Sleep Training FAIL

Greg and I forayed into the dark, dark world of sleep training last night. It was miserable. Veronica wailed. I cried. Greg was mean.

Admittedly, we tried a not-very-thought-out version of the famous CRY IT OUT method. Over the last six weeks we've had our fair share of rough nights and it just felt like it was time to do something. Anything.

Here are our sleep problems. I know all of you out there without kids are on the edge of your seats.

Scenario number one is some nights it's just hard to get her to go down. This means that she'll fall asleep nursing as we watch a dvd after dinner and then I let her snooze in my lap for a while, making sure she's really asleep. Then I tiptoe back to the nursery with her and oh-so gently place her in the crib, at which point she sits straight up and starts crying. Awesome.

The rest of the scenario plays out like this: I sit in the glider in the dark and nurse her back to sleep. I watch the clock, listen to her little snores, gently place her down again. Tip toe out of the room, relieved that she's still asleep. I settle back down on the couch, turn on the monitor and five or ten minutes will go by before she starts crying. At this point there might be some swearing on my end and some stomping back to the nursery.

Usually Greg tries to intervene and he goes in and tries to rock her. Sometimes this works, sometimes she just escalates. Half the time I don't let Greg go in because I assume I'm going to have to do it in the end anyway so I may as well go in now. We both get mad. The whole thing takes an hour and a half. Awesome.

She generally stays down after the third or fourth time and will then sleep from 4-7 hours in one stretch. Then she'll wake up to nurse once and then sleep again until morning. Not bad, were it not for the difficulty of getting her to sleep.

Scenario number two is that she goes down quickly and easily. There's no need for multiple attempts and we go to bed feeling pretty good about it all. However, this is the scenario in which she goes down easily but wakes up multiple, multiple, multiple times throughout the night. This is the scenario in which both myself and Greg are up and out of bed over and over again all night and this is the scenario in which she'll finally sleep a good solid stretch but not until after 4am. And yes, this is the scenario in which Greg and I go to work bleary-eyed and disillusioned with parenthood and missing our former lives when we were young and savvy and sexy. Awesome.

Sooo…yesterday I read some emails from friends offering advice, watched some sleep-training videos on Baby Center and revisited all the books I'd read this fall about how to do this. Finally, Greg and I decided that since it was 8pm and she seemed sleepy we'd just try to put her down and let her cry and go in at 3 minute intervals to comfort her.

First we both went into the darkened nursery with her and I sat in the glider with her in my lap as we sang The Wheels on the Bus to her. She smiled. She had no idea what was coming.Then Greg placed her in the crib and we began to back out of the room. She was up and standing, her little hands on the top rung of the crib, CRYING, before we even got out of the room.

In this scenario folks, I lasted one minute. One minute. We didn't even have the monitor on. Her cries were so loud and so distressed that I was able to sit on the couch for only one minute before I literally sprinted back to the nursery to scoop her up, her little tears wetting my cheeks as I kissed her.

Oh, and this is where Greg got really, really mad at me and really, really disappointed with me. Even more than the time I refused to play Balderdash with him right after I'd moved to Chicago and he got so upset about it that I could tell he was wondering if he'd made a terrible mistake by asking me to move here from LA.

Anyway then we stood in the living room and talked about it. Or rather I stood, holding Veronica, while Greg sat on the couch pretending to half talk to me and half look at the computer because he was still so mad at me for only lasting one minute.

Finally, I agreed to try again. This time I lasted three minutes and in this scenario Greg may have tried to physically block me from approaching the crib and I may have hit him in the chest. Um, yeah.

We all took longer to recover from that one, as in Greg didn't talk to me for half an hour and I cried for ten minutes. Finally I nursed V to sleep, like always, on the couch. And then, of course it was a great sleep night. I put her down once and she did a 6 hour stretch, woke once to nurse and went right back to sleep for another 4 hours. And Greg and I are doing fine now, by the way.

Okay, I'm really asking. How do we do this??

I seriously can't listen to her cry like she did last night. My whole being reacts to it in a physiological way. The thing is that she's really a great baby. She never cries unless she hits her head or is sick. So to hear her all-out wail, to know that she's standing up in the crib with tears streaming down her face, is more than I can bear. 

I totally get that sleep training helps babies learn to soothe themselves and go to sleep on their own and I do want that for her…and for us, but not at the expense of torturing her and myself. My new plan is to only try the cry-it-out method when she wakes up multiple times after we try to put her down to sleep. I think that this plan, as opposed to the just coldly putting her down when she's not even asleep yet plan, might work better for everyone.

