I’ve never had “that baby” that magically slept through the night at two weeks or six weeks or maybe even six months. And with my first two children, I felt the entire time that I was doing something wrong in the sleep department because of that. It took me till my fourth baby (thank you sweet Andrew) till I wised up and gained enough knowledge and experience to know and feel confident about what works for me and my family.
From what I heard from some “experts” or friends I was creating habits that would make my infants turn into toddlers and then children into teens with overly dependent terrible sleep habits. Oh the things I heard. They make me laugh now, six babies later. Perspective is everything!
I’ve divided this post about into two sections. Part One being my thoughts, and things I’ve learned the hard way, and Part Two some tips that have helped me and resources also.
Babies have always been the same since the beginning of time. Yes, they are born with different temperaments and personalities but they are born with the same innate needs. It doesn’t matter what part of the world they are born in, at what time (thousands of years ago, or today), what the culture is like, who the experts happen to be during their generation, or the parenting trends of the decade-they have always come from the womb with the same needs since the beginning of time. They know nothing of Dr. Spock, Ferberizing, Similac, Graco or BabyGap. I think every baby wants the warm loving arms of their mother as much as possible (she smells so good!!), food from their mother’s breasts (and if that’s truly impossible, the best substitute possible to survive), soft, warm coverings (probably not skinny jeans :), and a good diaper that is changed often. Their only way to get their needs met is by crying (how frustrating would that be!)
Here are some thoughts from MY experiences and things I’ve learned from raising MY babies. Hopefully this well help another mom who might be going through the same experiences and challenges.
1. Babies aren’t naturally good sleepers.Here is a great article about how baby sleep patterns differ from adult sleep patterns.
2. Don’t ever compare a breast fed baby’s sleep habits to a formula fed baby’s sleep habits. A breast fed baby should have different patterns of sleep. Breast milk is perfectly designed for a baby-maybe not always perfectly designed for a culture that expects mothers to strive for 8 hours of straight sleep a night-but it is perfectly designed for the sake of the babies health. It is digested more quickly than formula is. I would compare drinking a bottle of formula to a carb/protein loaded Thankgiving meal-vs. a ‘clean-eating style’ meal of breast milk. (We can only surmise that since nature intended for babies to thrive on breast milk they are designed to be more alert, and sleep for shorter amounts of time-for safety and developmental reasons. Again this might not “fit” the trends today and our culture right now, but babies know nothing of “fitting in” and it isn’t their fault that they were born when our expectations don’t match their needs and developmental stages.)
3. By very very wary of cry-it out sleep training methods. I have found these are usually quick sells to desperately tired parents. I have also found the books don’t paint a totally honest picture (or maybe the author just lacks the experience to be honest) of their “quick fix methods.” There are so many variables that they don’t consider.
I tried one of the popular cry-it out approaches when I had my second baby and was told it was “my fault” and she would never fall asleep by herself unless she was taught. This experience is on my list of “things I regret doing as a young, inexperienced parent.” It didn’t work. Yes, I did follow the instructions. And it was awful. It left me feeling like my head and heart were going to explode. It felt abusive to me. It went against every maternal instinct I have in my body, and it felt so wrong. And it didn’t work, did I say that already? I know that I gave up after the third or fourth day after following the instructions, when things weren’t progressing according to the “experts” plan. After finding my daughter with a messy diaper and her leg between the crib bars, delirious with misery, looking at me like “how could you?” I vowed never ever to betray my maternal instincts. It took me weeks to get back to where she didn’t cling to me with panic when I approached her room. I made matters so much worse than they ever were to begin with. I’ve heard this same story so many times. Of babies that cry so hard they throw up, found laying in their vomit, asleep from the pure exhaustion of crying so hard. Of parents who felt the same as I did in their hearts-that this is not right, it’s not natural, it’s not healthy. Of older siblings crying too-asking why their mommy and daddy weren’t helping their baby brother or sister, he/she needs you-from the mouths of babes!
Here are some other myths I have learned about the cry-it out sleep training approaches:
They are usually sold as a one-time deal. As in, once you get through the couple hard days of listening to your baby sob in his/her crib alone for however long (they all have different times) then you’ll never have to do it again. They will have “learned” to go to sleep. Even those silly old nanny 911 shows that promote sleep training don’t show the whole picture. Sure, I’m sure there are some babies who “need” to cry only once before they learn no one will come and comfort them, but I think the “cry it out” approaches result in much more crying over the first and second year than many of them let on to. I know when I realized this I wasn’t willing to ignore my child’s needs this much, and I didn’t have the heart to repeat the cry-it-out process over and over again.
The first and second year of a baby’s life is a huge time of growth in every facet of their lives.
Here are some scenarios I have found that have disrupted sleep patterns in my babies lives-
- Growth spurts-these were very defined periods where my babies needed to eat more-it is their way of adjusting the milk supply to meet their growing needs.
- Some babies get teeth somewhat magically, others drool and rub their mouths and feel relentless pain.
