His and Her’s Nervous Breakdowns – How Not to Sleep Train a Baby

brace yourself

Here’s a term for you: “Sleep Regression”

Ever heard of it?

Neither had we, yet they happen at 4 months, 9 months, 12 months, 18 months, and apparently straight through to 2 years’ of age.

Now you’ll have to pardon my french, but how the fuck was that not something that we would have read about at this point? I truly had considered ourselves well versed on many things baby… not everything, but I thought it was fair to say we were a tad smarter than the average bear.

A quick google search will find you a ton of pages highlighting the “pleasures” of sleep regression and the methods to go about dealing with it.

Let’s begin with what exactly it is, as described by www.babysleepsite.com:

A sleep regression describes a period of time (anywhere from 1 – 4 weeks) when a baby or toddler who has been sleeping well suddenly starts waking at night, and/or skipping naps (or waking early from naps) for no apparent reason. Parents often describe being caught totally off guard: you think your have conquered all your little one’s sleep challenges, when suddenly, out of nowhere, you’re back to constant night wakings and nonexistent naps.

Each regression has a different rationale. The 4 month one makes sense, especially if you tie in what we had read about in Dr. Karp’s book, with regards to the fourth trimester. Charlee at this point is ‘graduating’ from infancy into becoming a baby. I guess within three and a half short months, we’ve seen Charlee evolve from newborn to infant and now finally to baby, and with this title comes new challenges and behavioural nuances. These include ditching her infant-like sleeping patterns, which were a bloody godsend, and now frequently  waking and fussing with shortened naps much like a newborn, hence the ‘regression’.

This is a child who just 3 weeks ago was sleeping 7-8 hour stretches, napping when she felt so inclined, and rarely, if ever, fussing about anything. She spoke a language that we could comprehend, and did not have the capability to manipulate with crocodile tears.

Let me preface whatever else I’m going to write here, with the fact that we absolutely love our daughter with all our heart and we recognize that there are going to be many moments in her life that lead us to frustration and test our limits.

Fair?

Ok – carrying on.

Charlee has always been ‘advanced’ for her age. She’s in the top 85th percentile for weight and height, is strong like a bull, communicates impressively well, and we feel that all in all, she is progressing extremely well for a 3.5 month old.

We were so convinced of this, that upon the first sign of her beginning to fuss during the days, we read and determined that she was either teething (around 1-3 months early), or had matured to the point where she needed a much more rigid sleep structure.

In hindsight, it may be a case of how you search for things that determines what you find, so the fact that we searched and read up on sleep training (i.e. what to do in order to sleep train your child) versus ‘is it normal that my 3 month old is beginning to fuss’ (i.e. how to handle a normal baby like a normal person would), probably fed a good portion of our issues for the last 3 weeks.

Upon reading a slew of different articles and soliciting feedback from family and friends, we opted to put together a schedule for Charlee that would ensure she slept for 10-12 hours at night and another 3-5 during the day while at once making sure she didn’t have awake stretches longer than an hour and a half.

We read articles and books about the ‘cry it out’ technique.

We then read articles and books against the ‘cry it out’ technique and how it will scar your baby for life.

We read articles and books about props and crutches such as pacifiers and swaddles, and how to eliminate those from your child’s sleep dependencies as it will cause your child to grow up with elevated levels of anxiety.

We then read articles and books on how those specific ‘props’ can be integral in ensuring a good sleep even into the 3, 4, and 5 month periods and helps impart feelings of safety, security, and calmness.

Ironically, we read about consistency being key, yet continuously altered our approach based on feedback and guidance, and what seemed like whichever was the flavour of the day or week.

Seemingly overnight, we went from having a calm, cool, stress free household, to one that revolved around our daughters rigid yet ever changing schedule. Constantly jotting down notes in her sleep diary that we created while at once watching the seconds tick by as we stared blankly at the baby monitor, praying she wouldn’t budge. We continually would hear ‘phantom cries’ and would barely get more than 1-2 hours sleep at a time.

