Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Knocked Off My “Sleep-Training” High Horse

Editor's note: When our children sleep well, us parents sleep more soundly!  Enjoy this guest blog post from NYC Dads Group member, John Scamardella, as he confesses that he is not the "magician" he thought he was when it comes to sleep training his children. - L.S.

I used to think I had this sleep-training thing all figured out. I strutted around the other parents who were sleep deprived, like a well-rested guru, a “baby-whisperer” if you will. My wife and I had the magic touch when it came to getting my daughter on a sleep schedule. We had read the books, we had our process honed and we were united in our endeavor.

People would say things like, “You’re so lucky.” And I’d take offense to that a little. Surely, my wife and I had a lot to do with training our daughter. She wasn’t naturally like this. We had gotten lots of advice, read books, implemented plans, obviously if we hadn’t done that, Anna wouldn’t be going down to sleep like such a champ. Then, our son, Lucas was born and everything changed.

Aside from having a touch of acid reflux, we’ve now learned that Lucas has eczema, which is a condition that causes the skin to be overly sensitive. Apparently eggs will aggravate Lucas’ condition, as well as dairy in general. Since Sarah is still breast-feeding, (she pumps at work,) she has cut out eggs entirely and also curtailed her overall dairy intake. This is still all very foreign to us. Anna, our daughter, never had these issues.

We started to sleep-train Lucas as we did Anna. The sleep-training process we had adopted was to let the baby cry. One book we had read talked about training your child to “self-sooth.” As long as the baby is fed, comfortable and clean (diaper-wise) we feel it’s helpful to let them “cry it out a bit” in their cribs. With Anna it took three long weeks to get through her crying every time we put her down. Let me explain so you don’t think my wife and I are complete monsters. We’d look at the clock, it was time for a nap, we’d put her down, she’d cry and we’d pace the living room looking at the clock every 5 seconds. If she hadn’t stopped in 15 minutes, one of us would go in there and pick her up and sooth her. Then we’d put her down and repeat the process. This could go on for hours. As the days went by, the pacing decreased and 15 minutes became 30 minutes, 30 minutes became 45 minutes, soon we’d only go back in there to find a sleeping little angel, curled up in her blankets. By the time Anna was two months, she was taking her naps and sleeping with absolutely zero problems. I enjoyed taking the credit for this. And hadn’t we earned it? It’s not easy listening to a baby cry for one minute, let alone an hour. And when it’s yours, all you want is to pick him or her up and sooth.

We started the process with Lucas. We’d put him down, he’d cry and we’d ask those three questions. Is he hungry? No, he ate already. Is he clean? Yes, I just changed him. Is he comfortable? Hmmm. Well, he has acid reflux and egzema so no he’s not comfortable. So now what? We can’t just let him suffer. And thus, our famed sleep-training process had some major flaws. How can we just pace the living room while our son is in there crying and uncomfortable, perhaps even in pain? We tried to train him to “self sooth” even with the ailments and it’s hit or miss. Sometimes he goes down great, other times he simply refuses. It made me realize something. Among other things, it made me realize how arrogant I am.

You see, it wasn’t all that uncommon for couples to ask us advice after seeingour daughter’s progress. I was always happy to tell them what they needed to do. Some couples we advised had success, while others didn’t. The ones that didn’t always gave the excuse, “Well, every baby is different.” I’d smile, nod reassuringly, and hide what I was really thinking. Deep down, I suspected that those couples just weren’t trying hard enough. Because, after all, I knew our system worked. It was proven. I thought we had it all figured out, now I stand before you, humbled. We’ve tried to do the same thing with Lucas andsleep training is just not as black and white as I thought it was.

Incidentally, Lucas is doing much better with his sleep training as we continuously work on curtailing dairy. At first, I didn’t realize just how sensitive he was. One morning, I made myself a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. After eating it, I picked him up and kissed him. He broke out in a rash all over the side of his face. It was then that I realized this egzema was going to affect us all. It’s not easy cutting out dairy, but we’ve come to realize that it’s a necessity. I even made pizza without cheese and it was actually pretty good. We didn’t miss the cheese all that much either. With Anna, we didn’t have to deal with any of these issues. I guess it’s true. Every baby is different.

John Scamardella is Your Stay At Home Dad. He has a three-year-old daughter, Anna and an eight-month-old son, Lucas. Visit them at http://yourstayathomedad.com. Like them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Your-Stay-At-Home-Dad/370874496258886.

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