When I was pregnant with John, I assumed that he would be a perfect sleeper. I envisioned eleven-hour nights and multiple two-hour naps each day. I assumed that I would be able to lay him down in his crib while still awake, and he would fall asleep on his own every time. I assumed that we would never need to use a pacifier, not because I had a problem with it, but because I didn’t think we would need it. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
When we brought John home from the hospital, we brought our dreams with us. And at first John did exactly what we had hoped. He slept for three to four hours between feedings during the day, and after a regular feeding frenzy between 7PM and 1AM, he would once again slip into his three to four hour sleeping schedule for the rest of the night. He slept quietly in his bassinet for hours on end, swaddled and with his hospital-issued pacifier in his mouth. The pacifier was the only deviance from our original plan, but after seeing how much he liked it at the hospital, we didn’t consider the addition to our sleep plan to be a problem. But then things began to change.
After just a few days home, we began to notice subtle differences. John was beginning to be more alert during the day, and more effort was required before he would fall asleep. After about ten minutes of rocking and bouncing, we would finally be able to put him down in his bassinet before sneaking out of the room as quickly as possible. We normally had just enough time to make (but not eat) a sandwich before he woke up screaming. We would rush into our bedroom only to find John wide awake and crying, the sheet beneath his head damp with spit-up or his pacifier resting just beyond his reach. We began bouncing him to sleep in his bouncy chair during nap time, where he would sleep for hours at a time. Not long after this adjustment, John began sleeping in his chair at night as well, where we could be promised a few extra hours of sleep. Propped up as he was, he was more comfortable and his pacifier rarely escaped his lips. For several weeks, our dreams were restored.
And then he became more sensitive to movement. After being rocked to sleep, he would wake up crying as soon as he noticed that the movement had ceased. Certain times were more problematic than others- we began using his swing for naps and the early hours of the morning to soothe him back to sleep. Eventually, just because it was more convenient for him to sleep in one place rather than two, we began putting him down to sleep in his swing every time.
In the first few months, this arrangement worked perfectly for us. He slept incredibly well in his swing, and he could sleep for hours each time that he fell asleep. His naps averaged fifty minutes, and some were as long as nearly two hours. At night, we would put him down at bedtime, and he would not wake up until it was time for a bottle. After his bottle, he would go right back to sleep without issue and would sleep until either his next bottle or morning. For a while, the situation seemed ideal, and then suddenly everything changed.
Right around the time he turned three months, John just stopped sleeping. A good nap was one that lasted thirty minutes. It was a cause for celebration when he slept forty-five minutes. More often than not, he woke up after just twenty minutes of sleeping in his swing. At night, Andrew and I woke up five or six times to replace his pacifier, which no longer seemed capable of staying in his mouth. In addition, he began to wake up at 5:45AM like clockwork, unwilling or unable to go back to sleep. As the days passed and the sleep deprivation mounted, we began to seriously consider our options. We just weren’t sure how many more sleepless nights we could handle.
Whereas I had once assumed that we could never use Cry-It-Out (CIO) on our son, it began to sound like a better and better idea. After hours of research, it appeared that the only way to ditch the pacifier successfully was to do it cold turkey. If we wanted to sleep through the night without having to replace John’s pacifier countless times, our best option seemed to be letting him cry it out. We could also use the opportunity to move him from his swing into his crib, killing two birds with one stone. Andrew and I committed to a six month deadline. If things had not improved on their own by the time that John turned six months, we would use CIO to ditch the pacifier and transition into his crib. I spent several weeks hoping for a miracle, that John would figure out how to replace his pacifier on his own before he turned six months. But instead of a miracle, I got a very sore back, and suddenly six months no longer appeared to be a feasible option. We needed to start as soon as possible, if only to preserve my back. I was no longer able to rock John to sleep, and kneeling down to place John in his swing or to take him out sent spasms of pain up my spine. Suddenly, sleep training was not two months away, but just two weeks. We decided to begin as soon as we returned from the Fourth of July holiday weekend, when we would have about two weeks of relative peace during which we would hopefully tackle all of his sleep issues. Below you can find a log of the first five days of CIO.
Night One (Tuesday)
8:30PM: John has just finished his bedtime bottle and is ready for sleep. He is still awake, but he is already drowsy. Andrew and I are both eager and anxious to begin. John has no idea what we have planned for him, and I almost feel a little sad as I place him in the crib for the first time. He looks up at me with his big eyes as I lean over to kiss him goodnight and leave the room. He remains quiet for about a minute before he begins to whine.
