October 17, 2011

How Sleep Trained Us

Brief historical overview of my feelings about "sleep training" (a phrase which I have since come to hate):

Before I Had A Baby: "Oh yes, I will sleep train, my baby will cry it out, I must preserve my night time or I will go insane!"

Shortly After Having A Baby: "I could never, in a million trillion zillion years, listen to my baby cry or fuss in her crib without me because my heart will simply break of sadness! I can live on less sleep than any other human organism if I have to!"

Eight Months Later: "We might have to try and sort of maybe kind of work on her sleeping habits a teeny bit because me and my boobies need some sleep more sleep never enough sleep I'm tired."

Today: "What we're doing is working…but we're not doing anything…and sometimes it doesn't work. Awww crap she won't be a baby forever bring me a caffeinated beverage."

After I had the baby, I was really shocked at how quickly people started asking things like "how does she sleep?" "is she a good sleeper?' "is she sleeping through the night yet?" And in all those questions, both consciously and subconsciously, people were judging. Rating. Assessing. My answers to those questions, I began to realize, supposedly revealed the personality of my baby, the style of my parenting, my mettle as a mother.

There are, I think, a few babies that sleep so much and so easily and nothing ever happens to change that and their mother likes to talk about it all the time so much never stopping:  'Oh little Jo-Jo is such a good sleeper, I just made sure to do x, y and z from day one and that was all I had to do and now I am always well rested and on the ball!'

Maybe those babies are as rare as an ivory-billed woodpecker, or perhaps they are more like…

Unicorn-1846

 

…unicorns (and/or the mothers are more like embellishers of the truth).

Either way, if your baby isn't like little Jo-Jo take heart in knowing you are not alone. Not by a long shot. (Bold, underlines from S. I couldn't help it.  Sing it, sister.)

From what I've discerned, most babies are kind of just somewhere in the middle of the unicorn-always-sleeps and the nightmare-never-sleeps. Grows in and out of stages, starts to sleep better, finally takes to the crib, gets a tooth, gets a cold, gets over it, sleeps better, has a bad night, has a bad week, and so on and so on until suddenly the baby is some kind of teenager and you can't get it out of bed in the morning to save your life.

My attitude towards the baby's sleep habits is actually a point of pride for me as a mother. Overall, Dave and I have been really intuitive in our approach. We kept her in our room until the sounds of her sleeping kept us up, and the sounds of us sleeping woke her up. We let her sleep in our bed for stretches of each night and some mornings for as long as we/she wanted…and then we didn't anymore. We swaddled until she was rolling, which led us to discover she was a stomach sleeper. We rocked her to sleep for naps. I nursed her to sleep for bedtime. We moved her bed time when she gave us signals, we answered her call (screams) through sleep regressions and growth spurts and new teeth and stomach pain. We did whatever was working and stopped what wasn't. Sometimes it took us a while to figure out what that meant. Not simple, but usually effective.

And gradually, steadily, the amount of sleep we got did improve. Does improve. Sleep deprived parents of new babies make bargains: If we could only sleep 2 hours straight/4 hours straight/6 hours straight during this blasted growth spurt/tooth/cold oh my god child…then we'd be better able to cope. If we could only have a few hours to ourselves in the evening. If I could sleep all the way through the night…just once.

DSC_0809Now, despite all this very calm, intuitive, perspective driven parenting we've done, I'd be a lying liar if I didn't tell you that in the dark, deep, depths of the night after hourly wakings or endless fussing I have said some very, very bad things. Things said out of frustration and exhaustion and fear that I'm doing this all wrong. F-bombs have been dropped, pillows have been on the receiving end of my screams, unfair
accusations have been hurled between Dave and I as we blame each other for everything, anything and mostly our own sleeplessness. Those nights are the worst. And yet somehow, even after those nights, you wake up in the morning and things are fine. Caffeine exists and your baby is the cutest ever born and your spouse is your partner not your enemy.

