And the Cry Goes On
November 9, 2014 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Will sleep training ever end?

We began to sleep train our daughter when she turned six months old. (Don't judge -- she was getting up every forty-five minutes, and could only be soothed by nursing. We were really desperate.) We read Ferber, and used the method -- to success, which at this point meant one waking/feeding a night after about a week.

But then we've been having pretty severe regressions. She will sleep fine, and then for like a week, it will be back to the bad old days. I worry we may contribute to this -- I worry that it's a problem (like teething, or wet diaper, etc.) and I go in to comfort her and then often back to breastfeeding. Or I just pick her up to soothe her. It just seems extreme to just keep Ferberizing all the time -- if she's learned how to self-soothe, then when she cries there's something to it, right?

Is this wrong? Once you sleep train, do you just keep doing the same technique (i.e., graduated check ins) EVERY time they start to cry in the middle of the night again? I can't keep doing cry it out.

NB: We keep a pretty strict bedtime routine - bath, books, nursing, song, & always in bed at 7. That often goes well -- i.e., she goes down with minimal crying. Now she takes two naps -- one in the morning, and a long one in the afternoon. Sometimes a short nap at 5. On good nights, she sleeps until 5am or so, when I feed her, and that will stretch her to 6:30, when we generally pull her into bed with us until 7:30. (Bad habit?) On bad nights, she is up every hour/two hours, wanting to nurse, and I often give in.

TLDR: Once you Ferber, do you keep doing Ferber forever?
posted by caoimhe to Human Relations (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Six months was around when we cut night feedings; once baby realized there wouldn't be any more milk at night, he gave up the wake-ups. Read the Ferber chapter on cutting feedings and think about if you're ready for that step. That's what we used; I think of it as the second half of the part of the training you already did.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:09 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

We tried a bunch of things with my 8 month old and the thing that finally took was no more breastfeeding or bottled milk at night. If she cried she could have warm water. Two nights of that and she stopped waking at night.

One of the things I read somewhere on the internets had the hypothesis that although your baby could sleep all night, she's used to eating and thus has very real feelings of hunger. Stop feeding into the feeding cycle.
posted by MadMadam at 2:27 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's really hard to be first-time parents. Everything you are experiencing now, I tried with my first daughter. The truth is, you worry, and you love her and you want her to have a perfect life. Even if you really, really do your best to "Ferber", you can't, because you have a lot of emotions dragging you in the opposite direction. And all of that is a good thing! You should fall in love with your baby, she needs you, and as young parents, your love and care are all-important, because your knowledge is limited (well think of this in an evolutionary perspective, not a day to day one).

With time (and child no. 2) I came to realize that our struggle was with ourselves, not the baby.

It seems like you are doing good. You have a good routine, and on good nights, it works. Sometimes - maybe too often - it doesn't work. Could you start by eliminating external factors? Are you a little more stressed or anxious the nights your daughter keeps waking up? My daughter always kept waking on the very nights I really really wanted her to sleep, and I think I was maybe not completely relaxed when I tucked her in.

Are you reacting too fast? Sometimes babies say noises in their sleep, and as first time parents, we react to that because we are careful and loving parents.

Are you only breastfeeding? For many children, more filling food is necessary from 7-8 months on, in order to sleep a full night. I breastfed no. 1 till she was a year, but no. 2 began eating supplementary foods from about 6 months. Only like 20% of her nourishment, but it was enough to make her sleep longer. And to this day and age, she loves broccoli ;-)

If your daughter is really awake and really crying for more than five minutes, maybe you should think about how you sooth her and put her back to sleep. Do you have a comfortable chair next to the bed, where you can sit and hold her hand? That might be a good idea. You could read a book, or just meditate, because really it is just a few minutes. But if you don't have a comfortable seat, those minutes seem like hours. I wouldn't be afraid to take her up a little, but I would not feed her before your normal hour, at 5 AM.

FWIW, both my girls have slept in our bed on and off when they were babies, and I can't see there is any effect on their sleep habits. No. 1 woke during the night like your girl till she moved out, and no. 2 is a regular sleeper like she always was.
posted by mumimor at 2:35 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

if she's learned how to self-soothe, then when she cries there's something to it, right?

Yes, and the something is shes learned that if she cries you come in and sometimes feed her. Its OK NOT to sleep train. And contrary to opinions you will probably get it's OK TO sleep train (and Ferber too). But either do or don't. Once you're committed to NOT going in there anymore.... Don't go in there anymore. Its a little hard but also its pretty easy. Just don't head in there.

Good luck. You'll be fine. Baby will be fine too.
posted by chasles at 2:36 PM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Our first was much like that and is still a somewhat iffy sleeper at three, but mostly evened out au around the ten month mark. How old is your baby now?

