Sleep training / Night weaning: Night 1

Last night, Michael went from 7.30pm to 6am without a bottle.

But first, let’s back up a bit.

For the last few weeks, we’d managed to get him to more or less stick to one night feed around 1-2am, which was usually a diluted bottle of formula (effectively 90ml plus a lot of water, which in Michael’s terms is really a teeny tiny snack). So I knew that he was getting used to not eating at night. Still, the thought of weaning him off night feeds completely was as scary a proposition to me as cutting my left hand off. Without anesthesia. Not as scary as cutting off my right hand, but still, oh so very scary.

So this is how I decided to bite the bullet and just go forward with sleep training extinction style (Ferber is for wimps, y’all):

1) Michael was almost totally night weaned, and I could tell he was just drinking for comfort and because he was accustomed to having his belly be pumped pretty full at night. As Michel Cohen says in his excellent book, your baby is hungry at night after fasting for several hours. You are hungry at night. (Case in point, last night both Ralph and I found ourselves eating – comfort eating maybe? – when things started getting really hairy at 2am.) However, we adults have learned that we don’t have to eat in the middle of the night. And our baby has to learn the same.

2) He has proven to be pretty good at self soothing with his thumb sucking, despite multiple semi-wakings throughout the night.

3) He responded well to crying it out for nap times without any timed checks (a la Ferber), when I was getting him accustomed to sleeping in his crib.  The worst it ever got then was a 30 minute scream fest. And within a few days, no more crying. Of course, making him go back to sleep on an empty stomach in the middle of the night is a totally different ballgame, hence my trepidation, but at least I had an inkling how it would go.

4) He was 4 months old, the earliest “safe” age for sleep training, according to most experts. Plus, I intuitively felt that he was ready.

5) Finally, the trigger: The last few nights, he’d been taking 2 whole hours to resettle after waking up in the middle of the night. Basically, after his mini-feed, he would muck around for an hour and half, with some crying, before finally falling asleep. Not great for him, and not great for us. I had a feeling that if I’d just not fed him, he would have resettled much faster and gotten more rest.

So, conclusion: We were going to try to sleep train. Waiting any longer was just fearful procrastination.

Here’s how it went down:

7.15pm: Michael gets his usual massive, final bottle at dinner (300ml). Goes down well as usual, settling himself with his thumb and drifting off to sleep by 8pm.

10pm: This is my usual bedtime. But there is no way I’m sleeping as usual on this night. Ralph and I hunker down in the living room, praying, feeling like prisoners of war about to be hanged in the gallows at precisely 2am. I’m the only one admitting to such intense nervousness, but I can tell my husband is a little scared himself.

12 midnight: All quiet. I get comfy on the couch and try to sleep. Maybe I do. Ralph watches The Mentalist on tv.

1.15am: I hear my baby, behind the closed door, and through my ear plugs. He is crying hard. My heart sinks and I cover my ears with my hands. He is crying very, very hard. Throwing caution to the wind, I run downstairs in questionable clothing (my pyjama top and my husband’s pants as available armour against the mosquitoes).

1.45am: I creep back into the house. My baby is shrieking harder than I’ve ever heard him shriek before. Ralph is at the dining table looking like he’s trying not to look stressed. “He started to wind down and then started again.” I am devastated. I squat outside in the laundry area, which is the only place in the house where I cannot hear the horrendous screams.

2.10am: Ralph comes to get me. “You can come back in. He’s sleeping. His head is all jammed up in the corner, but I didn’t dare move him.” We share a euphoric we-survived hug, and sit down at the dining table. As part of our trauma coping mechanism we casually discuss sous-vide techniques and what overcooking can do to salmon. After twenty minutes, I’m ready to attempt to sleep.

4.30am: I wake with a jolt and check the time. Not a sound coming from the bedroom. I doze off and on until…

6am: Ralph is pottering around the kitchen. “He made it!” I whisper loudly, waving excitedly from the couch. We creep into the bedroom, and Michael is pretty much rotated 90 degrees, with his head indeed jammed up in the corner of the crib. He’s playing with his fingers and looking at us. We exult over him like it’s a nativity scene. I sing the good morning song three times in a row. Maybe four times. He grins at us like it’s any other morning, getting tangled up in his swaddle.

Night 1, over.

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