Sleep Training Confession

27 Jan

My boy, five months old.

In the last three years, I’ve become more and more crunchy as I’ve progressed in this journey of motherhood. Starting with my unmedicated birth(s), and bed sharing and co-sleeping, and exclusive breastfeeding and nursing on demand, and baby wearing, and baby led weaning and now I’m about to undertake cloth diapering since Zoe is potty trained.

But this week I started sleep training Noah. And that is the antithesis of crunchy. Before you stone me, hear me out.

When Noah was 14 days old, a switch was flipped.  He abruptly changed from the most docile, sweet, tender baby to … I don’t know how to describe it.  He began to cry incessantly and he was miserable all day long. He was comforted by NOTHING.  Not me, not breastfeeding (that seemed to infuriate him even more), not being held, or bounced, or being worn in the sling, or riding in the car.  NOTHING.  He wouldn’t take a paci, he wouldn’t take a bottle with my breast milk. He cried in the swing, he cried in the bath, he cried in my arms, he cried in my mother’s arms, in my husband’s arms.  HE CRIED ALL DAY LONG.  

I exhausted every medical and homeopathic resource I could find. I don’t even want to talk about it because I’m still raw from everything that I tried to do for Noah and how nothing worked.  It’s only been since the end of Christmas that Noah has appeared to turn a real corner.

I will mention, and this is important, that we did find that Noah was tongue and lip tied. We had the ties removed through a very brief laser procedure by a dentist when he was five weeks old.  This brought immediate help for Noah in regards to his ability to stay latched. But even after the procedure, his latch still had some big problems; Noah continued to suck in air while he fed. I did every trick in the book to fix his latch, but it was the placement of his tongue that was the problem. Eventually, between four and five months, Noah finally started to thrust his tongue forward enough while nursing that it formed a proper seal around my breast and he no longer sounded like he was getting the last slurps of a drink with a short straw.  If you are interested in reading more on tongue and lip tie, here is a great resource for information on the identification and treatment of ties:

Through all of this, to say that Noah never really slept well, is an understatement. He woke anywhere from 8-12 times at night. I  managed by bed sharing and allowing Noah to use me as a paci all night long.

(Side note, I remember teaching childbirth classes with Noah in the sling and having him latched on to me through the entire class – a three-hour class. It was the only way I could keep him content.  I know what it’s like to be a human pacifier.)

Noah’s nine months old now and still not sleeping more than two hours at night.  But it’s more than that.

It’s me putting him to sleep in the crib at 8pm (he started climbing out of the co-sleeper at seven months) and having to go in every 30 to 45 minutes to soothe him back to sleep.  By ten at night he would usually settle down enough and sleep till midnight, (at that point he would join us in our bed) and then after that he would wake every hour or less.  I would nurse him and put him back in the crib next to our bed and pat him back to sleep. 

Of course, he got his first set of teeth at 4 months and then six more teeth, came in before his 9th month.  In fact those six teeth came in six weeks time, all the while he was diagnosed with a double ear infection. I was consoled by reminding myself that Noah’s teething, he’s miserable, he needs me, he needs to nurse right now.  I will give him everything he needs to help him get through this rough patch.

And I did.

But now he’s not teething anymore, and he doesn’t have an ear infection anymore, and he’s eating solids now, and he’s sleeping well during the day.

And then Peter left for a school trip for 16 days. And one night, while he was gone, I lost my mind and I got so angry at Noah (it was the third time he had woken up in the hour and probably the 10th or 11th wake up of the evening) that I yelled at him.  I mean flat-out growled at my baby, “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD NOAH GO TO SLEEP!” and threw a pillow across the room. My son looked terrified of me and cried even louder.

At that moment, I saw myself, as if looking down from above and watching the scene play out like a movie, and it made me take pause. What a horrible mother I was being to my son right then and that was not okay.  In fact, I got scared of my escalating emotions towards my son, and being alone, I stepped out of my bedroom, with a blanket and pillow in hand, and left my son crying in his crib. I was so wound up tight with emotional angst and burn-out that I had to leave Noah in order to get a grip.

