Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sleeping like a baby

Whoever thought that phrase up clearly never lived in the same house as a baby!

Anyway, prompted by Sue’s comment on my last post, I decided it was about time I finally put this long-overdue post on sleep training out there. I have wanted to write about this for a long time but held back for one reason or the other. At first, I wasn’t sure if my methods were even going to work and when they did, I was scared to jinx them by talking about them and last but not least, I was wary of the flaming that I would get for what some people will see as my cruel and hard-hearted parenting approach.

For the uninitiated, sleep training refers to any or all methods that parents may choose to adopt to teach their kids to go to sleep on their own and stay asleep through the night. I shall talk about some of the methods that I am aware of and my experience and opinion about them as I go along with the post. Anyway, with the background and context out of the way, let me jump into the post itself.

The beginning is always a good place to start so that is what I shall do. Sleep training has been a kind of tradition in my family. My maternal grandmother, way back in the 1940’s, taught her kids to sleep on their own by letting them cry-it-out (CIO) for a few days while they got the message that being rocked/ patted/fed to sleep was no longer on the menu. My mother sleep-trained us the same way at the tender age of three months, much to the horror of her in-laws, who thought it was the cruellest thing imaginable. And in the spirit of keeping the family heritage alive and burning, I was inducted into the concept almost immediately after I announced I was pregnant.

To start with, I was having none of it. I thought it was cruel and inhuman to put a baby through that and to just abandon him to cry till he eventually went to sleep. I had long arguments with my mother on the relative pros and cons and felt quite sure that I would never subject my child to anything of the sort. Well, as they say – never say never…

Ayaan came along and I seriously believe that in his early months, he was the worst sleeper in the history of all time. OK so maybe I don’t know about the sleep habits of all babies ever born on this planet but conversations and comparisons with other moms, both of my generation as well as older, more experienced family members, did not yield any worse examples of bad sleepers. The only consolation prize was that he slept a stretch of 6 hours in the night from his second week onwards and that was the only thing that kept me sane in those initial months. But to get him down for his night sleep was a task of mammoth proportions involving one and a half hours of breastfeeding and some very careful timing and even more delicate depositing into the cot. After that, when he woke up for his night feed, the same procedure had to be repeated to get him back to sleep and then he would condescend to sleep for another 2 hours. And that was it! All that stuff I read about babies needing 14 hours a day of sleep didn’t quite pan out as I’d thought it would. Ayaan was utterly allergic to the concept of daytime naps and even if he did make the mistake of falling asleep while being walked, he would immediately awaken if I even tried to sit down – putting him down in the cot while the sun was still shining being a distant dream.

Things got even worse when he started finishing his night feed before falling asleep – requiring endless walking up and down before he was in a deep enough slumber to risk putting him down. Not only was I a sleep-deprived and frustrated mother with a never-ending backache, Ayaan was a grumpy and unhappy baby. As if that were not enough, the doctor said that his poor weight gain was a mix of his fussy feeding combined with inadequate sleep. I finally came around to the fact that something needed to be done. But I was still not ready to just let him just cry it out.

As a first step I added a consistent bedtime routine in the third month, which included a wash, a feed, a book and a lullaby but that made no difference by itself.

In the fourth month, I decided to try out the less drastic Pick Up/ Put Down Method prescribed by Tracy Hogg (aka The Baby Whisperer). This technique basically starts with putting the baby into the cot. If he cries, you pick him up and hold him close (no rocking or walking though) till he stops crying but make sure he is still awake when you put him back in the cot. As is to be expected, the baby will start crying the minute he is placed back in the cot. Then you pick him up again and repeat and so on and so forth till he falls asleep on his own. In the beginning, you have to repeat the drill over a hundred times and that’s what I tried to do. But it was not to be. I don’t think this is a bad method but it depends on the mom and the baby’s temperaments. Ayaan is one stubborn kid and even when I was holding him, he took ages to calm down because he wanted his walking/rocking fix. And I am not the most patient of people and that coupled with a terrible backache from the constant bending to put him down and pick him up, I was done with this method in about 3 days.