8:35PM: I have waited three minutes from the moment that he began to whine, and his whining has not escalated to crying yet. I go into his bedroom to comfort him as soon as the three minutes is up. I pick him up, and he snuggles up against me. I hold him for just a few seconds before placing him back in the crib. He does not start whining again until after I have left his room.
8:40PM: He has spent the past five minutes whining, but he still is not crying. I go in again to soothe him, picking him up for just thirty seconds or so before returning him to bed. He begins to whine before the door is even closed.
8:45PM: He began crying for real about three minutes into this five-minute period. His cries aren’t nearly as loud as I thought they would be. I have spent the past five minutes sorting through all of the bags and boxes from our trip to New Jersey in an attempt to distract myself.
8:55PM: He cried for about eight minutes during this first ten-minute period. I unpacked my suitcase during that time, trying to figure out what I might be able to do next to distract myself. I never need to come up with an idea though, because he stops crying two minutes shy of the next check. I wait an extra fifteen minutes before I begin getting ready for bed. I cannot help but wonder if things have to get more difficult, since so far, it’s just been too easy.
9:30PM: Andrew goes in to check on John. He has not made a peep in over half an hour, and he just wants to make sure that everything is okay before I go to bed.
9:50PM: I am just about to go to sleep when John begins to cry again. I wait three minutes before going back into his room to calm him down. I pick him up, kiss him, and then place him back in his crib. He begins crying again before I leave his bedroom.
9:55PM: John continues to cry, and I return to his bedroom after five minutes to check again.
10:00PM: The same as before.
10:10PM: Nothing has changed. I am reading to distract myself. Andrew has gone to bed.
10:20PM: Still nothing has changed. I’m still reading. John is still crying. Andrew is still sleeping.
10:22PM: I think John might have fallen asleep again. The monitor has gone silent, except for the sound of his bubbling brook sound machine.
10:30PM: I go to sleep, silently saying a prayer that John will stay asleep longer than the first time.
3:45AM: John has begun to scream. We wait a few minutes before Andrew goes in to get him out of his crib. He brings John back into our room to give him his night bottle. I go back to sleep. The following morning, I am informed that John went immediately back to sleep after his bottle, barely making a fuss before sinking back into dreamland.
6:00AM: John is crying again. I go into his bedroom to get him out of his crib. When I lean over to pick him up, he smiles up at me. He is ready to start his day, and so am I.
Day One (Wednesday)
9:00AM: John has begun to fuss and is rubbing his eyes. I bring him into his room to put him down for his first nap of the day. I barely have time to leave his room before he begins to cry. After a three-minute check, two five-minute checks, and one ten-minute, he is crying harder than ever and seems no where near ready to sleep.
9:25AM: I go into his bedroom after the first ten-minute check, but this time I let him have his pacifier and rock him for a minute before returning him to his crib. His eyes are closed, and he has stopped crying. Unfortunately, he begins crying again soon after I leave. We continue this routine until 10:00AM, when I take him out of his crib and give him his bottle. He falls asleep sitting up in my arms and continues to sleep for fifty minutes.
1:20PM: John has just finished his bottle and is very sleepy. Andrew brings him to his bedroom and places him in his crib. He falls asleep before the three-minute check can even occur.
1:45PM: John wakes up screaming after just twenty minutes of sleeping. The length is not great, but he is happier than normal.
4:00PM: John has fallen asleep after crying through the three-minute, five-minute, and one ten-minute check.
4:12PM: John wakes up from his nap after less than fifteen minutes of sleeping. So far, he has not gotten the hang of soothing himself during his naps to the point where he can stay asleep. We’re both hoping that tomorrow will be better. The good news is that he somehow is still in a decent mood.
Night Two (Wednesday)
7:35PM: John can’t even finish his entire bedtime bottle because he keeps dozing off. The short naps are finally catching up to him, and in the hopes of not completely ruining night two of CIO, I put him to bed after finishing just four ounces. As I carry him to his bedroom, he is still holding his head up on his own, but he hasn’t opened his eyes since the last time that Andrew startled him awake by clearing his throat. I place John in his crib, cover him with his blanket, and step back. John grabs his blanket, draws it up to his neck, and doesn’t move again. I leave the room, wondering if I’ll end up going back in after an hour because he’s woken up. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
8:15PM: Our suspicions prove correct. John wakes up crying, and I wait five minutes before going in to comfort him. After spending just a minute with him, I return him to his crib and leave the room. He continues to cry through the next ten-minute period, stopping just short of the mark. Twenty minutes later, I go to sleep, confident that Night Two of CIO appears to have been a success.
