This week’s news about infant sleep training reminded me of my own sleep-deprived first year as a mom. My son was not a great sleeper. In fact, he was a terrible sleeper. I had heard from friends that the first few months were going to be rough, but the same people said, “But don’t worry, by three months he’ll sleep through the night.” Well, three months came and went and then four and then five. My son was getting up three to four times a night, and each time I would get up to nurse him back to sleep.
It was exhausting, especially since I was also working full time.
At dinner, I would talk nonstop about my son’s lack-of-sleep to my husband. I started reading every baby sleep book I could get my hands on, but reading about sleep is exhausting when you yourself aren’t getting enough of it. In addition to being overwhelmingly tired, I started to feel physically nauseated each night. We would put my son down around 6:30 p.m., but it would make my stomach turn knowing that he was going to be up again at 10 p.m. to nurse and then possibly, 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. and then 6 a.m.
I knew we needed to do something about it, but I didn’t know what to do. My pediatrician assured me that my son didn’t need three feedings a night at 5 months old, but I wasn’t convinced—if he didn’t need them, why did he keep waking up? I was also conflicted about sleep training. I rarely let my son cry, so the idea of letting him cry himself to sleep seemed like cruel and unusual punishment. But I was suffering, too.
I was fighting to stay awake on my morning commute with my son, who would fall fast asleep on the 30-minute ride. I sometimes spent my lunch hour taking a nap in my car. And, the lack of sleep for both my husband and I wasn’t doing anything good for our marriage—we were fighting more than we ever had.
The last straw came when driving home from work one night with my son. I started to make a left turn into my driveway and I heard a loud honk. I quickly stopped and realized I had just turned in front of a car that was three feet away from slamming into my son’s side of my car. Luckily, the driver was able to stop in time, but I hadn’t even noticed the car in the first place. I was so tired, and focused solely on getting home to get my son, and me, into bed. That night I told my husband that we were sleep training asap.
My son had recurrent ear infections his first year so we had to wait until he was healthy, and I also had to wean him off his night feedings. So, in about a month’s time, we were ready to go. We had decided to go with what the experts call “controlled comforting,” which meant we would let my son cry in his crib, but check in on him (without picking him up) so he knew we hadn’t abandoned him.
The first night of sleep training, I nursed my son, put him down and when he woke up crying at 11 p.m., we waited five minutes, then went in and said “It’s time to go to sleep. We’ll see you in the morning. We love you.” We kept doing this every five, 10 and 15 minutes for more than two hours. It was brutal and my husband was ready to call it quits after 30 minutes, but I wouldn’t give in. I held my husband’s hand as our son cried and, honestly, it was one of the hardest things we’ve done as a couple.
All the books said it would take three days, tops, but it took a solid two weeks for my son to sleep through the night. It took a few more months for us to get all the kinks worked out, but he eventually found his rhythm. And after a year of being sleep deprived, I finally started to feel like myself again.