Why I Stopped Sleep Training

img courtesy for better or for worse

img courtesy for better or for worse

Before I start, I should explain for anyone who hasn’t done it that sleep training is a constant process. Your child’s sleeping habit will be affected every time she travels, recovers from illness, or has family visiting overnight. After each of these disruptions, one needs to retrain the child. So when I say I stopped sleep training, I mean that after the first few of these disruptions I stopped retraining my daughter.

The second thing I should clarify is that there are different types of sleep training. The one I followed was the “cry it out” method (CIO), which is simply allowing the baby to identify her own way to falling asleep, and allowing her to cry out her frustrations as all her other sleep associations are broken. If this sounds harsh, it is and not all parents can do it. I’ve heard stories of mummies crying outside their baby’s bedroom as the baby cried for her on the inside. The upside though is that once the sleep associations are broken the baby actually sleeps so much better. Having learnt to fall asleep by herself, the child will more often than not fall asleep again by herself if she awakens in the middle of the night. If you count the total number of hours your child would cry as you tried to get her to sleep every night without sleep training, it would be a lot more than the few hours she may cry when being trained. So more upfront pain, but less pain later. At least that’s how I justified it in my head.

Why did I CIO? If I am truly honest, it was because I thought I’d go crazy if I didn’t. I was spending sometimes more than an hour to get my daughter to sleep. She’d only agreed to sleep while there was some physical contact between her and me – most of the time this was my hand on her chest. If by mistake I removed my hand before she was completely asleep then she’d sit up crying and wide awake, and we’d have to start all over again. This took us to a point of ridiculousness that I’d didn’t even know existed before I became a mum – hovering at an awkward angle over my child’s cot as I gradually removed contact one finger at a time, followed by the different parts of the palm. The whole hand only came off if she didn’t stir at any point of this contact breaking process. Sometimes this step took 5+ minutes. If that doesn’t sound like a lot try doubling over, with a wooden rod poking into your recently stitched up belly for that long. For me this situation was further worsened by the fact that my daughter refused to allow anyone else tuck her in. I did this seven days a week, thrice a day if you counted only the two naps and bedtime. But on most nights she woke up once/twice in the middle of the night and having to do this in a sleep deprived, zombie state was slowly killing me (at least that’s what it felt like.) I truly understood why they use sleep deprivation as a form of torture. There are parents who do this forever, until their children outgrow this. They’re stronger than I.

Before I tried CIO I had tried all the other sleep methods out there. They didn’t work for us. The first day I tried CIO my daughter cried for 1.5 hour. We had the baby monitor on and I periodically went in to reassure her. It was very hard but I was desperate. The second night it took an hour, the third night, half an hour and the fourth night 5-minutes! Even though she woke up a couple times at night, getting her to sleep again now took only a few minutes. And finally at ten months she was sleeping through the night or atleast not waking me up. Slowly I slept off the bitch that months of sleeplessness had created.

A little after this happened we spent two weeks visiting family. We were in a new environment with the inability to create the same sleep environment we had created at home for my daughter So my daughter slept with my husband and me and in those two weeks she got used to having mummy hug her to sleep. So when we got back, I had to train her again. We did six trips between 8-months and 19-months and after each one I retrained my daughter. Each retrain was easier than the earlier one. And then something changed.

At 20 months my mother visited for a few weeks and shared my daughter’s room. The first night of my mum’s visit was also the first night ever my daughter climbed out of her cot and clambered into her grandma’s bed. This happened in the middle of the night without any of us knowing. In fact my daughter didn’t realise what she had done either. When she tried to get out of her cot, wide awake, she couldn’t do it! But the next morning there she was, in grandma’s bed again!

That night, I was thinking about this as I got into bed and pushed mysef against the warm body of my husband. That’s when it really hit me. I hate sleeping without my husband. I love feeling his body warmth through the night. It’s calming to know he will hug me in his sleep if I nudge him right and sound the right grunts. Can I blame my daughter for wanting the same? For the three weeks my mother visited, my daughter shared her bed every night. Towards the end of her visit we didn’t even bother putting her in her cot, she went straight into grandmas bed.

I thought I’d sleep train her again once my mother left. But parts of me were now fighting this and it wasn’t just the realisation of what it was she sought. I thought of the number of times I wanted to hug my daughter to sleep, but didn’t because it would recreate bad sleep associations. The first night after my mother left I tucked my daughter into her cot. She complained pointing towards the bed my mother had occupied. I remembered how warm my husband’s body felt and picked my daughter up and took her to my mother’s bed. I read her a story with her head against my shoulder. She fell asleep with the biggest grin on her face.

I keep vowing to sleep train her again, especially after nights when it takes me over an hour to get her to sleep. Everyday, I fall more and more behind with work as I lose critical work time on days when I fall asleep with my daughter (like a lot of parents I resume my work day after dinner). But she is 25-months old now and I still haven’t gotten around to training her again. I don’t know if I was a bad mum when I used CIO or now when her sleep is a bit more interrupted because she often has me tossing around in her bed. But it’s hard to give up what is now the best part of my day and I guess my daughter’s CIO days are over.

With parenthood, when the going gets tough, parents whisper to themselves “this too shall pass”, implying everything is a phase and things will get easier. Even though not having a sleep trained daughter is strenuous I actually dread the “this too shall pass”. Someday sharing a bed with mummy will be an invasion of her privacy and I know I’m going to miss it like crazy.

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