It will get better, I promise. Also remember like you say crying is probably something , but something to a baby can be a load of shit to an adult.

For us sleeping more regularly was a big break through, but the self settling was another big one that came later. Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 3:13 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Totally agree with chasles. I think if you do want to sleep train, you need to stop going in to her. Cut the nighttime feeding, either cold turkey or by offering water instead of breast milk. If you have a partner who can go in and offer water in the bottle (instead of you, since she associates you with breastfeeding), so much the better. It took just a few nights for our son to lose interest in night feeding when my husband would go in and offer him a bottle of water. Turns out he really just wanted to hang out with mom in the middle of the night, and when that wasn't an option, he started sleeping right through. Right now, your baby is confused because you sometimes (often?) come in to see her when she cries, so of course she'll keep crying because it eventually brings in mom with the milk. Sleep training is about consistency for both you and the baby. I know it's hard, but it will get easier.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 3:16 PM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm not judging. I have totally been there. We were not as consistent as we should have been and it made the whole thing very protected. We probably sleep trained five or six separate times. Sometimes it was great for stretches. Once we buckled down and stayed consistent, it improved a lot. I understand why you're going in there - you're worried. It's hard to tell when it's serious. But the more you stay strong the quicker this will stick.

Hang in there though. When it works, it is fabulous for everyone.
posted by semacd at 3:26 PM on November 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

Randomizing the "reward" (time with mum & yummy breastmilk) she gets from crying will actually reinforce the behavior more than if you go in all the time or not at all. It's why gambling works. It's OK if you sleep train, it's OK if you decide you don't want I am not going to tell parents what they should do, but mixed signals are going to make either option so much harder.
posted by wwax at 3:44 PM on November 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

Well, first of all, baby sleep changes throughout the first year. It's not like sleep train and then you're done - regressions, growth spurts, developmental leaps, teething and illness will all throw a wrench into the process.

BUT. It sounds like you are not actually being very consistent, which is sending confusing messages to your baby. She can self-soothe, but sometimes you soothe her, so why should she do the work? If you can rule out teething/illness/other problems, then yes, you do graduated check-ins every single time the baby cries. This will probably result in a few days (or in our case, almost two weeks) of nights that seemed worse than what we'd been dealing with before. But it did get better, and at the end of those two weeks, we had a baby that slept 11-12 hours a night straight through, with the only exceptions being for outside factors. Once she learned to self-soothe AND that she HAD to self-soothe (because we weren't coming in to fix it) then things got better.

Good luck. It's hard, but it's worth it.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 3:47 PM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

You're putting her to bed way too early, and in an inconsistent state of fullness. Try putting her to bed at midnight, after a full bottle.

You can gradually bring bedtime forward - our two year old goes down at 9 or 9:30 now. She's been sleeping through the night with this method since she was 3 months old.

Also night-time diapers help a lot, the Huggies ones.
posted by w0mbat at 3:55 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to echo semacd... No judgments from me either. Its a tough thing and even seems counter to your emotions and heart to not go in. That's why either is FINE. You just need to commit fully for success.

An added thought is this: it actually is really simple. Sleep training is a lot like golf. EVERYONE will stand to one side and say "keep your elbows in, turn your wrist over, bend your knees, straighten your back, UAE a 3 count...."

In fact the best advice, For both, is "find what works for you and do it that way every time."
posted by chasles at 4:31 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Our baby at seven months was up every 45 minutes, I'd been settling her using the breast and it became this horrific habit. The only thing that ended up working was enlisting my (up until that point sleeping through the night unlike me) husband. Once the baby figured out she wasn't getting mummas magical breasts she gave up trying and started sleeping. Good luck, I know how hellish it is.
posted by Jubey at 6:45 PM on November 9, 2014

This has somewhat been covered, but, I find babies are like cats - they're weird, lovable, and each one is different!

Let me congratulate you, because sleep training is hard, and my husband could not stomach it.

It popped out to me that you did not mention your infant's age - could teething be a significant factor?

We rocked the Clove Oil, frozen fruit in chomper pacifier, frozen teething ring... Eventually, we started administering below recommended doses of infant Tylenol. WE DID NOT DO THIS REGULARLY!!!

Check with your pediatrician.

I think over the 4 really bad months of teething we did it maybe 6 to 8 times, so once a week or less.

We never give our now 3.5 year old meds. Back a year ago he slightly fractured his collarbone (long story there!) and he only needed/wanted pain relief the first day, and the Emergency Room administered it. We are not super into meds OTC or otherwise, but my goodness, I don't regret giving our then infant traditional pain relief during the worst hours of his teething.

