Is it Time to “Mom-Up” About Sleep Training?

At 7 months, I decided it was finally time to say goodbye to my “hired” village, and as my friend and Babble blogger Cassandra Barry likes to say, “Mom-Up.” I had to get rid of my night ladies. Places in Africa needed water wells for god’s sake. I think I could have built/dug 20 so far if I hadn’t employed my gals.

It’s just that with Fia, I was such a wreck from no sleep and no hired help, that I kinda lost my sh-t. We Ferberized her at 4 1/2 months. I became evangelical about the beauty and benefits of sleep training. With Emmett, I’ve done the opposite. I have managed to find all sorts of excuses–some valid, others not–to put it off.

He has reflux. He has gas pains. He’s farting too much. He must be in pain. He’s pooping too much. He must be in pain. He’s not pooping enough. He is constipated. He ate too much. His tummy hurts. He didn’t eat enough. He must be hungry.

This little dude has me weak in the knees with his ridiculously happy temperament that it’s been hard to think about letting him cry.

But the real reason I haven’t done it is I’m not tired! I think in order to go full throttle on sleep training, you have to reach the brink of insanity and misery. Or be falling asleep at red lights. Or have your husband threaten to check you into the psych ward.  Instead, with 8 hours of sleep a night, I have bounced happily through his infant stage, feeling pretty damn good as our bank account dwindles.

Phil and I both started talking about sleep training oh, about 4 months ago. Emmett would sleep happily on one of us while we watched every episode of Storage Wars, The Daily Show, and Breaking Bad. I wasn’t frantically going to bed at 8 pm, hoping to get a 3-hour stretch of zzz’s.

“When are we going to sleep train Emmett?” Phil would ask. “Soon,” I’d say, sipping my wine, not taking my eyes off the TV.  Neither of us were exactly motivated.

At 10 pm, we’d hear the knock on the door and in came our night help.

Frankly, with that set up, I didn’t want to “Mom-Up.” I mean, no one gets an award for lack of sleep, so for me, this was the right decision. To a point. But then it became a bit ridiculous. A little too easy. And I knew it was also in Emmett’s best interest to learn to put himself to sleep. Not to mention we needed our house back. And to some extent, our freedom. I didn’t want to travel anywhere because I knew I’d be the one losing sleep. Having a night nurse does get limiting–in an upper-class-problem kind of way.

So, with this 3-day weekend, we decided it was time.

Night 1:

This one was pretty bad. We put him down at 8:30 pm. He was up at 10:30. I changed his diaper (was only wet). He was up again at 11. I went in and tickled the back of his perfect neck (god I love that boy). He fell asleep until 1:30. Then started to wail. Fia woke up and started wailing too. Phil was running one way, I the other. It would have been comedic if it weren’t the middle of the night. Phil got Fia back down then came into Emmett’s room. I was sitting there rocking him.

“What are you doing?”

“I thought he pooped,” I said, knowing he hadn’t.

“Look, we are either doing this or not. If you can’t handle it, go down and sleep on the couch, and I’ll do it.”

“No, no, you’re right. Okay.”

I put him down (asleep) and walked out. He slept until 3:25. Then we let him cry for an hour. But before everyone freaks out at my cruelty, it wasn’t like he wailed for an hour. He would calm himself down and have 5-10 minute bouts of sleep. Then gear up again. Neither of us went in.

He slept until 7. The worst night was over.

Night 2:

Much better. He woke up at 10:30. I changed his diaper. He slept until 4 a.m. Cried for 7 minutes. I didn’t go in. He put himself back asleep until 6:30.

Night 3:

Down at 8 pm. A small crying fit at 3:30 for 5 minutes. Not a peep until 6.

I think we are there. And I am feeling this tremendous sense of freedom. I’m already planning our next two trips. As happy as Emmett was, I think he’s even happier now. He too is getting the sleep he needs. I also get to say I’ve “Mom-ed Up.” At least in the nights. No way am I getting rid of my daytime help. I still think Cassandra will be proud.

It also goes to show that there isn’t just one “right” way. This is a good lesson for my judgmental self. I was so sure that Ferbering at 3-4 months was the only way to go. Until I read Bringing Up Bebe. Then I thought I should have done everything differently to have my kids sleeping through at 4 weeks via “The Pause.” I was cursing myself (though by Chapter 6, I was annoyed by the book).

But now I have a baby who is sleeping through the night, who can still take naps on me during the day or sleep on us occasionally while we watch TV. I have flexibility to do what I want when I want. And for me, that’s the true definition of “Mom-ing Up.”

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  1. by Cassandra Barry

    On September 4, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    Took you long enough.

  2. by Anna

    On September 4, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    In tribal times, you would have never made your baby cry all alone in a crib. And we wonder what’s wrong w society!! There is a reason it feels so wrong to let your child cry. Sleep training so you can “go on trips without your help.” why have kids if you aren’t ready to change your life to care for them?