I went to our living room and stretched out on the couch and put the pillow over my ear so I couldn’t hear him cry and I tried to slow my breathing down.  I wondered who I could call at 3:45 to confide in and if I did call anyone what would they think of me losing it.  I wondered If I should call Peter and tell him to come home from Europe early because I couldn’t handle the stress of parenting without him.

Noah finally stopped crying and fell asleep after a little while.  I was grateful.  But, trust me, I didn’t fall asleep.  I scoured my emotions and piled on the guilt and eventually after a lot of mental punishment, went to sleep.

Noah woke at 6 that morning.  He gave me smiles and we nursed and cuddled and I told him how sorry I was and told him we had to make some changes so that I could be the best mommy for him.

I knew I had to do something.

I was turning into an unhappy mommy from lack of sleep. I had no patience for my sweet, talkative, almost three-year-old and no patience for my adorable, chunky baby boy, and practically nothing was left for Peter.  I had nothing to offer my family during the day, because I was giving it all away at night. And that is not how I want to mother my children.

Something needed to change.

That’s when I decided that I would let Noah cry-it-out.

You see, I’ve been trying gentle sleep training methods for about two months, using a bed time routine, staying with him till he falls asleep, not letting him cry when in the crib.  Everything I did with Zoe (and that worked well with her) was not working with Noah.

(I should add, that Zoe didn’t sleep through the night till she was around a year old and often woke up 2-3 times at night, and I took no issue with that.  I always nursed her and or gave her cuddles and put her back to sleep.  I’m telling you this to clarify that waking 2-3 times a night isn’t a problem for me.  What is a problem for me and my entire family is a baby waking 10-15 times a night and needing to be nursed and patted to sleep every time he woke.)

When I put Noah down for his first nap that morning we nursed, we cuddled, he was sleepy, his eyes were closed … I placed him in the crib, told him I loved him, and instead of my usual – which was patting his bottom until he was fast asleep, I laid him in the crib and walked away. Noah began to cry in protest. 

But this time, when I walked away, I felt okay, I felt calm and peaceful inside. I felt in touch with my deep love of my son and my resolve to do this out of great care for him and out of respect for my personal boundaries as a mother.  I knew I was doing what was best for my entire family by walking away. Noah cried on and off for 8 minutes or so and then slept for three hours. The longest nap he’s taken since his days of napping in the swing.

After two days of training, on the third night, Noah slept through the night. (I had every intention of going to him and comforting him if he woke, but he didn’t)  On our forth day of sleep training, when I put Noah in the crib he briefly cried for 15 seconds then he fell asleep. On our fifth night, Noah woke up once, fussed a little, and before I could even get to him (I was tending to my daughter who had just thrown up), Noah went back to sleep and didn’t wake up again till 7am.  The amazing thing is, he woke up happy, content even.

And you know what? Since getting such good sleep Noah has hardly fussed at all during the days, and seems to enjoy life more, and so do I.  I can tell you as a result of having a happier baby that I’m cuddling with him more and engaging with him more – and in the long run that’s pretty darn important.

So, for everyone who wrote me privately on facebook wondering what my magical sleep training technique was, there you have it, good old fashioned cry-it-out. Which, under normal circumstance, I don’t usually recommend.

However, in this case, it has proven to be the best move for us  – allowing me to be a better mother to my son and daughter.


I do not encourage CIO method for infants, especially under the age of six months. I prefer baby to be on solid table food before attempting any sleep training.  I do not advocate CIO for extended lengths.  I do not advocate CIO while baby is teething, sick, in transition, in a new environment,  or D – ALL OF THE ABOVE.  I DO NOT ADVOCATE CRYING IT OUT UNDER NORMAL baby waking CIRCUMSTANCES.