He wasn't a cryer or particularly colicky, tho, so it was very easy for us as first time parents to determine an unusual situation was happening.


I like the idea of warm water. Is it possible your infant is experiencing heartburn or similar?

At about 10 months (if memory serves) it was encouraged by our pediatrician to start rice cereals and more solid foods. This did not go well, and we backed off for another 2 months until he seemed more ready.

YMMV. Just throwing out some biological possibilities that have nothing to do with sleep training, and everything to do with developmental stages and such.

It gets better. And then they're in Preschool and you miss intimate middle of the night moments that kept you sleep deprived, but are defined by Comforting and Love.

posted by jbenben at 8:21 PM on November 9, 2014

We did Sleep Easy rather than Ferber. I don't know what the difference in the techniques is, but Sleep Easy addresses the average amount of time a child of various ages needs, the number of naps the average child needs, sample sleeping schedules, and what to do in the event of regressions. It's referred to as a "modified" CIO method. It worked well for us, but I agree with others that consistency is absolutely the key. And, with a kid who got ALL of his teeth before 12mos (yes, even the 2yr molars), I cannot recommend ibuprofen at bedtime highly enough if you're dealing with teething.
posted by vignettist at 9:12 PM on November 9, 2014

As a data point, my 7 month old daughter went through some pretty significant sleep regression in the last few weeks. She went from sleeping through the night (or close enough for government work) to waking every couple of hours which hadn't happened since she was a newborn.

It's back to normal now so I am fully assuming it was her teeth that were bothering her, her top ones are coming in. How is baby doing with teething?
posted by lydhre at 6:19 AM on November 10, 2014

The thing that bugs the bejeezus out of me with all the sleep training advice is that the first step is to make sure your baby isn't teething or something, when in point of fact, babies are freaking ALWAYS TEETHING. Even when one isn't actively cutting, they can still be hurting down in there. (Sorry. I think we might be contending with molars and I'm a grouch this morning.)

I wouldn't at all worry about the waking at 5am to feed, then staying in bed with you. In general, a baby who wakes up at 5am and isn't fed/snuggled back to sleep is a baby who is now up for the day. I would focus on setting limits between bedtime and 5am.

I also strongly second those who suggest that you give her 5-10 minutes to settle herself in the middle of the night before you go get her.
posted by telepanda at 7:28 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ferber may not be the best method for you. There are a gazillion different sleep training methods, and I, personally, hate them all. Because not a one of them worked for either of my kids. My son would escalate in his upsetness. He is still not a kid who works up to work down, as it were. If he's worked up, he's worked up and if we don't stop it, it escalates. Guess what? Turned out he also had some mega sensory issues and an autism diagnosis. Sleep training wouldn't have worked if we wanted it to because sleep training does not take severe sensory issues into account. We coslept with him til he was almost 3, and then something suddenly clicked for him at 3 and now he sleeps like a rock.

For my daughter, she was a great sleeper for her first year. We coslept and she slept next to me and we'd nurse and sleep and the best sleep I've ever had as a parent was that first year of her life. But when she switched to a new daycare, that was the end of that and she started waking up a lot more at night to be with me. So we let her. Then at 18 months, we placed her in her own bed at night time, but let her come in with us in the middle of the night. Then after two, we cut that off and my husband would get up to keep her from reaching our door. Now if she wakes up at night in her sleep, she stays in bed and we respond accordingly.

All this to say that sleep training is a process, not a result. And you're going to have to find what works for you which very well may go against anything the "experts" have to say about it. Do what works. This isn't working. So change it. And don't forget that 6 months is still very, very, very tiny. She may need you is all. She's not doing anything with the intention of making your life miserable because she can't form those thoughts.
posted by zizzle at 8:45 AM on November 10, 2014

I did Ferber starting at 4 months old, so no judgment here.

The first thing is about expectations, as others have pointed out. It is not a linear process. There are a lot of regressions no matter what you do, if you sleep train or not. There are a bunch of different factors that can cause regressions - for us the biggest one was being in any situation where we felt like we had to go and comfort her quickly or more so than usual (either being in a place where there were other people/kids sleeping that we didn't want her to wake up, or having my mother in law visiting because she didn't approve of sleep training) - either of these things would immediately cause her to regress into waking up a ton of times at night for days afterwards. And yes, every single time we did Ferber method of graduated check ins again to get her back on track, only it was much easier than the first time because she knew the deal. And I didn't bother with the exact intervals that Ferber specifies, I pretty much did 5, 10, 15 minutes and never did longer than 15 minutes because that seemed like long enough that it really wasn't worth it for her to keep up the fuss for long.

