Sunday, September 4, 2016
Audra Sleep Update
At long last, I think it's safe to call it: Audra is now sleeping through the night, for the most part. And she's doing it on her own... for the most part ;) So I thought I'd do a recap of how we got here, now that we finally did. While I'm sure it may seem absurd to some people why we took the path that we did, one of our basic parenting tenets is to "do right" by each of the kids, so in practice, that means putting the kids' needs first (or at least making a priority of them), especially in these early years, and continually evaluating and adjusting what we're doing so that it best serves the kid in question as well as the rest of the family.
With that framework, and especially with our leanings towards more "natural" parenting (natural childbirth, extended breastfeeding, babywearing, cosleeping, etc.), we were open to bedsharing with Audra. Particularly since we had already had the experience of Josie sleeping in our room for her first 16 months (exclusively sleeping in our bed for several of those months), and yet she somehow managed to learn to sleep on her own despite the seemingly overwhelming public opinion that that would never happen if we dared let her sleep with - or even near - us ;)
So when Audra came along and caterwauled unless she was sleeping on or next to us - from day one, I might add, so obviously much too early to sleep train even if we wanted to - it was a pretty quick decision to bedshare with her. And I will never forget the rightness and wonderment of having my newborn baby sleeping tucked against me, with my arm curved around her from head to toe. It's sometimes hard to remember that she really did used to be that small, but it makes it easier to believe with that memory to pull from :)
And while I liked having her there, I won't say that I was 100% fine with the sleeping arrangements, though, at least for a while - Audra woke so frequently, and for so many months, that my confidence started wavering that she would, in fact, sleep on her own anytime in the next 5 years. I remember coming across a post on mothering.com, though, that seemed strikingly similar to our own situation - baby was bedsharing and breastfeeding and waking super frequently, and the parents supported the baby overnight, and just... waited it out. Around 2 years, there was improvement in the baby's sleep, and by 2.5 the kid was sleeping through the night on his own. So I thought, all right, we just need to wait a couple of years and this will all resolve itself naturally. And so it did, for the most part, with us supporting Audra overnight but also looking for opportunities to help nudge her towards independent sleep as we went.
The decision to move out of my bedroom and into hers when she was around 6 months old was probably the decision I struggled the most with, because I was a little disgruntled about moving out of my own room, but we also weren't willing to sleep train then, and her continuing to stay in our bed wasn't working then either. She was getting bigger and didn't just stay put overnight, and I didn't need Ryan's help with her night wakings anymore (nor could I accept, really, if Audra had anything to say about it), so I thought it didn't make much sense to continue disrupting Ryan's sleep for no reason. So after a couple of months of grumbling after the move, I eventually stopped grumbling, and eventually... loved it. I could tend to her overnight without having to get up and walk across the house, I could let her fall asleep cuddled on me without worrying about staying awake and shifting her off me so that I could go back to my own bed, and I didn't have the layer of stress of trying to keep from bothering Ryan too.
We continued with the status quo for quite a few months after that, with me nursing her back to sleep each time she woke. Her night-time wakings went from 3-4 times a night to usually only waking 2 times, with her sleeping the whole night through for the first time when she was 18 months. Sometime before her second birthday, I started declining to nurse her when she woke before 1am (loosely basing this on the techniques discussed here), and instead just offered to hug her or let her sleep on me. Usually this worked, but sometimes it didn't and I would end up nursing her that night. Keeping in mind that sleep maturation is not a linear progression usually helped when I would get too worried that any steps "backward" would derail the whole process.
Eventually, Audra stopped waking before 1am for the most part, and then I gradually started to try other methods to help her get back to sleep any other time she woke up too before going to the easiest option (i.e., nursing). And then, as she got used to not nursing to get back to sleep, she started being able to resettle herself on her own, with just my presence as support (i.e., she could usually do it on her own as long as she had a foot or a hand touching me). And then this past January, she slept through the night for three nights in a row, and I thought the switch had finally flipped for her... and then she got sick, and was up coughing and nursing for several nights. But that's about the way it went for her, as her sleep was clearly maturing overall - sometimes she'd sleep through the night, and other times she wouldn't, but overall, she was waking less and nursing less overnight.