At this point, my aunt from New York sent the sleep book written by Dr. Richard Ferber. I started reading it and decided that maybe it wasn’t all that bad. The book appealed to both my rational and my emotional side. The former was pacified by the opening chapter which uses logic and science to explain how babies are not born knowing how to get themselves to sleep and this is yet another thing that parents need to help them learn. My mother's heart found some comfort in the fact that his technique was a modified CIO technique that was more palatable to me. In the Ferber technique, you don’t just abandon the baby to cry it out till he falls asleep. Rather you keep going in at regular intervals to reassure the child that you are still around but you don’t pick him up.

I was still in two minds though. The turning point came one day when Ayaan was about five and a half months old and had taken over two hours to settle down for the night. Since nothing else seemed to be working, I decided to go with the Ferber technique.

We did in the following steps:

  1. First, we decided to fix the falling asleep at night bit. I would do the bedtime rituals mentioned above, say goodnight, put him in the crib and walk out. The first night, he cried for over an hour. I went in after 5 minutes, then 10 minutes after that, then 15 minutes after that and finally after 25 minutes. That was the last time I had to go in that night. Now, the Ferber book seems to suggest that this technique will be working like a dream in a week or thereabouts but for us it took us months. So he cried for 30-45 minutes in the first week. And then for 10-15 minutes in the second week. After that, he came down to 5 minutes of crying, which went on for another two months. Finally, he did another couple of months of shouting/ grumbling/ whining for a couple of minutes before falling asleep. And then it was finally over! At around 10 months of age, Ayaan learnt to go to sleep at night without a whimper.

  2. The night waking just kept extending on its own and soon he was sleeping at 9 and waking at 5 without much effort at our end. If he did wake up earlier, I would ignore him for 5-10 minutes but if he still persisted, I would feed him. By 11 months of age, he was waking only at six, which has over time reached its current (and more acceptable) waking time of seven. We also found that his restlessness was correlated with us being in the room because if he woke up and saw us there, he wouldn’t want to go back to sleep. So we moved out of the room and slept in the guest room and after that, the night sleep was more or less fixed.

  3. When he was down to 5 minutes of crying in the night, we started with his morning nap. I had thought this would be easier but it was actually much tougher. For day naps, Ferber suggests that you let them cry as for the night sleep, but if they are still not asleep after an hour you just pick them up and try again the next day. For over two weeks, Ayaan cried for an hour and didn’t sleep at all. So I decided to give it one last shot and then give up on getting any decent napping behaviour out of him. That day he slept after half an hour of crying. Within a week, he was down to 5-10 minutes of crying.

So in the final analysis, it was a much longer road than the book suggested but it worked in the end. I still follow the same bedtime routine (minus the feeding) and when I put him in his cot at nine, he smiles at me, picks up his Noddy, turns on to his stomach and then I put out the light and leave. And that’s it. Then he sleeps straight through to seven in the morning. The situation for the afternoon nap is similar but not always so predictable. Once in 7-10 days, he will refuse to sleep in the afternoon. But he no longer cries – he just sits in his cot and shouts for us to pick him up, which we do if he continues in this fashion for 10 minutes or more.

I know a lot of people think this method is cruel but it worked for me and I am pretty sure I will do it for my second child as well, unless he/ she is born a good sleeper. And my reason is pretty clear – it transformed my family in more ways than one:

  1. Ayaan went from being a clingy, irritable baby to a mostly cheerful and playful little fellow.
  2. We are no longer sleep-deprived and grumpy parents and when he wakes up in the morning and calls for us, we are raring to go and pick him up, unlike the earlier ‘Oh no, not again’ response.
  3. Because of the predictability of his sleep patterns, we can have a social life and go out in the nights once he has gone to sleep.
  4. Jai and I get to spend some quality time together as well once he’s in bed because we can truly relax rather than worry about him giving us a tough during the night.

At the same time, I also believe that the Ferber method may not be right from every mother and baby. Some of those are:

  1. If you are the sort of mother who cannot bear to let her baby cry for even a minute, you clearly won’t be able to stay the course through this method. I am not saying that it was enjoyable or easy for me to hear him cry but it was something I was willing live with in light of the longer term gains I was hoping for. However, a friend of mine who was impressed with my results with Ayaan lasted all of 5 minutes before she went and picked her baby up on the first day itself.
  2. It is important to have support from the rest of the family. As mentioned earlier, my mother is a strong supporter of CIO methods. Jai too agreed with me on this. I don’t think I would have been able to go through this if any of them had violently disagreed with me or taunted me with “Poor fellow, maybe you should just pick him up’.
  3. Some babies just naturally settle into good sleep patterns and sleep an acceptable amount of time. In that case, it wouldn’t be worth it to go through the trauma of the Ferber method.

