Tuesday, August 10, 2010

When Does a Poor Sleeper...

...turn into a good one?

I have been so blessed by the fact that my first three sons were all champs when it came to sleeping. I read Babywise, followed a lot of its principles, and they responded well: sleeping through the night when just a few months old, fully able to put themselves to sleep and self-soothe to get back to sleep if awakened during the night, happy when they went to bed and happy when they woke up. It was fabulous, and I appreciated it.

"I don't do well with sleep deprivation," I would often say.

"I don't know how you do it, but I take my hat off to you!" I would exclaim to mothers who somehow dealt with children who consistently awoke during the night and needed mama's care to get back to sleep.

I didn't expect to ever find myself in that boat. After all, if I could train our first three boys to sleep well, surely I could do it a fourth time!

But I can't. Or I haven't. One of those.

Shav started out as a typical newborn: crazy sleep cycles, just trying to make sense of the world, needing me often to nourish and soothe him. But beautifully, at two months of age, he started sleeping through the night. I rejoiced.

And then, a few months later (I can't remember when exactly, but I know if was before Christmas), he started waking in the night. At first I thought it was a little glitch in his overall sleep training; but I see now that if it's only a glitch, it's a huge one--lasting about nine months or so. It's not as if he hasn't slept through the night at all since December; but for sure, the vast majority of nights have included at least one waking (and by waking, I mean one in which he doesn't get himself back to sleep without me nursing him).

There have been a few times when I thought we were making good progress, only to suffer a setback. One gigantic setback came when he had his fall. Before that, he was a thumb-sucker and was good at self-soothing; since then, I've only seen him with his thumb in his mouth a time or two. He doesn't suck his thumb to self-soothe, he doesn't suck his fingers, he doesn't suck a pacifier. Nothing. I'm extremely grateful that he finally started to nurse again after that fall; I remember well my sadness when I thought that those days were over for us. But, God, would it have been too much for him to be able to suck his thumb again, too?

Before we left on vacation, as we were approaching Shav's first birthday, we gained some ground in the sleep-through-the-night battle; and I owe that success to Jeff who would check on Shav when he was crying and would offer him a drink of water from a sippy cup. It seemed that, because Shav didn't associate Jeff with nursing (obviously!), he was more willing to go back to sleep; and he had gotten to the point of having some good nights of sleep in which he didn't awaken at all.

Vacation changed all of that, as I knew it would; and while we were traveling, I nursed him as needed. Back to square one, is how I felt.

Since we've been back, he's had the sickness that has been floating around here (fever, cold symptoms, that kind of junk) so of course, I understand that during such times, he needs a little extra comforting. Since our trip, his body rhythms got a little out of whack, and he would poop during the night and need his diaper changed (too much information, probably...sorry about that). I know he's also popped out some more teeth, and that contributes to his wakefulness, I'm sure.

I try to drum up compassion. I try to tell myself to appreciate these times with him because one day, they'll be gone forever and I'll miss them.

But honestly...

I am so ready to be done with these night wakings. My whole body tenses the instant I hear a cry from his room. Will he stop crying? Will he continue? Will I need to get up and nurse him?

When I tuck him in bed for the night, I pray that Shav will (among other things) have good, sweet, peaceful sleep that night and that he will sleep through the night. A selfish prayer, I suppose...but that's where I'm at. I think about Psalm 127:2 which says, "He grants sleep to those he loves." I pray that as a blessing for Shav.

And (nearly) every night, Shav awakens, and so must I, to nurse him and soothe him.

I don't know where I went wrong. What have I done badly that I've been unable to impart this most basic skill to this child whom I love so dearly? When I put him in bed (for naps or at night), he's wide awake and gets himself to sleep fine. So why doesn't he do it during the night without needing me?

I know a part of my impatience stems from weaning. I nursed my other boys until they were a year, and then they each peacefully transitioned to cow's milk from a sippy cup. No big fuss about it. I'd kind of, sorta, really like to wean Shav at some point in the near future. The only times I nurse him now are at bedtime and when he wakes during the night; for all other meals he drinks regular milk. But I feel like I can't totally wean him until we get this nighttime puzzle figured out.

How do I teach him to sleep through the night? How do I soothe him without nursing? What do I do? And how long is this going to last??? If I knew in a week, we'd be over this hurdle...or even in a month...I wouldn't be so bothered by it. But at this point in time, I feel like this dilemma will stretch forth indefinitely. I tell myself, "Surely by the time he's five, he'll be a good sleeper and sleep through the night without any trouble." But that's not very comforting!

I've never dealt with this before. I don't know when poor sleepers develop the skill of sleeping through the night. If a child doesn't get it at a few months old, when DO they?

