Cry It Out Night 1: Cold turkey? Really?

For Kris. Because this would have been a leeeetle on the long side for a text.  🙂

Sunday 7:00PM: Bedtime. Ben’s had a bath and is in his PJs. I put him in his bed but, as often happens, he seems wide awake. He’s not happy. He reaches his little T-Rex arms as high as they will go. “Pick me up,” they implore. I resist. I give him a kiss, tell him, “Mama loves you. Its bedtime. Goodnight,” and leave the room. Out in the hallway, I put my head in my hands, exhausted from a long day, feeling miserable that he’s unhappy in his crib in his room.

7:15 PM: I’m back in his room. More patting, more shushing. He seems to go to sleep. I tip-toe out.

8:00 PM: Over the monitor, I hear him wake up. I abandon my husband, my dinner and my glass of wine and drag myself up the stairs. More pats, more “I love you, its bedtime,” more crying. I pick him up and he stops immediately. I nurse him for a bit and he gets sleepy again. I put him back in the crib and he rolls onto his side. I rub his back and softly, “shhhhh…..” until he’s asleep again.

9:08 PM: We’re in bed now, watching the news. I’m leafing through What to Expect in the First Year, looking for advice on teething (which we think is happening). Over the monitor, we hear him wake up. I am comfortable. I am tired. I am tired of going in there over and over. For the past 2 months, most nights he is up every 3 hours, sometimes more often than that. Some nights, I have completely given up and slept with him in the spare room, just so I can nurse him without standing up and walking down the hall. I have bags under my eyes. I feel like a zombie some days. Personal care and hygiene have gone out the window. I was not expecting this. I was expecting my baby to sleep by now. I have asked friends, the pediatrician, teachers at school. I look at Ted. “He can’t be hungry,” I say, “He just ate an hour ago.” I quickly flip to the section on “Why isn’t my child sleeping through the night?” thinking, yes, that’s exactly what I want to know. Enlighten me. The short version: He should be. He CAN, metabolically speaking. But because I go in there every time he makes a peep, he wakes up more. Its not him. Its me. I look up at the clock. Its been 4 minutes. He’s still crying. “Let’s wait for 10 minutes,” I say. Why 10 minutes? I don’t know. Probably because when I was a teenager, the family I babysat for had a 10 minute leave-him-alone rule when their baby went to bed. I kept reading. We read the short summaries of different sleep training methods. We read about weaning off of night nursing. Ted thought cold turkey–the infamous Cry It Out method–sounded best. I was less sure. I had been thinking about this for a while. Won’t he feel abandoned? Maybe he’s hungry or wet or dirty? I don’t think I can listen to him cry for hours. I look at the clock. Its been 7 minutes. We start to make a plan. After 10 minutes, if he’s still crying, Ted will go in and give him his pacifier back and a pat and that’s it. Then we’ll give it another 10 minutes and if he’s still crying, Ted will go in and pick him up and comfort him. Then we’ll give it a final 10 minutes and if he’s still crying, I’d go in and feed him. Also, since he’s used to eating at night, we decide that if he wakes up around 2 or 3 AM, I’ll feed him, but not very much. Okay. Are we really doing this?

9:18 PM: “Do you hear him?” I whispered. “No.” Ted whispered back, showing me his crossed fingers. “Do you think he’s okay?” I ask. Ted moves to get out of bed and go check–but I say no, stay here. We’ll check in 10 minutes if we don’t hear anything. I commandeer the iPad (Seriously, we have to get another iPad. Sharing sucks.) and Google “cry it out” and read some interesting things.  This one, by Slate writer Melinda Wenner Moyer, I find very reassuring. She looks at the argument that crying it out is stressful to babies. In summary, babies did not experience a rise in cortisol levels (a stress hormone) when left to cry it out. They remained constant throughout the sleep training study. Mothers, interestingly, saw a decrease in their cortisol levels on the 3rd night. The scientist argues that it is concerning that the babies never experienced a drop in cortisol levels. Writes Wenner Moyer:

“What’s dangerous about the situation,” Middlemiss explained to me, “is that the mother has no idea — because the behavioral indication [i.e. the crying] is absent — that the infant had remained stressed.” But how do we know the infants were stressed to begin with if their cortisol levels never rose? Middlemiss says that the babies in her study must have been stressed as soon as they arrived at the sleep lab — it’s a foreign environment — so it didn’t matter that the training itself didn’t incite a further increase. But there were no comparison groups included in the study to validate such a conclusion — no infants lounging around at home with much lower cortisol levels — so it’s unfair to assume that the sleep-trained infants were stressed. (Middlemiss told me that she once took cortisol measurements of babies while they were at home, and that their cortisol levels were lower than the babies tested in the sleep lab, but she didn’t include this information in her study.) Even if the babies at the sleep lab were highly stressed, the obvious take-home is that parents shouldn’t bring their babies to sleep labs — not that they shouldn’t cry it out.”