Anyway, those are my two cents on the sleep training issue. How did the rest of you deal with your kids’ sleep issues?


  1. Well.....A was almost 21/2 when I moved him to his own room but when I did it it was painless...he had helped me get his room ready for him, so he was really excited about that.....he was at the "my" stage and would say "my bed, my room, my that helped and getting into routine was not such an issue, a bed time story and a little patting wouuld do it and even now he is in bed by 8.30, sleeps through the night in his room. Looking back I am happy I waited till he was a little older and didn't have to feel that pain of moving an infant into his own room....that's just my take!

  2. Hi Rohini...I have some tales to tell as well. Akhil was a lousy sleeper too..(but right now I feel its unfair to say that, because looking back, as an inexperienced parent, I didn't give him the best possible start to teach him to soothe himself, otw he wud have done fine). Anyways, its pretty much like you described with Ayaan...takng at least an hour of walking/rocking/singing/swinging to fall asleep and then up and about like a lark in 2 hours, all the way until 9 months of age, when I finally got fed up and said I want sleep more than anything else.

    So we did the CIO. Fortunately for us, he didn't cry forlong spells of time and was downto about 10 min in a week. And thereafter, some light whimpering for abt 5 min and then lights out!!

    Looking back that was the best thing we ever did cos it really helped him to learn to wind down and rest himself without our aid.

    Now, with Sathya...I have been ready advice from the Baby Whisperer, and have been finding it invaluable. So at 7 weeks, he sleeps by himself. I feed him, burp him, and put him down in his bassinet at just the right time...and he fusses arnd for about 5-10 min (no crying) and then sleeps off by himself. So far so g0od, and hopefully, we won't have to do CIO or Ferber or any other method. Was abt to write a post on this sleep thing myself.

    Just wanted to share my experience.

  3. Hi Rohini,

    I think your approach to sleep trainig was a practical one - not cruel. The more I read about your parenting ways, the more I feel we are so similar as parents...

    I have my own sleep stories to tell but maybe I should reserve them for my own blog and not turn your commentspace into an alternative blog for myself :P I am definitely going to be better equipped with sleep startegies when the second one comes along - I and myhusband have learnt from our first-time mistakes :D

  4. WELL!!! i say!! GOSH DARNED!!
    when i have kids im printing your blog out for reference manuals and HOW TO-s!!
    that was some really cool insight!!
    im not one of those who would cringe away if her baby cried...err. just at the earaches thats all

  5. Hmm...Moppet still wakes up 3-4 times in the night. It's funny, all she needs is to know I'm there, so a pat from me and few quiet words are all it takes for her to go back to sleep - but it's still a pain. I've been considering moving her to her own room because she's such a light sleeper, but the prospect of dragging myself out of bed and across the corridor to her room 3-4 times every night does not appeal. But maybe it's time to bite the bullet.

  6. [Orchid] Wow, that sounds easy. We never really tried co-sleeping because he is a very light sleeper and my husband a very restless one, so he would wake up s easily and I was worried about my husband rolling over him as well!

    [Tharini] That sounds amazing. I hope it works out. Do post about your leanings with this method - it sounds so much better than Ferber and also you seemed to have cracked it at 7 weeks, which is just awesome.

    [Gettingthere] I will be watching your space for your second-time round experiences...

    [Grafxgurl] Well, I am a bit of a 'method mom'. I need to have a plan - going with the flow is not my scene. So you need to see if that would work for you.

    [Moppet's Mom] You are lucky. For me it was the other one, Ayaan would see me and want to be picked up and walked endlessly. Patting never worked for him at all. On the moving her bit, you might find that the number of wakings might reduce - so it might be worth a try.

  7. I have a post sitting in my draft folder for a long time now about Ashus transition to big bed. Your post reminded me to finish it!
    Hats off to you for pulling it off. The frequent change of location has screwed up Ashus routine. And Im too impatient to try Ferber. I want results yesterday!

