Ah, moms. We’re such a low key bunch. I am always reluctant to even mention things like “sleep training” because it can cause such a visceral reaction from some women. I once made the unforgivable mistake of recommending the book “Babywise” to a mom friend on Instagram who was incredibly sleep deprived and desperate for advice and I was immediately excoriated by some other moms for pretty much advocating for child abuse. Yikes. My bad. I’m sorry, but I have been in the trenches of total sleep deprivation, and I found “it’s totally normal” or “this too shall pass after a couple years of not sleeping” less than helpful/comforting. In fact, those kinds of advice made me want to go jump off the nearest bridge. Years of not sleeping?! You do realize sleep deprivation is one of the most popular methods of torture throughout the history of oppressive regimes for a reason. Listen, I am a terrible mom when I am sleep deprived, and want to be at my best for my babies. I don’t want to barely coast by during this season of their lives in a sleep deprived haze, never again remembering these precious moments with them because I spent my days barely conscious. Not to mention it seems just plain dangerous. It is highly recommended that you not drive after a night of no sleep. How can we be expected to keep a tiny completely dependent human alive and well after years on end of no sleep? It is really no small task. I think we fellow moms should try and help our desperate and sleep deprived sisters instead of just yelling down from the boat that the drowning feeling is totally normal and you will get used to it eventually.
I know, I know. I’m a mother, and I signed up for this gig knowing that it would be a 24 hour job. That is a given. But I like to guide my children in the art of good sleep habits, like I guide them on how to reach any other milestone. And yes, I think that sleeping through the night is a milestone just like eating solid foods, talking, walking, and using the potty. It should not be forced if they are not ready and there will be a period of time where you will be sleep deprived and having to get up with the infant all night long. All children sleep through the night at different times, but that doesn’t mean we should just throw our hands up and offer no sort of guidance for them on it whatsoever. Sure, some kids can do it without any outside help, but some need assistance in reaching certain milestones. So, after three babies in three years, this is the sleep training routine we have set up. The timeline is approximate, we don’t set rigid ages for sleep milestones, but we do expect gradual progress as the baby gets older. I have pretty much combined several approaches, including supposedly contrary ones, like attachment parenting, Babywise, cosleeping and crib sleeping.
- After the baby is born: We cosleep. Period. It is the only way I can get any sleep. I wear some button down pajamas, a nursing bra (you need that added support in those early days), and put a burp cloth underneath the baby’s head in case she is a spitter. I have a bassinet by the bed, but I just use it as a changing station for all of those lovely middle of the night poops. When she wakes to feed, I change her diaper, swaddle her back up, and nurse her on one side or the other until we both fall back asleep. Rinse and repeat all night long.
- Once she has slowed down to 3-4 feeds a night: This usually happens on its own after about 3 months for my babies, but if she is still feeding constantly throughout the night, I tighten up her daytime routine. I have become a demand feeder the more babies I have had (I have too much to do to keep up with the exact time my baby last fed); however, I have found that the more rigidly you stick to a 3 hour feed, awake time, nap time schedule, the longer they sleep at night. So if I need for her to sleep for longer stretches at night, I try to get as close to the 3 hour schedule as I can. If she gets hungry before her 3 hours are up, I just feed her and restart the 3 hours like we had stuck to the schedule. If she is still constantly feeding through the night after I do this, then I chalk it up to a growth spurt and try again later. Anyway, when they are down to 3-4 feeds a night is when I transition them to a crib. I don’t know about everyone else’s children, but my children are way too loud and wiggly for us to continue cosleeping for much longer beyond this point. They snort and snore and sigh and snuffle and generally drive my husband and me crazy all night long. So into the crib it is! I usually set up a guest bed for me right next to the crib for the next few months. It sucks because I miss my husband and he misses me, but it is only for a short time. When the baby wakes up to feed, I get her out of the crib and feed her in the bed with me and put her back into her crib after she is done (if I haven’t passed out first.) If she is having trouble transitioning to her crib, I start putting her in the crib for all of her naps. If she still needs help transitioning, I have been known to add a (loud) sound machine in the room and with Wren I even put my pillow case in her crib next to her little nose (tucked under her mattress so that it wouldn’t go anywhere near her face) so that she could be soothed by my smell. I still make sure to swaddle them tightly and they are good to go!
