Wednesday, January 26, 2011

These times, they are a changing

The bedside co-sleeper and Jack's first day back from the hospital. Awww.

Jack has a lovely nursery. It's beautiful. We painted the walls VOC-free avocado. We stickered them with white tree decals. We put put baby books in the bookcase and filled it with baby things, including his "crib" -- an Arm's Reach Co-sleeper.

Then Jack was born, we moved the co-sleeper into our bedroom, and there it has been since... until tonight, that is. Tonight, I moved the co-sleeper into the nursery and put a rail up along my side of the bed.

I've gotta say, I am LOVING having my bedroom back. The bedroom is tiny, very awkwardly shaped, an odd and late addition to our 1860s house. There is almost no wall space, and the co-sleeper took up pretty much all of it. Now? Now I have a nightstand! The light is on! Greg and I are having a conversation above the level of a whisper! Plus, I can actually nurse my baby in the nursery

The co-sleeper was great while we used it. I would recommend it to anyone. We placed it up against my side of the bed, with one edge down, and Jack was safely within reach all night. From what little I could tell, Jack loved it. He'd fall asleep watching me. He'd be hungry and I'd be right there for him. We'd bring him into bed in the early morning, at around 4am, and wake up to a baby cooing in our ears. He didn't cry at night and I didn't have to get out of bed. It was lovely.

Jack starting to wake up more often, and I brought him into bed earlier and earlier. That worried me, at first. But as time went on, I found that having him in the bed for the whole night worked much better for everyone. Jack didn't even want to nurse: he just wanted to be with us. He went from waking up every 1-2 hours to sleeping for 4 hours at a time. Also -- and this is a huge, important 'also' -- I firmly believe that co-sleeping in the right conditions is safer for the baby than being in his own bed. There is no doubt in my mind about that fact. So, we would put him in the bedside co-sleeper at 7pm, where he would stay asleep until 10 or 11, at which point I would nurse him and bring him into bed.

Until recently, this has been a great arrangement. It's not the most comfortable way to sleep, but I can put up with the sore hips and numb arms for the special time that it gives us together.

Here's the trouble: the early evenings have gone seriously downhill since our trip to Vermont. Suddenly Jack has a very difficult time staying asleep when he is alone. I don't blame him. It's cold, he's used to sleeping with us for the rest of the night, so why wouldn't he cry to be in our arms? Unfortunately, even if it makes sense for Jack, this poses a problem for us. I simply cannot spend the entire night (from 6:30pm to 6:30am) in bed or holding him. Not possible. And when I do, I have freakouts.

We try to putting him in the bedside co-sleeper asleep, but he always wakes up.

Oh and I try having him fall asleep with me in bed and then sneaking out, but that lasts about 5 minutes too.

Something needs to change. I've been reading up on sleep training (teaching a baby how to sleep alone), but nothing fits our style. The thing is... I want to continue co-sleeping for part of the night. He's a great co-sleeping baby. He doesn't nurse much. He doesn't move around. He snuggles right up against me, we flip sides once, maybe twice in a night for him to get a good snack in, and everybody is happy.

I wish Jack could fall asleep and sleep by himself for a few hours, and when he wakes up for the 10pm feed, I'd take him into bed for the rest of the night. But how do you teach a baby that when he cries at the *beginning* of the night you won't respond to him but *later* you will? Ah, well, according to lore, you don't. You either co-sleep or you sleep-train.

Furthermore, sleep-training necessarily involves some crying. Some people say to close the door and don't go in until 7am. Others say go in for increasingly less comfort, or stay away for increasingly longer intervals. At some point, Jack will need to cry without my being there to comfort. But when should this happen? Is 6 months old enough? Crying results in the release of significant quantities of stress hormones. The relation between stress and brain function was part of what I wrote my dissertation about... this is not joke: we know that stress hormones do bad things to the brain. We just don't know how much it takes, and we don't know at what age the benefits of certain kinds of stress (namely, the long term behaviors that stress helps produce) outweigh its detriment.

The longer we put up with this sleeping arrangement, the more total crying (in the future) there will be. Somehow, we have to pit current crying against future crying, and this is an optimization problem with two awfully unknown cost functions. Personally, I think 6 months is the minimum. I wouldn't consider letting him cry before, but now I will. This is not just a function of us having an issue with the sleeping arrangement: I can see it Jack's behavior, too. His crying means a lot of things, now, and not all of it is life-or-death trauma. I wish he was a little older before we attempt any sleep training. But I also can't spend 12 hours a day in bed. So, like usual, something's got to give.

Here is the current plan. Co-sleeper is in nursery. It's a different environment: very dark, soft white noise, and quieter than the bedroom (no dogs!). We'll do the "I'm right here, right by you, but not picking you up" approach, with progressive reduction in comfort measures as we can. Statistically speaking, this method works just as well as leaving the baby alone in the crib to cry -- it just takes a hell of a lot more patience and time.

Here's how we did tonight. 6:40pm, Greg gave Jack a bath. 6:55pm, Greg put Jack in PJs and diaper. 7:00pm, I read Jack a book, nursed him to sleepy. 7:15pm, I put Jack in co-sleeper in nursery. Jack cried. And cried. And cried. I tried leaving a few times, but it was killing me, so I went back to his side and followed the routine. No picking him up. Shushing and singing and patting. After 10 minutes of this, a total of about 5 intervals of Cry-Sleepy, Jack got sleepy enough to fall asleep.

It's 9:30pm and he's still sleeping. Honestly, 10pm is coming up and I know I am going to be aching to bring him into bed. But... I think I should see what happens. I think I should at least see if he'll fall asleep again in his co-sleeper in the nursery.

Wish us luck. I'll report back tomorrow.



  1. GOOD LUCK! can't wait to hear how you made out.. i think he may suprise you and sleep for a while on his own. I like your approach to sleep training and staying and soothing him to sleep. I'm sure he would of cried longer if you weren't there to reassure him he was okay. especially for the first night.
    I'm really lucky, brayden sleeps through the night in the pack and play we have in our room. he usually falls asleep b/w 8-830 after our bedtime routine. some nights he will sleep straight through till 730 but most nights we get up for one bottle. i REALLY don't want to transition to the nursery for a while but i think i will try the crib when he is 4-5 months.

  2. Wow, you guys are lucky! As a small caution, we saw a *huge* sleep regression at 4 months, and there was a bit on the internet about other people who had the same trouble.

    Ultimately I think we all have to do what we're comfortable with, no regrets! By bringing Jack into bed, we may have created some sleep associations, but we also avoided other problems and got him to be very well rested and napping.