December 1, 2008

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: I haven’t slept in days.

Jasper is six months old. He doesn’t so much sleep at night as he does snooze and hang out between bouts of crying for mommy. He invariably ends up in bed with me, which is in some ways great, because he is as soft and snuggly as a cashmere pillow stuffed with kittens and dusted with baby powder and fairy farts, but also, in some very important ways, not great, because he inevitably kicks me in the boobs a few dozen times. I don’t sleep when he’s tucked up against me. I haven’t slept in days. Weeks even. I’ve lost track.

I have the dim sense that this is not quite right, that this is sub-optimal, that things really shouldn’t be this way. Emilia slept in her crib, swaddle-free, through the night, from about five months of age (of course, she didn’t sleep a wink during the day, but at least our nights were restful.) For the life of me, I have not been able to recall how or why she did this. I don’t remember doing anything special. Except for, you know, a little bit of crying it out now and again.


It finally sunk in last night – late, late last night – that we had been willing to let Emilia cry, a bit, at bedtime or during night wakings. Not very much, and not for very long – you could hardly call it Ferberizing; more like Ferber lite – but on those occasions when it seemed that she needed to fuss herself down and when it was clear that her cries were fussy tired cries and not desperate needy cries, we’d let her cry it out for a minutes on her own. And it worked, and she was fine, and we all slept, and it was good.

But I can’t bring myself to do it this time around, and I’m not even sure why. All of Jasper’s cries sound desperate to me; every whimper out of his throat yanks at my heart and rakes across my nerves. His sobs and shouts and grumbles ring in my ears – he needs me! My baby NEEDS me! – and every moment of tears passes like an eternity. My heart lodges itself in my throat and my blood thrums in my ears and my whole body tenses. I cannot let him cry.

And sure enough, when I hold him, he stops, and herein lays the problem, I think: he does need me. He needs me in a way that my spirited, independent baby girl never did. She never cried to be held or to be snuggled: she cried (as she still does) to be free, to stand alone, to have her way. She cried in resistance to shutting her eyes against the fascinations of the day; she cried from the exhaustion of having rolled/crawled/climbed/raced her way through every moment of her wee existence. She cried and raged against boredom, against constraint; she cried with the fury and spirit of a tiny Beat poet, shouting her rhythms into the shadows and demanding that world give way to her presence. Jasper, on the other hand, only cries for boobies and hugs and – in the event of an epic shit – a clean diaper. Those, I can provide. And so I do.

So it is that I cannot let him cry. I cannot let him cry because I know that it is within my power to soothe his cries. I cannot let him cry because he cries for me. Such is the vanity of motherhood, that I am weakened by his need for me, that I am weakened by any such need, that the needing – the feeling that I am necessary, that I am fundamentally necessary, in any given moment, that I am the only being in this world that can provide the desired comfort – becomes the focal point of all my motivation: gratify his need (indeed, their need, for my daughter knows well that she can have me wrapped around her finger only by uttering the words I need you, Mommy.) So it is that his need, my need, our need for sleep become secondary to the need that is articulated – that he articulates – most forcefully: the immediate need for comfort, the need to be held, the need for a hush to be wrapped in love.

But love cannot sustain the sleep-deprived mother, and the sleep-deprived mother is an impaired mother and all the hugs in the world aren’t going to help anyone if I’m passed out on the floor and the children have to crawl over my body and forage for sustenance.

So do I do this? Do I let him cry and hope that sleep comes and that my heart doesn’t explode? Or do I forge ahead on the fuel of love and hugs?


Toronto-area peeps – if you’re interested in joining me at a breastfeeding demonstration (to save breastfeeding clinics in Ontario) on Wednesday, let me know. Details are at this post; leave a comment or e-mail me if you wanna go. UPDATE: Mister Jasper is a very sick little baby, and I simply can’t go to this. E-mail me if you want details, to attend yourself. (And? Anyone local who wants to go and do a brief story on it for BlogHers Act Canada? I would LOVE you. E-mail me.)

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    Her Bad Mother December 1, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    Sharon – I’m emphatically NOT anti-CIO; we did a version of it with Emilia. I just haven’t been able to manage it with Jasper…

    Sarah Yost December 1, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    oh, I’m so sorry. that’s so hard. I think you do what works for your family unti it doesn’t work anymore and then you do something else. I didn’t want to do CIO but neither the baby nor I were getting sleep and it was awful so we had to do something!

    We did the plan in the sleep lady’s book. It’s a gradual extinction method that a lot of people like who find Ferber too hard and the no cry sleep solution too pansy.

    Good luck to you.

    LawMommy December 1, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    I have so much empathy for you right now, you have no idea. I don’t think I slept more than 2 hours at a time for the first three years of my son’s life. I love him, he loved to nurse, and I was unable to sleep through even the tiniest noises he made. There comes a point where sleep-deprivation will cause you to become insane. I mean that, quite literally, I became insane. (I believed that Gabe would not be able to breathe if he wasn’t in the same room with me and I wasn’t awake. I have a law degree and I’m not an idiot – I knew it was insane, I just…believed it.)

