Why the “Ferber Method” worked for us – Part I

Although the first three months of being a new mom are pretty hazy for me (lack of sleep will do that to a person), I will always remember how incredibly difficult it was to get Winston to sleep. Put him down in his crib? FORGET IT. Vibrating bassinet that was supposed to soothe babies to sleep? HA, NOPE. We tried every. single. thing. Swaddling, having him sleep in his carseat on the floor, propping up his mattress, nursing him to sleep then transferring him – nothing worked.

Now, at almost eight months old, he is a champion sleeper, who actually prefers to sleep in his crib. So what changed?

Part of it, of course, is that he “grew up”. We survived the fourth trimester, he grew out of his colic and acid reflux, and started to be a happier baby in general. But the main difference came from me purchasing, reading, and implementing the guidance found in Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Dr. Richard Ferber. Here’s our full sleep-saga, and how the Ferber method worked for us.

[[Side note: I’ve broken this post up into two parts, because it is long. I’m including a lot of (possibly unnecessary) background information about what our life was like before sleep training. If you don’t care about this stuff, go ahead and skip to Part II. I’m including it, however, because when I was desperately scouring the internet for every bit of baby sleep advice I could find, there never seemed to be a “before” story. Only “this is what we did and it’s great!” I would read those and think, “Yeah, but my baby is a bad sleeper. Like, a REALLY BAD sleeper. What worked for you would never work for me.” So I’m here to say that the transformation in Winston’s sleep habits has been nothing short of miraculous. Every baby is different, every family is different, and what worked for us may not work for you, but it’s at least something to consider.]]

I know we all hear stories about moms who have babies that are great sleepers straight out of the womb. Maybe it’s our friend, or someone we follow on Instagram, or a coworker, or just a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend. Moms at play dates who are freshly showered, without bags under their eyes, who have that “I got amazing sleep last night” glow, because their baby started sleeping six-hour stretches at the young age of two months.

I did not – I repeat, DID NOT – have one of those babies. I don’t think most moms do either. The amount of baby sleep books and internet articles prove that most of us are in the same boat, frantically searching for any advice we can find on how to convince these tiny humans that sleep is good for them. If you’re feeling hopeless and stressed out, like I was, that your baby will never sleep, you should know that you are not alone. And your baby will sleep, eventually.

 

About a month after he was born, we had tried everything we could think of to get Winston to sleep in his own space (see above). We were desperate and sleep deprived beyond belief. We abandoned the idea of a bassinet next to our bed, decided to ditch the fancy co-sleeper we had purchased, and finally gave in to the only way he would ever sleep – in our bed nestled against me (see tips for safe bed-sharing here). It worked. Everyone got more sleep.

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Rather than fighting to get him to fall asleep, then waking up and getting out of bed every three hours to feed him, then fighting to get him to fall back asleep, he slept cuddled in my arms and nursed as he was hungry. I could wake up briefly to help Winston latch, then fall right back asleep. Winston was able to nurse himself to sleep and went from screaming like a banshee every three hours to barely making a peep all night. I stopped worrying that Adam would fall asleep at the wheel while driving to work in the morning. Angels sang. It was the perfect solution.

Until it wasn’t.

Fast-forward three months. Winston was four months old, and all the pediatricians, baby books, and internet authorities (whoever they are) agreed that babies should be sleeping longer stretches at night – up to six hours. Well, Winston apparently did not get that memo. His “long” stretches were more like two hours. Most nights, I was lucky if I could remove my nipple from his mouth at all. He had found his all-night boob buffet, and he was not about to give that up. I was tired and frustrated with going bed at 8pm every night since that’s when Winston was ready to sleep. I wanted my own space back, but all the advice we found said that he was still too young for sleep training (especially because he was five weeks premature), and he screamed bloody murder if we even so much as looked at his crib.