Overall, we don't complain about the sleep habits of our child because we know there is always someone going through something worse (S and M both raise hands). Most nights, at this point, she only wakes once. Most times, we lay her in bed awake and she just talks herself to sleep. But I also don't brag, because other times she is up over and over all night long, needs to be rocked into a coma and set down gently like a bomb about to go off. I don't know what this means or how we did it. So we try not to boast or bemoan…just in case jinxes are real.

I don't know the best way to help you help your baby to sleep more, other than to trust your gut. If something feels wrong, don't do it. If it feels right, do it. If something works for months but then isn't anymore, move on. If the methods/books/incantations that your friends swear by don't work for you, forget it. If you're tired, that's normal. If you're afraid you're never going to sleep again, you're not alone but you are mistaken. So I'm told.

I do know the truth about all those premature, nosey, judging questions about how much your baby sleeps. They don't mean anything.

If your baby sleeps well and easily I am honestly so happy for you, but it doesn't mean you are better mother than the rest or that your baby is 'good'. It means your baby is relaxed and you are lucky.

If you have a baby who is trying to kill you slowly by fighting sleep at every turn, it does not mean you are a bad mother or that your baby is 'difficult'. It means your baby is spirited and you are going to laugh about this someday. 

That's it. Move on. No more internal dialogue on failure, that's the exhaustion talking.

Sleepingv

– Lane

*********

Want to read more from Lane?  Check her out here….and psst – she's now in Japan! 


 

40 Comments
  • Shannon@Chickens in My Kitchen
    October 17, 2011

    YES. Yes yes yes yes. You hit the nail right on the head. I’m betting this post is going to be sooo helpful for a lot of new moms.
    Ladies, after four children, it has been my experience that people LIE about how their babies sleep. Not everyone does, of course, but enough people that it becomes noticeable. (They also tend to change their stories depending on the conversation).
    Do what feels right to you and your baby! You will live through this, I promise. It does pass. You will not regret listening to your intuition.

  • Emily
    October 17, 2011

    Yes! Absolutely! I cringe whenever I hear people asking this question, because it so often leads to discussions of sleep training and crying it out…ugh. We’ve done sleep with our three boys just about the same way you describe, and yeah it is hard sometimes, but now the youngest is a 3yo and guess what, they all sleep just fine. :)

  • Annika
    October 17, 2011

    I have a 5 week old right now, and this was very encouraging. It’s good to know my frustration is “normal.” Thank you.

  • Erica
    October 17, 2011

    I nearly stood up and did an “amen, sister!” at “Things said out of frustration and exhaustion and fear that I’m doing this all wrong…and your baby is the cutest ever born and your spouse is your partner not your enemy.” This is so absolutely true. I’m so glad it’s not just us.

  • E.
    October 17, 2011

    Great post. People do lie! And often it’s the women who you trust to give you the honest truth – other mothers. Most of the time I think it’s that their memories of their children’s early days are a little revisionist. But it sure does many us new mothers feel lousy, cursed, alone… not a great feeling.
    One other point – sometimes people think that “sleep training” consists solely of “crying it out”. After 4 months of colic and no sleep, we followed the guidelines in Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, which most would consider “sleep training”. It was clear from the getgo that this would be the best thing for our family, it worked right away and completely changes our lives.
    In this case, the “training” is more about about watching for tired signals and respecting your child’s biological sleep rhythms and needs than it is about crying. When people marvel at how well our little one sleeps, I make sure they know that it didn’t happen on its own, we worked (and continue to work) really hard for it. We make it a priority. Like you, this is a point of pride for me!
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’re right – you have to do what works for you and your family – not everyone will choose the same path. I just wish folks wouldn’t assume that sleep training = crying it out. It can be a very valuable, healthy tool in the right circumstances.

