Ferber Details

It’s been a hot minute, but the real Natalie has a specific request for Ferber details. As if I can remember that long ago! Her sweet nugget is giving the house hell, so in the spirit of “here’s what worked for us,” I present to you: How We Ferber-ed, The Follow Up.

The first thing we did was agree that we wanted to try sleep training, picked the specific method, and decided on when to start. This part is very important if you’re not a single parent– make sure you’re on the same page with your partner since it will likely involve higher emotions for at least a few nights. We both had copies of the Ferber schedule we’d be trying, and I was very up front with my husband about how I dreaded feeling sad about the baby likely being sad. (Spoiler alert: our son was SO much less upset than I’d feared. But talking it out helped ease my mind!) We picked a date that we’d start Ferber-ing, and we went into it as a team.

Secondly, we sleep trained after baby was moved into his own room. I’m not a sleep training expert, but I assume that’s an important part of most methods since you’re baby is not dumb and knows where you are (in the room) and what you’re doing (not comforting them) which will likely make ’em real mad.

The first night, we gave the baby his last bottle, then laid him in his crib. This was already a huge change since we’d gotten to the point of needing so many sleep crutches to get baby to bed: bottle in mouth, swaying/ rocking just so, sound machine– a whole song and dance that, if interrupted, meant starting all over to get baby’s eyes to close. He was out of a swaddle at this point and had been sleeping in a Merlin Magic Sleep Suit for about a month. We still used the sound machine, but that was it– no placating with a pacifier, no special rocking or singing before bed. We closed the door and he cried for three minutes until it was our allotted time to go in and comfort him.

Comforting with Ferber doesn’t mean picking up and rocking, just putting a hand on them so they know you’re there and that it’s ok. It felt a little silly, and of course I wanted to pick him up and let him know YOU ARE STILL LOVED, I HOPE THIS ISN’T PSYCHOLOGICALLY DAMAGING YOU!!!! but we held strong. We only did the soothing for maybe 30 seconds, then left again for a bit longer crying interval. He made it to the next stage of fussing/ crying for five minutes– I think my husband went in to do the soothing that time– and then something magical happened. He fell asleep before we ever hit the next interval (it would have been 10 minutes, which would have admittedly been tough on my heart to ignore.)¬†

He didn’t sleep through the night immediately, but when he did wake up for a bottle later that night, we started the intervals again, and he fell asleep by himself even faster. We followed the Ferber Method schedule for three nights– he never cried more than 20 minutes total– and then he had his first night of sleeping through the night! (<– There aren’t enough exclamation points in the world for how that feels.) The times when he’d cry, I’d tell myself we were helping him learn a valuable life skill: soothing himself to sleep, which he still uses to this day. He figured out how to stick the first two fingers of his right hand in his mouth and calm himself to sleep.

That was seven months ago (crazy to think about) and it truly has changed our lives. Our son did not sleep for his first four months of life. Now he’s a champion sleeper, and we recommend Ferber to anyone who asks because it’s what worked¬†for us. Once we trusted that he really was a through-the-night sleeper, we muted the baby monitor. If he was really awake in the night upset about something, we could hear him from our room and go soothe his nightmare or get him a bottle. We found, though, that there were times he’d wake himself up and fuss or talk to himself for a bit, but then put himself back to sleep. We were waking up because the monitor was on, but then realized he was doing his own thing in there and we didn’t need to be waking up along with him every time he was in a light sleep cycle.

He has since moved out of the Merlin and into a zip-up, sleeveless Halo sleep sack that’s become his go-to sleep association. He knows if he’s going into the sack, he’s heading to sleep for a nap or the night! He’ll sometimes fuss going into it, but quickly pops his fingers into his mouth or starts chewing on the top of the sack and pipes right down. Sometimes he gets a bottle, depending on his feeding schedule, then we turn on the sound machine, lay him down and leave. He falls asleep within 3-5 minutes, if not immediately. If we hear him stirring later, we make sure he’s truly awake and not going to put himself back to sleep before going in and getting him.

Good luck, Natalie. You have a bright future of much better sleep ahead!

Baby Sleep

The real, actual Natalie texted me this weekend– not pics of her kid, as I would have appreciated, not to ask how I’m doing as a person, but to demand “Do a sleep blog next.” Apparently her baby is a pretty good sleeper, she’s just “curious about your experience.” And I didn’t even pay her to say that! So here we go. Baby sleep: a touchy subject for anyone going through the absolute hell of sleepless nights.

People tell you babies don’t sleep well (but shouldn’t they be really great at it because they need so much of it??) It’s one of those things pre-motherhood that I conceptually had knowledge of, but truly had no idea about until living through it. I’d had a few nights of little sleep in college, we’d be fine- right? IT WASN’T FINE.