    It is dangerous, to be that sleep deprived…

    The only thing that helped me (aside from Xanax), was a white noise machine and turning off the baby monitor. And ear plugs. (With Husband’s absolute promise that if the baby really needed me, he would wake me up. Which he did.)

    SciFi Dad December 1, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    Only you know your kid, so only you know the “right” answer.

    We didn’t let our daughter cry until about 6-7 months. She figured it out. Eventually.

    I suspect our son will be more like yours, but for us it’ll be his light-sleeping, already gets up at oh dark thirty sister that prompts the co-sleeping.

    sara December 1, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    Well, as you have figured out…baby # 2 never does what baby #1 did. THAT would be too easy, right?

    Also, without over generalizing too much…is there a connection between the girl’s cry and the need to get it out so she can settle down and get some rest…and a woman’s strength and resilience and a connection between a baby boy’s cry that is desperate and pleading…and the men that grow up to be big babies the second they get the sniffles?
    And I say this without judgement…as a mother with the youngest boy @ 4 yo who can make my heart flutter like nobody else…and gets his way more than any child should.

    shadow dancer December 2, 2008 at 12:30 am

    Oh, my. I’m so glad I’m not there anymore. My daughter and son sound just like yours. Except that I had my son first and had nothing to compare him to. The fights my husband and I had. I was determined to instill good sleep habits — have our boy stay in his crib and sleep through the night — and I was afraid that giving an inch would mean he’d take a mile. But I couldn’t stand the wailing, which was heartrending and enduring. I read The Baby Book by Dr. Sears and was enraged by his theory that any properly attuned mother couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t (and in fact didn’t in her heart want to) ignore her baby’s cries. I wanted to ignore them with almost all of my heart, except one niggling little fraction that would not be put to rest. To this day, I do not know whether and in what measure it might have been fear, guilt or love; I cannot unravel what I felt. I just know it was hell, and while my husband was happy to help by taking over the soothing when I was in despair, this often added to my frustration as I was I was certain that I would eventually have to deal with the bad habits he was fostering. His firm belief was that helping our boy through his needy infancy would be shortlived, and that we should do what it took to get him to sleep without crying.

    As many of the mothers have posted, I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to assert a “right way” to deal with it. One of the hardest things for me as a mother — then and now — is discerning my own inner wisdom on any given parenting issue, as distinct from the views of my spouse, my in-laws, doctors, the parenting literature, and even other moms. Perhaps if you can be as attentive and nurturing to your own responses when Jasper asserts his need for you, and imagine that there is a “right way” that will allow both of you to get sleep, you may find some compromise with him.

    Way too vague to be helpful, I’m sure. I can say that — Jasper not being MY boy — I would let him cry it out. If my boy was difficult to put to bed at one and two, he’s even harder now at five years old. My husband and I still argue about whether we caused his sleep neurosis, whether he’s improved or not, and what methods we should adopt for dealing with his latest sleep avoidance strategy.

    One of the family myths that has been passed down to me is of my father being fed up with my nighttime crying and demanding that my mother take me down to the basement in my basinet. She complied, and maintains that she does not know whether I cried or slept for most of the night because nothing could be heard above the cacophony of water heaters, boilers, pumps, etc., all rumbling away in the remote cellar. I am said never to have cried again in the night.

    I hope you have a good sleep tonight, and remember — you are HIS BAD mother too!

    Mia December 2, 2008 at 12:54 am

    I don’t think I did anything the same with any of my 3 kids. I walk or rock my youngest until he is just about asleep…something I never did with the others. I’ve had the same thoughts and feelings about his need for me that you’re having, but have, at times, forced myself to allow him to fuss it out.

    I say, let the fussing begin. It will be torturous at first, but you both will be better for it later. Good luck.

    Shannon December 2, 2008 at 1:46 am

    My first child was Jasper. We tried the cry it out method twice when I felt like my sanity was at stake. It not only didn’t work – it was horrible. My memory is that it went for an hour or more before we went in one time – I still feel guilt. She just needed us. There’s a push and pull between Maryn and me, though. I’ve had a hard time adapting to that level of need at times. I’ve found myself fighting not to run or scream. The exhaustion. By nature, I’m kind of a loner. Sometimes the clinging is rough on me. But the more I pulled away, the tighter she held and the more panicked she became. My husband – who was getting some sleep at least – kept telling me that this time would be temporary, but the scars of refusing her would last a lifetime. I believed him. Thus we did the family bed and a number of other things to accommodate her, including letting her nurse as much as she needed (sometimes every half hour to an hour!) and use a binky. My husband helped a lot – mostly by talking me down. Conner, the second, didn’t really care so much, but she sleeps with us, too. I’m very, very glad now that we did it the way we did. My one regret is that I had no support network and no idea that I could have asked people to help. I’m sure you know this, but if you have anyone around or can find anyone, let them help….

    Lady M December 2, 2008 at 1:47 am

    How deeply I understand and feel for you. I’m writing with one hand as the other holds my own child, squirming drowsily. My older son needed his father; this one needs me. It’s wonderful and loving, but also relentless! I’m lucky he usually sleeps better than this week.