1:45AM: John wakes up crying. Andrew waits a few minutes before going in to give him his bottle. He cries for five minutes in his crib before falling asleep. Andrew is back in bed by 2:30AM.
6:00AM: John wakes up, but he spends the next ten minutes making baby noises to himself in his crib. By the time he begins to cry, it’s nearly 6:15AM, and he’s sideways in his crib as he smiles up at me.
Day Two (Thursday)
8:20AM: John has been fussy, so we go into his bedroom. I turn on his bubbling brook sound machine, and place him in his crib. He’s crying before I even get out. He spends the next hour crying in his crib, so at the end of the allotted amount of time, I go in to get him. He snuggles up against me and continues to cling to me as I change his diaper and prepare his bottle.
10:00AM: John has begun to fall asleep as I feed him. I decide to put his bottle on hold and move him into his bedroom before he falls asleep completely. His bottle can wait; his nap cannot.
10:45AM: John wakes up from his nap with just enough time to finish his bottle.
12:40PM: John is getting fussy, but he’s just five minutes from his next bottle, so I decide to begin early. He eats for about fifteen minutes before beginning to fall asleep. For the second time today, we stop his bottle early so that he can nap. Fifteen minutes later, he begins crying in his crib, and we finish off his bottle. Maybe we’ll have better luck next time.
2:45PM: John has been rubbing his eyes and yawning, so I put him down for a nap a bit earlier than planned. He proceeds to cry for an hour, and doesn’t even fall asleep during his 4PM bottle. We’re counting down the minutes until bedtime.
Night Three (Thursday)
7:00PM: John started falling asleep everywhere, so we’ve decided to move bedtime up by half an hour. He’s been bathed, and drinks three ounces of formula before he begins to fall asleep again. Rather than ruining a night of CIO, we cut the bottle short and bring him to his room. He fusses in his crib for a few seconds before going still. I assume that he will wake up after a while like he did last night. His awful naps are clearly catching up with him.
7:40PM: John wakes up crying, so I wait five minutes before going in to check on him. He quiets down when I pick him up, but he’s already whimpering as I return him to his crib. Ten minutes later, he is sound asleep.
12:00AM: We can hear John moaning in the monitor. This is the first time that he has woken up before it was time for his night bottle. We listen for a few minutes, and then the sounds begin to fade. By the time ten minutes has passed, all is quiet again, and we go back to sleep.
2:00AM: John begins to cry, so Andrew goes in to give him his night bottle. He falls back to sleep with an ounce left in it.
6:00AM: John wakes up crying, and when I go to get him, it’s clear that he’s still tired. I’m not sure if it’s the result of the fussing at midnight last night or the lack of naps for the past two days.
Day Three (Friday)
8:05AM: John has begun to fuss, so I bring him into his bedroom. In the hopes of helping him to fall asleep this time, I rock him until he becomes drowsy. He begins to cry as soon as I lower him into his crib. He cries for the next hour, missing yet another morning nap.
9:45AM: While John drinks his bottle, he begins to fall asleep in my arms. Despite my best efforts, he does not seem capable of staying awake. I bring him back into his room with an ounce left in his bottle. He stretches out in his crib, pulls his blanket up around his neck, and falls asleep. He sleeps for just under two hours. He hasn’t slept that long since he was four weeks old.
2:15PM: John has begun to be fussy, so we try to put him down for a nap. He cries for an hour straight, but remains in a somewhat decent mood until his next bottle.
4:15PM: John falls asleep drinking his bottle, and he sleeps for about an hour. Thankfully, by the time he wakes up, we’re just a few hours from bedtime.
Night Four (Friday)
8:00PM: John fights his bedtime bottle, which means that he goes down completely awake. He cries through the ten-minute check, but he falls asleep just shy of the first twelve-minute. We don’t hear a peep from him before we go to bed for the night.
12:45AM: John wakes up crying, and in a state of half-sleep, I send Andrew in to his bedroom to feed him. He drinks his entire bottle and goes back to sleep without issue. By the time I fall back to sleep, I realize that it was too early for his bottle, and there’s a pretty good chance that he’ll wake up early.
4:45AM: Just as I suspected, John wakes up crying much earlier than usual. Since it’s not yet 5:30AM, Andrew begins checking on him. After the first ten-minute check, John goes back to sleep. I sleep fitfully for the remainder of the morning, hearing phantom sounds on the monitor every few minutes.