But we seriously need help over here. Sleep training FAIL.



  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Claire, the scenario you describe with V? Been there for every single thing you describe, including hitting my hub and huffing in to just to it myself bc I am going to have to do it anyway. I had the same issues with CIO and it was SO SO difficult for me to do. A friend did it way earlier than weeven tried and she seemed SO heartless to me! 🙂 in hindsight she did get her daughter to sleep better much sooner than we got Rainer to sleep, but I am still convinced we did what was right for him and me. What I am trying to say is don’t push yourself into doing something you are not ready for or feeling good about. That said, around 6-9 months ( can’t remember exactly) we did the Ferber method– have you read about that one?– and it worked great. I did a modified version — ie, I never read the book– and I chose not toread what OTHER people felt about it or CIO in general bc there are STRONG opinions about it and I found my opinions and the way I felt about letting my baby cry for a few minutes was being affected by what I thought other people would think of me. Ultimately, when I was ready I chose to recognize that crying isn’t the end of the world and a rest mumwould be good for the kids! The Ferber method has worked whenever R is having a hard time sleeping now, but mostly we no longer need to use it at all. Those 5, 5, 10 minutes will seem like forever, but you might be surprised to hear suddenly NOTHING at min 4 just when you think you can’t wait 60 more seconds!
    Plus all that other stuff about loving, but firm, I love you, good night and walk away.
    Good luck!D

  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Tricia. Were going to keep trying. Just hope Greg doesnt leave me in the process!

  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Hi Claire,
    I’ve enjoyed your blog for awhile now. My name is Rachel – my sister is Courtney (Amber’s good friend) so that’s how I was introduced to your blog in the first place. And I really enjoy it, by the way!
    I have been exactly where you are! I now have three kids, 6, 5, and 18 mos. and they all sleep – but it wasn’t without tears (from all of us!). As hard as it might be – the only thing that worked for me was putting them to bed awake and letting them cry. I literally had to leave the house and go for a run. Somehow Dad was so much stronger when it came to listening to them cry. My firstborn was the hardest. At nine months we were doing the same thing as you. I’d nurse her to sleep – hope she stayed – and then be up several times a night. First night of crying it out – she cried for 50 minutes. No kidding. But then slept through the night. Second night cried 30 minutes – slept all night. Third night – 5 minutes. After that, no crying at all and slept all night. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
    I KNOW it’s terrible. But I also know it works. And faster than you’ll think. And she won’t hate you in the morning!
    Good luck!

  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Aggh…these stories torture me! Everyone seems to have a similar experience — the first night terrible, the next night not so bad, the third night only a few minutes of crying…and then wonder-sleep baby! Im going to try harder. And yes, I think Ill need to leave or put on head phones and let Greg deal with it. Sigh. He told me to do that last night and I just couldnt.
    Thanks for sharing your experience! And Im glad youre enjoying the blog! Thanks for commenting!

  • Courtney
    Posted December 29, 2009 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Hi Claire! I’m sorry for what you are going through=(Let me just say, I will have to agree with all of the above. Abe has been my dificult one in the sleep department, and we have both cried many tears in the process of getting him to be a good sleeper. I remember being so amazed at my physical and emotional reaction to his crying..understanding the nature of it (baby cries, mom feels the need to go to that baby)…but still so baffled by the whole thing. I would say, I’m gonna do this, and the minute he cried I would melt. It drove my husband crazy too! Rachel is right, it’s pretty amazing how much it helps just walking out of the room/house where you can’t hear them anymore and letting Daddy handle it. If you are going to do the crying out method you have to change your thinking….if you let her cry and then go in and pick her up, she’s just cried all that time for nothing! And you then start all over except now she thinks you will eventually come get her and she will cry longer and harder…worse for both of you. Don’t start the method until you have everything in place and are absolutly ready…I made that mistake too many times and drew the whole process out way longer than needed. On a happy note, Abe is now 2 1/2 and has been a wonderful sleeper since he was about 1 or so. We go in his room, jammies on, read a couple books, noisemaker on, lay him in bed cover him up and he’s off to lala land. It really does work, and I feel so good that we have given him this gift…the gift of being able to lay down and go to sleep all on his own! Good luck, and dont be too hard on yourself…we’ve all been there=)

  • Emilie
    Posted December 29, 2009 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Those of us without babies but with willful cats wish there were a Ferber Method for unrepentantly annoying felines.