Finally, I stopped nursing her entirely overnight around her second birthday, and, likely not just coincidentally, she started sleeping through the night more consistently around the same time. I realize I probably could have influenced her sleeping through the night sooner if I had weaned her, but I just didn't think that was the right decision for her before then, and because of that, in turn I wasn't really willing to give up bedsharing since then I could at least sleep through some of the overnight feeds. So once I did night-wean her, the next big step was to get me back in my own bed, which I probably delayed on for a couple of months longer than I really needed to. Audra was sleeping well enough, usually only waking once a night if at all, which was the bar I had set for when I planned to start leaving her at night (since I remembered with Josie that waking once a night to soothe her and then get back to sleep myself in a different bed was doable). But it was just so easy to stay with Audra, and I have such a hard time now getting back to sleep myself if I'm fully awake that I just couldn't bring myself to do it.
What really triggered things was a whole mess of changes we made when Audra started at the same school as Josie in early June. Literally, a mess. Audra was exhausted each night from all the stimulation of being at a new place, with new friends, new routine, etc., so we planned to keep everything at home the same to give her time to adjust, which included me continuing to nurse her before bed. For months, she would nurse but wouldn't fall asleep during it anymore, so after a while I would just tell her "all done", she'd let go, and then would go to sleep with no problems. But suddenly she stopped letting go when asked, and if I dared unlatch her (as I did, in fact, dare to do), then it led to her having a massive screaming fit. After a couple of nights of this, I gave up trying to wait that particular phase out and asked Ryan to start putting her down instead, because I didn't think she'd accept me putting her down without nursing. So he did, and things went fine for a couple nights, with him putting her down and me sleeping in MY OWN BED for the first time in almost 2 years... until she started throwing even more massive screaming fits when Ryan went to put her down.
As I mentioned, we try to do what seems right for our family, adjusting as needed if something is not working for everyone in the family. And let me tell you, there was a week of mayhem where bedtime was working for NO ONE. Not Audra, screaming herself hoarse. Not Ryan, trying to contain her and get her to bed without getting bitten. Not me, stressed about the situation and thinking none of this was worth it. And not Josie, who lost her booktime for several nights either due to the sheer volume of screaming going on in the house or because Ryan and I were tied up in trying to take care of Audra.
So I had a talk with Audra and explained that I would lay with her, but she would not get to nurse. She agreed, and then (surprisingly) was actually ok with that. And that's about where we are today. We read a couple of books, she gathers whatever she is going to sleep with that night (usually a blanket and a stuffed animal or book), I lay in bed with her until she falls asleep (reading on my Kindle), and then I sneak out after 30-60 minutes (depending on how good my book is ;) ). She sleeps through the night a majority of the time now, going from 9:15pm to 7ish, but she still wakes around 3am a few times a week, and I usually just go straight in with her and sleep there the rest of the night. She usually just wants my presence (and a tissue, to wipe her tears) so she's back to sleep within minutes, and I actually sleep better in there with her anyway, so that's what's working for us now.
We also changed her nap routine at the same time that we switched up bedtime, and for the same reason (nursing battles are no fun). Audra will mostly accept Ryan putting her down for naps, so he lays with her until she falls asleep, then he sneaks out and she'll sleep on her own for 1-2 hours. She does still fight it on occasion, but it's usually not as violent a resistance as it was for bedtime, so we've stuck with Ryan continuing to put her down for naps, despite her objections (unless she says that she wants him to leave, and then he does since she'll actually go to sleep on her own then).
So it wasn't a neat, pretty path from normal wakeful newborn sleep to a blissful 8 hours of contiguous sleep by X weeks of life, but knowing Audra as we do and how she likely would have reacted to us taking a more direct approach to try to "improve" her sleep, we're still good with how we determined we were comfortable handling it. I had wondered if I'd think we were ridiculous for "putting up" with her sleep for so long once I had gotten a little distance from being in the thick of it, and maybe it's still a little soon (seeing as how I'm still bedsharing with her part of the night a few times a week), but I'm pleased to find I have no regrets about it, beyond a little unease about our disastrous June (and I can guarantee I'd feel even worse about it if we hadn't backed off then).