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