  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Right?! Pal seriously needs some sleep-training. And I dont think it would be that hard for me to let him cry it out.

  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the advice, Courtney! Its all just so confusing — there are too many methods! It does make sense that going in at 3 minute intervals would confuse the kid. But I just dont have it in me to do the hour-long crying jag. Might have to leave the house for that one. Sigh. Just thinking about it all makes me kind of sick.

  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    No advice from here, Claire, but plenty of empathy. Both my beloved husband and I were complete failures at the CIO thing. It was pretty much a race between the two of us to see who could get in there fast enough once the crying started. The one time we both agreed to really really try to wait it out, I think we were all three in tears at about the two minute mark and that was that. Never even tried it with Kid#2. One very big difference, however, was that at that point I did not need to go in to work every morning with any semblance of composure on my face. That’s really tough to do when you’ve had so little sleep, so I truly do see the virtue in accomplishing what these methods seem to accomplish. And I suspect the price paid for the child in terms of their security is minimal at most. Kids are very resilient, and of course she too will benefit from the eventual good sleep. We had a very adorable little girl staying here over the weekend and her mom was a successful practitioner of CIO when her daughter was an infant. Just because I couldn’t do it (I swear, my heart would have broken in pieces!) doesn’t mean I judge people who do make that choice. FWIW, she mentioned that, once she had assured herself that the child was fed, dry and safe, the thing that worked for her was to put on headphones and turn the music up so loud she couldn’t hear the baby. Sounds like that might be well-worth a try.
    Good luck! And yes, please do keep us posted. I doubt there are very many among your readers who are tiring of Veronica stories yet 🙂

  • Brooke
    Posted December 29, 2009 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I wish I had some advice, but I’m just piggy backing off of what everyone has suggested so far since we have very similar scenarios going on in our house. I’m just glad to know that we’re not alone in this terrible sleep business.

  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    I have no advice-I was a young mom-by the time I was 21 I had three kids all under 3 years old. I’m surprised they made it to being decent adults as I don’t remember a thing!
    Then 3 years ago I brought home a cranky 19 month old (mom walked out, 6 months later dad died and he was alone for over 24 hours thankfully in his crib). When I brought him home I had to sleep near the crib as he would always pop up to make sure someone was there. This was after weeks of nothing but crying. Now he sleeps with the light off, alone in his room, all through the night.
    By the time I got to the “I hit Greg” part I smiled-sorry. I know you guys are sleep-deprived but it was starting to sound like an episode of I Love Lucy. It’s your writing 🙂
    If it makes you feel any better-Alex is now 4 1/2 but every time he cries, because of his horrid past, I run. I’m a sucker. But then I noticed quite some time ago that when he doesn’t get a reaction he stops mid-cry, turns to look, then resumes if he sees me.
    You guys will be fine 🙂 I’m still glad I stumbled across your blog.
    Happy New Year!

  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Carroll. I think Im going to have to go the headphone route for sure. And glad to know Im not the only one who finds it pretty impossible to do this.

  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Well, Im glad to know Im not alone too!

  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Haha…love the detail about Alex turning to see if youre still there and resuming crying. Last night every time we brought Veronica out after crying she would start smiling immediately, as though nothing had happened. These kids!
    And wow, thats amazing that you took Alex in. What an amazing experience that must be, and what a gift. Thanks for commenting!

  • Robyn
    Posted December 29, 2009 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Hi Claire,
    I have to say that I laughed and cried. You’ve described everything that we are going through right now–naps as well. I could swear that you were sitting in our house writing about us! I wish that I had some advice. I feel the same way. I tried the CIO method and my heart broke–couldn’t do it. I felt that in some way that Evan’s trust in me and in general would be compromised in the process. I have known friends who have done the CIO (weissbluth and ferber), as well as the more attachment style parenting (no-cry) and all methods have worked for them. Basically, you need to do what feels comfortable to you. This is the age where they first start learning about attachment and separation–another phase in their development. So, its actually a good thing–difficult, but good. We just have to do the best that we can to support them through it–because it will pass, just like all of the other phases. As for me, still not sure what we’re going to do. I’m very conflicted–and sleep deprived. But, it will happen. Remember, every time we get used to something–it will probably change. Hang in there, you are not alone.