  3. by Jill Cordes

    On September 4, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    Anna—you must have “missed” the part of my blog where I talk about how learning to fall asleep is actually the BEST thing you can do for your child. If you want to go on the ridiculous platform of “you shouldn’t have kids” and think you are superior for having your child only learn to sleep in small chunks of time, go ahead. And yes, I happen to think it’s cool to show my kids the world outside of the bubble they live in, as in “trips”. Please, judge me for that too.
    Clearly I’ve hit a nerve in that you feel the need to bring your own issues on not only what I’m doing, but what science supports. And by the way, in tribal times (and in current day in the third world), babies die from such curable things as diarrhea. 1 in 20 women die in childbirth. Striving to be in “tribal times” doesn’t sound exactly prudent to me. But thanks for reading and your comment. I am glad we live in the developed world where we can actually back up our methods with specific data.

  4. by Cassandra

    On September 4, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    I agree with Jill: teaching your child to sleep (yes, even if that means a little more tears than usual for a few nights) is the greatest gift you can give a baby. Babies need to fall asleep on their own! They are so much healthier and happier with a solid night of sleep, rather than tiny chunks of sleep all night, punctuated by frequent waking. How is that good for a baby??? If you go in to pick up your baby every time he cries, you’re training him to wake up many times per night. I feel sorry for babies who are trained to believe that it’s okay (even encouraged via mommy rewarding baby with cuddling and milk) to wake up several times a night. Poor little things.

  5. by JS

    On September 4, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    First of all, none of us can actually confirm what they did in “tribal times” but I am willing to bet they did let babies cry themselves to sleep after all young children were put to work to help feed the family until child labor laws were enacted (and let’s not forget there are still parts of the world where this is the norm). Anna, I don’t want to judge you or how you are raising your children, but I do want to respond to your judgement of the author.

    important things a parent can do is occasionally let their child cry. Crying is a natural response that is part of our early learning to survive as human beings. We learn to calm ourselves when we are afraid, to soothe ourselves when we are hurt, and yes, to go to back to sleep when we are tired.

    Of course I would never want my child to be upset, in pain, sick or even mildly frustrated, but that isn’t life. I won’t always be there. I would never suggest someone neglect, abandon even even ignore a baby, but this writer said her son cried on and off for an hour ONE night and for a few minutes on and off on the following nights. That is hardly an indication about what is wrong with society – it is a natural process.

    Self-soothing during sleep training is a learning experience and she allowed her son to learn a lesson. I would go so far as to say she helped him learn a lesson that puts him on the road to being a strong and independent person.

    And who cares if she had help at home or wants to travel with her kids? I love that she was thinking about building water wells in Africa with the money she would save.

    Our lives change constantly, not because we have children, but because that is life. From her other posts, I have no doubts that she is adapting to those changes and finding her way.

    I think real lesson is “It also goes to show that there isn’t just one ‘right’ way. This is a good lesson for my judgemental self”

    We all need to stop judging ourselves and others.

  6. [...] It’s time to “mom up” about sleep straining (Parents.com) [...]

  7. by Cassia

    On September 5, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    My little guy will be 6 mos old tomorrow. I don’t let him cry. I do let him fuss for a while, but not cry. I wake him up around 11 to feed him & he usually sleeps until 6 or so. He’s in his crib now too.(daddy’s happy…me, not so much). I’m not obsessed with worry, but I do worry about SIDS and all that. I sometimes wake up and watch him on the monitor. Yeah…I’ve got one of those. I guess when he’s 13, I’ll turn it off.

  8. by Jen W

    On September 5, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    The idea that babies need to be “trained” to SLEEP (a natural human function and need, by the way) is absurd. They will sleep when they are ready developmentally. They wake frequently as young babies because they are designed to eat frequently (maybe your night help can tell you what that’s like). I totally agree with Anna. This selfish parent-centric crap is not natural and NOT in the best interest of children. Studies have shown that crying it out is detrimental to babies. Sorry.

  9. by Jamie

    On September 5, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Both of my sons have been amazing sleepers. They were sleeping through the night at 7 months and much earlier than that.

    Two nights of minor fussing is not detrimental to babies. It is not like she let him cry for hours. He has a stomach big enough to sleep through the night.

    She knows her son, not us, we aren’t with him all the time like she is. There is no reason for us to judge how she raises her children. Unless of course they were being abused. But in this case she was doing far from that. Just saying….

  10. by Anna

    On September 6, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Until the 1920′s, babies have slept w their parents for centuries. It’s still the norm in all other cultures other than in America. And I am aware of the data supporting “sleep training” and I am aware that there is nothing positive. Cosleeping,however, has much data that support the practice. Having a night nurse may interfere with the development of the close bond a mother and baby are intended to share. I sleep trained my first child and followed “baby411″ to the letter. She is intense and emotional and high strung. Daughter umber two has slept w me since birth , breast fed for two years and is laid back, flexible, verbally advanced, and cheerful. More secure because I didn’t leave her alone in a crib scared. Just my ” n” of two thugh. And yes, I think travel is excellent for children. I thought you meant. Leaving your kids behind or taking “help” w you instead of spending time as a family. I misunderstood. If your baby won’t sleep, put him in the bed w you. My little cosleeper has slept all night since 8 weeks. Not the tiny chunks of time referred to in another post but solid 12 hrs.wakes w giggles not tears.