6:15AM: Now I can hear real sounds coming from the monitor. John has woken up for real, and for the second day in a row, he does not seem like he’s in the best mood.
Day Four (Saturday)
8:10AM: John has begun to get fussy, so we head into his bedroom. I bounce him for a few minutes before putting him down in his crib. He’s screaming before I even have the chance to close the nursery door. He screams for an hour straight before Andrew goes in to rescue him.
9:40AM: John begins to fall asleep immediately after Andrew gives him his bottle. He puts the bottle on hold, moving John to his crib before he falls asleep. He sleeps for just over an hour.
12:10PM: Though it’s only been an hour and a half, John is already getting tired, so Andrew puts him down for a nap early. He cries through the first four ten-minute checks, but falls asleep before the fifth. He sleeps for two whole hours.
4:00PM: John cries through his last nap of the day. Andrew and I are both grateful that it’s bath night. Only an hour before we can start getting John ready for his bath.
Night Five (Saturday)
7:0oPM: We started John’s bedtime a little early in the hopes of keeping him awake during his last bottle. After a bath and most of his bottle, I put him down extremely drowsy. He stretches his limbs before settling down for the night. We don’t hear from him before we go to sleep for the night.
11:40PM: John starts crying, but Andrew and I have mutually decided that this is too early to give him his nighttime bottle. He cries off and on for the next hour, at which point we feed him. Afterwards, he fusses off and on in his crib for the better part of two hours. In our sleepy daze, we forget to set the alarm clock and wind up sleeping through several checks.
2:30AM: I wake up again to John crying, and I’m still not sure how long he has been awake. I go out into the living room where I spend the next hour reading and periodically checking on John.
3:15AM: The monitor has gone silent. I wait until my alarm clock buzzes for the next check before going back to bed.
5:00AM: John wakes up crying again. I try to get him to fall back asleep on his own, but half an hour later, he’s still crying. I give him his morning bottle early, but he doesn’t finish it because he has fallen asleep. I return him to his crib and go back to sleep.
7:40AM: John wakes up in a great mood. This is the latest he has sleep since he was about one month old! Despite the long night, I can’t help but be pleased with his little surprise. Andrew and I both suspect that this will not become a regular thing, but we enjoy it while it lasts.
Day Five (Sunday)
9:50AM: John is getting fussy, so we go into his bedroom for the first nap of the day. He cries through most of the checks, but falls asleep at 10:40AM. This is the first morning nap where he has successfully soothed himself to sleep. He sleeps for an hour and fifteen minutes.
2:30PM: John has wanted to go to sleep for the past fifteen minutes, but we were driving home from Mass. In the hopes that he would take a full nap in his crib at home, I tried to keep him awake throughout the entire car ride. It was quite the battle, and once we do get home and I get him into his crib, he proceeds to cry for an hour. Epic fail.
4:30PM: John falls asleep during his bottle, but once I get him into his crib, he only sleeps for fifteen minutes. Bedtime can’t come soon enough.
(In case you’re wondering, John falls asleep before we can even check on him for the first time Sunday night. We do not hear from him before Andrew and I head to bed.)
When I was pregnant with John, I never imagined that I would need to sleep train my son. I assumed that he would sleep like a champ, or that I would at least have the patience to deal with his multiple night wakings. But even the most patient person has their limits. After a month of waking up multiple times each night to replace John’s pacifier or rock him back to sleep, we needed a change. After his constant and enthusiastic rocking needs nearly broke my back, we needed a change. After months of stooping down to transfer John from our arms to his swing, a feat that often resulted in him waking up crying, we needed a change. There were a lot of factors that played into our decision to use the Cry-It-Out method with John, but after just one week, we are very pleased with our results. Nights are infinitely better, and Andrew and I both feel like we’re getting a lot more sleep. John has a regular bedtime now, with a decent routine, and he now wakes up around the same time every morning. Naps are still a struggle, but we’re making headway with those too. Even though he’s only been getting an average of two naps a day, whereas he took four to five prior to the start of CIO, he still gets more accumulated sleep during the day. We’ve been seeing little improvements throughout the week, so we have every reason to believe that he’ll keep learning as time goes on. This has all been a learning process, but we can already see so many positive results. He’s sleeping longer and better, and he’s finally able to soothe himself to sleep. He’s happier during the day as well, and he can spend more time playing independently now. I know that sleep training, and specifically any CIO method, is controversial, but after just five days and nights of witnessing its benefits firsthand, I am confident that it was the right choice for my family. Stay tuned for future posts about our continuing sleep adventures!
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!