John Andrew turned 4 months old yesterday. How is that possible? He, like all children, is growing up way too fast. At his doctor’s appointment earlier this week, he weighed in at 16 pounds and measured at 26 inches. He’s a big guy. And he is, generally, a very happy and content baby. When he is upset, he is pretty easy to pacify (except for when he has gas- then the only thing that makes him happy is getting rid of that gas, which sometimes takes a while. Poor guy.)
I'm not sure if I had mentioned before that we were planning to Babywise. Babywise, if you are not familiar, addresses essentially two components of infant-rearing: feeding and sleeping. For feeding, they suggest the term “Parent-Directed Feeding” (PDF) and suggest that parent’s help babies establish a schedule of eat-play-sleep-repeat. The number of hours between the start of an eat-play-sleep cycle and the start of the next eat-play-sleep cycle will vary depending on the age of the child and the child’s appetite. This method also relies on parents not offering breast/bottle for comfort, but rather when a baby cries, parents figure out the cause (hunger? tired? yucky diaper? gas? comfort?) and act on the cause of the crying rather than just offering the breast/bottle for comfort. Once your baby is on a schedule, crying at non-feeding times should rarely be from hunger, but if it is, of course, you feed your baby.
The sleep component does address and suggest some CIO (cry it out) but depends more heavily on training your child to fall asleep unassisted… basically, you should put your baby to bed drowsy, but not asleep, and allow them to fall asleep without being rocked, held, or whatnot. If baby cries or fusses, they should be allowed to cry or fuss for a while until they “work it out of their system,” and parents should not rush in to hold the baby, but give them the opportunity to calm themselves and fall asleep/fall back asleep. If the fussing/crying continues for extended periods (and they give some examples of what an “extended period” might be), then you do go in and comfort the baby, but try to do so without picking them up- perhaps by “shushing” or patting their belly/back or whatnot.
So, we followed the schedule in the book, feeding on-demand the first 2 weeks, then naturally shifting to a 3 hour eat-play-sleep cycle; at 6 weeks old he was going 6 hours between his last cycle of the day and his first cycle of the next day, affording me about 5 hours of sleep. That was awesome, and happened much earlier than Abigail, who I introduced to Babywise at age 8 weeks. The little dude didn’t do much fussing at first, and since he usually fell asleep unassisted (and often, despite my efforts to keep him awake) we didn’t have a lot of “sleep training” to do. Eventually, however, he did begin staying awake longer, and waking up before I was ready for him to eat.
Let me begin by saying that the PDF component and the eat-play-sleep cycle worked very well for us. My little guy is gaining weight, and so big that I can hardly nurse him sitting up, because my back and arms hurt from holding him up! I have no issues with the scheduling component. I also feel that I really know my baby well, and can tell by the different cries what is wrong; more often than not, when my guy fusses it’s because he needs to burp or has gas. He has recently started a low-grade fussing when he wants attention or is lonely; if I leave the room when he wants me with him, he will let me know (the solution has been to bring him with me into the kitchen or wherever, using a Bumbo or saucer or whatever.) There have been a few times that I couldn’t figure out what his crying was all about, and even offering the breast did not help. And there have been a few times when it was not at all near a scheduled feeding time when I felt he was crying from hunger, and I fed him, and he became the happy and content baby he usually is. There have also been times (particularly when sick or after getting shots) when he has just been fussy, and nothing I would do would help- I couldn’t make him feel better.
So PDF works well for us, but where we struggle is with sleep training. Our struggles have been two-fold. First, when the baby cries, it affects me. Not just physically in a letdown reflex, but emotionally and mentally. It’s hard for me to concentrate. I become emotional. Even if I know there is nothing I can do to make him feel better, I still feel compelled to try. I believe God designed infants to cry in such a way that we are naturally inclined to respond to it, and I think that definitely happens when my guy cries. However, with sleep training, I was doing pretty well letting him fuss to fall asleep. I would set a timer in the kitchen and tell myself that I would let him fuss as until the timer went off, and until then I would do dishes or fold laundry or whatever. This was going okay- not fantastic, as it added a whole dimension of stress to my life, but relatively okay. He was learning to fall asleep by himself, was easily comforted when I went in, and was still a happy and content baby otherwise.
But the second dimension of sleep-training struggles was not about me… it was about our family, particularly Anna’s response to the baby crying. It really upsets her. She can’t stand it. On more than one occasion, if she heard the baby crying in the middle of the night, she would get up and tell me to make him stop crying. If he cried in the car or while I was fixing dinner, she would insist I make him stop, and stand over him (or sit next to him) and tell him repeatedly that he has to stop crying, shoving his pacifier into his mouth every time it was opened. When he cried, it was difficult on her. Is this because of her age? Because of grief, loss, and bonding issues related to adoption? Because she has extra-sensitive ears? I don’t know. But what I do know is this: letting the baby cry it out was not working for our family.
I have come to believe that in parenting, you have to make the choices that are right for your family as a whole. That’s why attachment parenting wouldn’t work for our family. But that’s also why we no longer “sleep train” our baby. Sure, we still try to lay him down awake, and we do still try comforting him without picking him up during sleep times. And often, that does work. But we don’t let him CIO overnight. We make an effort to comfort him every time he cries. Sometimes, we are unsuccessful. But we make the effort. Because that makes Anna feel better. And it makes me feel better. And most of the time, it does make the baby feel better. And mostly, because it works for our family.