    Anonymous December 2, 2008 at 2:13 am

    Please, please let him cry it out. He needs good, restful, consolidated sleep more than he needs you. He just doesn’t know how to fall back asleep – you have to teach him. When he wakes up at night, don’t go in. In a few nights, he’ll stop waking up. It doesn’t take long, and the psychologists agree that there’s no damage done.

    Ever since I let my daughter cry it out, everything changed. It was the most excruciating thing I’ve ever done – I sobbed and pulled my hair out – but my husband kept reminding me, “Is there an alternative?” And there wasn’t. Sacrificing my sanity and resenting my baby were not an alternative. So we did it. And now – bliss. I know that after 6 in the evening, the night is mine! I can get things done, and I can sleep! And now I love my daughter so much more intensely, because all of the negativity and resentment is gone.

    Please do this. Please.

    Mel December 2, 2008 at 2:18 am

    Okay, I’ve read all the comments so hopefully this will be as helpful as possible. I apologize if it’s a novel.

    I am a first-time mother to an almost one-year-old needy boy. He loved the boob too (I use the past tense because we recently weaned). When he was born, he had a 10-day stay in the NICU due to fluid in his lungs (even though he was term). I planned to breastfeed, and with some difficulty, we did. It was a rocky start. He had difficulty latching on at first, and he was always falling asleep. But we got used to it, and he started gaining weight. At about six weeks, he started waking up with bad gas at night — before that, we’d had to wake him up to eat so he’d gain weight. So we started cosleeping. I learned to night-nurse on my side, and things went pretty well.

    Around five months, I decided I wanted my bed back. I thought a month-long transition should do it, and started putting him in the crib at night. Sometimes he would fall asleep fine, and others it would take hours (sometimes up to 3) of nursing, rocking, singing, shushing to get him to sleep, only to have him wake up the second I placed him in the crib. I tried leaving him to cry only a few times, but he would get himself so worked up he would choke on tears and mucus and throw up. I had little help from my husband, who believed that my boobs were the answer to everything.

    So I gave up and went back to just cosleeping. The baby would sleep for 9 or 10 hours at a time, with me nursing him back to sleep each time he woke up. I endured the boob-torture (he started pinching after awhile), and the kicks and pinching and nearly falling off the bed. He was sleep-deprived. He only took 20 to 30 minute naps during the day and usually only got 9 hours of sleep at night. I didn’t know what to do, because his dad wouldn’t let me put him to sleep between 7 and 8 PM like I heard was best, because he assumed the baby would wake up at 4 AM or earlier.

    Around 8 1/2 months was when he started grabbing and pinching my nipples, whether they were clothed or not. He even started saying “mamamama” when he wanted to nurse… this one of two things we were sure he was communicating at the time. But shortly thereafter, I went back to work full-time, and I just didn’t have the energy to try to wean him when I got home. I started putting him to sleep the way I did for naps: nurse him to sleep, wait until he was in a deep sleep, then leave. This resulted in me falling asleep a lot, and not getting very much done because of that.

    I work in a daycare/preschool. At school, all the kids fall asleep so easily. Sometimes they need to be put onto their tummies and patted or rubbed on the back, but they all fall asleep on their own with relatively little fuss. I started trying that with my son. He slept so much better on his belly. I was able to get him to sleep without nursing him there at about 10 months.

    We’ve been weaning very gradually over the past three months, and when all I had was the night nursings to go, I put him in the crib one night. He slept for 11 hours. He woke up twice and soothed himself back to sleep within 30 seconds each time. Now he does that every night. And he takes better naps, usually 1 or 2 during the day for a total of 2 to 3 hours.

    His dad thinks it may be related to an understanding of object permanence. I think it’s a combination of age/maturity, a bit of a routine, and keeping him warm. I feed him dinner, change his diaper, dress him in his pjs, read a story, give him warm milk, rock, sing, and put him in his crib with a fleece blanket and his duckie lovey, say goodnight and I love you, leave the room. If he’s not asleep by the time I leave, he is within 3 minutes of me leaving. Dinner excluded, whole process takes less than half an hour.

    It took a little crying to get here, but it’s kinda Ferber Lite, like you described with Wonderbaby. But now I know he can put himself to sleep. And apparently what it took for us was giving him his own space again.

    I hope this is not a phase.

    Things that helped: nursing, pacifier, food (especially cereal or with cereal mixed in), warmth, tummy sleep/back patting. Caffeine, or lack thereof, had no effect (doesn’t have an effect on me either).

    Mine is also a big boy. Loved the boob. He did learn to love food too. Now if we’re feeding him and we pause or he’s feeding himself and he runs out, he makes needy noises until he gets more. :)

    Also interesting to note: My sister has worked at a day care for 4 years. She says the boys always cry more and are more needy than the girls, especially in early infancy.

    Anonymous December 2, 2008 at 2:25 am

    After everything everyone has said, you have to think about the advice you’ve been given. You can take the parts that make sense to you and work for you (and for Jasper). Leave the rest. Only the two of you know what is right for you both.

    Best of luck, and keep us posted.

