November 5, 2007

Sleep Training Week 2007 Recap

At five o’clock this morning I buried my head in my pillow, forcing sleep for the last time. I had been asleep for seven hours already, far longer than all but a few of the previous 130 days. STW ’07, barring a major setback, could now be declared an unequivocal success. However, for most of last night I tossed and turned thinking of bigger things; I was thinking of how safe Annie’s crib really was and if she was alive in there, whether or not this sleep experiment had taken something from me, and if I was doomed to the same fate as my father-in-law, who wakes up every day around this time, even when on vacation. I may now have some insight into where he picked up the habit. It was time to get up. It was time to look back over the last four months, and then analyze the last week to see what brought me, a legendarily sound sleeper, to this relatively insomniatic state.

Any parent will tell you that the first few nights with a new baby are, by leaps and bounds, the most difficult you will have. For Annie this held true as well, except for a couple of memorable nights that I chronicled in this space. After those first nights, a baby tends to settle down a bit, especially once they clear their bowels for the first time. Like us, Annie seemed to be totally exhausted and slept for a few stretches of six hours here and there. It was only as she matured and was feeding on a regular schedule that she began waking up like clockwork. This begs a question: if we had been “strict” parents form the beginning, and didn’t feed Annie at night, would she have been sleeping regularly the whole time?

I wrote on Saturday that we had dinner with some new friends the night before. One of the couples has two children, the youngest about the same age as Annie. When we were comparing parenting notes, the only glaring difference was that their child was sleeping 12 hours a night, and had been for most of his young life. They attributed this fact to something called “parent directed feeding.” After some research, parent directed feeding purports to be a marriage of two extremes: strict clock feeding, where you only feed your baby after a preset time limit, usually three or four hours, and cue feeding in which the baby is fed every time she cries.

My wife and I fed Annie on cue up until she began taking a bottle, but even then she ate every three hours, a relatively short cycle. What that boils down to is that she has eaten in three hour intervals (or sometimes shorter) for her entire life. Why wouldn’t she apply this schedule to nighttime as well? Especially when you consider that she naps throughout the day. For her, a twenty-four hour clock must mean very little. So I have known for a while that much of Annie’s sleep issues can be traced back to our decisions over the last four months. Now the question that needs to be asked is whether or not I would change the way we did things if I could. Of course, because we want more children, I will essentially get that chance.

Here is the very easy answer. Yes. And, well, No. My wife and I, from the outset, were firm believers in breast feeding. The benefits for Annie were too great to ignore, and the benefits for Mom (a deep connection with child, weight loss, birth control) weren’t bad either. Unfortunately, it turned out that my wife had a lesser amount of milk than Annie needed. It took many weeks of difficult, often painful feedings to figure this out. Every day was a struggle to give Annie the nourishment she needed, resulting in feedings every time she cried. These feedings sometimes came as often as every hour during the day. We spent more time at the lactation consultant’s than I thought possible. The women there were wonderful and I consider them friends, but we all should have seen the signs that solely breastfeeding was not going to work for Annie a lot sooner. The pictures from that first month are now a little scary to me. Of course, babies are incredibly adaptive and resilient, and Annie being no different, eventually packed on the pounds once we supplemented with formula. But what if we made the decision (as the lactation consultants intimated) to continue exclusively breastfeeding? At some point someone would have had to step in and mandate a change. I like to think that it would have been me, but our pediatrician or Grandma Liz are the more likely candidates.

What I would change next time is that should my wife’s milk come in at the same level, the baby will need some supplemental nourishment from the outset. However, what I would not change is that we would still react to the baby’s needs based on our own value system. I have already written here my feelings about baby help books. They are a dime a dozen. As a parent, you need to trust your instincts when it comes to raising a child. For most of the last four months I did that. If we followed a particular parenting “method” from a book, how would we have developed our own, now very keen, senses with regard to Annie? The only time that I did not follow my instincts was when I did not attempt to force the issue of supplemental formula feeding in the beginning. However, I have learned a lot about who I am since this undertaking began, and when it comes to my wife I am a bit of a pushover. For our next child, if I am in the same parenting role, this will not be the case.

I think that after about a thousand words, we should get to the results of STW ’07. At the time of this very sentence it is 7:16 A.M., and Annie has been asleep since 7:30 P.M. last night. She has not been fed that entire time, and only once did she wake up and cry. That was at about eleven o’clock, and only lasted about five minutes. This week, as I stated at the outset, is a total success. For the first time since June I am well rested. For those of you that know me, that is one of the craziest concepts imaginable. In the weeks before Annie was born we took a holistic parenting class. At one point we were asked to tell the group what our “birth tiger” (don’t ask) looked like. We went around the room and the answers ranged from autism and developmental issues, to caesarean section and other birth complications. Of course, yours truly was the last person to speak, and as the holistic spotlight shown bright on my face, I told the group that I was most afraid of losing sleep. Woops. I was like a leper at a dinner party. I could feel my wife subtly shift away from me.

So where is my shit eating grin? I don’t feel elated this morning. There are a few reasons for this. First, my baby is growing up. Every week she learns something new, and this week seems to be spiraling out of control with accomplishments. Sleeping is the largest hurdle, but she has also started to try sitting up, she rolls over at will, and she even picked up an empty bottle and managed to get the nipple in her mouth. Now, faced with the prospect of her imminent dating and driving, I feel a little sad. The second, I will call the Steve factor, after my father-in-law. I alluded to it earlier, but the strangest aspect of Annie sleeping all night is that I am not. In the process of accidentally training Annie to get up every three hours, I did the same to myself. I guess I need someone to put me back to sleep each time I wake up. I think I’ll talk to my wife. Maybe she’ll keep a warm glass of milk on the bedside table that I can sip from throughout the night. That should take care of the wakeups, but I don’t suspect I will ever sleep for nine hours a night again. The last reason for my malaise is buried a little deeper. Getting up at night, though excruciating, was our thing. Although she needs me in so many other ways, at night she always seemed so helpless. Selfishly, I enjoyed the prospect of protecting her. I suppose this feeling will never go away, and I will simply replace it with another fatherly way of looking out for her. Her first boyfriend is in serious trouble.


Blogger dani said...

yay for sleep! now she can stay over her aunt dani's house.

November 7, 2007 at 2:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a breastfeeding mother I can say that demanding supplementation from the onset may not be the best option depending on the baby. Low milk could be a sign of many things including stress, low thyroid function or plenty of other factors that not all lactation specialists are knowledgeable in. And truly, whether you do breastfeed exclusively or not may or may not have anything to do with whether your child will sleep through the night soon after birth or sometime down the road. Part of your child that makes her an individual is the simple fact that she has individual needs from moment one. And congrats on finally getting some better nighttime rest.

December 5, 2007 at 9:03 PM  

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