  • Katie
    Posted December 29, 2009 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Hi Claire! I have to tell you that I have been reading your blog since the beginning of your pregnancy. We were pregnant at the same time and I felt like I could relate to everything you were experiencing! My name is Katie and my son Aidan was born June 11th. When I saw the title of this post I have to admit it made me a little happy 🙂 We are dealing with some sleep issues in our house as well and I was beginning to feel as though every other mother around me has perfect babies that sleep through the night. On Christmas eve my cousin was bragging about how their baby “sleeps through the night” but then went on to say they wake him up at 10pm to feed him and then he sleeps till morning- I felt like yelling out, “CHEATERS!!”. We’ve tried the “dream feed” and it didn’t work. See our problem is not the going to sleep- it’s the waking up at 3am thing. Sometimes he does it and sometimes he doesn’t- but lately since he’s learned to crawl and/or pull himself up he seems to feel inclined to practice in the middle of the freaking night. I just had to laugh when I read the part about you hitting Greg b/c there have been many battles between my husband and I- most at 3am- and most end with me huffing and puffing and getting up to go to the nursery. I too have read all the baby books, sleep books- you name it. I am confused and unsure- do I feed him at 3am or will this cause a “bad habit”?!? Sometimes I feel like I overanalyze the situation- but I am so tired that I do whatever needs to do done so he will just GO BACK TO SLEEP! So I feel your pain sister…I am right there with you. If you find the answer let me know 🙂

  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Katie, the answer is “whatever works for YOU!”. Our very wise pediatrician years ago reminded me that it’s only been in recent historical times that children have been “expected” to sleep in their own room anyway. If you think of the millions of children being raised in underdeveloped countries where whole families sleep together in one room (just imagine “co-sleeping” with Grandma, Grandpa and Cousin Carlos!) you can bet big bucks that those babies are nursed back to sleep whenever they so much as whimper.
    That same wise pediatrician also assured me that in all his years of practice, not a single one of his patients had ever gone off to college still nursing, and not sleeping through the night. If it’s a “bad habit”, well, rest assured that it’s a short-lived and self-correcting one.
    I promise all of you struggling young parents, even though it seems to take *FOREVER!* this too shall pass 🙂

  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    I wish I had some helpful tips for you…but I honestly can’t really remember what we did. I do know that Sunshine slept in the sling for a long time until about 9 or 10 pm, then she’d wake up PISSED and it would be another hour of nursing/rocking/etc before I got her back to sleep in her crib and then she would sleep all night. That was when I realized I needed to be doing all that earlier in the night. Also, even though so many people told me NOT to, I got into the habit of nursing her to sleep and eventually we both grew out of that–where I was able to put her in the crib sleepy but not totally asleep and she’d roll over onto her belly and fall asleep.
    Here are a few links for you to look at…some good tips here from someone who possibly knows a *little* more (or at least she gives good advice.)
    I know it’s hard. You guys will find your place and even though it will feel like forever, you’ll be in your new rhythm before you know it.

  • AT
    Posted December 29, 2009 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Hi Claire – your blog is like a time machine! I swear 5 years ago I could have written the exact same words. My first little boy was a nightmare sleeper. Hours and hours of patting his bum and waking up every night at 3am and crying pretty much on and off til 5am wherein it would be time for me to get up and him to finally go back into a deep sleep. Honestly, I don’t have much advice. We used to let him cry and it was pure torture. To be honest, I’m not sure that it achieved anything in the end. Because rather than him being patted to sleep I was sitting on the couch having my husband pat me whilst I cried. It used to take about 2 weeks for us and I would go in after 1 min, then 2 min, then 3 min – always in the pitch black, always no talking or eye contact. Just settle him to stop crying and lay him back down. Finally the technique would work and we would get about 2 months sleep. Then for no reason he would start back up again out of the blue and we would have to start the technique all over again.
    My second little boy slept pretty much 12 hours a night straight home from hospital (I would put him to bed at 8pm, dreamfeed him at 11pm and he would wake again at 8am). That being said, I did exactly the same things with each child, only they both reacted differently. So the moral of the story (for me anyway) is that your kid is either a sleeper or not – regardless of what technique you use. I have one of each and I know how frustrating it is and how badly you want to pull your hair out to to hear people talk about their miraculously sleeping children who just go straight to sleep and never wake and leave you wondering what the hell you are doing wrong. Also being on the other side with a sleeping baby and seeing the awe on people’s faces when you tell them your newborn sleeps 12 hours every night!!!
    In the end though, its such a short period of time, they will sort it out for themselves eventually even if you rock them or let them cry. Just do what your comfortable with.
    By the way, really enjoying your cooking blogs!!!