  8. THe brat was a lousy sleeper too. we didnt do the co-sleeping... kept him in a cradle and rocked him back to sleep if it wasnt a feed time. but things went haywire by the time he was a year old and we were up atleast3-4 time each night with him. tried the crying out thing which worked to put him to sleep.. he would fall asleep after 45 mins of crying or so.. but he just kept getting up through the night and crying and finally the exhausted parents would get him into their own bed. at 20 months we one night knew we had to move him because i was expecting the second. so two months ago we just shifted him to a diff room cold turkey. he cried the first night and then never again. afternoon or night.. he just lies down and sleeps.

  9. This was quite an insight to sleep training. Thanks for sharing the tips. I just happened to blog hop and in the right time.

    I have a 11 month old daughter who never sleeps for more than 2 hours stretch. She would wake up for nursing, I work full time and it is frustrating that I started co-sleeping. As I could not go to the crib everytime to pick her up and feed. I am planning to wean her off (she feeds only in the evening and night). Doctor has adviced me to stop feeding her in the night as she is eating poorly in the daytime because of reverse-cycling. Yesterday night I did try the CIO for a while, but couldn't stand it as she crys very loudly and my MIL who lives with us started the pity-party. But I am going to try it again as this is a weekend!!!! Wish me luck!

  10. that was a good informative post rohini. Sonny still co-sleeps with us - frequent changes in location, homes and therefore beds just adds to our sleep madness. But now when he gets up at night - just a pat or hum is enuff to send him back to sleep (unless he's in pain or something) - but somehow I get the feeling he's ready to move to his own bed now. Have to try that when we get into our new home in a few months

  11. So the "so ja, rajkumari so ja" method doesn't work? There goes my smart plan to get babies to nod off. Might just have to read to them from my blogs ;)

  12. I'm a horrible shade of green. On a good day tara will sleep by 11 PM...mostly its after 12 PM. so we're grumpy and sleep deprived most mornings.

    yeah...we used the EASY method till tara was 9 months old. tracy hogg's book and her website was/is my lifeline. but after tara started walking and realized that she could get away from my lap/crib....things have never been the same.

    I must try the Feber method.

    the only positive thing is tara's LOVES her toddler bed. so she sleeps in her own romm...that is *when* she finally falls asleep. her last words before drifting off to sleep are usually "want to go to tara bed".

  13. we still co sleep.. waiting for the to geta little older and go the orchid way

  14. Hey Rohini,
    hats off...I have been wanting to let my kids sleep seperately but lesser support of the CIO concept at home made it difficult for me. i still feed them during night which has become painful for me. And since the 10th month of my pregnency I have not slept at a stretch for 2 hrs also.
    Handling Twins really takes a toll on me ...Pls suggest how to make them sleep on their own....I need to do it now that they are 1.3 months old.

  15. Yes, it is a tough decision to take but in the long run it pays off well for both kid and the parents. Also for grandparents who as they grow older would have found it difficult to walk a kid for long periods of time. I love putting him to sleep. After he is made ready for bed I love the way he places his head on my shoulders and remains so while I sing to him. One of the most peaceful moments after a hectic day spend with an over active child.

  16. interesting...informative. i still enjoy having karan in bed with us, although there are "those nights". i am waiting for him to get older before i chuck him out, although i haven't decided how much older. hopefully i wont live to regret it - some people say the older the child is the tougher it is to get them to sleep by themselves.

  17. Hi Rohini,

    Been a regular reader of your blog but never commented.

    After reading yours, I really feel I had done your CIO method. As you said I cannot tolerate even one minute crying and same with hubby and my mom.. So we still co-sleep and my daughter is 6 years old ;). Actually, its the same thing about my husband, but instead of sending Abi to another room, I sent my husband. hehehe...


  18. Ditto to GrafxGirl - print this blog off as a how-to manual. I think I'd be quite good at letting a kid CIO but other people beg to differ. We shall see!

  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. I'll post in my blog, I think. You know, sort of a Before Ferber thingie.

  21. I so want to try this method but like you said - I don't have enough support. My DD sleeps OK, she sleeps on her own in her own room.

