I have always been a vocal advocate for attachment parenting. I tell all my friends “You can’t spoil a baby! Pick them up immediately when they cry, bounce and rock them as much as you want, breastfeed them to sleep, carry them all day…!” Heck, I even wrote a post about why I refused to sleep train my first daughter.
But then I had my second daughter. And she refused to fit into the attachment parenting mould. Initially babywearing her everywhere was fantastic. She slept heaps and slept soundly and I could get lots of things done. I thought I could somehow survive the year like this. But then the older she got and the more aware she started becoming of the world, she suddenly became a completely different baby in terms of sleep.
To begin with, she has never really fallen asleep on the boob and neither would she comfort feed when upset. I would rock her or walk about a bit and she would fall asleep. However, as the weeks passed, the more I rocked and held her, the more she screamed and thrashed. She started fighting the carrier, arching her back and pushing me away, and would not sleep long even if held. It got to a point that it would take half an hour (or longer!) to soothe her to sleep, and then her eyes would open after 10 minutes (even if I was still rocking!) and she would start screaming again…and the process would begin again. I was spending the whole day soothing this crying, screaming, inconsolable baby who would not sleep, did not seem to even like me much, and could not stay awake for long because she was chronically overtired. I was exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally and I couldn’t spend quality time with my toddler. I did not know how to even step out of the house with this baby anymore and my husband had to stay home to help out. In short, we were all going absolutely bonkers.
As much as I wanted to love and cuddle her problems away, I had to tell myself…this is not working.
If I had a baby who loved being carried, just needed some boob to sleep, or loved sleeping 3 hours in the carrier/sling or beside me, I would’ve happily kept doing it. I was happy to rock her to sleep for as long as she needed like I did with Miss A! But in this case I had a child who was crying hysterically even in my arms and wouldn’t sleep well even on me. The whole “no tears” method of picking her up and soothing her before putting her back down didn’t work because she was not consolable! She wouldn’t calm down in my arms. She would just get angrier!
So, at breaking point, I decided there was nothing left to do but to put her down and let her cry herself to sleep. I spent a long time reaching that point because (1) It went against everything I believed in (2) I was left to cry alone a lot as a child so listening to a baby cry is extremely difficult for me (3) Miss E is just under 3 months old and even cry it out advocates don’t recommend it that young. However, nothing else was working.
So we did it. We started with nights because the drive to sleep is the strongest first thing at night (so most babies settle quicker at night compared to day sleeps). Initially I had asked my husband to put her to bed as he has no problems handling crying but when it came to it, I felt it was important for me to do it because she knows my voice best and I wanted her to know I was still there. I also felt I had to confront my own fear of hearing her cry.
There are different kind of methods of cry it out and some people believe in just putting your child down and leaving the room (and that might work for your child), but I did not want to do that. What I did was put her down and as she cried, I just kept rubbing her chest with my hand and reassuring her verbally that I was still there. I stayed there the entire time until she fell asleep. When a baby is crying hysterically, it feels like forever. So I had to put on the timer on my phone to assure myself it wasn’t as long as it felt. All up. that very first time she put herself to sleep, she cried 15 minutes which, by cry it out standards, is actually pretty good.
After that, I felt relief. It was surprisingly cathartic and, as funny as it sounds, actually helped me heal from my own childhood wounds of crying. One of the ways to overcome childhood trauma is to imagine yourself as a child and go back in time and be your own parent and parent yourself the way you needed. Protect yourself and rewrite your own history in your mind so that you can let go of all the hurt and anger you’re carrying. So this was it. No imagination needed. Miss E is such an extension of me still so it felt like it was me. I had such a deepset fear of letting my kids cry because I didn’t want to appear like I was abandoning them the way I felt was done to me in my childhood (in the area of crying). Just the thought of doing it was overwhelming and paralysing. However, I had to change my perspective. You can let them cry but not abandon them. I wasn’t going to leave her alone. I was going to be right there comforting her. I also had to be confident that in the way I parent, my kids will never feel I was abandoning them. So I gave her (and myself) permission to cry, all the while reassuring her it was okay. And then when she fell asleep I realised…it’s okay to cry sometimes.