Day one, my kid didn’t sleep. We even asked one of the nurses, “He should nap at some point, right?” She said on their first day of life, things are kind of exciting out of the womb so it wasn’t that unusual. Him not napping on the second day should have been a red flag. Him not sleeping for the next four months was truly hell. My brand became Exhausted Mom Who Complains About How Exhausted She Is on Instagram. It wasn’t cute. But when you’re going through it, when you’re falling asleep during middle of the night feedings and don’t feel safe operating a vehicle during the day because you’ve had so little sleep, you don’t care about cute.

“It’ll get better.” It’s what we heard from everyone. When? HOW?! How do I make it better tonight?? We tried all kinds of swaddles, we tried rocking, we tried him in a bassinet, we tried him in a cradle, we bought online sleep courses, and he slept way more nights on his Boppy than the “don’t let your baby sleep on this” tag on the Boppy Lounger would allow. Just never a great night of sleep. He’d be up every 2-3 hours to eat, long after everyone including his pediatrician said he should be able to make it much longer than that. After eating, he wouldn’t exactly conk immediately back out. Plus he had bad reflux, so we were instructed to hold him upright for 20 minutes after eating.

The longest stretch we once got was four hours, then it didn’t happen again. On the worst night, he was up crying about every 45 minutes (so never really sleeping) and I lost. my. shit. I entered our guest room, where my husband was attempting to get some sleep before work, sobbing so hard he thought something really horrible had happened to the baby. Headaches from lack of sleep were my constant companion. He wasn’t clocking a ton of daytime nap hours, so I truly was concerned that this kid was missing out on very important sleep.

I spent so much time awake at night with him thinking there’s no way in the world we could ever have another child because I didn’t want to experience this again. When you haven’t slept, everything else goes to shit. Lack of sleep absolutely contributed to my postpartum anxiety. My husband and I would do shifts between our room with the baby and the guest room, and I stewed in resentments towards him at 4 a.m. that he was in there getting good sleep because he had a job to report to in the mornings.

There’s not really glamorous advice for this period of your life, other than to ask for help and prioritize getting sleep when you can. If you have relatives or a neighbor who can watch the baby so you can attempt a nap during the day, don’t feel bad making the ask. It will make you proud and sad how you’re able to adapt and function on so much less than you ever thought possible.

Things did change for us at four months we when decided to try the Ferber Method. There’s many kinds of sleep training, and there’s many vocal opponents of it online, but it’s what worked for us. Our kid took to it so much more quickly than we’d imagined, and it completely changed our lives. As my husband said about a week in, “If there was a Ferber Foundation, I’d give them all of my money.” (If someone from the real or imaginary Ferber Foundation is reading this– that was a joke. You cannot have our money.)

We transitioned him to a Merlin Magic Sleep Suit at about three months, and while it wasn’t the panacea everyone promised it would be, it did help him create a sleep association with being put in it before sleep. He now sleeps in a sleep sack at nights and clocks about 11 hours at night with 3-4 naps during the day. It was absolute hell to get here, but like so many other things with parenting, the only way out is through. It’s not like we could give him back to the hospital because we’d created a sleep-hating demon (a cute one, at least) so we just did what we had to do. If you’re currently where we were and know me IRL, I’m not joking when I say you can shoot me a text and I will come hold your baby while you sleep. If you’ve got a guest bedroom, I can even do some night hours if they’re drinking out of a bottle (though that might cost you a six-pack of beer as payment.)

Resentment

Ooh la la– sharing the first ever image on this here non-mommy blog. I saw this on @expectingandempowered’s Instagram this morning and thought, “How did @psychedmommy get into my head and put my thoughts into a photo?!”

Maybe not all of these will ring true for you in parenthood, but it’s likely many of them will. Resentment towards your partner after the baby comes is inevitable, no matter how much you think you two are the exception. As the birthing person, the baby will need you more. Period. You are biologically hardwired to do more for the baby. Things will come naturally to you– stuff you’ve never once thought of before and didn’t even know were buried in your animal brain– that won’t come as easily to your partner. This will cause resentment.

The baby needing you for food while your partner sleeps soundly will cause a well of anger deeper in your sleep-deprived soul than you ever thought possible. The fact that your partner gets to leave the house unencumbered while you have a maxi pad the size of a canoe between your legs and your boobs are leaking and you don’t know why the baby’s crying but you do know that leaving the house is just not possible will make you seethe with jealousy. I describe it as my husband getting to cut & paste an adorable baby into his normal life while everything in my life changed on the cellular level. This is likely an unfair description, and some day it would be worth getting my husband’s perspective (he felt helpless & unsure of himself & also sleep deprived) but it takes a far more evolved person than me to not get petty as hell about, “How could you possibly have not noticed he needs a new diaper????”