- Ear infections and other illnesses-usually don’t show themselves for a few days which are preceded by night waking and fussiness due to real pain and discomfort. Sometimes “bad habits” are established during these times (rocking baby to comfort, keeping upright, etc”) and the process must start over again.
- Wakening due to a new skill-One time Janey was sound asleep but mumbling and doing the “roll it” gestures of Pat-A-Cake perfectly (better than she had ever done them awake!) that I had just taught her. She was all of eight months I think at the time! It made me laugh-how quickly their brain is forming and how many new skills they are learning. I compare it to when we adults have a new exciting challenging project we just began or are working on-we go to bed thinking about it, we might wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it, and it’s one of the first thoughts we think of in the morning. This is how babies are-about sitting up, talking, crawling, walking, speaking. Their brains are wired to be passionate about these learning these new things.
- Separation Anxiety-here is a great article about the science behind separation anxiety. It is a natural development phase as babies learn about object permanence and build trust.
- Colic (real digestive pain-more on this later).
- Allergies (my children have never dealt with allergies but I’ve had friends whose babies were terribly sensitive to food, or detergents, etc.)
- Sensitivities-More on this later, but all of my children were born with different temperments and reacted to their new world in different ways. Some babies are much more sensitive to their new world than others.
- Family changes-Vacations, illnesses, “stress” of every day living (a death in the family, a break from routine because of moving etc.)
4. Be wary of “expert” advice. I’ve learned to be careful of advice about letting my baby cry, from other people who do not have the connection I have with my baby. It’s sometimes easy for a pediatrician (especially a guy) to say “let him cry”. It’s not his baby, and he doesn’t have the same connection I have-he doesn’t (and isn’t supposed to have!) the mommy hormones raging through my body (that I AM supposed to have) when it comes to hearing my baby cry. I should know my baby best-this is what nature intended. If a mother is truly bonded she will feel the call in her brain and heart and very soul to soothe her baby when that baby lets her know he/she needs it.
One of the popular sleep training methods is called “Ferberizing”. In my opinion it sounds like something that is much more suited to dog training than “baby training”. It requires a lot of crying-not straight crying alone, but crying with parents checking in specified amounts of time. (Which would just escalate the crying all over again. “Oh good, you’ve come, I’ve been calling you, didn’t you hear me crying for you? Please come and get me and hold me. Your coming, yay! NO NO NO wait, wait, please don’t leave, please don’t leave and ignore me again! Why are you walking away and leaving me again?” Repeat, repeat, repeat, and then eventually “I’ll just give up, they don’t care” or fall asleep from pure exhaustion of sobbing so long.) Even the author has serious concerns with what he feels are misinterpretations of his methods, and talks about that here. Very interesting.
Another popular method is from the book Baby Wise. I understand that the appeal in the Baby Wise book is the need for predictability and schedule. A sense of order to our days as mothers can turn a feeling of being overwhelmed and frustrated into contentment and enjoyment. Establishing a pattern is healthy for my mind. (I will talk about tips on how to do this without force later). Being aware of eating/play/sleep pattern is good (and this pattern was not discovered by the author), as long as it is not so rigidly led by me (or some man who wrote a book) that I let baby cry, or don’t feed him when he’s hungry because “so and so says not to”. I think it is important for mothers to know that Gary Ezzohas been excommunicated from his church (his books are “Christian” based teachings), he has called himself Dr.when he is indeed not and perpetuated other falsehoods about his education, he has little to no experience with children, nor has he studied child development in any sense. He strongly advocates spanking babies as young as 14 months (and that’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of his discipline advice that is utterly abusive) , his views and logic are twisted and ignorant, and the AAP has written a statement against his book because of the increase in failure to thrive babies that have been reported when parents follow the rigid feeding schedule he recommends in his books. Many highly respected, well -known child specialists have spoken out strongly against him and his books. There are many other books that teach more gentle sleep training methods using the same pattern of feed/play/sleep and don’t have an evil man behind them. This is a perfect example of the necessity of being very careful who we mothers take advice from!
5. Also be wary of falling prey to the fear of “creating a lifetime of bad sleep habits” that proponents of cry-it-out methods often employ. I’ve heard or read many times that if I didn’t “train” my babies to sleep the way some experts suggested I would have toddlers with terrible sleep habits and then children with terrible sleep habits who would turn into adults with terrible sleep habits. If my babies nursed to sleep, or if I rocked them, or “helped” them to sleep in any way, I would ‘create a monster’ so to speak. I can tell you that this has not been my experience at all, quite the opposite. My older toddlers (around 2 and up, depending on the child) and children have all gone to sleep easily in their own beds and slept through the night barring the occasional nightmare or illness. We establish night time routines, when they are old enough to understand what it means to lay down, stay in bed, and go to sleep.
I’ve found that it IS possible to ‘sleep-train’ babies without tears or at the least avoid heart breaking angst. I know it’s hard to be up at night again and again, I know it’s hard to be tired. I’ve had “easy” babies and desperately difficult babies. That’s part two-my experience-coming soon.
Hereis an interesting new study about co-sleeping!