    The only issues I have are her need to be rocked to sleep (she's 18 mos already - bad mom I know!) and she wakes up once or twice in the night and needs to be put back to sleep - by rocking !

    Maybe I will try this when DH goes on a 2 week business trip next month. Hmmm now all I have to do is convince my mom :)

    I cannot imagine months of crying though - doesnt the ferber method say 1 week? You are one brave and strong woman Rohini ! Hats Off !

  22. Hi Rohini,
    We tried the ferber method too and that was the first time our son slept for a long stretch. It did work for us in the sense it changed something - he did learn to sleep better. Our two consecutive India trips and having to have him sleep in the bed with us at those times ruined the training but it still was not as bad as it had been before the training. And it took only two or three nights really. I hope to train the second baby around 4 or 5m itself and not wait too much more than that. I still have not tried to get my son to sleep in a separate room - I think I am the one having a hard time parting with him and doing that! He may adjust fine!
    I posted on my sleep trianing experience earlier:

  23. I started off reading in this post in gusto - but when I glazed over the part about you adopting Ferber, I skipped right to the end :) I find Ferber fact, I don't believe in sleep training at all and I would do what Orchid/I2W/STS talk about - wait for the right time. But like several other parenting fundas - the best sleep training solution is - it depends. on the kid and on the parents. I am glad this worked for you and for Ayyan.

    I appreciate that you wrote the para 'this is not for you if...'; and this is what prompted me to comment. So far K falls under #3. I am crossing my fingers that he stays that way and that I am not proven wrong a year or so from now! :)

  24. [Boo] I am so obsessive about maintaining Ayaan's sleep routine that we bought a travel cot that goes everywhere with us! Look forward to reading your post.

    [Madmomma] Ayaan is a really light sleeper too and putting him in his own room has really helped. Most of the times, he will wake up even if we enter his room so we go in only if it something that just cannot be postponed or avoided.

    [Manchus] You must be exhausted! Even if you don’t want to go through the CIO route, you might want to try letting someone else (mom-in-law/ hubby) handle the night wakings without giving the child a feed. I have read that that helps cut the association between waking up and feeding and therefore also reduces the number of wakings over time. The other reason for you to consider giving up the night wakings is that it is very bad for their teeth as the milk stays in the mouth when they go back to sleep and can lead to decay.

    [Somethingtosay] You are lucky! The only way Ayaan goes to sleep easily is on his own. Any other presence in his room and he’s all up for some play and conversation… it is quite a pain when we are traveling and don’t have the luxury of a separate room for him.

    [Mosilager] Well, maybe it would work if you lived in a Bollywood movie 

    [Aqua] A suggestion – start making her bedtime earlier by 15 minutes every few weeks till you reach your desired time.

    [Itchingtowrite] I do envy you. Sometimes I crave to have Ayaan in bed with me, especially when Jai is traveling. But that’s a recipe for a sleepless night for both of us.

    [Buzz] I am a strong believer of the CIO method but if you don’t have support for that, it might be difficult. I suggest you get rid of the night feedings. Let someone else handle their night wakings so they lose the link between night wakings and feedings. You could start with your husband doing just their first waking and one they adjust to that, extend it to others gradually. I think that might work.

    [Mama] I know, that is one his sweetest moods in the day, especially since its such a contrast to his usual boisterousness

    [Lawyeramma] I guess the best timetable to follow is always yours and your child’s. My time was up when he started taking two hours to fall asleep!

    [Kowsalya] If that works for you, that’s fine. But I always grew up knowing that my parents’ bed was their space and while I could go there in case of a bad dream or if my dad was traveling, I could not make it my permanent resting place. And that’s how I want it for us with Ayaan as well.

    [30in2005] Well, I always said that I wouldn’t be able to do CIO so we shall see!

    [Sue] All the best with the Ferber technique. Hope you got the book.

    [Sunita] Bravery is relative. If your daughter gave as much trouble as my son, I am sure you would have been ‘brave’ enough to let her CIO as well. As it is, her sleep habits sound quite decent.

    [Noon] I am so terrified about the training getting ruined that I carry my travel cot everywhere we go…

    [@] You’re lucky you have an easy sleeper.