    Elizabeth December 2, 2008 at 5:00 am

    I’m new to your blog and just love it. This post reminded me of Eva Peron and her rallying cry of “Cry for me, Argentina.” Call me weird, but there’s something hilarious and dramatic about it…

    Jaywalker December 2, 2008 at 5:39 am

    Ah, poor poor you. POOR YOU. No advice, because you’ll do what you have to and what you’re capable of and it will be the best thing for you and your wonderful boy. Just, tonnes of sympathy.

    Both mine cried it out Big Time, but especially the eldest. I became the sleep nazi. I felt like I was being ripped in two but didn’t give in in case that made it worse (which would have killed me – he had iron will). It sucks to the power of a million.

    I wish I could come and make you a really good cup of coffee and send you off for a delicious daytime nap, you poor honey.

    Gem December 2, 2008 at 9:37 am

    I haven’t read all the other responses so I may repeating other people. You do have to do what works for you, and hardly anything works the same for two babies, but here are some suggestions:

    1) Sit by the crib. Don’t touch him, just sing quietly or read a book (Agatha Christie worked a treat on mine!) then if that soothes him, tape record it. Have it playing quietly, all night non-stop loop if you have too. Do you have a monitor where you can talk into it? Sing down that. Anything to wean him off being held.

    2) Could you cut out a nap in the day? Look at your priorities, is a cranky baby in the daytime better or worse than not sleeping at night? Do you really need to feed him in the night or is he just using it as blackmail (I’m sure mine blackmailed me from about 3mths) Would he take water instead and then decide it wasn’t worth waking up for?

    Crying it out isn’t the only option. Sometimes it’s the best options but if you’re hearts not in it he will know that and he will scream. Tricky little blighters babies!

    Good luck :)

    kgirl December 2, 2008 at 9:45 am

    Well, bcause you asked… Of course you don’t let him cry. You hold him, and soothe him, and hold him some more. Because you’re his mama, and you’re the only one that can do that. Pretty powerful, amazing stuff.
    I know you’re tired. Tired sucks. But he’s really new to this big scary world, and when he’s not so new anymore, he’ll sleep. And then you will too.

    kata December 2, 2008 at 10:19 am

    Like so many above, I have one of these babies. She’s 6 months, falls asleep in the evening just fine but wakes up in the middle of the night, multiple times, and can’t get back to sleep. Mostly I think it’s due to her growing mobility (she’s trying to crawl but uses her lips instead of her hands to lift herself in front and try to pull herself forward… not very effective) and the end of Daylight Savings time (which messed up her awareness of nighttime and daytime). She does eat some of the time when she wakes up but I suspect more to soothe herself than because she needs it.

    Don’t know what we’ll do about it yet.

    Also: eating. My child loves spoons. And cups. And bowls. Especially those her parents are eating out of. But she acts like anything that does not come out of me is completely disgusting and one can only accidentally not gag on it. But after three weeks of trying, she finally accidentally did not gag for a couple of spoonfuls two days in a row. And swallowed. And looked very surprised that that was a workable solution. But only when given watered-down mushed-up banana.

    ALI December 2, 2008 at 11:04 am

    I have a baby similar to this-he needs to see me, not actually be held at all times. I had him sleeping in his crib, until he started getting up three times a night just so i would pick him up. soothe him back to sleep and put him back down. until he woke up again and couldn’t find me. so now, he sleeps in my room in a pack-and-play right next to my side of the bed with a bottle on my nightstand that he can reach himself. and now we sleep all night. people are pressuring me to move him back to his crib-including my husband, but my huxband isn’t the one getting up with him at night, and this works so screw it.

    maybe though you could ferber lite him during daytime hours to nap in his bed, and gradually move to nighttime?

    that is probably laughable if he doesn’t nap, but i tried!

    Aidan Elizabeth's Updates December 2, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Your description of what it is like to listen to your Jasper cry is so spot on. That’s exactly how I feel everytime our two year old wakes up and cries for me. I finally did a modified CIO with her with a 20 minute time limit and I really try to listen and wait for a bit when she cries at night. There are still times I go in and sleep with her because it just feels right and like she needs it. There are other times when I let her fuss it out and she goes back to sleep.

    I wonder, since your bedtime routine seems to work well, could you do a shortened version of it in the middle of the night? Maybe he’ll figure, “Oh. This is happening, that means I have to go to sleep.” Then you could gradually shorten the routine each time until he figures out that once he wakes up, he has to go back to sleep. I don’t know. We used some stuff from the “No cry sleep solution” book; it had some good suggestions for gradually backing off.

    It is hard, hard, hard. My daughter is much like a combination of your two – fiercely adventurous and independent during the day and then desperate for cuddles at night. It is almost like she sets aside all her feelings until nighttime so she can go full force into the world and then it all hits her at night. The thing I keep reminding myself is that it isn’t necessarily bad for her to cry. Crying is a natural reaction when sad (over not getting one’s way) or angry (over not getting what one wants). As a therapist, I spend much more time getting people to learn how to cry than I do getting them to learn how to stop crying. I use lots of empathy with Aidan, but also let her work it out sometimes. Maybe you could start practicing that with Jasper during the day when he cries to be picked up or carried. Lots of empathy and cooing, but not actually giving him what he wants.

    Just thoughts. I hope something in there might help…

    Avonlea December 2, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    Sleep deprivation is so, so hard. Sometimes the only way I’ve made it has been because my husband and I have been able to let each other get naps on the weekend.