When she got older, I did things differently (I can't tell how old your child is - guessing with two naps maybe she is 8-12 months old?). I would say from maybe 8-9 months on, since she would be a great sleeper for weeks in a row - yes, we assumed that she was sleep trained and if there was no reason for a regression, when she cried in the night I would go check on her right away. It was usually something like a dirty diaper or losing her pacifier. If I checked in and she got all smiley with me and obviously was just lonely and looking for some laughs, I would go back to graduated check ins every 10-15 minutes. If it seemed like she was really fussy and upset about something, and she kept fussing, we would usually give her a dose of Tylenol and assume that she was teething. This often seemed to help (not sure if it was because of the Tylenol or whether she just liked having a spoonful of sugary stuff).

One thing we very rarely did was feed her when she cried in the night. If we had tried everything else and done a bunch of check ins and she was still fussing for some reason, sometimes we'd go to milk. But we knew that she couldn't be really hungry because we gave her a big dream feed bottle late night before I went to bed every night, around 11pm. Always as a dream feed (picking her up from sleep and giving her the bottle), not in response to crying - that definitely would have fueled the fire because she loves to eat and will never turn down a bottle of milk, even shortly after just eating one. In addition we always made the checkins relatively quick and not too much fun. Like it was a real check to see what was wrong - if the paci was within reach and the diaper was fine and there was no other issue going on, we'd just rub her back, maybe give her a kiss, say a few soothing words and then leave - no extensive comforting, bouncing, etc.

I don't think 7pm is too early, though. If you think getting a bottle in the middle of the night helps (we thought so) then you can do it as a dream feed. We started her with a 6-615pm bedtime from about 4-12 months, then 630pm from about 12-18 months, now she is about 630-7pm. She does really well with this routine and is generally asleep until at least 7am, sometimes 8-830am which works great for us - and when she wakes up she's full of smiles and happiness after a good night's rest.

If worrying about what's going on in there is bothering you, I recommend our method of setting up a baby cam - they're not that expensive and you can access them on any wireless-enabled device like your phone or iPad or laptop. I often checked on her with the camera (night vision) to see what she was up to, and it helped. Anyway, I hope our experience is helpful to you, but do whatever works for your family. Good luck!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:39 PM on November 11, 2014

When sleep training is going well, even for a very stubborn baby with bad habits, it should end after about 1-2 weeks and you should see more-or-less steady progress over that time. Regressions and "re-Ferberizing" are pretty normal, especially during the first year when things are all over the place developmentally. In our case it took about 2-3 weeks to sleep train with the Ferber method, and over the next ~4 months we would have a minor regression every few weeks but most of them time he slept 12 hours through. It was amazing and EVERYONE was so much happier.

If you really feel like no progress is being made or the baby is completely regressing, it would be good to evaluate the situation and your plan. I honestly feel that it doesn't matter what method you use as long as it's one you can stick to. Your baby is old enough to see patterns in the world and will respond positively to consistent routines. When you give in "just this once" you might be inviting 3-4 more nights of confused wake-ups because she thought the midnight milk machine was open for business again. If you just can't NOT nurse/comfort — that's okay! Maybe check out the No Cry Sleep Solution or similar for more gentle ways of teaching self-soothing.

And in my experience once they learn to self-soothe they absolutely do wake up and cry for no reason. Crying does not equal pain/suffering. My son would test the waters every once in a while to see if he could get us to come in and play with him. He started using different types of cries so we'd run in and pick him up — only to have him immediately stop crying and start trying to play with us. If it's hard to tell the difference, by all means do a check-in but try not to pick her up, nurse, or offer any kind of stimulation that rewards the behavior. Soon enough she'll learn that crying at night is pointless and she should just go back to sleep. (It helps to repeat something simple every time you check in, like "It's night time and night is for sleeping. We can play in the morning.")

FWIW, here are some environmental things I found helped us a lot:

* Age-appropriate early bedtime somewhere around 7pm. Pick a time, stick to it every day.
* Get naps to be rock-solid so kid is not exhausted at night. Probably 3 naps at that age, around 9am, 12pm, 4pm. Shoot for not being awake too much longer than 4 hours at a time.
* Is the room dark enough? Maybe too dark? Play with shades/nightlights a little.
* Allowing some small stuffed animals and a board book or two in the crib. It gave him something to look at/touch at night without being stimulating enough to keep him awake.
* A good strong white noise machine next to the bed.
* Check the temperature of the room and air circulation. People generally sleep better with the room on the cool side, but make sure to also use warm-enough pajamas and/or a sleep sack.
* A video baby monitor so you can make sure the little one is okay without actually going in there.
* Night check-ins should always be done by dad. This helps reinforce the no milk at night thing.
* A lovey is super helpful if she doesn't already have one.
posted by annekate at 1:54 PM on November 12, 2014

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