Q&A: "in denial" about CIO?

Pamela writes:

"I'm the mother of a wonderful 10 month old boy. Wonderful in every respect except that he's a terrible sleeper at night. I haven't gotten a decent (more than 3 consecutive hours) amount of sleep since the 4 month sleep regression. He averages 3 wakings a night, around 11pm, 2am, and 4:30am. I've been holding out doing any sleep training in the hopes that he'll start sleeping through the night on his own.

Am I kidding myself? I hear of people saying their baby finally started sleeping through the night at 11 months, but were those kids waking up this much? I'm trying to keep the faith, but it's hard.

We don't have any problems putting him down at night (I nurse him, and put him in drowsy or sometimes asleep) and I generally nurse him when he wakes as well. Please give me some encouragement to keep
Ferber and Weissbluth at bay, or tell me I'm in denial, and my kid really does sleep worse than others and needs intervention."

Well, the only people who talk about sleep are the ones who have good sleepers. Basically, anyone who's tried something and it worked will rave about it, but people who try something that doesn't work think it's their fault so they don't say anything about it.

So for every kid who started sleeping through the night at 11 months, there are an equal number who didn't start until 15 months (another really common time--both of mine didn't sleep through until then, which is strange because they slept so differently from each other in every other way), and probably an equal number who didn't really sleep through regularly until 2 years. And for every kid for whom CIO worked, there are an equal number whose sleep got even worse because of CIO, or for whom it just didn't do anything.

Now: I do think you can kind of predict which kind of kid you have and when they'll sleep through. Basically, if you have a kid who's just a nightmare sleeper in every way--can't get to sleep easily, won't stay asleep, has big problems in the middle of the night--those seem to be the ones who won't sleep through until 2 years (or even longer, God help their parents). If you have a kid who can fall asleep but just wakes up a lot (like yours and my second one--which I absolutely don't classify as a "terrible sleeper" because I've just heard of so many worse sleepers, but no one's telling you that because they're afraid to say anything when the conversation turns to sleep) and doesn't seem to be particularly upset during the night, just awake, those seem to be the 15 monthers. The ones who are great sleepers in general but just go through the normal sleep regressions are the ones who sleep through at 11 months.

Not that it's always like that, of course, but this is what I've observed from people I know IRL and from the emails I get. (Read the rest of the post before you leave your comment telling me I'm dead on or full of it. :-))

Add in the other factor that really influences whether or not you do CIO, which is how your child responds to crying. If you have a kid who gains tension by crying (so if you let him cry he'll escalate and get more and more upset), you're an unwitting dupe if you do CIO because you're just going to make it worse for all of you. If, however, you have a kid who seems to need to cry/fuss to tap off some energy (like some adults feel better after "a good cry"), then the kid might actually need to cry for a few minutes to go to sleep. My first was the first kind, and my second was the second kind. (And yes, I was one of those "I could never let my precious child cry to sleep!" people until I had a kid who cried himself to sleep while nursing. Kids just seem to know what they need.)

To me, since you say he falls asleep easily by being nursed or comforted to sleep, I personally wouldn't mess with that by introducing CIO into the mix. Certainly not to get him to sleep initially. I might try a modified approach for the middle-of-the-night wakings of not giving him the nursing, but still responding to him, to see how he responds. In other words, get your partner to take a shift of 3-4 nights in which he responds to your son at night (I might still do the 2 am feeding, since it's totally possible that your son is actually hungry then, especially if he's an active kid). Some babies wake up out of habit, and if there's no reward of nursing they'll just stop waking up then because it's not worth it to them. If he cries and it's Daddy who shows up instead of the milk machine, he might just stop waking up because it's not worth his time. But sending in your partner is still gentle parenting that won't scare him or make him feel alone (although it very well might piss him off).

I'd give it a try for 4 nights or so to see how he responds to not getting you and your magic breasts in the middle of the night. It might go well (my older one dropped the 11 pm feeding in a couple of days this way and I was totally flabbergasted because I thought it would be a huge fight, whereas my younger one freaked right out when we tried that approach). If it doesn't, you're out nothing but 4 nights in which you didn't have to do all the wake-ups.

Basically, it's kind of a choose your own adventure depending on your child's temperament, so I'd just try some easy readjustments for a few days each to see how they work out before you jump to the big guns of CIO. Which might not even work anyway on your particular kid, so don't believe the hype. (Don't , don't, don't...)

If it makes you feel any better, I remember with both kids just feeling like 9-10 months was absolutely killing me with the endless sleep drama (and mine weren't even that dramatic, just waking up). I think it's when we parents really start hitting the fatigue stage. But everyone else seems to have a peppy, precocious sleeps-14-hours-at-a-stretch kid who's also walking and can say 5 words and sign 30. It makes you feel like a loser. A puffy, incompetent, wrung-out loser. Things are much better at around a year, even if your kid isn't sleeping through reliably then. Maybe only because you can tell yourself that if you made it through one year you can make it through 17 more.

Commiseration? Anecdotes? No philosophical debates, please, just things to make Pamela feel better.

(Breakfast meeting, lunch and dinner planned, about to check the weather to choose clothes for Monday...)