    My son is 2 and a half. I know what you mean about his cries yanking at my heart and raking across my nerves. I still nurse him to sleep most nights, though sometimes his dad will rock him or just hold him and sing. Usually in the middle of the night, sometime between 11pm-2 or 3am, Little Bit wakes up, toddles into our room, and asks for nursing. I bring him into bed. My husband has been the one that our son keeps awake by kicking and wiggling, but DH has said that he loves to have our son snuggling with us, so we deal with the interrupted sleep for now.

    Eventually, I will try to get him to stay in his own room all night. Maybe sleep on the floor in his room for a bit to transition him there.

    Cait December 2, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    I would let him cry it out. You can still go in, soothe, and then leave him- maybe with white noise, the radio, a mobile, whatever you think is best. Increase the amount of time until you go back in as you're ready. Yes, its horrible to listen to, absolutely. But it stops, he learns, it gets better.

    Why would I do this?
    -Because if you sleep, you will be a better mother to both Jasper & Emilia. You'll also able to function better and have more fun with them if you have energy.
    -Because babies need sleep. Catnapping and disrupted sleep isn't good for him either. Some kids you have to teach how to sleep.

    Take care! And keep giving love & hugs to him, of course!

    chaipo December 2, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Delurking here — I liked the book the no-cry sleep solution, it seemed to have lots of tricks to try for sleep problems. For K, we built a “nest” using positioners and blankets, which gave her the cozy feeling I think she was missing. The other thing I do when she wakes up at night is look at the clock — I say I’m going to wait 10 minutes before going in and picking her up, and nine times out of ten she falls asleep before that 10 is through. The 10 rule also makes me feel a bit better about letting her cry a little bit because I know it’s only a short time before I can pick her up.

    Don’t know if that helps, but hang in there!

    Mama Luxe December 2, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Here’s a thought, not advice, more on point, I think, than my original comment with advice.

    I have two kids. #1 was very high need. Every cry sounded urgent, and not just because she had a heart condition where I needed to keep her calm. She just NEEDED all the time. I wore her constantly–while eating, while cleaning. Even now that she has grown into a sweet, polite toddler who can play independently (and sleeps through the night now, so there is hope), she still NEEDS more time, attention, etc. than others seem to.

    #2, my infant son, is just a cuddly, happy guy. I can actually put him down without him crying. He’ll even stay there for a while, just hanging out. He fusses sometimes…if he’s hungry, wet, tired, bored, etc. … but mostly he just smiles or chills out.

    I saw an article a few months ago about how some children are genetically predisposed to either being more or less influenced by your parenting. The type of child they described as being highly influenced by parenting sounds exactly like my daughter (#1).

    I think that maybe as parents we sense this, and become more involved with our high needs children. That does not mean I ignore my easy going guy…I still wear him when we go out walking and we don’t CIO because we don’t believe in it but mostly because he barely cries anyway. He gets lots of love and attention, but there is just more time to relax and enjoy each other. I don’t have to constantly be looking for ways to soothe and entertain him like I did with my girl.

    I guess if he needed more attention, he’d let me know.

    I adore and love them both, but they are just very, very different children.

    Bella December 2, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    First off, GEEZ! this is so beautifully articulated. I really love the way you write, and the incredibly sensitive and nuanced expression you offer to what seems like such an old topic with the same ol’ polarized views usually expressed. I was really moved by how you wrote about the differences in your feelings and interpretations of your two kids. And all this with NO SLEEP!?!?! You are gifted…

    Also, I don’t want to reiterate a bunch of great advice that’s already been left, so I just want to put in another piece of the puzzle that I think is way too often neglected.

    In addition to all children being different, and different temperaments matching different types of “sleep training” methods (or none at all), I strongly believe (and have some research to back it up) that kids at different AGES and STAGES respond differently to the SAME sleep training method (CIO vs pat/shush vs nothing at all).

    And here’s the punch line: 6 months is a GREAT stage, if you’re going to try something different (like some mild form/variation of CIO). I’ll just come out of the closet on this one and say that I’m a developmental psychologist, so I do have some training in the cognitive and emotional milestones that may be crucial when we’re thinking about changing sleep habits at different ages. In contrast, 9 months is a TERRIBLE time to sleep train (as is 18-21 months). That’s because kids acquire what’s called “object permanence” (they get the idea, for the first time, that things that disappear from view are not gone forever) at 9 months, this also ushers in full-fledged separation distress (now out of sight isn’t actually out of mind anymore — if you think it’s bad now, it’s amazing how exponentially more intense separation anxiety and distress becomes at 8/9 months for the vast majority of kids). 18-21 months is a whole new ball game, with social referencing/intelligence, language and a whole host of other cognitive/emotional changes that suddenly come on line. Ugh. I didn’t want to go on and on, but it’s hard not to try to justify the claims. Anyway, here’s my bottom line, from my perspective (and other developmentalists) some of the best ages to change sleep habits are:

    6-7 months
    12-16 months
    22-26 months

    ESPECIALLY if you have a sensitive child. Earlier isn’t better, later isn’t necessarily better either. There are just some sensitive periods when it might be a really good idea to avoid tackling sleep training when the child is already going through massive normative developmental changes.

