This post has been a long time coming. I’ve been thinking about it for several months, what I wanted to say and how to write it down in words. But I’ve noticed a lot of discussion in the blogosphere world around the topic lately, so I really can’t hold back any longer.
Our son has been sleeping for 12 hours a night since he was about five months old. People seem completely amazed and perhaps a bit envious when they hear that the first time. But here’s the thing… we didn’t do it alone, and he cried a lot in the process.
After a particularly draining “vacation” to Greece last July, we hired an “online nanny” to help us with Per Christian. She was based in the UK, we were in Norway (consultants everywhere should make note of this telepresence arrangement). We had phone calls every morning and evening to talk about what was happening with our son, and she’d give us our marching orders for what to do next.
It was – in a word – a relief.
Per and I were beyond exhausted as new parents, and we were completely overwhelmed at the plethora of information (and mis-information) out there. We had no clue what we were doing and we needed help. We agreed to work long-distance with this baby consultant for three weeks, and to follow her instructions 100% during that time. If it didn’t work out or if we felt at all uncomfortable with the arrangement, then we’d go back to forging it alone. No harm done.
Our first order of business was to get Per Christian sleeping on his own. I quickly realized that we had been caught in a never-ending cycle of issues… Per Christian wasn’t nursing well because he wasn’t sleeping well, and he wasn’t sleeping because he wasn’t eating.
So we did the unthinkable – we left our fourth-month old to “cry it out.”
This is what’s garnering so much attention lately, the debate of “To Cry or Not to Cry.” Per Christian was left to cry for 20 minutes at a time – mostly during the daytime, and during periods when he should typically be napping. Trust me, those 20 minutes felt like an eternity to a nervous, new mother staring at the clock ticking down the seconds on her iPhone. But we received specific instructions from our super-nanny along the way, as well as some much-needed reassurance when I was ready to give up the entire experiment.
That very first night, Per Christian slept for eight hours. The next night for ten hours. The following night for 12 hours… and we haven’t looked back since. We of course still have the occasional sleepless night from teething pain or traveling chaos, but overall we’ve been good.
This is, understandably, a hot-temper topic among parents… Is it cruel to let our babies cry? Is it creating mistrust? Have we re-wired the neurons in his brain to hate the world? Is it putting the need for parents’ sleep above the need for infant comfort?
All I can say is that it’s worked well for us. I feel more confident taking care of my son now because I know what to expect. I know he can settle himself for naps and for bed in the evening. And if he’s not settling – or wakes up crying in the night – I know something is wrong. I don’t have to lie in bed and wonder. I just know.
I do not believe that this sleep training taught Per Christian that nobody will come for him when he cries, so he might as well suck it up and go to sleep. I still come and comfort him if he’s not sleeping after 20 minutes, and if he cries at 3am then I’m out of bed in a flash. What I do think he’s learned is how to re-settle in the night without the need of a tight swaddle, or a pacifier, or food, or hours of rocking to sleep. I believe that this is just one of the things that every child will have to learn eventually… we teach them to eat properly, how to walk on their feet, how to say their first words. Shouldn’t we also teach our children how to sleep?
I’ve been reading a lot of anti-crying and anti-sleep-training rhetoric lately, so I thought it was about time to throw my own hat into the ring. Not many of us stand up and say, “Yes, I left my child to cry and that was the right thing for us…”, but there do seem to be a lot of vocal proponents of supposedly more “gentle” methods. So what’s the right way to teach your child to fall asleep on their own?
It’s an impossible question to answer.
I do know that our experience will not work for everyone. Those first three days were tough emotionally on the entire family, and I wouldn’t criticize anyone for going a different route. We did get through it, and I personally believe we’re all better for it as a family, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t had my doubts.
Anyway, there’s my two cents thrown into the sleep training arena. I’m extremely grateful that we had help along the way, but in the end I still believe every parent has to do what feels right in the deepest, darkest corners of their gut.