  25. A great informative post. We never did the co sleeping thing,my little girl has always slept in her crib.We moved her crib to her room at around 5 months.In the beginning I had to rock her and she used to fall asleep on my lap and I would transfer her to her crib.But this would take hours and usually left me without much rest.Then one of my friend told me about the "Baby Whisperer" and I got the book and followed what she said. We set up a routine to wind down before the bedtime with a bath,story and song and I would then put her to crib while she was still awake.Initially she would cry and I couldn't let her cry it out,then I would sit there in the room and gently pat her back and "shush" laying her in her crib. First few days she cried for 15-20 minutes but then she started to sleep slowly on her own. Now at 14 months we couldn't be happier with her sleep.She happily goes to bed awake and sleeps by herself through the night.Even if she does wake up in between,I don't immediately rush to her side. I give her 5-10 minutes and she usually goes back to sleep. As for the naps I follow the same thing,till now she took 2 naps but now she is down to one per day. Like Ayaan my girl too doesn't sleep if anyone is in her room,she would much rather play till she drops if I stay there. So even we don't go to her room during her sleep time unless she is crying for a stretch of time.I think it's very important to teach them to fall asleep on their own without any props.This is what worked for me but I guess each baby is different and perhaps what works for one wouldn't possibly work for another.
    I love your posts!would you mind if I blogrolled you?

  26. No! I'm getting rather worried, to tell you the truth.

    If you like, mail me your number. Then I can be in touch. Mine is at the bottom of my emails.

    V says couriers have been slow of late. Don't you think we shd contact them and try to track the book?

  27. Rohini,
    I enjoy reading your blogs, like your writing style. Very clear and crisp.
    reading your attempts at sleep training your child I was reminded of an old post of mine. If interested, do drop in at:

  28. Interested?

  29. Oh, the sleep time battles! We(my husband and I taking turns!) used to spend almost an hour everyday to put our daughter to sleep till about 3 yrs of her age. Now she sleeps by herself alright but crawls back into our bed(sometimes I won't even know when) in the middle of the night!

  30. Rohini! I know I've been away, will come back to read! Just wanted to congratulate you on your blog having been written about in Femina! Saw it when browsing thru the mag at a beauty parlour! It sure felt great!

  31. yes... and then Rakhi would be my mom and Kajol my wife. My daughter would have grown up to be Karisma Kapoor and would take badla for all the bad 'so ja raajkumari' songs she had to listen to as a baby. Hey... maybe I should write for Bollywood.

  32. [Fuzzylogic] That's a great success story. I must give the Baby Whisperer approach a serious try the next time around.

    [Sue] Got it yet?

    [Ardra] Sweet post. I sang to Ayaan a lot too...still do. The last thing he hears every night is me singing a lullaby to him.

    [Tharini] That is a cool link. Thanks :)

    [Me too] Yup! sleep battles are surely not one of the rosy moments that I will remember from Ayaan's infancy.

    [Sapna] Really?! Do you know which one? I looked up the most recent issue and couldn't find anything there...

    [Ranjit] You bet you should!

  33. Oh no! I thought it was the latest issue.. I will find out and tell you. Just that I need to go there again and check, which will take some time.. but I'll surely find out for you :) You must read it afterall!

  34. Hmm .. My girl is sleeps fine but putting her to sleep is still a problem at 1 yr. She is a co-sleeper and sleeps off while feeding. My mom manages to put her to sleep with 2-3 pats on the back but I still cannot. I need to feed her to put her to sleep. I guess this will work till I wean her off and then will work thru your suggestions/methods. Good Read.

  35. [Sapna] Well, another friend told me its the March 14th issues but I need to get my hands on a copy now...

    [Sunita] Thanks and best of luck.

  36. my wife is using your post as the new bible for sleeping methodology and insists I try this method.
    the little one is already 1 1/2. by the time I try and it works she would be 2 (the age at which the bigger one started sleeping on her own.. yes. used to give me a good night kiss and say ta ta).

    so I really wouldnt know if it was the method, or a natural progression..

    will have to try the method anyways..cos like your title says Mamasaysso!!

    first time here. great blog!


  37. Thought you might like reading this

    cant see my comment but I love the yellow curtains in his room