    And for the record, there is no empirical evidence, NONE, for this statement:” Any short-term “gain” you may experience from letting him cry is not worth the long-term harm it may do to a baby’s developing brain and psyche.” I know you’re not anti-CIO, but I just had to put some people’s mind at rest, that in terms of the science (and this doesn’t speak to the emotional trauma of the mother, btw) there’s no evidence whatsoever that controlled CIO does any emotional or cognitive damage to a child, nevermind neurological damage.

    Also, I’m a mom of twin boys — both were Ferberized at 6 months (I hit my wall at 4 months and slogged through hourly wakings until their precise 6 month birthday). For what it’s worth, one boy learned to self-soothe in one night of mild fussing, the other took 2 weeks of nightly crying and I nearly lost the last semblance of sanity I had in the process. It sucked more than ANYTHING I have ever experienced in my life, that whole sleep-training process, but there is no doubt that we all needed the sleep to begin functioning as a happy family. And you just need to see these kids to realize how ridiculous it is to claim that they are “insecure” or “damaged” by that choice. Now me… well, clearly I still have my “unresolved issues” to deal with if I had to rant here for 10 pages…

    Miss Grace December 2, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    I think 6 months is an okay age to let him fuss a little bit. If it breaks your heart you can always…not.

    Anonymous December 2, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    I’ve read through most of the comments, and there’s lots of advice here for you to ponder. The only thing I’ll add is this: I believe that you will know what is the right thing to do – if you think the little guy really needs you, he does. If you think you’re going to go crazy without more sleep, you’re right. Don’t use other peoples views (whether they’ve written books or not) to second guess yourself. When I start doing that to myself, I find I never get peace of mind at all, regardless of what’s happening sleep-wise.

    My one year old is mid-way between your two on the neediness scale, and we are comfortable co-sleepers at the moment. With my little guy, staying near him means he usually goes back to sleep before he completely wakes up at night, and so do I. I’m pretty tired sometimes but I know what I’m doing is right for us.

    Sending good wishes.

    Joyce December 2, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Are you sure he doesn’t have reflux? I went thru the same screaming, “ppick-me-up-NOW-g-damnit!!” crying with my first. Turns out he had SEVERE reflux, which is probably why he stopped screaming as soon as he was pciked up and started again when he was put down…ugh! Just a suggestion. Hang in there!

    Anonymous December 2, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    Fer chrissakes, let him cry! The parents reading your blog and suggesting that you get used to being sleep deprived have children who are still very young. I let my son CIO and he’s 12, in the gifted program at school, and gives me hugs all the time. We are very close. He’s a good kid, he has NO MEMORY of anything before the age of 3 or 4, and he doesn’t resent me for letting him cry for 15 minutes at 2 a.m. when he was 7 months old.

    I believe that provided your son is well taken care of, healthy, and is not suffering from an illness (reflux, ear infection, etc.), then you have a choice: continue to be sleep deprived and miserable (because, face it, you are), or take necessary steps to teach your child how to sleep without you (and there’s nothing wrong with learning to put yourself back to sleep) so that you can be fully present during the day and actually enjoy him. If you don’t solve this problem, then you’ll have nothing to say about his infancy except that you can’t remember much of it because you were in a sleep-deprived haze. And that would be sad.

    Mom101 December 2, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    As one formerly (and still sometimes) very sleep deprived mama, for God’s sake, do yourselves both a favor – go out for dinner or a movie while someone else is there to hear him cry. By night three he will be happy and rested. You will be happy and rested.

    Three days.

    Anonymous December 2, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    What a beautifully articulated post. You have stated precisely what I am still feeling on a regular basis. My brains have quit because I was/am so tired, but my babies need me. And for me, that was almost all that mattered. I did cry for sleep some nights (well, grumbled and bitched and snarked and moaned, really) but we made it through, and you will too, whatever you decide to do.

    I will add that pre-teething (before the red cheeks, and snot & drool, and whining, etc) was a time that was particularly bad for night-waking for my three. A shot of pain killer (for me & the baby) helped a lot.

    Good luck, and sweet dreams, short though they may be.

    Carolyn December 2, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    I know nothing about anything (my childcare experience consists of an extended babysitting career), but do you think a white noise machine might help? If he keeps waking up and is a very light sleeper by nature, maybe this would help him stay zonked out?

    (I say only from being a terrible sleeper from infancy, and this is what happens to work for me. Feel free to disregard entirely. You poor thing. Good luck.)

    Emily December 2, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    When you find out how to get more night-sleep, let us know — I’m only on week 4 but can see us easily going down the same road…

    Re: demonstration, please send details! I’d love to show my support for this, and can easily make it if I have the details. Thanks!

    Heather December 2, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    You’re at exactly the same point I was when we decided to try “crying it out.” Seven months of sleeping at 45 minutes stretches was killing all of us. Dos’ cries were horrible to me, too, but we had to do something.

    My suggestion: wait until he’s well. (I understand he has a cold right now.) Then go into it determined, cold-hearted and with a good set of ear plugs. Nurse as usual, lay him down, put those earplugs in and sit crib side.

