Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How I became a believer in cry-it-out against my wishes

First of all, let me just say that I love love love my baby's bedtime routine. A few minutes before I put her down, I start talking about night-nights and getting her used to the idea. We put on some comfy clothes and change the diaper if it needs it, and we look in the bathroom mirror for a bit and talk about night-nights some more. Then we go into the bedroom, I pick up the lullaby glowworm (she has the blue one and it never even occurred to me that it was supposed to be a boy until I just now searched it on Amazon. Seriously? It has eyelashes.) and make up silly words to the songs it plays while we walk around the room. She chews on its ears (antennae? whatever they are) and sometimes hums along.  Then I put her in her bed and cover her up. She'll pull on her Winnie the Pooh toy (below, hanging right next to her head - you can barely see it) sometimes and listen to it sing Brahms' Lullaby, and maybe she'll whine but usually not, and then she'll go right to sleep.

Because I'm the perfect baby, obviously

But it wasn't always like this. Specifically, before we ever let her cry it out, it wasn't like this at all. In my pre-enlightenment days bedtime would sometimes turn me into a basket case, or else I would rely on nursing to put her to sleep. Which I knew was a bad idea every time I did it, because who wants to raise their child to seek food for comfort, but I did it anyway. And then one day I told Ryan my plight, and he volunteered to take her for bedtime.

Let me note here that we agreed before Heidi ever came around that consistency between the parents was the most important thing. If one of us disagreed with the way the other was doing it, we would still support the other during the situation, and discuss how we think it should have happened in private afterwards. Otherwise kids learn who is going to have a softer heart, and they triangulate. Also, let's note that I already was on board with the concept of leaving Baby in bed after she's been put down, because otherwise she'll just learn that if she screams long enough eventually we'll give in and she won't have to go to bed.

So Ryan put Heidi in bed when I didn't think she was sufficiently sleepy; that is, before she was absolutely falling asleep in his arms, which was the only way thus far I'd gotten her to sleep in her bed without beginning to throw a fit. I saw her go down in her bed wide awake and just waited for the screaming to commence. And it did.
Not a photo of the actual event

And there I was, stuck, not able to rescue my poor suffering baby because she'd been put to bed and we can't have her learning that bedtime isn't really bedtime. I think I was more upset than the baby. I was thinking of all the times I have insomnia, and how getting upset just made it worse and worse. I listened to her cry and thought that she wouldn't sleep for HOURS.

And then, seven minutes later, she was fast asleep. A miracle! It would have taken me longer to put her to sleep by nursing her!

The next night, it was five minutes.

The next night, it was not at all. Yesterday and today naps? Not a problem. She rubbed her eyes once and I put her in bed. She rolled over onto her side and went happily to sleep.

Wow. I'm a believer. For months now I've been laboring over bedtime, worrying about whether she was sleepy enough to go to bed, being convinced that she's almost asleep, putting her down only for her eyes to pop wide open and her mouth to scream, scooping her back up (fast enough that I could convince myself that I hadn't *really* put her to bed yet) and starting the process over again. Turns out, all I needed to do was let her cry for seven minutes for her to learn that bedtime really is bedtime, not time for another snack.

I know there are different views of bedtime and crying it out, and there are some mothers who think those who raise their babies differently from their view are being cruel to their babies or traumatizing them somehow. I wish we could share wisdom without partaking in mommy wars. Here's what I have to say to the trauma argument (which I used to believe): all I have to do is look at the little smile on my baby's face as she turns to go to sleep in her bed now to know that she is not traumatized by having been allowed to cry for a few minutes. Her bed is a place of safety and rest for her - I can see it all over her face when I put her down awake but ready to be sleepy. Now that she knows what is expected of her at bedtime, I can see that she finds a great deal of comfort in being put in her bed. Our few days of crying it out have made bedtime a very enjoyable and happy time for both of us, and there's no way you'll be able to convince me that the reason she is now so much more confident and peaceful is that she "gave up" on hoping that I'd rescue her. She knew I was in the room (she sleeps in our room), could hear our voices -- she knew she was safe and not alone, and she just had to learn that bedtime is bedtime.

Which leads me to one question: Why did I not do this before? In all honesty, though, I'm really not sure she was ready for it until now. She has begun to understand that she is a separate person from her parents, and I'm not sure this could have worked well until she did reach that developmental stage. I think the transition through cry-it-out was so easy for us because she was able to find some comfort in being alone. What do you think? Did I accidentally discover something accurate, that is, that six months is the right time to begin to work on sleeping-alone skills? Or do I just have a perfect baby?

I mean, other than the obvious. I might be a little biased.


  1. I love this post. I, too, hate the mommy wars and wish we could have civil conversations without passive-aggressively accusing the other of traumatizing the children for life.

    I think six months is a good age. We co-sleep (because I'm lazy), but Charlotte stopped sleeping in our bed at nine months. We used the cry-it-out method too, although with her sometimes the crying did go on for hours (only when we were in other people's houses, really). We've started putting Liam to bed in his crib at night though, and he sleeps great. I usually wake him up around midnight to change his diaper and then pull him into bed with me, but I really think he'd sleep all night in his crib if I put him back down. It's just not that big of a deal to me.

    I think you're doing great. And I think she is perfect!

    Seriously, that last picture is so adorable.

  2. We just did a similar transition, and I'd just like to mention that what you did (and what we did) isn't want is traditionally called "cry it out." It becomes the cry it out solution when they're left "as long as it takes" over and over. It's considered normal to leave them for 20-30 minutes, since, like many adults, they just need to shift around, chatter, fuss, and so on to get into their sleepy place. I actually looked up the cry-it-out methodology, and it's nothing like this. Though I know you're long past this point now (and congrats on the new little one! I saw this post when I came by to see his pictures), I thought I'd mention what I've learned.

    Oh, and I agree, 6 months does seem to be a really good transition age as far as sleep patterns are concerned.