So, we moved him to his rock and play swing and that worked! The rocking motion soothed him to sleep, and once he was away from me and my boobs, he realized he didn’t actually need to snack all night long. He started sleeping for five- and six-hour stretches. We knew the swing was a temporary solution, but figured it would buy us a few months until he was old enough for some formal sleep training at six months old.

Well, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”, as the quote goes. Winston learned to roll over at four months old, and it wasn’t long before he was trying to roll over in his swing. Even though we strapped him in, he wiggled and squirmed enough that he could loosen the straps. His swing was no longer a safe sleeping situation.

Terrified that our child would hurt himself (or worse) in his swing, we had no choice but to move him to his crib. And so, when Winston was five months old (only four months old, adjusted for his gestation age), I purchased what I now believe is maybe the most misunderstood and misinterpreted book about child sleep training.

Check out Part II of this post for an explanation of what the “Ferber Method” is (and isn’t), how we modified his sleep training to fit us, and why I think Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems is an incredible resource for parents.

 

 

 

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Where I’ve been – life updates

To those of you who are already parents, this is going to come as absolutely NO surprise, but — HOLY COW PARENTING IS A LOT OF WORK.

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I look back at my BC (before child) days and think, what did I do with all that spare TIME?! Even with Winston in daycare 3 – 5 days a week, depending on my work schedule, every minute of my day (and then some) is accounted for. There are an embarrassingly high number of days that I don’t change out of my PJs (I work from home). I don’t know where the time goes. Between work-work, house-work, spending time with my family, cooking meals, grocery shopping, the seemingly never-ending list of chores, blogging fell by the wayside. I’m hoping to remedy that in the future.

Here’s what we’ve been up to since the last post (in no particular order):

  • Sleep training. Winston hate-hate-hated his crib for the first five months of his life, but the more mobile he became, the more imperative it was that we find a safe sleeping solution. How to Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems (also known as the Ferber Method) saved our lives. More on this in another post, but the short story is that it worked miracles for us. After just a week following the book’s guidance, Winston was going to sleep, in his crib, without protest. Within a month, he started sleeping “through the night” (as defined as a 6 – 8 hour stretch, as is appropriate for his age). For a baby who was used to waking up every 3 – 4 hours (even at 5 months old), this was a game changer.
  • First plane ride. We took Winston to see my side of the family, including his 85-year-old great-grandfather (!), in Florida for a week-long trip, which meant a not-insignificant amount of travel. It’s an hour drive from our house to the Denver airport, then a 3.5 hour flight (if everything goes smoothly), then another hour drive from the Orlando airport to my parents’ house. Not to mention the two hours we spent at the airport before our flight (we wanted to get there in plenty of time). Plus, we were delayed by 2 hours on our return flight. All that adds up to a long day of travel for us adults, never mind a confused and jet-lagged 7-month-old. My husband, Adam, and I were understandably nervous, but our worries were unfounded. Winston was a champ! We also were very lucky to be seated next to incredibly understanding and kind individuals, who helped calm our nerves.
  • Therapy (mine, not Winston’s). This is another topic that I’ll delve into on a different day. After slogging through over 6 months with anxiety, insomnia (even when exhausted), shame, sadness, and just generally not feeling like myself, I finally admitted that my postpartum depression was not simply going to “go away” on its own. I started seeing a licensed therapist just over a month ago, and it has made a world of difference.
  • Teething (Winston’s, not mine). The little guy has two teeth coming in, and I can’t wait for them to get here, already! Mostly because he’ll stop being in so much pain (he frequently wakes up from naps grabbing at his mouth), but also because he’ll be even cuter (if that’s possible). It seems like we’ve tried every teething trick out there (cold/frozen washcloths, teething rings, Tylenol), but if you have any other tips, please share!
  • International vacation daydreaming. 2017 was the year first year my husband and I haven’t been to Europe since we graduated from grad school in 2011. Up until Winston’s birth, we always took at least one trip to somewhere in Europe, whether it was a month exploring Italy, spending Thanksgiving in London, three weeks in Southern Spain, or two weeks in Germany for Oktoberfest. We skipped international travel last year on our pediatrician’s recommendation that Winston get his MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine, which he gets on at one-year, before we go abroad. With his one-year birthday rapidly (TOO rapidly) approaching, I’ve started brainstorming ideas for our first trip. Right now, we’re leaning toward a London and English countryside trip. The thought of going somewhere new (I’ve only ever been to London in the UK), but not too new (the lack of a language barrier is extremely reassuring) is sounding like the ideal balance. Winston already has his passport, now he we just have to figure out where to take him!
  • Developmental milestones. I cannot believe how much Winston has learned in the past few months – rolling over, sitting up, feeding himself, laughing, squealing, scooting across the floor (he’s SO CLOSE to crawling), playing with toys, the list goes on and on. As much as I want to slow down the clock, I’m also so excited to watch this tiny human learn and grow.

