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Operation: Sleep

January 10, 2012

Like most parents of babies, we’ve hit a wall with sleep. We’re trapped somewhere in the never-ending cycle of perpetual sleep deprivation.

In retrospect months 0-4 were heavenly with the Doodle.  I expected to be tired.  And I was.  I woke up 2-3 times to nurse the baby each night.  She never fully woke up for those feedings.  She would just paw at me in her sleep, I’d give her milk, and fall asleep while she ate.  I slept in short chunks of constantly interrupted sleep, but I woke up functional, coherent, rational and feeling pretty well rested each morning.  The universe had graced us with a good sleeper.

Then the Doodle turned 4 months old and overnight all that was good in our nighttime world disappeared.  She was restless and frantic in her sleep.  She would flail and twitch and wake up crying.  The Doodle has never been difficult to put to sleep, she still isn’t, she just stopped staying asleep.  She was up every hour or two all night long, and when she wasn’t up to nurse, she was keeping me up with her restlessness.

At first I blamed the infamous 4 month sleep regression.  Her sleep changed all of a sudden, overnight really.  It was quick and explosive.

I thought she’d settle back to a routine of some sort, but when it didn’t I blamed teething.  But when she got her first two teeth at nearly 5 months, her sleep didn’t change.

The first teeth were quickly followed by teeth three, four, five and six.  Still, her sleep didn’t change once those teeth came in.  I was sure it was because teeth seven and eight were on the verge.  I’ve been waiting two months now, and while the Doodle displays signs of teething, I don’t think they’re going to show up any time soon.

While I was waiting for the rest of her teeth to show up, her sleep was getting worse and I was becoming more of a zombie each and every day.  Not only was the Doodle restless in her sleep, but she began to pinch and claw at me.  She flailed her limbs all night long, hitting, smacking and waking me up from whatever little sleep I somehow managed to slip into.

For a while I tried to rationalize the Doodle’s sleep issues away with all kinds of explanations.  Maybe it was because of all of the development happening with crawling, pulling up and starting to cruise.  Maybe it was because of the onset of separation anxiety.  Maybe she was sensitive to dairy or allergic to the dog.  Maybe it was because she was a light sleeper and every jingle of the dog’s collar or step on the creaky wood floor was disturbing her.  Maybe she was too hot.  Maybe we ruined her by bed sharing. Maybe she wasn’t getting enough sleep in a 24-hour period.  Maybe she was getting too much sleep in a 24-hour period.

The only maybe I wasn’t willing to consider was that we had a crappy sleeper on our hands and I’d just need to roll with it.

By the middle of December, or after 4.5 months with pretty bad sleep, I was grasping at any possible explanation and trying out various solutions.  I wanted a quick and easy fix.  I want to try something and to see immediate results that indicated some sort of progress.

Right after the Doodle turned 9 months, I hit a wall.  The 9 months of Doodle sleeplessness and the previous 9 months of pregnancy had left me with no reserves in my sleep tank.  I was exhausted.  Cranky, tired, and over it.

Wifey and I made a sleep plan and implemented it with some success over the holidays.  Only it wasn’t perfect, and we kept on tweaking it nightly because I’m exhausted and impatient, and wasn’t seeing the results I wanted to.  We focused on creating new positive sleep associations and I think we overwhelmed her with too many changes at once.  Wifey was following my lead on operation sleep, but had pretty much had it, and was about to suggest crying-it-out as the holy grail of solutions.

I think our experiences of attachment with our older kids have really shaped our parenting of the baby.  We’re not cry-it-out people for a number of reasons. I can’t stand to her the Doodle cry, I think she’s telling me about her needs when she cries, and she settles quickly in my presence or with my touch as she’s easily soothed.

Even more than that, I believe that babies can be pretty neatly divided into two camps.  The baby who needs to cry to release tension to go to sleep and the baby who will cry and cry and cry and just get more agitated and excitable.  The Doodle is of the later variety.

We’ve tried to cry-it-out three times.

The first time was around 6 months of age.  I put her in her crib to sleep for the night and sat beside her singing, patting, and shushing for over an hour.  She was miserable and went from crying to hysterical screaming.  She was inconsolable.  It just affirmed that we’d made a good choice in not letting her cry it out.

Then there was another time around 7 months of age where I put her down for a nap after another exhausting night.  She had been asleep and the moment I walked out of the room she started to fuss.  So I let her fuss.  I wanted to see if she would just go back to sleep.  She cried for 40 minutes while I cried for sitting at the top of the stairs listening to her anguished cry.

The third time was last night.

After having put her back to sleep 4 times in less than 2 hours, the Doodle woke up.  Instead of rushing to her, Wifey and I agreed to let her cry for 5 minutes to see what would happen.  I got ready for bed in the bathroom that adjoins her room while I listened to the Doodle’s screams get more and more frantic.  I kept on thinking, “How do people listen to their babies scream?” or “How is this supposed to be effective?” or “How long does a baby cry on her own before it can be considered neglect?”

Then there was a loud thunk.

The Doodle had thrown herself out of the pack n’ play and fell three feet to the floor.  She landed head first.

The baby was so frightened, or angry, that neither of her mommies came to her aid that she managed to get from her stomach to a kneeling position to standing so that she could leap out of her bed to find someone to comfort her.  All while she was wailing hysterically.

I got to the Doodle first and scooped her up in my arms.  We calmed her down together.  When the crying finally subsided we thoroughly checked her for injuries and applied some frozen peas to her quickly growing goose egg.  Other than being shaken from her tumble, the Doodle was fine.

We on the other hand are pretty horrified that we let our exhaustion get the best of us.  Not only did we go down a parenting road philosophically that we weren’t comfortable with, we also didn’t listen to our guts and lower the baby’s bed and placed her in a position of danger.

We’ve tossed out the cry-it-out manual and are going to continue on with our original operation sleep plan.  We’d like to get the baby down for the first 3-4 hours on her own in the pack n’ play and then she can restfully sleep for the rest of the night with a limited number of night wakings in the family bed.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2012 11:44 pm

    oh no. poor doodle. poor moms.

    i hope you keep posting about sleep. i’m obsessed with it.

    • January 11, 2012 10:24 am

      I feel like I’m becoming so obsessed that all I do is think about sleep, research about sleep, and try to get the baby to sleep. I thought we may have figured out the cause of the night thrashing – it seemed to go away when we used disposables instead of cloth – but last night she was just inconsolable. Teething, maybe? Ha! I’ll keep posting, and you keep posting, and maybe we’ll uncover a miracle!

  2. January 11, 2012 11:21 pm

    that sounds SO traumatic for everyone!!

    Sleep is a big huge black hole for a lot of families. It’s so hard trying to figure out what to do and how to do it and how long to try it and and and and….

    My experience with our oldest was somewhat similar to yours, except that finally the crying it out did work. And I don’t think it is the holy grail or right for everyone – it was just what was right for us. You will figure out what is right for your Doodle and what needs to happen so that she can learn to get the sleep she needs. Sleepy thoughts and hugs to you all!

    • January 15, 2012 11:13 am

      I need a sleep holy grail! Things are getting better…sort of. The Doodle is pretty adamant that she wants to sleep in our bed. She’s not even that keen on nursing to sleep lately or even being held to go to sleep. She likes to lie down on her own. Only the only place that she’ll tolerate it is in our bed. She screams bloody murder if it’s anywhere else. But that’s progress, right?

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