He's such a happy, sweet little guy. For the most part, daytimes are an absolute breeze with him--no trouble at all. These days, he loves to be put on the floor and given the freedom to scoot. He's so cheerful!

But at night... sigh...

I just don't know what to do. And I'm so, so tired--not just from the physical fatigue of "I should have gone to bed two hours ago," but moreso from the mental fatigue of "how do I conquer this challenge when I feel so utterly discouraged by my previous inability to establish good sleeping habits in him?"

As I look back on the past year, I am reminded again of how grateful I am that we aren't shown the future. Back when I wrote this post about the mountain looming before me, if I had known then that I would be dealing with sleep deprivation for over a year...well...I don't know what I would have done. Been really, really sad, I guess. It's better to take just one day at a time, so said Jesus, and I understand this in a very real way.

But sometimes I wish that I could have a glimpse of the future...

...so that I could see when this particular problem will be solved and this burden will be lifted.


Amanda said...

I went through something similar to this with my 2nd son, Silas. Although I weaned all 3 boys at 8months, so therefore they were a bit younger and less reliant on that form of comfort. All I can share with you, and I'm sure this has been attempted before, is that when they cry during the night, I would go and not pick them up, just rub their backs, etc. and then leave when they are calm again. It's really really hard at first because they are so reliant on you to nurse them to sleep and you are changing their preconceived notion of what they 'need'. They cry, A LOT...It also helps if the father does it at first too so you aren't even needed. So it may fall on Jeff to be the one to go in, give the comfort and then come back. Eventually you'll be able to do it...but yes, it's gut-wrenching, painful....especially when you are nursing. It's good for them to learn how to self soothe (I know that you know this already) so this is just a way of teaching him to do just that. To me, it's like everything else about parenting, it's our job as parents to calmly, lovingly, show our children the 'better' way to handle a situation. :)) Good luck! And know that we've all been there!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hello, I have read your blog for quite a while now and I never left a comment. I also have 4 boys close in age, I can relate. Have you looked into the possibility of a milk intolerence, my oldest went from sleeping through to waking often when cow's milk was introduced. He did much better when whole milk was removed from his diet and started sleeping again in couple of months. Good luck. Robin

Beth said...

Davene - I am sorry to hear that you are going through this struggle. It can be so stressful!

I have been experiencing some anxiety already leading up to the birth of our daughter. When the boys came home from the NICU they were already a month old and already on a good sleep routine. They began sleeping through the night by the time they were three months old.

I have never had to sleep train a newborn baby and I overwhelmed by the thought of it! Babywise is on my bedside table right now. I have been brushing up on all the skills that seemed to work with the boys, but yet I know that this is going to be a whole different ballgame. I am nervous about how we will handle it all and if she will fall in to a good pattern like her brothers have done.

I wish you all the best as you guys work through this.

How long have you tried to let him cry it out at night time? I do think too that it may be good for Jeff to be the one to go in and for you to just stay in bed so he doesn't associate night time with you and that glorious nourishment! :)

Praying for strength and peace for you as evening time approaches and you put him down for the night. Praying that this battle doesn't last too long before you are all getting sound sleep all night long.

Valerie said...

Oh. My. Word. I feel your pain. Adaiah was an amazing sleeper from the get-go. She amazed me by sleeping 10 hour streches at just a month or so old. THEN she stopped. I was more of a walking zombie when she was 3 months old than I was when she was fresh home from the hospital. The girl hasn't slept a 10 hour (or 5 hour) stretch since about December. She also went from sleeping in her bed to sleeping in mine.
I have no idea how to wean her... the boys both weaned themselves and Hannah was nearly 2 and wound up going cold turkey because of some teeth issues. I would like to wean w/ hopes that she doesn't wake up at night just so she can nurse.
Her naps are short... and in my arms. If I put her down she wakes up and can't be lulled to sleep again until her next nap time. (3 a day)
I'm tired just writing all of that down. It's exhausting. We share the same room with the baby (we have a 2BR house, the other kids all share a room) and I don't think crying it out is something I want to try. Thats just not my way of doing things... but um, this lack of sleep is getting old.


She is cute though. And she is quite the cuddler. :)

Sally said...

I can share your pain. We went through this this winter and spring with Hannah. Getting up sometimes 4-5 times a night. Also, none of my children (so far) have entirely followed Babywise and the great sleeping that comes from following that schedule. Oh, they did get there, only every thing was later than the book said it would happen.

I don't have time to get into a bunch of details on how I've handled this, but if you're still wondering about it whenever we get a chance to visit, just ask.

P.S. I only skimmed this post b/c I need to go feed Marie. I hope to read it entirely later.

Sally said...