  • Lauren
    October 17, 2011

    Loved reading it, thank you for saying it. Have two kids and have done combinations of crib, co-sleeping, nursing to sleep, not nursing to sleep, babywearing to sleep, etc. Eventually, time passes, kids grow and ultimately sleep no matter what you do or do not do. Mine seem to take a few years to figure it all out. Nothing lasts forever, there’s a broad spectrum of “normal” with respect to everything human, including sleep. Babyhood is short, pass the coffee.

  • aly
    October 17, 2011

    Thank you for this! My son is nine months old and I can honestly say I have not slept more than two hours in a row since he was born. Some nights are okay and some nights suck and it changes every week. I try to just go with the flow and tell myself that he won’t be little forever and won’t want to cuddle at my boob forever and I will eventually be able to sleep on my stomach again. How unfair is that…couldn’t sleep on my stomach while pregnant and STILL can’t sleep on my stomach because someone needs my boob THISCLOSE at all times or there will be no sleep at all. I think my kid just has a lot of needs at night…maybe he will eventually sleep all night. Maybe he won’t. Thank God for coffee.

  • Lane
    October 17, 2011

    @Annika, I promise it will get better! Then worse, but then better again. :) Five weeks is so early on, I remember then thinking I would never, ever sleep again and I was wrong. For the most part.
    @E., We have used Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child for reference too. So far I’ve found that there is no one book that can answer all my worries, but some of the details in that book about the length of time a baby can generally be awake (by age) really helped us hone in on Vesper’s cues so we could ‘help’ her sleep better. I’m so glad you feel this way, too!
    @Erica, Sometimes I wonder why very few of my other friends admit to such nighttime rants? It’s not the same as saying you don’t love your child, it’s saying I love my child enough to vent my anger sometimes.
    @aly, You are so right, I tell myself that sometimes when I’m rocking her or nursing her AGAIN, etc…someday I will miss these days so much it will make me cry! Coffee, cola, tea…on the worst days after a long night sometimes I lay on the floor with a pillow and just let the baby crawl all over me while barely moving! Whatever works! :)

  • Em
    October 17, 2011

    Just wanted to say- I was one of those moms who misled others when asked if she was sleeping through the night. I never said she did, but I said things like, “We’re getting a lot of sleep” and “She’s a good sleeper,” because both were relatively true and I found that most people only asked because they a) were trying to make conversation and didn’t know what else to talk about besides sleep, or b) wanted to give me advice about how she should be crying it out, which I don’t agree with. Babies who sleep through the night early on probably shouldn’t be (it can lead to slow weight gain and low milk supply for a bf’ing mama), and it likely won’t last- just as nothing in parenting does. If you really want to ask a mama how she looks so well rested, a better way to find out the truth is to ask about nighttime parenting tips. That, or ask where she got her undereye concealer :)

  • S
    October 17, 2011

    Gang, I obviously LOVED this post. Amazing that Lane got it SO right on, SO early. It took me a couple of years. :) But @Aly – Hang in there chicky. I don’t have any words of wisdom, just understanding and support. For whatever it’s worth, Raines nursed, every 2-3 hours at night until he was almost 18 months old. We didn’t drop the middle of the night feeding until he was almost 2. Yowza. But my instincts told me he wasn’t ready, so we just figured it out. And now? The kid sleeps like a champ. It just would’ve been nice to know, a few years back, that his truly sh*tty sleeping habits didn’t indicate bad parenting or a lifelong problem. :)

  • Jessica B
    October 17, 2011

    I think Lane crawled inside my head and wrote about my life and thoughts for the past 8 months! I think I am glad nobody told me about the lack of sleep before the baby came- I think I wouldn’t have been able to handle the enormity of it. But the biggest things Ive learned as a mama is to trust your instincts (really, what else do you have to go on? books contradict other books!), and take it 1 day at a time. Thank you for this post- makes me feel better about nighttime parenting!