So much has happened, but that’s the highlight reel. I hope to be much better about updating here in the future!

Perspective: 0-2 month update

Motherhood is amazing, and miraculous, and incredible. I adore my Baby Bear, and I am so thankful each and every day that I am able to be his mother. I love nursing him in the middle of the night, when it’s just the two of us. I love when he falls asleep in my arms. I love when he wraps his tiny hand around my finger.

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Baby Bear in his Easter outfit, just shy of two months old.

Motherhood, for me, is also a constant worry. That I’m not doing this right, that he’s not getting exactly what he needs, that somehow a decision I make now about where or how he sleeps is going to haunt him for the next thirty years and possibly ruin his life. What should I be doing; what should he be doing? Everyone has a different opinion. The internet is a great resource, but can get overwhelming in a hurry. There’s a lot of self-doubt marring this wonderful experience.

When the what ifs threaten to send me into black hole of self-doubt, I have to remember the big picture, and how far we’ve come in just two short months.

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In the hospital. I still can’t believe how tiny he was!

Baby Bear was 5 weeks premature. Thankfully, he was perfectly healthy and didn’t require a stay in the NICU, but preemie babies come with their own unique set of challenges.

Since he was so early, it was crucial that he go no more than three hours without eating, in order to gain weight as fast as possible. My milk took days to come in, so for the first week, he lived off of donor breast milk. Once my milk did come in, nursing was out of the question. His “suck-swallow” reflex wasn’t fully developed yet, and I had no idea what I was doing. So, every three hours, I fed him a bottle and then used a breast pump for 20 minutes in order to get enough milk for his next meal.

Meanwhile, my husband was dealing with a huge deadline at work, so he delayed taking his paternity leave for the first two weeks. In order to let him get enough sleep to be somewhat useful at his job, I slept on the couch, with baby in his bassinet nearby.

Feeding Baby Bear just 20 tiny milliliters (less than an ounce!) took forever – 30 minutes or more. It was a struggle to keep him awake for long enough to eat. Once he finally finished feeding, I still had to pump. By the time everything was said and done, I was lucky if I had 2 hours before it was time to feed him again. Most days, I didn’t get around to brushing my teeth until noon, or later. I was constantly worried that I wasn’t pumping enough milk, that he wasn’t gaining enough weight. It seemed like all I did was sleep or nap (in two-hour increments), but I was so. exhausted. all. the. time.

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He loves to be bundled up.

Fast forward eight short weeks, and Baby Bear is breastfeeding like a champ. When he does take a bottle, he sucks down 100 milliliters, no problem. He was back up to his birth weight within 6 weeks and has gained another three pounds on top of that. My husband took four weeks of (fully paid) paternity leave, and I was able to re-learn how to be a wife. Baby Bear sleeps in the bed with us, and nights are so much easier. I’ve learned to tell his tired cry from his hungry cry. I have an arsenal of tricks to soothe him when he’s unhappy (which don’t always work, but we’re getting there!). I’ve accepted that the house won’t always be clean, that our meals won’t always be 100% homemade. I’m letting go of all the things that don’t matter and learning to triage like a pro.

It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely progress.