My biggest advice is to communicate. Say it aloud. I absolutely told my husband more than once, “I was up at 4:00 really resenting you.” “I’m feeling very angry at you right now.” He’s allowed to talk back– it is supposed to be a dialogue– but the important thing is getting it out. Feeling resentment, then feeling bad about feeling resentment so keeping it inside and beating up on yourself, is a surefire way to cause more problems down the road for both your relationship and your mental health. This isn’t carte blanche to verbally berate whomever is helping you out with baby, but your feelings are valid and putting them out in the open takes away a lot of the weight immediately.

Your partner will eventually say something innocent like, “I’m so tired.” It is at this point you will weigh the pros and cons of committing first degree murder. You will wonder how someone could be so shockingly insensitive as to say to you, the NEW MOTHER, the MOST TIRED PERSON EVER, that they’re short on sleep. Try to be a decent human being in this moment. You being tired doesn’t negate your partner’s tiredness. It’s not a contest. It’s not fair to expect your partner to not also be open about what they’re going through (lack of sleep, stress of the baby, wanting to connect as a couple) because it might set you off into a “well I’m the most tired” rage. That’s not a cute look.

Beware of becoming a martyr. When you are doing the most– because you are, and it’s hard not to notice– don’t take on even more things because “well I’m doing it all anyway and he’s a piece of shit and if I continue to not ask for help I will eventually have a laundry list of things to throw back at him.” Believe me, that vindication feels good! It feels great to demand to be seen for all you have sacrificed. But what feels even better is asking for help and acknowledging when you feel put upon instead of one day boiling over from burnout. Remember, everyone involved is feeling fragile and no one is at their best. One day you’ll look back on The Cottage Cheese Incident as a fun marital story to laugh about even though you went to bed not talking to each other that night. (How in the F*CK was I supposed to know the seal on the cottage cheese was broken when I bought it and what the HELL do you want me to do about it now?!)

Indispensable Baby Items

There’s only a billion lists already in existence of things to put on your registry, so I figured the Internet could use one more. Much like the pregnancy resources post, I’ll edit this one as I think of more things, and your comments are welcome on what your baby has loved since mine is a diva and doesn’t care for most of the things we were told he would. Below is what, three months post-baby, we’re glad we ended up getting or have used way more than we expected.

  • Boppy Lounger: Every parent I asked said to get the Boppy Lounger instead of the regular Boppy, and they were right. (Boppy Lounger is a place to put them vs. Boppy is a breastfeeding pillow thing that’s supposed to wrap around you.) I actually purchased this item very late into my pregnancy because I had a registry discount to use. I was very, “I’m a chill mom and don’t need things and can totally put my baby on the couch or floor, why would he need a special pillow?” Turns out babies don’t really love being put on the floor! You need a supportive place to put them. Even at three months, as he’s getting kinda long for it, we’re sucking every last day of life out of this Boppy. I almost wish we’d have gotten two so we weren’t carrying it up and down the stairs with us, depending on where the baby was lounger (champagne problems.)
  • Nose Frida: We have a congested kid. Due to reflux + winter + genetics, this baby is not short on snot. I first used the Nose Frida about a week after he came home from the hospital, and we haven’t put it down since. You probably won’t use it 2-3 times a day, but we do & have started buying the replacement filters in bulk. If you have at least a two parent household, one of you will likely become the Frida parent (me) and one of you will be either grossed out by it or a very dainty sucker (husband.) Always use the spray saline first– it does help loosen nose gunk to make it easier to remove– and if you burn through that bottle as fast as we did, your pediatrician should have some free saline tubes to give you. Pro tip if you have to use it as much as we do: wait for baby to sneeze, then pounce on that as your golden Frida opportunity.
  • Some type of swaddle. My kingdom for a simple swaddle solution out of the gate!! You can absolutely swaddle baby in a blanket– ask the nurses to show you before you leave the hospital– but it’s 2021, honey, and the world has better solutions (and you’ll be less likely to be awake in the middle of the night wondering if they’ve suffocated themselves in the blanket if you get a wearable one.) If you have friends who have babies- ask to borrow some swaddles to see what works for your kid. Our kid is the world’s youngest Cirque de Soleil performer and can get out of absolutely anything. We thought Velcro swaddles would be a solution, but he was absolutely irate to be so pinned down (but only at night! sometimes they worked during naps?) But then he came back around and they became a magic sleep solution for a couple weeks during his third month?? There is no one perfect solution for every baby, so be prepared for some trial & error.
  • Musical mobile: I forget why I was on the fence about getting a mobile (as any expecting parent reading this already knows, there IS such a thing as too much research– I’m sure I fell down some dark web rabbit hole about Illuminati mobiles.) We ended up registering for this one from Target because I thought it’d look cute in his dino-themed room. It absolutely doesn’t help our kid go to sleep, but it does buy me 10-15 minutes of alone time when I can lay him in the crib and he’s fascinated by it. I would recommend getting a moving musical one for maximum distraction effect and not one of those twee Pinterest ones you overpay someone to make with branches from their backyard.

None of the above links are affiliate links because I’m too lazy to even figure out how to do that.