Hey new moms: My baby, Emily, slept through the night for the past seven nights in a row! Jealous much?
Don’t be. She is almost 18 months old, and I have not had a single full night of sleep in all of that time. I shuffle through life in a perpetual state of hazy, memory-impaired sleep deprivation. I identify with zombies in a whole new light that is not quite wholesome.
These past nights when she didn’t wake to nurse, I still struggled with my own sleeplessness. I woke up, waited for her, drumming my fingers on my pillow.
I’m not sure if I feel thrilled she is sleeping though the night, or offended that she doesn’t want me.
Our son, Jack, didn’t sleep through the night until he was 18 months either. He’s nearly six now- a great sleeper with the exception of the occasional nightmare. We did everything “by the book” and failed miserably when it came to sleep.
I feel qualified to speak about sleep issues because of the experiences we had with our Jack. Some families are blessed with the stereotypical newborn who sleeps nonstop. Jack was what you could call a “non-sleeper”. He was a very alert baby, forever people watching at the great cafe of life.
As a first time mom, I was not educated on cluster feeding and why it is normal and necessary to breast feeding in those early weeks. I cringe to admit there were times that I probably should have had Jack on the boob, but didn’t because he had just eaten or “it wasn’t time yet.” Another part of our perfect sleep storm was a tongue tie caused insufficient latch and poor milk transfer at the breast. He also had acid reflux. The poor guy was always fussy and hungry and awake.
We sorted out feeding and reflux issues, then Jack was in his own bed in his own room at nine weeks of age, as was recommended by his pediatrician. This did not help. He continued waking to nurse at least three times per night.
At six months, we tried the “cry it out” method. Every night for weeks, we listened to him cry and cry for hours on end in the middle of the night. We were urged by the books and his pediatrician to be consistent, keep at it. We were told we must be doing something “wrong” or “inadvertently reinforcing his negative sleep behavior.”
To this day, I swear we didn’t do either of those things, and that it was just Jack’s persistent temperament that kept us up all night.
After months of a losing battle, we couldn’t take anymore. Desperate for some quiet and sleep, we brought him into our bed and co-slept. Not only did we all sleep well, but I loved waking up next to his smiling face in the morning. We co-slept until he was 18 months and magically started sleeping through the night in his own crib.
It kind of goes to show you can screw up at almost every turn and still come out okay.
When Emily came along, I proclaimed I wanted nothing to do with sleep training.
By then, I knew that like stranger anxiety, language development, and potty training, sleep is a developmental milestone. Jack taught me that some kids like to do things in their own good time, and no amount of pressure will help things along.
Jack also taught me that if you look away for one moment, when you look back your child will be older, altered in many wonderful ways, but never again that same little imp who just wants to be close to mama in the night.
I embraced both Emily’s newborn wakefulness and my sleep deprivation and became an accidental “attachment” parent. I wore her during the day in a sling, nursed her on demand around the clocck, and accepted her every need as my command.
As it turned out, she was a mellow baby, took wonderful naps, and didn’t need all that much “training” to reduce her night time wakings to once per night. I swear it had to do with her being worn for hours a day and having a nice, full tummy.
She sleeps in a little crib pushed right up next to my side of the bed. So, when she wakes I pull her into bed with me, nurse her, and put her back. Although I would love it, we do not sleep with her in our bed because she is too wiggly and would probably make her way out of bed to make mischief.
I have persistent mommy-guilt about those nights that we let Jack cry on and on. I wonder how confusing, lonely, and enraging it must have been for him. Everyone we talked to swore by the cry it out method, and as first time parents, we thought we were doing the “right” thing.
I don’t think the “right” thing should feel so “wrong” when it comes to parenting. I wish I had been more in tune with the voice inside of me that said I was doing something dubious to my child.
On the flip side, I’ll never regret getting up to tend to Emily, even the times when I was exhausted and miserable and swearing a little bit about it.
Society makes moms feel like crap if their baby isn’t sleeping through the night by three months. This is another one of those rush-rush-get-it-done issues that makes our culture so warped, in my humble opinion. Truth is, most babies don’t sleep through the night until they are much older and there is nothing wrong with that.
I realize a lot of women are not like me. Some women want their bodies back after they have a baby or don’t believe in co-sleeping (whether in the same bed or just the same room). I also know that many babies do cry it out in three nights and everyone lives happily ever after. I get it. I respect it. But life does not “go back to normal” after having babies. They are awfully exhausting and inconvenient little critters.
We don’t do anyone any good trying to force solitary sleep on a tiny being who was used to being rocked for nine months in a warm cradle of water within us.
I am awestruck by how profoundly fast babyhood passes. I want to savor every moment, even in the middle of the night.
The evil power of sleep-deprivation can not be understated. Once when Jack was only a few weeks old, I was so exhausted I could not balance my check book properly. I freaked out and ran around the house trying to convince my husband that we needed to “sell the baby.”
Thankfully my husband was the voice of reason, but it made me realize why sleep-deprivation is a form of torture. It does feel like torture, and can be dangerous if you are driving around like a drunk, or so impaired you do something to hurt someone. If that is the case for you, get help. Real help. Fast.
Lying there awake next to sleeping Emily, I realized that it is pretty simple. As long as everyone is getting enough sleep to function safely, then these are the only words that you really need to know about sleep training in those early days, months, and years:
This too shall pass.
Because it will pass in its time, and everything will be okay.