All this and poor Charlee was fidgety, upset, overtired, and cranky for most of the day.

It's like deja vu all over again
It’s like deja vu all over again

We were a mirror image of that.

Poor sleep breeds other poor habits, most notably poor eating. Poor eating and lack of sleep have a direct effect on one’s behaviour, emotions, and ability to function.

I was the first to snap.

Ironically, vocalizing it all was somewhat therapeutic, but it was not pretty and I felt horrible that Becca was on the receiving end.

I spent that night in front of the computer at around 2 AM typing a letter to Becca apologizing and really opening up in greater detail about everything. 4 hours and 7 pages later, I sent it to Becca’s email and returned to bed in time to get back to our awakened baby.

We had a very good chat about things and continue to every day. We’ll figure things out, and as one of my favourite quotes goes, “yard by yard, life is hard, but inch by inch is a cinch”.

Becca’s turn came a few days later… what’s good for the goose, eh?

While we’ve both been waking up every hour on the hour, I’m the guy that can change a diaper, while Becca is the only one who can provide food.

Did I mention that this sleep regression can be brought on by a growth spurt? Yes… ANOTHER growth spurt! And with great growth spurts come great yearning for nourishment and Becca can’t even keep up with a pumping schedule to have bottles ready for the ‘in case of emergency’ feeding, or for daddy to step in.

I underestimated the toll this takes on Becca and with the two of us in such a sleep deprived, stress elevated, boob deflated, and angry state, negativity bred negativity and Becca needed an outlet.

The saving grace for all of this is that it gave us a chance to really ‘rebaseline’ expectations. To sit back and go… whoa… what just happened?… how did we get here?… how do we fix this?

And fix this we shall, care of our good old friend Dr. Harvey Karp.

I liken this to any personal experience someone would have with any professional. If that professional is engaged and solicited for advice that proves useful and effective once put into practice, why would you not come back to that same professional for future advice?

Dr. Karp’s book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, was intrinsic in our successes leading up to Charlee’s birth, and for the first 3 months of her life. As we’re entering the next stage in her life, we have now started reading “The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep: Simple Solutions for Kids from Birth to 5 Years” and it is fundamentally helping us get back to the ‘good old days’ where Charlee was a good sleeper and functioned so much better.

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Suffice it to say that I will do a full book review in the near future – probably after the next 2-3 months of fully implementing his recommendations. But until then, I can look back and realize exactly where we went wrong.

Remember how I mentioned that we’ve always seen Charlee as a mature over-achiever? Well that was our first downfall.

Yes, she’s large for her age.

Yes, she’s fantastically bright and capable.

Yes, she’s strong and excelling in her abilities.

But at the end of the day, she is still a 3 month old baby who does not need to be rushed through her development just to float our egos.

Charlee did not need to be weaned off of a pacifier and swaddle. Charlee does not need to adhere by rules and timelines devised by some random internet doula.

We are taking away a number of lessons from this whole experience:

  1. We love each other and need each other and are here to support one another and be the most dynamic, effective, loving, passionate, engaged, and informed parents we can be
  2. Charlee is a wonderful baby and we genuinely want what’s best for her, but need to have some patience
  3. We have resolved to read up on everything BEFORE it happens and come to consensus on how we are going to parent her as a team, rather than reactively having to dig up information and test it out with trial and error
  4. Lastly, parental instinct is a profound thing – sometimes you really do need to go with your gut, because you truly have a better sense of what’s good for your baby

In less than 2 weeks Charlee will be 4 months old and we’ll be celebrating her 100 Day birthday with friends and family.

We all plan to be very well rested for a lovely, stress free event.

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  2 comments for “His and Her’s Nervous Breakdowns – How Not to Sleep Train a Baby

  1. January 10, 2016 at 9:00 am

    Great read! Good to know my wife and I weren’t the only ones to have nervous breakdowns. 🙂

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