Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Sleep Saga Goes On . . .

As I was dropping Violet off at daycare one morning last week, I responded to a fellow parent's innocent inquiry as to how I was doing with an honest "I'm tired." Violet, never a sound sleeper, has been even more restless the past few weeks, and it's taken a toll on Eric and me. After a year and half of living with a baby with high nighttime needs, we can withstand a significant sleep deprivation, but the holidays (and the four new teeth that came with them) seemed to amplify our issues. By the second week in January, we were back to the all-night nurse-a-thons we thought we'd left behind months ago.

Historically, Violet’s sleep patterns have been inconsistent enough to give us the occasional reprieve. A few nights of waking to nurse only once or twice could restore us sufficiently to withstand the less peaceful episodes that were sure to follow. But last week we realized we – more accurately I - wasn’t going to be able to ride this most recent regression out. Violet had appointed me her human pacifier, refusing to sleep without being latched on. Though I am more patient as a parent than I ever imagined I could be, I have my limits, and we had reached them.

So when this friendly father said "how are you?" I told him: I'm tired. The adorable, energetic toddler you just saw me waving goodbye to is up at least every hour these days. In my experience, such confessions are often met with a well-intentioned explanation of when and how the person I'm speaking with applied the cry-it-out technique with their own child, and how well they've been sleeping ever since. This conversation was no exception. But while I appreciate the suggestion, and I certainly envy the image of uninterrupted sleep, I'm still not comfortable with the concept of "cry it out."

Eric and I agreed we needed to do something differently, but weren’t willing to resort to letting Violet cry it out alone. Instead, we decided it was time for her to (partially) nightwean. At seventeen months, she no longer needs to nurse for nutrition overnight, and though we hated to remove that source of comfort, her increasing dependence on it was making the family bed unbearable. We were familiar with Dr. Jay Gordon’s gentle approach to nightweaning, and using it as a guide decided to designate the hours of 10 pm – 5 am as “time to sleep,” during which we would offer Violet comfort in any form except nursing.

For a few nights, I left the room when she woke, so as not to further frustrate her. Eric could soothe her in my absence by letting her lay on top of him, but we soon saw that while that was effective at settling her, ultimately we weren't making any progress at getting her to sleep unattached to one of us. Last night, we took the option of Dada's chest off the table, and the nightweaning began in earnest. Denied her two preferred sleep associations, Violet protested first angrily, and eventually with heartbreaking, hiccuping sobs. But as she struggled, we stayed beside her, rubbing her back, singing softly, whispering in her ear. Eventually she fell asleep, nestled between us.

We expect it to take Violet some time to adjust to this new nighttime routine, and we are committed to working through that with her. We also understand that nightweaning may not reduce her nightwaking (though certainly that is the hope). But even if she continues to wake frequently, nightweaning will allow us to identify other ways to soothe her back to sleep that will afford us more flexibility in our nighttime parenting. In the meantime, we'll accept any peacefully sleeping baby vibes sent our direction.

For inspiration:

3 comments:

Mary Ann said...

Thank you for your honesty. My son eats more during the night than during the day and it does take a toll. I remind myself that this tool shall pass and before I know it he'll be 6 feet tall and in high school.

Kiki said...

Hi there!

I just found your blog from API. My daughter is 18 months and it looks like we came to the same conclusion to nightwean at the same time. I was surprised at how quickly she weaned. After trying to leave the room and realizing separation anxiety set in, I stayed in the room and just sang and held her. I told her "nursies are night night". For my daughter at least it was easier for me to be there. She still wakes up at 6 am to nurse an hour before she wakes up, but now when she wakes at other times she just looks at me and rolls over. (we co-sleep). I never thought I would see the day.

I hope you all are getting more sleep :)

kate said...

Hi, how's this going? I thought I'd drop in and hopefully offer encouraging thoughts.

My first daughter was like this--never a very good sleeper, and before I learned better, we tried many methods that I would never dream of attempting now but are still being recommended all over the place--and still, none of them worked on her. She was just not a sleeper from the beginning. As a newborn, when they say they're supposed to sleep 16-20 hours? Mine slept 6. Or maybe 8.

But it gets better. (We eventually fully embraced co-sleeping until she was ready to move to her own bed on her own.) She is now 5 and goes to sleep happily, by herself (as she prefers) and sleeps a normal amount for her age.

My second daughter has been completely different, a "good sleeper" from the beginning. Kids really are just very different in their needs, and their approaches. It's commendable that you're putting so much effort into helping her get the sleep she needs (while still maintaining your own sanity!) in as gentle a way as possible. I do think at this age it's okay if they have to cry a bit, as long as they know you're not abandoning them, which of course your daughter does if you're staying with her, patting her back.

PS: Found you through a technorati search for blogs tagged with unconditional parenting.