I am going to preface this blog post by saying that we have been on both sides of the crying it out debate. My husband and I coddled the sh*t out of our son, Milo, every time he woke up (3-4 times a night) for MONTHS. We’ve also let him cry several times. Currently, we are in between the crying and coddling. It’s very confusing but it works for us… for now. I like to think of it as taking it “one cry at a time”. As a Mom, I know parents avoid talking about this topic because it makes everyone uncomfortable. So obviously I’m going to write about it! No one wants to admit they let their babe cry because they don’t know how the person they’re talking to is going to receive that little tidbit of information. They will either be like “us too, been sleeping through the night ever since!!” ***gives enthusiastic high-five to other parent*** Or, they’ll be like “oh, we could never do that!” ***gives a sad face with their hand over their heart shaking their head***
As a part of my PhD program, I was trained in Attachment Theory. If you don’t know what that is, let me explain it here briefly. Attachment Theory explains the emotional bond that develops between an infant and primary caregiver. It also explains how this bond affects the behavioural and emotional development of that infant throughout their lifetime. This attachment, or emotional bond, can also exist between partners (romantic attachment) or between any two individuals (that is, if the relationship warrants an emotional bond). For the purposes of this blog post, I am only referring to the attachment between infant and caregiver. In infancy, the primary caregivers are the baby’s “safe place”. The emotional bond is developed based on how the caregiver responds to the baby when they are hurt, perceive a threat, are upset, need their caregiver’s comfort, whatever it may be. Long story short, leaving a babe to cry is quite unbecoming in the eyes of attachment theorists because you are not responding to their need in that moment. They need something and you’re not responding. That is a no-no. So, this theory has been drilled into my head. Which leads me to my initial thoughts on the whole crying it out thing.
At some point in time the idea that babies didn’t need their caregivers overnight became a thing.
So, we hadn’t even been parents for 24 hours and the nurse was basically telling us we f*cked up. I felt horrible. Like Jesus, we didn’t feed our baby!
Our experience with sleeping (or not sleeping) with our little hunny, Milo, went something like this. Let’s take it back to night one. Milo was born around 8pm. That night in the hospital Milo slept right through. No joke. My husband slept on a little chair/couch thingy and I was in the hospital bed. I remember waking up confused and looking at my phone to see the time. IT WAS MORNING. The nurse came in shortly after and made a comment about how quiet our room was all night. We told her that we all just slept. She looked a little concerned and said “oh, you should have woke him up every few hours to feed him!” Well shit! I honestly just assumed Milo would wake up throughout the night and I’d breastfeed. It’s not like we set an alarm to wake up. He’s a baby. They cry all night, don’t they? The last thing I expected to happen was for us to sleep through the night. We hadn’t even been parents for 24 hours and the nurse was basically telling us we f*cked up. I felt horrible. Like Jesus, we didn’t feed our baby! Anyways, Milo was fine and I got a full nights sleep after giving birth. Can’t complain.
Fast forward to the first couple months at home. Milo was waking up regularly overnight (probably every 3 hours or so). Based on what all the books and blogs told us, this was normal. We would change his diaper when he woke up and then feed him. He would fall asleep while he ate and we’d place him back in his bassinet until he woke up again a few hours later. Pretty typical baby stuff. Fast forward to a few months after that. Milo was now 6 months old, sleeping in his crib in his room, and still waking up every 3-4 hours. We stopped changing his diaper at this age because if we did he would get cranky AF. So, when he woke up fussing or crying, we’d give him a bottle in the rocking chair and he’d fall back asleep in our arms. Like a ninja, we’d lay him back down in the crib. This overnight routine continued for months. We were up multiple times a night, every night. We had decided early on that neither of us were comfortable letting him cry and that we would just continue to get up with him until he slept through the night on his own. My husband and I took turns sleeping downstairs in the guest room (I know some people are probably horrified at this) so that at least one of us had a good sleep every night. Not gonna lie, it was usually me sleeping in the guest room. I was no longer breastfeeding (that’s a whole other topic to write about, stay tuned). My husband is a physician and has the wonderful gift of being able to fall asleep in an instant. Years of getting phone calls in the middle of the night, or having to go see a patient at ungodly hours had really prepared him for these nights with Milo. I’m a lucky gal.
Like most Moms I’m sure, over the course of these months, I felt like every other baby on the planet started sleeping through the night at 4 months old. What the hell was wrong with my child? I started to believe the sleep training people and thought Milo would be 13 years old and waking up 3-4 times a night wanting to see us. Around 8 months old I remember trying to let him cry once. It was for his first wake up of the night (around 10pm). He cried about 15 minutes and I was crying in our room. My husband was out in the living room and eventually went in to see Milo. I remember thinking, how is this right? How is letting Milo cry a good thing? He’s crying, I’m crying. I was pissed I even tried to let him cry and then we decided again that we just couldn’t go that route. In a weird way I was jealous of parents who were able to let their babes cry for a couple nights and were enjoying full nights of sleep ever since. Isn’t that strange? Like, ugh, I wish I could let my baby cry, dammit!
When I texted her saying he had woken up and was crying, she responded “LET HIM CRY!!!” Cut throat, I know. But I needed that in that moment.
Cut to 10:30pm. I’m in the shower (so I can’t hear Milo cry – doesn’t that just sound horrible?) while my husband watches the monitor. Milo cried for 25 minutes. Later that same night, Milo cried on and off between 3am and 4am, and then slept soundly from 4am to 8am. On night two, Milo fussed a few times between 8pm and 9pm, cried on and off between 2am and 3am, and then slept soundly till 7:45am. On night three, Milo slept from 7:30pm to 7:30am. My husband and I were in shock when we woke up in the morning and hadn’t heard a peep. So, yay for Milo sleeping through the night, but I was scared that we hurt him somehow by not responding to his cries. The best thing my friend said to me during these nights was that Milo will still love me just as much in the morning as he did when he went to bed. I loved hearing that, and she was right.
Milo is just over 13 months now and has been sleeping through the night ever since those two difficult nights. Of course there has been the odd night here and there that hasn’t been perfect. Many have been when he was sick for a couple weeks (daycare germs) and would wake up coughing. One benefit to having a babe that sleeps through the night is that when they do wake up, you are able to gauge whether it is just a fuss/half asleep type cry, or they really need comfort. We’ve had a few nights where I could tell Milo was upset and I brought him into our bed to lay with me and when he was ready I brought him back to his crib. Maybe he had a nightmare, who knows? Sometimes he would cry when I brought him back, but it would last for seconds and he would pass out. So, as I said perviously, we are now in between crying it out and coddling and I feel pretty good about it.
Do what feels right for you and your babe. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.