  • Anitra
    October 17, 2011

    Yes, yes, yes! My first was such a good sleeper and I really expected #2 would be, too. Of course, I was wrong. He isn’t a BAD sleeper… But at 9 months, I am SO BEYOND frustrated when he still regularly wakes up screaming at all hours. We just keep on with what seems to work best, and I am trying not to complain… not even in “private”, because my three year old hears everything.

  • Kristy
    October 18, 2011

    Thank you. This post meant the world to me.

  • Sarah
    October 18, 2011

    Ok. So I have a baby who sleeps. I used a book called Save Our Sleep. The author is very strict about what to do and when. I have built in flexibility around her advice. But it was a lot and I mean alot of work in the first few weeks to train him to self settle. I did the same with my first child who is now 4 1/2. She started sleeping thru at about 16 weeks consistently. My son started sleeping thru after he started solids about 20 weeks. Can I please suggest this book to you? The author is Tizzie Hall. She has great advice about tired signs and how to get your child to self settle. It worked for me but then I have been very consistent in following her advice.

  • Katie
    October 18, 2011

    My son slept through the night starting at 2 months. It was amazing, but my husband reminded me as we went to bed, for the whole night, “This isn’t because of anything we did or didn’t do.” And it’s a good thing he realized that early, because from 4 months to 2 years our son did not make it through the night once. :)

  • Roberta
    October 18, 2011

    That was a really lovely, sweet, thoughtful post. A welcome relief from the litany of sleep & parenting “absolutes” and “musts” and rules that drive me crazy. We had a very similar approach to you, and while there may have been some small things I would have done differently, I’m glad I did what we did. I try to cherish every early-morning and way-too-early morning snuggle with my daughter in our bed, because it won’t be this way forever.

  • Julie
    October 18, 2011

    Love this post! I have 3 kids and they all pretty much did the same type of thing. At first I felt like I was up every hour, then they got older and they were up every 3 hours or so, then every 4-5 hours, then woke up once a night. Somewhere between 9-12 months they started sleeping all night.
    I never wanted to use any of the sleep training methods and they didn’t feel right to me.

  • kim
    October 18, 2011

    I’m one of those liars…I lie to my pediatrician every time about sleep!! Of course I put him down awake and let him self sooth; no, we only feed him once over night…
    Whatever, we too followed Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits and did the rocking/bomb laying until one day it became clear that the rocking didn’t work anymore. I put him in the crib, he looked at me, grabbed his blankie, rolled on his side, let out a yelp and went to sleep. Even when its not that easy, its generally gotten easier/better/more sleep filled over the last 7 months.
    Thanks for this, I was afraid for so long to admit the degree to which we rocked to sleep, nursed to sleep and co-slept!

  • Jess Jones
    October 18, 2011

    WORD.

  • Olivia
    October 18, 2011

    This is beautiful. Sleep training, no. Listening to your baby and your heart, yes.

  • JL
    October 18, 2011

    I LOVED this post. Thank you!
    My son slept through the night for the first time at 3 1/2 years old, and my daughter is well on her way to the same. But we do the best we can to get the most sleep possible for everyone, with love and creativity and flexibility. And then they grow older, and you wish you could cuddle with them in the middle of the night just one more time…

  • Eos Mom
    October 18, 2011

    I ask new moms how they are sleeping because I know that’s the hardest part (at least it was for me) so I mean to be a listening ear if they want to complain–your post has me rethinking that strategy lest I come off as judging. Anyway, my first child didn’t sleep through the night For A Whole Year but my second slept from 12-5am at about 3 weeks old, Hallelujah (not that she didn’t/doesn’t give me plenty of other troubles) so I certainly don’t credit parenting, good or bad, with sleep or lack thereof!!!

  • April Driver
    October 18, 2011

    Thank you! I needed to read this today. My husband is literally on the other side of the planet on a three week business trip. Meanwhile, my almost three-year-old is fighting bedtime and has decided he doesn’t need naps while my 8 month old is teething. I am exhausted and grumpy and needed a reminder that this too shall pass.