- When she is down to 1-2 feeds a night: Now, Wren didn’t get to this point until I finally just adjusted her to a strict two nap schedule (morning nap and afternoon naps at the same times every day) after she turned six-ish months. I got to go back into my own room (hooray!) and when she woke up once (or twice) a night, I would go nurse her back to sleep and put her back in her crib.
- Night weaning: My first two night weaned on their own by five months, which was wonderful! We were all waking up cheery and refreshed. However, there is the added ahem blessing of me getting pregnant again since not breastfeeding through the night entails a return to fertility.
- Cry It Out: Ah, the dreaded CIO method. I don’t really use it. Not because I have a moral objection to it, but because we have just found it to be ineffective. My children have never followed the whole every night they will cry less and less paradigm. In fact, they have been known to cry more and more. Again, everyone getting the best night’s sleep possible is the goal, and listening to a baby cry for hours on end every night does not achieve that goal. Once Wren was close to a year old, I would let her fuss herself back to sleep without going in unless she was full on awake and crying. When Ruth cried and wouldn’t go down after I fed her, I would sing to her and rock her and she would pass out before the song was over and sleep the rest of the night. If Rose fussed right after I fed her, she usually just wanted her paci. I randomly pushed Wren’s bed time back an hour, and just like that she was night weaned and sleeping through the night by about 8-9 months. She still wakes up once a night every once in a while, but since she sleeps through regularly I know she is crying for a serious reason (like a poopy diaper or teeth hurting). And even if she does just want a snuggle, it is rare enough for me to cherish it and think it is adorable rather than fighting the resentment that comes from sheer exhaustion (I have been there, it is horrible.)
Now, this isn’t to say I didn’t have those rough nights where merely nursing them didn’t seem to comfort them or make them fall asleep. The first few months can be hard, and sometimes you just have to camp out in front of the TV and bounce the baby and wander back and forth and bounce some more. Then, try another feed and hope against hope she falls asleep and stays asleep this time. If we’re having a rough night, I find a new show that I love (or a good book) and camp out on the couch with the bassinet nearby and some yummy snacks and lots of water and we make a night of it. If the baby won’t stop crying and I am starting to get desperate, I hand off the baby to daddy and take a 2-3 hour nap/mental break. Those nights might happen, so just try to make yourself as comfortable as possible and let daddy step in if it is becoming too much for you. But keep in mind this is very temporary and the baby will figure out this nighttime thing soon enough.
Like everyone says, the years are short, but the days are long. Every family is different, and each mom must discover what works best for her and her baby. Some moms have found that they can get along with the sleep deprivation and know that some day their children will grow up and sleep through the night in their own beds. Some moms (like me) just need their sleep and know that their children do too (like mama like daughters) and do what they can to encourage good sleep habits. Hey, some moms are strict Babywise moms and their babies are healthy and thriving as well! Some moms use CIO and their babies cry less and less for three nights and then sleep peacefully all nights since. You need to find whatever nighttime routine works for your family. I’m just here to say that you shouldn’t let other moms make you feel guilty or that you are a bad mom because of your nighttime routine. It is a very personal choice and no one knows your babies better than you. Because we are all in this crazy ride called motherhood together and we all want the same thing: healthy, happy babies and a healthy well-rested mama (yes, you may add yourself to that equation because your babies need you and you are only human).
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or any sort of sleep expert, but I am an attorney (hence the disclaimer). I know people get very passionate about this baby sleep thing and of course SIDS is something all of us mothers are the most terrified about that first year. So, please take this blog post as simply me sharing my experiences with our babies’ sleep ONLY. If you are in need of medical or professional advice, you should consult your pediatrician. I also feel compelled to add not to depend too much on the stuff you read on the internet. Because not everything you read on the internet is true. And also mommy guilt trip stuff is out of control on the internet.