    I leaned over a lot and patted Dos at first, but she started grabbing my neck and trying to climb out of the crib so I just sat as close as I could to her, humming sweetly and loudly. It took about a week before she started sleeping longer stretches. Hardest week of my life, but worth it.

    Three months later, it’s still not perfect, but she’s sleeping six hour stretches now which is WAY better than before.

    Oh, and I think she’s a much happier baby now than before. I think she was sleep deprived, too!

    I thought “crying it out” was baby torture until we actually tried it. We tried a LOT of other options first before CIO. This was just what worked for this particular baby this time.

    Good luck! You’re not a horrible mother!

    No Mother Earth December 2, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    OH man, this is hard.

    You’ve pretty much described our situation, except G is 13 months now. We’ve gotten him to sleep with some consistency between 12:30 and 5am, but that’s about it. Before 12:30, it’s crying, screaming, finding soothers, shushing, patting, holding him down (gently) if necessary. But it is not sleep. At 5am, it is awake for the day. For. The . Day. It is killing me. I can survive on less sleep than other people, but this is not enough. It’s not been enough for a 13 months.

    Mr Earth is all for letting him cry, because it worked with the Boy. He cried for a few minutes and promptly fell asleep. G just works himself up into a frenzy until there is no hope for sleep.

    Me, I feel like I can’t let him cry because I KNOW him. You see, he’s me. A night owl, who is only comfortable sleeping if he knows his people are near, awake, and there for him.

    But it is killing me. Both solutions are equally difficult. I feel for you.

    Sarah December 2, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    I am dealing with something kind of similar but not as bad. My son was a lot more independent and didn’t need to be soothed all the time. My daughter wants to be held all of the time. I say that she just loves us, but it drives my husband, in particular, crazy! My uncle is a pediatrician, and over this thanksgiving he was telling me that I shouldn’t be nursing her to sleep anymore (she is 5 months). He said to get her drowsy and lay her down swaddled, because swaddling still comforts her. I did that, and the first night she cried for 2 hours off and on. We went in and talked to her some, but we didn’t pick her up. The second night she only cried for about 20 minutes. We are on the fourth day, and now she only cries about 5 minutes. It was hard for me, but I know that it is good for her to learn to sleep on her own.

    Lydia December 2, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Good heavans, HBM, are you and me separated at birth? (Or rather, NOT separated) I am having the SAME issues and feeling the SAME way.
    Thanks for writing it out in a way that helps me realize what I’m thinking/feeling.

    Mandy December 2, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    Well, it’s not like I can give you advice. I’d just say follow your own instincts, and if they tell you to go to him, have him with you, and avoid crying, then that’s what you should do. And stop feeling guilty over it.

    The lack of sleep… yeah, that sucks. Some kids are just like that (say mine for example).

    April December 2, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    i can’t tell you what you SHOULD do, but i can tell you what has worked for us. sort of.

    my second child too is much more needy in the night-time sleeping department. he never slept in the bed with me, but always close and i would tend to him as soon as he cried. at 6 months he was still getting up every 2 hours throughout the night to nurse (and not napping during the day) – i was sleeping in his room and was an absolute walking zombie. not the best thing when you’ve got two under two to contend with all day (did i say two too many times???).

    anybutt, finally at six months, hubby took over and let him CIO. (i hid on the other end of the house with LOTS of white noise) it took about 4 days and many hours of crying, but he finally started sleeping through the night. he’s still NOT an amazing sleeper like my 2yo, but he’s getting better. he cries at night about once a week now and rarely for more than ten minutes (he’s 8mo now).

    the cio saved my sanity. seriously. like i said, i’m not telling you what to do, bc it’s a totally personal decision – but this is what worked for us.

    best of luck :-)

    April December 2, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    two more things…

    i just saw in the comments that he’s not so into the solids… my 2nd wasn’t at first either. it took a good two weeks before he started liking cereal. not sure how long you’ve been doing it, but i thought that was worth mentioning. also, he NEVER liked rice cereal – we ended up switching to oatmeal made with breastmilk.

    ALSO – i second the white noise thing for him AND you. i have a mini clip-on fan in baby’s room about three feet from the crib (facing away from it) and he sleeps SO much better when it’s on.

    ok, i know you’re inundated, so i’ll stop now :-)

    coolteamblt December 2, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    Christie D, my sister and I sound a lot like your kids, in that order, too. However, neither of us were CIO. We’re just different.

    I slept through the night at six weeks, I would put myself to bed, and I still sleep like a champion. My sister is five years younger than me, and she still doesn’t sleep well. She slept all the way through the night for the first time at five years old. She’s always needed someone there. If my mother couldn’t be there when she fell asleep, she would beg me to sit with her, or she would crawl into bed with me. She’s a few months shy of eighteen, and she still sleeps in my parents’ bed if my dad is on a business trip. She also keeps her baby blanket in her pillow case, and she sleeps with her teddy bear, too. I think it’s just different personalities.

    Catherine, something that makes me smile that might help just a teeeeeny bit: I’m Katherine, my sister is Amelia, and when my mother was pregnant with me, she called me Jasper. Amelia was called Tonto until she was born.