  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this comment. I like your moral — that it basically boils down to what works for us and her. I dont think theres a perfect way that works universally. Were on the road to figuring it out. Hearing about so many other experiences is so helpful.
    And Im glad you like the cooking entries! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Liz. Its definitely good to keep in mind that this will not last forever. I know well look back on this time someday soon and it will seem far away. Probably by then youll be going through it all over again. 🙂
    And thanks for the links! Just browsed through them and there was some really good stuff.

  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    Hi Katie, thanks for commenting! Thats so neat that Aidan and Veronica have such close birthdays. Im sure theyre going through so much of the same thing. It drives me crazy that V stands up in her crib now!!
    You know, you hit on something thats been a big part of the problem — I just keep hearing all these stories from people who did 3 simple days of cry-it-out and now they have these perfect sleeping babies. I feel so much pressure to do this! Im glad to know Im not alone in my confusion and stress about it.
    Thanks again for commenting – you should do so more often!

  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    ALL good things to keep in mind, Carroll. 🙂

  • Posted December 29, 2009 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Ha….glad you could relate, Robyn! You know, I really feel similarly — that Vs trust in me will diminish if I go the cry-it-out route. I just cant bear to think of her in there crying for me and not going to her. I love her sooo much and would do anything for her and I just cant listen to her cry like that. Id rather be sleep-deprived. I think.

  • Posted December 30, 2009 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    It’s true what everyone has said…you will know what method is working for you and V and if it feels wrong to you then go with your instinct. Lots of trial and error until it all falls into place.
    And yes, in a few months everything I’ve been living with now will feel like a dream. Baby goes to bed at 6 pm and sleeps 12 hours, I lounge on the couch with my dogs and enjoy my time alone after a hectic day…these days will become wistful memories, just like the ones when Sunshine was an infant. 🙂

  • Jenny
    Posted December 30, 2009 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    This is the thing that most terrifies me about becoming a parent. My entire outlook on life/mental health and happiness seems to be determined by how much sleep I get. So afraid sleep deprivation will ruin the experience of motherhood. There’s so much conflicting advice, and some books suggest that what you establish from the very start determines everything.

  • Tonia
    Posted December 30, 2009 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Yeap! Been there, our little guy cried 45 minutes the first time, and then 30 minutes the next, and by the third day he down to a minute or so. The trick with us was to be consistent with naps and at bed time. We started with naps and worked our way to bed time. Three days of pure insanity and fighting (me wanting to get him and Mike begging me to resist) and we had a happy baby who slept 12 hours at night with nice long naps and no rocking to sleep.
    Good luck! I am sure you will find a system that works for you.

  • Posted December 30, 2009 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    Oh man, these are the stories that make me feel like I need to just push through and try to do this. But argh, the crying KILLS me. She is literally standing up in her crib sobbing so hard that shes choking! Did Adler do that too those nights?

  • Posted December 30, 2009 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Ugh, you know all these different theories and books dont help. Theres too many. Im totally confused at this point. Going back to square one and going with mom instincts.

  • Tonia
    Posted January 4, 2010 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    That and more! He is so dramatic, which is why it killed me the entire time. But, after 3 days, it was well worth it.
    Who knows what it will be like with the next baby. He may not cooperate at all. We will see!

  • Emily V
    Posted January 4, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    I am absolutely adoring reading your blog. As for the sleep training thing, I wish I had some great advice for you but you just have to do whatever works for you. I have tried multiple things and somewhere along the way we got it right. I don’t even know how it happened and I could never do it again if I tried, I’m sure. One book that I found helpful was The Baby Whisperer. Good luck!!!

  • Posted January 4, 2010 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much, Emily! Ill have to get ahold of The Baby Whisperer. You know, I read a bunch of sleep books when she was like 6 weeks old and they were pretty irrelevant at the time. Its definitely time to revisit them.

  • Posted January 8, 2010 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    First I love your blog. Second, I am going through something similar right now, and I am about to throw every book I read out of the window because they are making me feel like I am the only mother on earth that cannot sleep train her child. I only hope it gets better… I can’t let Nico cry either, especially because he never cries unless he is hurting or REALLY hungry.

  • Posted January 9, 2010 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Nani, for your kind words and your commiseration. Im going to keep trying, but gosh this is hard. One of the things I like the least about sleep training is how many different theories there are. Its utterly confusing.

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