Sleep is definitely the most common topic of discussion among my mom friends. Those of us with babies at the 4-5 month mark are noticing changes in sleep patterns that are leaving us bleary-eyed and eager for solutions. (Didn’t it seem like sleep could only get easier after the first few months? Nope. I just read in “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood, “Ultimately you are faced with having to teach and reteach your baby to go to sleep and STAY THERE. This will be your life’s work, in one fashion or another, for the next ten years, so pace yourself.”)
The debate rages on between co-sleeping and the million variations of cry-it-out, and new parents are so sleepy that it’s a tough time to sort through all of it. Some moms rave about their Ferberized baby sleeping through the night. Others are checking into hotels without their babies to try to get a few hours of sleep in a row. A simple cheerful comment from another mom like, “I put the baby down with her pacifier and some white noise and she’s out,” can send me spiraling into doubts about our sleep habits thus far.
As Baby E’s sleep patterns change and we experience more night wakings and nap resistance, I find myself paging through my baby books and googling things like “baby nap strike 4 months.” Overall, he’s been an awesome sleeper from about 8pm to 8am, with maybe 2-3 feedings. Naps have been no problem (if short)–swaddle and bounce has been our go-to for months. But now something is shifting as he matures and becomes more aware–in the past week, we had a couple of nights of waking every 1-2 hours. And for the past two days the only way to get him to sleep is to be in transit in the stroller or Ergo. (Today I tried for 1.5 hours to get him down for a morning nap, to no avail.)
We all go into this with ideas and expectations and our own neuroses, and then a little needy newborn arrives and we figure out as quickly as possible what gets them to sleep and what doesn’t. Clearly, you can’t put a newborn down in a crib awake right out of the gate. Or, maybe someone can, but we’ll ignore that person. More often, they need something else–rocking, swaddling, shushing, bouncing, driving, nursing, etc. Happiest baby on the block. Then you get a few months in, and the experts tell you that you’ve got them hooked on these things–they can’t go to sleep without them! And, annoyingly, they’re right.
When is the right time to break them of these habits? The danger is that the tools become crutches–oh, you nurse your baby to sleep? Oh, your baby requires motion? Oh, your baby takes naps on the go?
Just as in pregnancy and preparing for childbirth, I remind myself that only I know the best plan for E and me. Or–if I don’t know the best plan, I’m still the only one reacting to his actual needs and doing my best with that. While there are moms and babies who are more into schedules and tracking, I am not those moms. Even though my first thought is, “I should be doing that,” it just doesn’t fit. I’m more laid back and resist any rigid rules when it comes to all of it. That isn’t to say that I’m not thinking a lot about sleep and what’s best for E. Just that I purposely try to stay relaxed about it. If it’s basically working for us both, then we’ll stick with it. If it becomes a problem (i.e. baby won’t sleep or I become non-functional from lack of sleep), then we’ll try something new.
I was just reading Dr. Sears’ chapter on sleep in The Baby Book. While his recommendations are couched in language that softens the approach and makes it seem like any decision is fine if it works for you etc. etc. he really makes it sound like any version of cry-it-out is abusive: you are breaking a fragile bond and losing your child’s trust as they scream in the next room. (Meanwhile, we all hear about babies who are sleeping beautifully three nights later.) BUT: every parent IS in charge of determining when they want their child to learn to go to sleep on their own, whether it’s when they’re four months or 2 years or a teenager. (I have a friend who slept in the family bed until she was a teenager and still sleeps with a hot water bottle.) While the ‘training’ process is super hard for all parties (and I do not look forward to it), it’s a necessary step in a child’s development. I wouldn’t want to rob E of knowing how to fall asleep without me. I just think he’s a little small to do it now.
E and I have been co-sleeping since birth, and this works for now (for us!). I love it. I just ordered a siderail for the bed since he’s starting to roll. Ask me again in a few weeks or months when sleep patterns shift further… I see all points of view on this one, and I feel great compassion for those parents who are struggling. My mantra: whatever works. We all love our babies and don’t need added guilt on top of everything else. Whatever works. Sleep, baby, sleep.
Time for bed. xo