    Meli December 2, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    I don’t know what to tell you. I am in a similar situation and all I can say is hang in there. Things have to get better….right?

    Amanda December 2, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    Dear friend, I take it night by blessed night. Some nights I feel like an abject failure, others I feel delirious with can-do’ness. Seems like the best we can do is cling tight and try and stay in the game.

    I saw you holding that sweet boy with the name I had reserved if Fin had been a boy, you love. You are doing it all as right as you can, which is perfect.


    Anonymous December 2, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    hi! two weeks ago my husband and i, after many many nights without sleep, made the decision to let our six month old CIO. it was the worst few days of my life. i felt like my heart was being ripped out nerve by nerve. it was awful. but we got through it. and our baby girl now sleeps!! we made a commitment before we started that if we were going to do it – we had to be consistent and persistent — otherwise there would be no sense in putting our baby girl or ourselves through it. well, all in all it was one of the worst things i’ve ever done, but it actually worked out well for us. like someone already said – it’s probably not for every mom or every baby.
    needless to say, i feel your desire for sleep and wish you the best in getting at least a little bit of rest.

    Jerri Ann December 2, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    My first son cried to be loosed, my second cries to be held, even now, he is 4 and the older one is 5.5 and honestly, nothing has changed. I was sick for 3 or 4 days last week and when I emerged from the bed of illness, all he wanted to do was sit on me, hold me, wallow on me, be with me… I say, you will recover, seek help so you can get some sleep and hold that little guy!

    Her Bad Mother December 2, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    coolteamblt – that *is* a little spirit lifter ;)

    mrsgryphon December 3, 2008 at 1:11 am

    I’m sorry that I can’t take the time tonight to read all of the posts above, but I did want to add a little thought… something that worked really well to help our daughter learn to self-soothe was her “lovey” or “comfort object” (whatever you want to call it!)

    Hers is a stuffed cow that, starting at about 6 months, I laid it on the pillow with her while she was breastfeeding at bedtime and then I would put her into her bed with the cow. She loves that thing still (she’s almost 3) and it is definitely still a help to her when she’s calming down to go to sleep. Maybe having that with him might be something with your scent, and might help him stay a little calmer?

    P.S. I never sleep when our girl is/was in our bed (except when she was tiny). Once she learned to kick, and spread-eagle herself to take up the most room possible, I knew she had to learn to stay in her own bed!!

    Issas Crazy World December 3, 2008 at 1:24 am

    I can’t answer this for you, just like I can’t answer how I let my tiny boy sleep with us, when I never, EVER let the girls.

    All I know is you’ll know when you can let him cry for a bit. But Catherine, you need some sleep. maybe, just maybe you could let your husband try it? Go to a movie, take a walk, sleep in the car for a while and see if your husband being there with Jasper crying makes a difference? Maybe you don’t have to be the one to help him learn to self sooth to sleep.

    I can’t seem to figure it out myself, but this baby of mine is different. Maybe it’s because he’s a boy, maybe I’m different. No idea really. But I already find myself doing things with him that I never did before.

    Erica December 3, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    I haven’t read all the comments, but I have to say that your post summed up my 9 month old son to a T. He sleeps wonderfully with either my husband or I, and will even go into the crib for awhile, but will not stay there the night. He wakes up and cries desperately, just like you say. I have no other children to compare him to, but every cell in my body says it’s wrong to leave him there to whip himself into a frenzy. It’s worse now that he can pull himself up because he stands in the crib, screaming, with this horrible look of terror and fear on his face. We’ve tried letting him cry and he just won’t settle. It just gets worse. What we’ve been doing lately is starting him in his crib, then my husband sleeps on a mattress next to the crib, often with our son in his arms. At least he’s getting used to his room, he’s not nursing during the night anymore (which he will still do if he’s next to me), and I’m getting more sleep than I have in a year.

    I think what you say about your daughter and son, and this body of comments in general really highlights that there are a lot of individual differences in what babies need. And really, at 6 months, babies pretty much just have needs. Not all babies are “wired” the same. And if Jasper turns 10 years old and still can’t sleep, it’s just as likely because he’s wired differently as it because you couldn’t let him CIO. And your daughter might always sleep well because that’s how she’s made, not because you could let her cry. I think we need to trust ourselves as mothers to respond to our children and not worry as much about what other people think of our parenting.

    Which doesn’t really get you any more sleep. Could he sleep with your husband for awhile? Good luck to you.

    Laura December 3, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    OK, so I am NO expert…HOWEVER, I do have FOUR kids, all different, and I have done it all. SO, my question for you is this:

    how does he go to sleep at night? I know he goes down well, but HOW? DO you nurse him to sleep? Does he fall asleep on his own?

    Her Bad Mother December 3, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Laura – our night-time routine is pretty straighforward. Dinner (he isn’t taking much solid food yet, but we try), bath, jammies, booby. He doesn’t (ordinarily) fall asleep at the breast, and usually goes down in his crib drowsy but awake. We sometimes still swaddle him if he’s flail-y; recent nights while he’s been congested we’ve had to put him down in his swing, because being on his back is uncomfortable due to congestion.

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