting a 5-hour chunk of sleep in a row. (2) Hire a "mommy's helper" if you can afford it. This person can help soothe your baby to sleep after you feed her during the day and maximize nap times for you. She can also take your baby for a walk while you catch a nap. (3) Every 3 days or so, you can ask your partner to take the full night shift so you can catch up. Again, your partner can give the baby a bottle of breastmilk or formula when the baby wakes up. That way, you can always refuel twice a week and feel just a little more human. (4) If you can afford it, night doulas or night nurses that come very highly recommended can be serious life-savers when your partner can't help. Hiring someone even once/week might just give you enough energy to get you through the worst of this time. (5) Some people also find that co-sleeping during the worst of the frequent wakings works for them. It really DOES come to an end eventually and although 6 months seems completely impossible to imagine getting to at this point, your baby WILL get to that stage when sleep training may take much easier (believe me, I really DO get it, having had twin babies who woke up every other hour — and NOT the same hour — througout the first 6 months, I feel your horror like I was there yesterday).
What do you
think? Words of encouragement or wisdom for N.? Anyone out there who sleep-trained during this age and was
thrilled with the results (I know you're out there because I've talked
to many of you)? Does anyone want to respectfully gasp in horror at my
recommendation to try sleep training at this age?