16 Responses to “Sleep Training Confession”

  1. Meaghan McCulloch January 27, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    Joy you are a wonderful mama. Part of being a good mama is knowing what is best for YOUR particular child. I think you did great and probably would have done the same thing. I commend you for practicing sleep training with compassion and knowledge rather than out of anger and selfishness. Happy moms have happy kids and happy kids have happy moms! May peace continue during your night and day hours. Hugs hugs hugs

    • Joy January 27, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

      Thanks Meaghan! Sleep training with compassion. Hear, hear!

  2. Allyson Teuscher January 27, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

    I cried a little because I think every mommy gets to that point with their kids where they just need to leave the room. My son threw horrible tantrums. Hair pulling, eye gauging, kicking, hitting, awful destructive tantrums. He still does on occasion. I tried a lot of things I never said I would do. There were lots of tears, lots of guilt, lots of frustration. In the end the only thing that would work was to take everything out of his room but his bed and let him sit and calm down. Nothing else worked. I had to sit outside his room and ignore him, crying and angry until he had calmed down. I think the first time it took and hour and a half. I hated doing it at first, but it saved both of us. I wouldn’t get beat up by my three year old, I didn’t get furious after a chunk of hair got yanked out of my head, and none of our things got ruined. Different things work for different kids. I like how you had to put disclaimers… Because you KNOW someone will go crazy on you for it. I try very hard not judge how people parent their children. You do NOT know someone’s situation. And you’re a great momma joy!

    • Joy January 27, 2012 at 9:18 pm #

      Lately I felt the sad weight of how much judgment there is among mommies about parenting styles. It seems that with the addition of my second, the less I feel I know about parenting, in a good way and sometimes in a frustrating way. I had friend confide in me about her difficulties and in the past I would have jumped in to give advice, but after my experiences with Noah I felt really sympathetic and simply said, “I have no advice to offer, but I do have love to give.” Coming to this place of compassion has been sponsored by my son… :).

  3. thefrugalmomsnomnoms January 27, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    I think this was a decision that you had to make for your sanity. Not to train him, not to teach him a lesson, and not to hurt him. You made this choice with trying everything else first and coming to the end of your rope. It could have damaged him if you hadn’t done it. I am proud of you for sticking with it and so glad to hear he is sleeping better.

    • Joy January 27, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

      Thanks, Beth. It’s true, I wasn’t a choice of discipline or trying to get my son to stop manipulating me…it was simply a choice of seeking a loving environment for my home.

  4. Destiny Benjamin Vandeput January 27, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    I think I love you more after this blog :)

    • Joy January 27, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

      Oh, yeah, baby!

  5. Erin January 27, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    As I was reading the links provided, I had a nagging feeling about the interpretation of some of the studies mentioned, since study data interpretation is often skewed (and then the media skews it even more!)
    So, I did a little digging and I think my gut was right- perfectly wonderful moms are being frightened off from trying something that could be potentially helpful (and sanity saving for mom and baby!) and made to feel guilty for doing nothing wrong when they do let a fussy baby (heck, even toddler/older child) cry.
    Here is what I found:

    “The intent of this article is to examine the evidence that distinct periods of children crying themselves to sleep causes long-term brain damage — a very serious claim that should not be tossed around lightly. Amid the intensity of the debate, it’s often hard to see the science through all the emotion.

    The work of big name researchers and clinicians comes hand-in-hand with the anti-cry it out stance. For example, UCLA researcher Dr. Allan Schore is often cited as showing that stress hormones like cortisol, released during intense crying, damage nerve cells in the brain, leading to unhealthy attachments and psychological disorders. He demonstrates that a repeated pattern of unmet needs disrupts a child’s stress-regulating systems and can alter the way her limbic structures process emotion.

