My last post was a little harsh, I think. I’m worried that I’ve frightened some parents out there into thinking that it will never get better. That’s not what I meant at all, of course. My intent was just to explain that I’ve embraced my little one’s sleep habits, warts and all. I may always be a bit sleep-deprived, but what’s really important is that he’s getting the right amount of sleep.
Though sometimes, I wince at people’s comments.
“What? He still doesn’t sleep through the night?”
Doubt creeps in and my resolve weakens. So I wrote this retrospective, almost like a forensic investigation, to see if I went down the wrong path anywhere. In the end, I still believe that a baby’s sleep patterns change as they grow older, no matter what sleep-training techniques we use. Sleep maturity is a slow process.
When I look at the big picture, I see my baby has actually improved a lot. My sweetie went through several phases:
He was hungry all the time, so naturally he slept ever so lightly. It’s a simple question of survival. A newborn’s stomach is the size of a chickpea and it needs to refill often. In his case, every one to two hours.
Feedings would take 40 minutes, at which point he’d loudly POP off the breast and use my boob for a pillow. Adorable! Unable to move without waking him, we snuggled on the couch and I got to catch up on all the seasons of Mad Men.
Many books urge starting good sleep habits from the beginning. “Start as you mean to go on,” is a popular one. But the math just didn’t compute! It would take 40 minutes to feed him, and almost an hour to convince him to go to sleep in his crib/basket/side-car, then he’d wake up ready to eat again 20 minutes later. Guess how many minutes of sleep I got? That’s right. Zero.
At first, my husband and I took turns holding him around the clock. Finally, co-sleeping, for mama’s and baby’s sake, was the best solution.
Baby was still hungry all the time, and still highly sensitive to noise and movement.
We were encouraged to swaddle him. We tried the burrito wrap. He was like Houdini. Really. People don’t believe me when I say swaddling didn’t work. We even tried the wrap with the velcro. Instead of falling asleep, he would wiggle for 15 minutes until his fingers poked out of the wrap. At that point, he could slide the rest of his arms out and burst out from the constraints. I’ve bragged about this before, but we really have one strong kid.
We tried white noise, like a hairdryer. Oh, we tried many, many silly things.
At last, I learned to nurse half-asleep in bed. Ah bliss! At least I could rest as he continued nursing every 2 hours through the night.
Eating solids helped only a little, but every little bit helped.
Another little glimmer of hope: he started napping alone on my bed. After nursing him, I’d extricate myself away and read a book or knit or nap next to him.
Crazy early milestone: My little guy learned to walk at 8 1/2 months. (I’m not kidding. I run after him all day long! Having a baby is the best diet I’ve ever been on.) I’m pretty sure this affected his sleep pattern. Too much going on in the brain.
At his check-up visit, his pediatrician deemed he was old enough to sleep through the night without breastfeeding. “Just pat him gently. There will be tears.” I dearly love my doctor, but I disagreed and continued nursing at night. I have never regretted this decision as it has helped him through many a cold and virus when he couldn’t manage solids at all.
Finally, I convinced him to nap in the crib using my patented Transfer method. I would also remove my nipple just before he konked out. The theory was he’d learn to fall asleep on his own. That never panned out, but I found that it kept my nipples from falling off due to constant suckling.
At this age, teething began in earnest with some slight separation anxiety, which affected his sleep pattern, but he was still napping on his own.
Transition to nights in the crib, after one frightful night of Tough Love. Since then, he flips on his tummy, instead of sleeping on his side. Somehow being on his tummy helps him wiggle less and settle down faster.
Self-weaning begins. With fewer feedings, he sleeps in much longer stretches. Wow, sometimes a whole 4 hours.
Arg, daycare stress, teething molars, colds and viruses… so back to co-sleeping and waking more often again.
Now, after two months of daycare, he’s getting used to the new routine. His bedtime begins in the crib, and he’s sleeping longer on his own.
He still wakes up a few times, but I’m too tired to keep getting up. I need unbroken sleep to stay awake at work the next day, so I bring him into bed with me after midnight. This also gives us time to reconnect and make up for the separation during daytime.
What the future may hold for us?
I hope he will eventually fall asleep like a big toddler, with limbs sprawled and completely oblivious to noise as loud as a freight train. Perhaps when he becomes more verbal, I’ll convince him to stay in bed with his Elmo doll, even introduce him to a “big boy” bed. Maybe then, there will be a truce. Then again, he might just have an easier time of escaping his room and climbing into my bed. We’ll see!
So in conclusion of my forensic report into what-went-wrong, after considering his personality, his needs and my ability to fulfill them without becoming a crazy mommy-zombie, I can’t see doing anything differently. Do you?