Ha. HA. I love science.

9:30 PM: Ted quietly goes in and checks. A minute later he reports back that Ben is sleeping. He couldn’t see him well, but he heard him breathing softly. What is with thinking that my baby isn’t breathing. Do all mothers have that irrational fear? Gawd. I’m ridiculous.

I keep reading. The article goes on to address my other big concern–that letting Ben cry himself to sleep would mess up our securely attached relationship. We had participated in a study related to attachment and it was really rewarding. We were securely attached. I really value that. Wenner Moyer summarizes attachment nicely:

“Attachment is an extremely misunderstood concept; basically, it describes a child’s relationship with his mother or father as it develops over the course of the first year of life. A child who is securely attached to his mother is confident that she is there for him, because she has been repeatedly and appropriately responsive to his cues and needs. A child who is not securely attached is not so sure mom can be counted on, because she has been unpredictable in her responsiveness or perhaps even abusive.”

She interviews experts in the field and concludes, “…you won’t threaten a secure attachment with your baby if you let her cry at night a few times….” Phew. I love science.

10:38 PM: I think I’m finally convinced. Its not likely to take weeks. He’s not likely to cry for hours–I won’t let that happen. Ted is urging me to go to sleep. We review the plan one more time. I drift off to sleep.

3:30 AM: Ted gently shakes me awake. “Pancake, its 3:30. He’s been sleeping the whole time. Do you think you should feed him?” I groggily debate with myself. If I go in and wake him up and feed him when he’s not asking for food, am I reinforcing night eating when maybe he’s not really hungry? If I don’t, will he be awake in 30 minutes, hungry. Because THAT’S HOW BABIES WORK. The like to mess with you like that.  I decide to stay in bed and take my chances. We go back to sleep.

5:15 AM: I hear him crying. Ted’s awake too and lunges to go get him. “No, no,” I say, “First we wait 10 minutes.” And so we wait in the light of the breaking dawn, watching the clock across the room. Six minutes pass. Silence. Wow.

6:45 AM: I wake up on my own. My boobs have not exploded (What? It was a concern.). I strain to listen. From down the hall, I hear quiet noises. Ben is talking to himself. He does this on many mornings. “Let’s go together,” I suggest to Ted. So we do. Entering Ben’s room at the same time and approaching his crib. He’s turned sideways, with his feet toward the wall and his head toward the door, he’s examining the quilt that hangs over his bed. He doesn’t see us until we are peering over the edge of the crib at him and then he just looks at us for a moment before giving us a big smile. “Good morning!” we tell him, “Good morning! We’re so proud of you! You did so great! You are such a good boy!” and we scoop him up then, all smiles, and have a group hug. Ted changes him and gets him dressed and then he nurses for breakfast. He’s hungry, but not famished. He’s more focused and serious about eating than other mornings. When he’s done, he’s ready to play and move. He’s totally, completely happy.

Later that morning, I relayed our experience to his daycare teachers–both are full of experience and wisdom. They are relieved that his crying never lasted more than 10 minutes, that we never went in and picked him up. Because, they explained, then he just learns that he has to cry for longer before you’ll respond. Ted had made a similar argument the night before but I had brushed it off. “He’s not a dog,” I’d said. Apparently, the dog training style of parenting might be more effective than I’d previously thought.

Of course, I felt really great. My standards are pretty low. So, even though I was up at 3:30 and again at 5:15, I felt great. That was more sleep than I’d had in a long time.

Ben responded as one might predict. He ate more during the day on Monday–an extra ounce of milk at each feeding and more fruit/veggies and cereal than he usually does. But that’s okay. Maybe he knows.

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2 thoughts on “Cry It Out Night 1: Cold turkey? Really?

  1. Pingback: Celebration Pizza | the short stack

  2. Pingback: Fall Update | the short stack

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