    But Schore’s research is actually about how trauma, chronic neglect, or abuse affects a small person. No doubt, if ignoring distress were your every day parenting philosophy this would apply, but sleep training against the background of caring, responsive parenting, does not. In fact, this is the case with a lot of sources opposing the cry it out method — the claims of brain, personality, and attachment damage come from research conducted with grossly neglected children (some studies use data from Child Protective Services cases) not healthy children with loving parents who let them cry for an isolated timeframe. ”

    Again, Joy, you’re a phenomenal mother and have NO reason to feel guilty! xo

    • Joy January 27, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

      I believe I ran across this article that you sourced above and read it a while ago, and I think my struggle is that here is one voice saying this thing, and here are a million other voices saying the other. Eventually, I did come to my own conclusions about CIO. That behind the background of a loving a caring mom, the results are different. Thank you for checking this out further, and for posting the link!

      • Erin January 29, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

        Joy, I think you did a tremendous service to moms in showing them that they have more options, even if it goes against the tide of what is overwhelmingly popular. What’s popular isn’t always what’s the best, after all!
        Child rearing has changed so much since we were little and some of it is great, but I also think some valuable ideas have been pushed aside and forgotten along the way.
        I very much look to what my own mom did for ideas of how to raise my own (imaginary;) offspring- my mom handled us kids with such grace and was loving and goofy yet had strong boundaries and consistent discipline. She does professional child care now (all kids 4 and under) and it’s really interesting to hear her talk about the differences she sees in young kids now vs. the late 70’s/early 80’s…

  6. Gray January 27, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    Hi Joy! It was brave of you to write about this issue, which can be so polarizing. I think this post helps people become de-polarized (?). :) You can see what a real mom went through that led her to try CIO. It’s not theoretical. You aren’t just doing it because you think you are supposed to. You are thinking and concerned with your connection to both your children and your spouse. And yourself–who wants to hate themselves for yelling at their baby? No one! So, you tried a tool as a last resort. And it worked! It’s in this context that I hope people can see that we all have hard choices to make as parents. We don’t know which tools we’ll want or need and that if we don’t use some that others do, we should hold off on the judgement.

    That’s a long way to saying–I didn’t want to leave my baby crying while my husband was out of town. I went crazy and I shook him–not really hard, but still–I shook my baby!! And if I had felt that leaving my baby to cry was an option I might never have been physically violent with him. So, who wants to hate themselves as a parent? No one! We need all our tools–and we need people to call at 3:45 am when we’re crazy and we’re alone.

    You’re not alone! I hope you get lots of support and we should all start our “Who To Call at 3:45” list. :)

    • Joy January 27, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

      Thank you for sharing, Gray. I think you made a valid point that we often don’t feel that leaving baby to cry is an actual safe option (oh the guilt, how could you mentality is thick). And you’re right, every mom needs a who to call list!

  7. abigail January 27, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

    Joy, you are the one person in the universe who knows your son the best. It was wonderful to read about your journey as you worked to discover what he needed, and what you needed as his mommy. Thank you for sharing so openly.

  8. Hannah Pao February 15, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    Thanks so much for sharing your story! I had a similar experience with my daughter, but I am very reluctant to share it in my AP, BFing, co-sleeping circle of friends because it is so opposite the values we use in all other aspects of parenting! It was very encouraging to read a similar story from a similar-minded mom :)

    Around 11 months I realized I was becoming a horrible daytime mommy because being a good nighttime mommy was interfering so much with my sleep. My ped, who is very Dr. Sears-like, told me I had two options: get up (and have more of the same) or don’t get up (and let her cry). He told me the first night would be a disaster, the second would be half as bad, and on the third she would sleep soundly all night. The assurance that this could be resolved in only 2-3 nights — and my own desperation — are the only things that empowered me to go forward without thinking I was a horrible mother. Well, actually, until the night I let her cry, I *was* being a horrible mother most of the day, but two days later (she hardly woke at all even the second night) I was a well-rested and kind mommy again…and happiness was restored in our family!


  1. My Daily Fashion Choices | Day 7 « The Joy of This - April 16, 2012

    […] like to say that a few months ago I posted about my sleep journey with Noah (you can read about it here) and how he was sleeping through the night after implement sleep training methods. As I mentioned […]

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