  11. by Jill Cordes

    On September 7, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Anna–to each their own right? Thanks again for weighing in. I slept trained Fia at 4 1/2 months. She is the most fearless, funny, loveable, verbal little girl. So I don’t think the fact that you sleep trained yours has anything to do with her personality. And we could go back and forth all day about why you don’t think sleep training is good and why I think it is. So we can agree to disagree.

    I did cosleep with Emmett the first 7 months on nights I didn’t have the help. I did it out of necessity because I was too exhausted to sit in the rocking chair with him. And yes, on one level I enjoyed it immensely. On another level, I never slept as well because I was so conscious of making sure he is okay.

    In the non-developed world and centuries before us people didn’t have a choice. And like my friend Cassandra pointed out, they were probably so exhausted from working in the fields all day, they didn’t hear the baby even if he/she did cry. And they traded off, since entire extended families lived under one roof.

    Also, when I say he cried for an hour, I really should have said “fussed”. When they are truly wailing, I do go in (though with Fia I followed Ferber on that too and went in during 5,10,15 minute increments and it took 3 nights of chunks of time, not like 12 hours straight or anything close to that). But every baby is different. Last night Em woke up wailing and I went in right away and put my hand on his back. He went immediatly back to sleep and is on day 7 of sleeping on his own, he’s doing amazing naps like never before and getting 10-11 hours of sleep a night. Just goes to show every baby responds differently and it’s up to us moms (and dads) to follow the cues. So I’m sticking to my mom instinct on this one. And believing in the science of it.

  12. by cassandra

    On September 12, 2012 at 11:22 am

    I didn’t believe in sleep training either until I actually read Dr. Ferber’s book. It’s a kind (surprise!) approach to helping a child sleep. He’s an MD whose book has well researched science about baby’s brains and their sleep needs. He explains how and why babies can sleeps should sleep through the night at around 4 months old (give or take, depending on your baby. The first few months, yes: Baby sleep is and should be somewhat erratic.) He doesn’t believe in “crying it out.” I wish these sleep training haters would just read his book and then they would understand what is really going on with their babies and what babies need, sleep-wise. Medically proven information here. And gentle approaches. Before you hate on sleep training, read his book!

  13. by Tarin

    On October 29, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Coming from someone in a less developed country as you so call it, we do not Not sleep train because we don’t have a choice, we co-sleep and get up to tend to our babies because they need us. Children will sleep through when they are developmentally ready to do so. Have you ever heard the story “African babies don’t cry”? I highly suggest you do. We respond to the needs of our children, every whimper, every fuss, every cry. And on another note, unrelated to your post, we co-sleep and have the lowest rates of SIDS, we use cot bumpers, bedding, duvets, put them on their tummies and no ill befell them. A western “disease” maybe?

    Babies cry because they are trying to tell you something, sometimes they just need a cuddle and to have mommy close. I can probably count on one hand the amount of times my kids have cried, because i respond before they do, i’m there before they even notice i was gone. I havethem close to me always. Right on my back, like all the African women before me, right in my arms at night, like my mother and hers thats where we keep our babies. Maybe the western world can learn a thing or two from us less developed people – the secret as to why African babies dont cry

  14. by Rachel

    On October 30, 2012 at 8:27 am

    Beautifully said, Tarin!

  15. by Katie Jo

    On October 30, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    I have to say, I am completely torn here. I am thinking about sleep training our little one (he will be 4mo. in a week), and I truly cannot decide what to do. Some nights I only get about an hour or two of sleep (total) after all is said and done. I only work two twelve hour days a week, but I come to work EXHAUSTED! I am at the point where I am concerned for my safety while driving to work. I only want him to be more predictable about his sleep patterns. He will go some nights sleeping from 9pm until 2:30am, and I nurse, then he’ll sleep again from 3am until 7am. Then other nights he won’t sleep at all, just cries and cries and cries. I end up nursing nonstop on those nights, and completely bleary-eyed in the morning. How do I function this way?
    I don’t WANT to put him in his crib and listen to him cry for any longer than a minute, let alone 5 or 10. But I can’t function any longer, and I want him to be comfy and happy and well-rested.
    So what’s the answer here?

    I’ve tried naptime, letting him cry a little. He fussed on and off for over an hour, while I checked in every 5 to 10min, then only fell asleep for a half hour. Hardly worth it :(
    I’ve tried co-sleeping, and I don’t sleep well that way b/c I am too conscious of him being with me, that I’m on edge.

    I guess I go out and get this book by Dr. Ferber. Hopefully that helps me decide, b/c reading these posts is NOT helping me decide :(

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  26. [...] my friend Cassandra kept telling me when Emmett was a baby, “It’s time to mom-up.” I was worried about letting my night nurse go. I went so bat sh-t crazy/delusional with Fia from [...]