  • Lane
    October 18, 2011

    @Sarah, Thanks for the recommendation! Glad it worked for you! And hopefully it can help someone else!
    @Katie, Glad your husband had that much perspective, but it must have been hard not to try and do a little celebratory dance…I know when I sleep through the night SOMEDAY! :)
    @EosMom, Asking because you are concerned/commiserating is great! If someone asked me ‘how are you sleeping? it’s rough isn’t it? sometimes it’s just awful, sometimes it’s fine, nothing much affects it, etc.’ I would have felt supported, not judged. Good on you!
    @AprilDriver, Hang in there mama! My husband just got back from a 10 day trip out of country, and of course during that time the baby got a stomach bug with naturally disrupted all the sleep. It’s like their body knows JUST when you’re alone….
    Thanks for all the comments, mamas! Such a great reminder for us to support each other, how really refreshing honesty can be!

  • Beth Kulick
    October 18, 2011

    This is wonderful Lane, thank you! And this post is exactly why I love this blog! I found it a few weeks ago and since have transformed myself from a rather self-neglecting devoted mom into a totally hot and fabulous devoted mom. I can’t even say enough thanks! Fashion has never been my thing and though I always wanted to look and feel great I just don’t have that knack so finding it here all easy to access and put together is amazing.
    As a seasoned mother of three I can say that I agree whole-heartedly with your post here. My husband and I found the most satisfaction keeping our children close to us at night. I try to encourage moms to keep an open mind about sleep arrangements and be creative in problem solving. We used two beds on the floor of our “sleeping room” pushed together to make one great big sleeping space for a few years and loved it. Our arrangement in the sleeping room currently has our older two sleeping in bunk beds and the baby in the king bed on the floor with us. The hubs and I have a nice Master bedroom set up for our adult activities ;-) This arrangement meets all of our needs. Also, Elizabeth Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution is a great book that supports your ideas here and simply teaches parents about baby sleep cycles (supported by James McKenna from Notre Dame’s Mother- Baby Sleep Lab) and gives some insight and tips to improve sleep- no training or crying involved.
    Thanks again!

  • Jess
    October 18, 2011

    I love the idea that it is nothing you do or don’t do that makes them ‘sleep through the night’. I have 3 kids that we approached sleep issues 3 very different ways. Guess what, they all slept through the night at around 10 months! Wish I knew that with the first one and could have skipped the guilt. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the ‘solution’ when I could have been enjoying him.

  • Audrey M.
    October 18, 2011

    Can I just say A-freaking-MEN!!! And THANK YOU!!! As a mom who had the “I never sleep thankyouverymuch now let me throw up if you try to leave me in here” kid…and then the “screams all day long but sleeps like a baby” kid I never heard the END of people giving me advice on either one. Drove me NUTS. And thanks for acknowledging the *cough* slight *Cough* insanity that settles in on the sleep deprived. My pillows have never forgiven me.

  • No Drama Mama
    October 19, 2011

    Hit the nail on the head. If anyone ever says their baby sleeps through the night every.single.night, I think that person is lying or their baby has something wrong with it. All babies go through so many phases. My daughter is a great sleeper, I think, but every time she goes through ANYTHING (teeth, walking, learning a new word, whatever), my husband says she never sleeps, how will we live, how much more can we take, blah blah blah. And then a day or so later she is back on her normal routine! Having a baby taught me, more than anything, that nothing lasts forever, and that’s a damn good thing.

  • Sherry R.
    October 19, 2011

    I just want to simply say Thank You! Your post encompasses so much of my current experiences, thoughts and feelings. It was perfect timing for me to read – and I will be saving it for future re-reads as well.

  • kiramadera
    October 19, 2011

    Every new mother needs to read this! I’m on year four of having not slept through the night once…and I’m surviving, chai tea in hand. :)
    Best.