I just read your post more closely. I have also been thinking about this situation and how we handled Hannah's waking up in the night. Anyway, that was going on when I took her for her 2 year checkup. Our pediatrician told us that at her age two things are rewards for her: food and her parent's attention. I realized we weren't being consistent in how we handled her night-time wakings. She wanted her parent's attention (mainly, to crawl in bed with us). If it was the middle of the night, I would take her back to her room. On rare occasion, when it was 5:00 a.m. and I was completely exhausted, had been up 4-5 times with her in the night putting her back on her bed, I would let her sleep in our bed just because I needed some sleep. That was rewarding her getting up and coming to our room, and it was just enough to keep her doing it for months. We started consistently putting her back in her room, and not letting her sleep in our bed at all, period, no matter what. The problem soon resolved. Now, I don't know exactly how that relates to Shav, but if I would have one piece of recommendation, it would be to figure out a response to the wakings, and then consistently use that response. We, too, had the thoughts, "she's not feeling well", "she has a cold", etc., and then one day we realized that all those things were gone, and we still had night wakings and were up a creek.

As far as weaning, we weaned Paul and Hannah to straws. They were both completely on the bottle at that point (my milk being long gone), and instead of giving them a bottle before bed, I would offer them a cup with a straw for a drink of milk. (Of course they were already drinking from a straw fine through the day.) It wasn't exactly what they wanted, and there was some fussing and crying, but after a few nights, the work was all done and no more fussing or crying for a bottle.

Well, that's all I have to say at this point. I will pray that you can figure things out. I know you need rest!

Leah said...

My mountain and troubles have seemed to parallel yours; if I had known around the time you wrote that post what the next year would have in store for me, I just wouldn't have been able to keep on keeping on! While about very different things, it's interesting to me how these trials have lined up for us at similar times, and I too wonder when I will be relieved of crossing my mountain.
I pray for both of us that it's soon, and if not, that we will experience His sufficient grace in very real ways.

Polly said...

Hang in there. And don't beat yourself up over this. It's hard to get up in the middle of the night (so hard, in fact, that after my 'decent' sleeper became a not-so-good one, we sidecarred his crib at my husband's suggestion so I could get real rest at night). Very exhausting until we made that change! I had to really rethink the ideas I had about 'co-sleeping' to which I was totally opposed. (TOTALLY opposed.)

I was sleeping fairly well after we sidecarred the crib, and even though our son was waking 1x per night I didn't feel tired. That was helpful--especially because he didn't start sleeping through the night until he was just past 2. This coincided with both a big dietary change for him and self-weaning. Like Shav, he nursed at night/bedtime for a long time. Then--POOF!--it was almost overnight. It just went away. He stopped. I guess he stopped needing it. I did nothing. He sleeps through the night beautifully now and has for a year. Makes me happy!!!!

so-it will happen. Can't say *when* but it WILL happen! I read every sleep book in the world and followed babywise the first few months, but eventually just had to follow my own path insofar as the sleep went b/c I was getting more and more frustrated with the fact that he'd gone from long stretches to waking up more often. In retrospect--he was only a couple of months old! I shouldn't have gotten upset about that. I know of people whose children still wake at night in their elementary school years, but then they are getting old enough to take care of their own issues (drink of water, etc.)

It's a hard time. But he's still pretty little. So keep the faith--it won't last forever!

Margie said...

Davene, you know I can't pass up commenting about this subject. God bless Sarah, but she didn't sleep through the night until she was 26 mos. In every way she was a sensitive sleeper and would awaken at the slightest noise. I let her cry it out a few times, but travel or illness always put us back at square one. But for the past year, especially the last 6-8 mos, she's become one of the soundest sleepers in the house.

My encouragement is not with ideas, but to say that this won't last forever, which is something I know you know already. (And if you want to feel better, S was still waking up anywhere from 2-4 times a night at Shav's age. We figured out she was lactose intolerant at 13 mos, and her sleep got slightly better after that.) But take it for what it is - HARD - and work within your limitations until he sleeps through the night. I've seen the suggestions, and don't think it will be long now. We are all rooting for you.

Mike and Katie said...

I really appreciated this post. Talitha is still not sleeping through the night and seems to be getting worse not better. She is almost 6 months. Both of the other girls were sleeping a good 12 hours at night by 3 months so this has been hard. Christiana seemed so much more calm and happy when I quit feeding her during the night and stretching her to a four hour schedule.

I've wondered if it's me or if it's her. Am I parenting differently or is she just more challenging? I have appreciated your readers suggestions and plan to try some of them this weekend. I told Mike that I really wanted to work on getting Talitha sleeping through the night. He said, "Okay, I can sleep elsewhere." Poor guy. He hates the sleep training process, too.