As expected though, the next day of naps in the basinette was a total nightmare though (the biological drive to sleep isn’t as strong as during the night). However, it was important to do it so I could really observe her sleep patterns and also her crying. I just spent an entire day soothing her, putting her down, and staring at my timer. I realised she tends to sleep 15-30 minutes in the basinette, even if she puts herself to sleep. After that she will just start crying and occasionally she will drift off, but then startle awake after 30 seconds and start crying again. I tried swaddling her tightly to prevent the startle but it still happened. So I came to the conclusion that perhaps the inability to resettle herself between sleep cycles is just an age thing and something she will outgrow. However, it was good to be able to establish that the basinette equals sleep and if I do need to put her down in it to do something, I can. And if she wakes up after 30 minutes, I just get her up, even if she’s crying and still obviously tired.
On the second day, she was fussing a bit when awake so I decided to pop her into the Ergo carrier. I wasn’t trying to put her to sleep or even be quiet. I was just going around talking to her and doing my thing. She was strangely serene in it and then…she fell asleep. No bouncing, no white noise. No crying, screaming or back arching. And she slept for 2 hours. Somehow learning to fall asleep on her own has helped her sleep in the carrier. Either that or all the crying from the previous days released/healed something. Since then, she has often slept 1-3 hour stretches in the carrier. Remember that previously she was screaming like mad in it and only sleeping 10 minutes and startling with every little sound which is why things had to change! I also feel that now she is more responsive to my voice and reassurance and can actually be comforted when held now.
Better sleep = More smiles!
So now that Miss E is back to sleeping well in the Ergo, I’ve been letting her nap in it again, unless I have something urgent to do and have to put her down. Sometimes she stjll cries but I just respond to her now the same way I would if she were in the basinette- I just verbally reassure her. I’m no longer distracting her with vigorous bouncing and shushing and trying to make it stop. I’m just listening to her, being present, assuring her that I’m there, and letting her learn to sort her own emotions out and regulate herself. At most, I walk about and rock gently. This is only possible now because I’m actually no longer afraid of listening to her cry. After a couple minutes the hysterical cries will become short bursts of complaints…and then she will suddenly go calm and quiet. Sometimes she goes to sleep at this point and sometimes she continues having a look around before going to sleep without a fuss. Since letting her do this, she has actually been sleeping a lot more soundly, is able to sleep through noise again, and sleeps for more than one sleep cycle when in the Ergo now. This method is actually known as “crying in arms”. You can read an article on it HERE. It’s the theory that babies and children need to cry to release stress and heal so we shouldn’t try to stop it but instead just hold them and let them cry. I used to think it sounded like bullhockey but I actually now really think this is what Miss E is doing. I feel this is closely linked to the “connected crying” I talked about in my previous post which has worked well with Miss A as a toddler.
Of course I am still an attachment parent at heart and will happily hold and cuddle her as much as possible…as long as she allows me to! I think that unlike Miss A, she actually needs her own space. It’s amazing how different they are and I have to keep reminding myself Miss E is NOT Miss A. I thought I could do the same things I did with Miss A all over again but I’ve now realised I can’t rinse and repeat because they have different characters and temperaments.
So this is my tale of letting my baby cry it out. I only recommend it as a last resort if nothing else is working. If rocking, feeding and co-sleeping is actually working for your baby, please keep doing it. For Miss E, she seemed to really need to learn to manage her own emotions on her own and put herself to sleep. I couldn’t help her do this, as much as I wanted to. Obviously because she is still so young and I am an attachment parent at heart, we didn’t really go all out with achieving a certain result. I think most people let their kids cry it out with the aim of making them sleep through the night but that is definitely not something I would ever want to force her to do. All I wanted was for her not to scream for an hour as I battled her to sleep and to sleep more than 10 minutes at a time!
She now puts herself to sleep at night with minimal fuss which is more than I can ask for and if she wakes, I still feed her then put her back down (drowsy but awake). I am happy to keep feeding her at night for as long as she needs. As morning comes and her sleep gets lighter and wakes more frequently, she still usually ends up in my arms or bed. For naps, she still mostly sleeps in the Ergo and I am happy to keep cuddling her for naps for as long as it works for her. It’s funny how doing the one thing attachment parenting is most against actually helped me do the attachment parenting thing with her!
This has definitely been an intense period of learning who Miss E is and what she needs. It was tough for a few days, but it was worth it. From this experience I have learned all babies really are different and what works for one might not work for another. So don’t judge the people who do resort to letting their baby cry to sleep, whether it’s the “gentle” way or the method of just leaving them. No one enjoys listening to their baby cry! You don’t know what they’ve gone through to get to that point. “Crying it out” doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Some babies just need to cry more than others to wind down and it can simply be an expression of emotions.
So if you have a baby who is hating being rocked, and is crying and catnapping in your arms like Miss E was…hopefully reading about my experience will help you make your own decisions about how to help your baby sleep.