  • Erica
    October 20, 2011

    Just came back and re-read this post…after a week+ of nightly hell.
    So mommas of multiples, help me out here. Do they really all learn to sleep no matter what? Cuz my 2nd is kicking my @ss. I worked like hell to get my first to sleep & nap well and just don’t have the time or opportunity to do that with #2…and it feels an awful lot like we’re failing in the “teaching you how to sleep” category…

  • Beth
    October 21, 2011

    Wonderful post that hit the nail on the head. I just hated when people asked me about the sleeping baby. The only thing I will say, though, is this. I am now basically past the crazy stage. My children are now 5 and 3 and I finally feel somewhat removed from the horrible no-sleep days. When I see people who have new babies I immediately remember how exhausted I was. I’ve found that the first thing I want to say is does the baby sleep, or how are you sleeping. I then had an aha moment and realized that instead of judging, I think most people were asking me about the sleep habits of my baby because they were concerned/cared about me. They were remembering how absolutely awful it is. “Does your baby sleep,” often means, “How are YOU doing? How are you even standing when I know that baby is keeping you up all might.”

  • CM
    October 26, 2011

    I agree with Beth! That’s what I was just going to say. Often if you’re worried about something, any question about that will feel judgmental. But I think most people are just trying to show you they’re interested, and that’s a question that they know to ask about babies. I ask new parents that too, because for me that extended sleep-deprivation is one of the most universal things about parenthood. If they want to know, I’m happy to share my own not-ideal experiences. With baby #2, my stock response is a grimace and, “We’re working on it,” which usually gets me a sympathetic laugh.

  • Lane
    October 26, 2011

    Beth and CM, I have definitely been asked by concern sympathizers about sleep woes! And I appreciate that! But if someone asks me if my 6 week old is sleeping through the night, or tells me my 11 month old is ‘manipulating’ me and will learn a bit from crying it out, I question their motives. I LOVE when moms tell each other helpful tips, or lovingly support each othe. I don’t love when people can’t read my responses and continue with unsolicited advice that simply makes me feel scrutinized!

  • gadgettown
    November 2, 2011

    How unfair is that…couldn’t sleep on my stomach while pregnant and STILL can’t sleep on my stomach because someone needs my boob THISCLOSE at all times or there will be no sleep at all. I think my kid just has a lot of needs at night…maybe he will eventually sleep all night.
    :)

  • Jenny
    November 13, 2011

    Although I’ve never met you, I love you. When I told my mom how much I hated people asking me about my son’s sleep, she told me I was a paranoid crazy person. Which is normally true, but not this time!
    My six-month old is a decent sleeper but when he has bad nights, I always find myself trying to come up with a reason (just like you mentioned, growth spurt, teething, stomach ache, etc.) when in reality, sometimes he just doesn’t want to sleep!
    I’m bookmarking this so I can read it next time I’m up all night…

  • Lane
    November 14, 2011

    Love you, too, Jenny! You are most definitely not a a paranoid crazy person, at least not about this!

  • יין ישראלי
    November 19, 2011

    Things said in happy and joyful and love that I am doing everything right.

  • Julie
    November 28, 2011

    Great post! My 16 month old son still nurses frequently at night. He will go to bed in his own bed at bedtime (which seems to be different every night because some nights he’s just not ready to lay down). But he comes into our bed during the night so we can sleep more. We are judged when we talk about it but I don’t care because it works for us. I know some day he will be sleeping in his own bed just like his older sister and I’ll miss snuggling him just like I miss snuggling her. :) Thanks for such a supportive and honest post!

  • natural sleep aids
    December 27, 2011

    All mothers can relate to this one! The truth is that every baby is unique. Some are “good sleepers” and others take more time to adjust. All we can do really is to wait until we can get normal hours of sleep. Then we won’t have to take natural sleep aids just to rest soundly!
    -Alissa

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