It turns out we started sleep learning last night, not tonight. When we got home, the baby absolutely wouldn’t sleep unless held, so I decided then that we had to start soon. The past few weeks have been brutal: no only does he not know how to fall asleep on his own consistently, he also doesn’t know how to fall asleep on his back. So throughout the night, he flips from his tummy to his back and cries because 1) he can’t put himself back to sleep, and 2) he doesn’t know how to sleep on his back. We would be getting up almost every hour or two to either flip him over, rock him, or feed him.
We prepared the room by taping black garbage bags over our window to block out any sort of light (don’t worry, this is just temporary). His dad also bought an air mattress that he set up in the living room where we plan to sleep the next few nights. We had our notes nearby to record the night, and we were ready to go.
At 7pm, we started the bedtime routine with his bath. This was followed by applying lotion to his face and legs, putting on his diaper, PJs and sleep sack, singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, reading a book (and always ending with “I am a Bunny”), saying good night to the furniture in the room, turning on our white noise and drinking his milk. Unlike previous nights where I would secretly pray that he would fall asleep while eating (anything to avoid bouncing him to sleep!), this time I had to make sure he stayed awake. Once he was done eating, I burped him and held him in my arms. The second his eyelids drooped down, I laid him—on his back, wide awake—in his crib. My expectations were very low.
Below is how our night ensued:
He was laid down in his crib and cried.
First check-in. One of us poked our head in through the door and said loving and encouraging words to him, staying no more than 30 seconds and making sure not to pick him up or touch him (doing so teases him and makes him even angrier). Only one of us could go in; otherwise he’ll get too stimulated.
Second check-in, 10 minutes later.
Third check-in, 15 minutes later.
He fell asleep. Celebrate! (Or so we thought).
Then, just as we were gloating over our success:
He starts to cry. One of us pokes our head in to check-in.
He is asleep.
We set our alarm clock to 1:15am for a “dream feed.” In order to wean him from the habit of waking up to eat, we had to beat him to the punch and wake him up first. We lifted him up from the bed and fed him for 16 minutes total. These minutes will decrease little by little through the next several nights so that down the line, he will be eating for 2 minutes, then finally, he won’t be woken up at all.
He cried for a few minutes after his dream feed, but soon fell asleep.
He gives one short cry but falls back asleep. We didn’t even bother to check-in.
Another dream feed. This time after he ate, I held him in a vertical position for a few minutes before laying him down in his crib. He didn’t end up crying or waking.
He cries. I go in to check-in on him and was prepared to wake him up at 6:41 (11 hours after he was first laid down), but he actually quieted down when I poked my head in and fell back asleep.
He cries, and we both go in to congratulate him on a job well done and encouraged him to keep it up.
Like I said, I had low expectations. This is, after all, the baby who cried all the way to Big Bear and back again. He wasn’t about to go down without a fight. So to me, 37 minutes and an hour and 15 minutes of crying is okay. I was expecting him to cry for 3 hours straight.
I’m just so surprised that he even fell asleep. Not only did he have to learn how to fall asleep on his own, but he had to learn it in a new position—on his back. He had a lot to try out last night and I’m just so proud of him and excited at the prospect of him falling asleep on his own through the night.
I really wanted to follow non-crying sleeping methods, and for many months I thought he’ll eventually learn to sleep on his own. But I finally realized that while some babies learn to sleep on their own easily, most babies don’t, and if not given the chance to practice, he’ll be denied that important skill. I also didn’t want to have a two or three year old who still needed me to rock him or lay down with him in order to fall asleep.
And lastly, we’re all just so tired: he, his dad and I. Once he can sleep through the night on his own, we’ll be better rested and will have stronger attachments and a richer relationship than a family struggling with sleep deprivation. Clearly, rocking him to sleep isn’t working, so hopefully this method will be more promising.