The worst night
Two nights ago, I nursed Bumby to sleep, like I always do. Well, I nursed him, then I rocked him, then I placed a sleeping baby into his crib. It was relatively painless. He hadn’t nursed fully, so before I went to bed, I decided to pump. I had a business trip the next day, so I would be away from home for over 16 hours, and I thought an extra bottle couldn’t hurt. At midnight, he woke up. I tried to nurse him, he did not want that. I tried to rock him. He did not want that. I walked around holding him, patting his back. He screamed, and screamed, and screamed. I tried to rock him again. He flung his head backward and bashed it on the arm of the rocking chair, and screamed. I stood up and bounced him, and he kicked me hard enough in the bicep that I almost dropped him. I persevered. Time went by.
My wife came up as I was sobbing, he was screaming, and I was shouting “STOP HURTING ME!” at a baby who was kicking me in the arms and chest while simultaneously pulling my hair. I handed off.
After 20 minutes or so of my wife doing all the same things that had not been working for me, we stopped. We laid our wailing baby in the crib, and she patted his back. He calmed down, we stepped away. He cried again. She patted again. He calmed, we stepped away, we left the room. This went on, and on, and on. Sometimes, patting didn’t work, and we picked him up. Once, I went in to pat and he stood up, wailed, and clung to my arm with the most pathetic face I have ever seen. I picked him up, he calmed, and I set him down. Repeat, repeat. When he got particularly wail-ey, and wouldn’t be soothed by holding or patting, we set him down and decided to give him 30 seconds. We stood outside his door talking about whether we were okay with how this was going. We are both adamantly opposed to letting him cry it out. This wasn’t that, but it wasn’t always far off either, especially at that moment when we were standing outside his door as he cried. It was only a short while, a minute at most, but it was probably the first time in his life when we had not responded to his cry. Listening to us outside of his door, he quieted. It was around 2 am.
At 2:15, we were lying in bed, and listening to Bumby make all kinds of little baby mouth sounds over the monitor. He was not crying, just chirping to himself, chewing his fingers, occasionally amusing himself enough to giggle a bit. And then….. he just wasn’t. It took 2 1/2 hours, but he went back to sleep on his own, alone, in his room. At 4, he woke, and I nursed him. He fell asleep easily after nursing, and I put him back in his crib. I got up an hour later and went on my business trip with a solid 2 1/2 hours of sleep under my belt. It was the worst night he has had since he was born.
The next day, I fretted. I was away from my baby for his morning nursing for the first time ever. He had fallen asleep alone in a dark room for the first time ever. Did he feel abandoned by me? Was he angry? Was he doing okay? I have read all the sleep research, and I agree with Dr. Sears on this point — If you do something to get your baby to sleep, and he’s not himself the next day, he’s telling you that what you tried wasn’t okay with him. But I was away! Was he okay with what we had tried? I didn’t know.
I called home, and learned that he had been happy all day. He took a nice long nap in the morning, over 2 hours, to catch up on some of the sleep he missed overnight. He ate well, he played, he laughed. He was okay. I was not, but that was for me to work on. After all this, I am not sure I was ready for a baby who didn’t need me multiple times in the night, a baby who would only nurse once. But the way things were going clearly weren’t good for him, so we had to try this.
The best night
That night, we committed ourselves to staying the course. I would nurse and rock Bumby to sleep like usual, but if he woke in the night before 4 am, he had to go back to sleep on his own. We would help him calm down, but going back to sleep was his job. We set the stage for him. I gave him his reflux medicine, and he ate dinner. I put him in his jammies and changed his diaper. I put a couple drops of a fennel/catnip natural gas drop that we just got onto his pacifier. I turned on his nightlights and his heater so his room was dim and cozy. I sat down to nurse him, and he was PISSED OFF. Just like in the middle of the night the night before, he would not nurse, he would not be soothed by rocking. I thought about it, and realized that I had just nursed him about 2 hours before, because the business trip had thrown off my nursing and pumping schedule. So I got a small bottle, maybe 2oz of milk, and gave him that instead. He sucked it down, snuggled into my belly, and drifted off to sleep, just like that. I picked him up and set him in his crib, no drama. He stayed asleep.
He woke at 10:30 or so, and I gave him back his pacifier. He rolled onto his side, and went back to sleep. Thanks, mama.
He woke at 12:30 wanting to nurse, but no dice. My wife went up, and patted him. He screamed louder — you are not mama, and you do not have milk for me! She stepped out for a second. He calmed almost immediately as she stood outside his door. She came down, and we went back to sleep and so did he.
He woke at 4:45. I snuggled in the big bed with him and nursed him. He drank a full meal, rolled onto his back, and went to sleep. I roused him to burp, then put him back in his crib. He snuggled in, grabbed his blankie, sighed, and went back to sleep. I went back to bed myself.
He woke at 7:45 with a diaper full of poop and a smile on his face. He slept over 10 hours, and woke up three times. This is the best night we have had in months.
We are committed now. We will make him as comfortable as possible so that sleep will come easier for him. We will help him get to sleep at the start of the night, with a full belly and a comfortable room and even some rocking to help him transition from his busy day to his nighttime. If he wakes at 4am or later, he can have a snack. But if he wakes before that, or if he doesn’t fall asleep nursing, going back to sleep is his job. We will always respond if he cries, and he will never be left to cry himself to sleep, but in the middle of the night he goes in his crib awake, because he needs to go back to sleep on his own.
I am sure we will have more setbacks, more nights like the worst night before we have more nights like the best night. But for the first time I have some hope. I think his reflux medicine is working, and I think his gas drops are working, and I think he’s finally comfortable. He liked the bottle at bedtime, so if it seems like there is not enough milk to nurse, he can have another one if he wants so that he goes to bed with a belly full of milk and can make it to 4am. I love putting him to bed gently and having him fall asleep in my arms. I love nursing him once in the night, so I am in no rush to night-wean completely, but a partial night-wean and some self-soothing in the middle of the night seem to be good for him. And also good for me.