On Sleep…..

Why is it that with parenting, everything is so polarizing? Breast or bottle?  Vaccinations?  Discipline?  Sleep? All of it requires that you read so-called expert opinions and feel guilty for choosing either side because the opposing team leaves you doubtful and confused.

I have a ten month old boy who is clearly adorable. (duh)  He’s aware, engaged, well-adjusted, friendly.  When we go out in public, it never fails that someone comments on what a happy baby he is.  What a happy boy, they say.  Or he is such a well-behaved baby.  You are so lucky, blah blah blah.  These compliments are nice, but I can’t help but feel that his temperament is most likely something he was born with and not something I am responsible for.  I was blessed with a laid-back, smiley, easy kid.  And for that I am really grateful.

The one hang-up?  He is ten months old and he doesn’t really sleep through the night.  At all. And by that I mean that I feed him once or twice (and maybe occasionally three times) between the hours of 7pm and 6am.  It is highly unusual if we wake up in this house with a full night of sleep.  Like in the past 5 months, it’s happened maybe 3 times.  The truth is, I don’t necessarily care all that much.  I stumble in his room when he cries, I feed him, I stumble back to my bed and return to sleep.  After 10 months of breastfeeding, he’s got it down and he’s a fast eater, so the whole process takes maybe 6 or 7 minutes.  That’s it.  Where I am concerned is when I tell people this, and they look horrified or say that their baby slept all night at 7 weeks old.  Or if someone is telling me about these terrible sleep problems she is having, and later in the conversation, I discover that she means her baby actually needs a midnight feeding and this hasn’t happened since month 3 or something.  Most of all, I worry that this won’t go away on its own and I will end up with a toddler with massive sleep disorders and learning disabilities or something and that it will be all my fault for not “sleep training” him so that he gets proper rest. Oh, mommy guilt.  Gets you every time.

I’ve read it all.  When Jude was about 16 weeks old, he was up at night more than he was asleep.  I was working full-time as a teacher of 150 high school students, and I was getting up every hour and a half with a crying baby at night.  I simply could not function.  I read Ferber’s book (or the chapters that applied to us anyway), and I thought I did “cry it out.”  I say thought because in hindsight, it was “simmer it down” more so than cry.  He whimpered off and on for maybe 30 minutes at a time throughout that first night, and then he gradually stopped.  After that, he slept through the night (well till 4am which is good enough for us and a vast improvement at that time), and I really thought CIO was torturous but a miracle solution.  In hindsight, I am at least happy that Ferber’s book taught me that I don’t have to immediately respond to every little whimper and I can give my baby time to soothe himself.

Then came a bad cold, and really….. what heartless woman can leave her sick baby crying?…. so of course I was up with him for that.  Soon after that came the insane growth spurt he had at 5-6 months where he’d eat hungrily and gained a ton of length and weight to prove it.  So after that we settled in to a pattern of one feeding at about 3am.  He goes to bed at 7pm, so this is 8 hours, and I really didn’t think it was that bad.  Sometimes he’ll get me up at midnight as well, but he seems hungry as he eats, so I am at a loss as to how I can say no.

The past few weeks, he was having nap time woes (as in NOT NAPPING AT ALL).  I quickly realized that daytime sleep is where I gained my sanity, not overnight sleep, and I couldn’t take it anymore.  Three other moms I trust shared their love for this book.  I tore through the book as soon as I got it, and the daytime nap solutions are really working for us already, so all is well you’d think, right?  Except that as I read, I am again struck with the what is wrong with my baby questions when I read about nighttime sleep.  He certainly does not fit the profile of a kid with sleep disorders of any kind.  He cries, eats quickly, goes right back to sleep, but I can’t help but think that he “should” be able to sleep all night.

So here are my questions – Should I be worried?  What are the chances that I am establishing something awful that will need to be amended when he’s older?  “Should” he be soothing himself back to sleep at this age without the food I provide for him?  How do I know if he is genuinely hungry?  Most importantly, be honest with me, what ages were your children when they really, truly, reliably slept through the night?  Did they do it on their own, or did you do something to help them along?

I know Ferber says to cry it out, but when we tried that (a second time and for real this time) for naps and bedtime not long ago,  it only left Jude feeling panicked and HATING his bed and left me feeling frazzled and guilty.  I know that works for some children, but I also know that crying increases levels of cortisol and in some babies (mine included, in my opinion) that only leads to a terrible hyper-alert kind of state that is anything but conducive to sleep. I cannot handle crying for longer than around an hour.  I know that Ferber and Weissbluth say that you really have to let them get it all out, no matter how long it takes.  They also say if the crying episode leads to vomiting, you go in the child’s room, silently clean him up, and lay him back down in the crib.  I know as a parent, I am supposed to set perameters for my child and enforce rules, but that is so so so not instinctual for me, I just can’t be that much of a hard-ass.  I also don’t like thinking of “training” my child to sleep like he’s a dog or something.  I wonder if sleeping is a developmental milestone like rolling over or walking and perhaps I shouldn’t rush it.  On the other end of the spectrum, I adore Sears on basic baby care and discipline, but I also know women who follow his ideas exclusively and they have 3-year-old children who still nurse often and need their attention at all hours.  That might be fine for some families, but I simply cannot do it, and I want Jude to have an independent spirit as well.  I know mothers who follow either model (Ferber or Sears) stringently and have children who seem less than happy and thriving.  I also know families who follow these plans stringently and have seemingly perfect kids.  To each his own.

If I have learned anything these past few months it is that you are the best mother you can be when you are authentic and are doing what feels right for you and your family. My problem is that neither of these extremes or ideas seems right for us.  None of them have worked.

So mamas, what do you do to get your little ones to stay asleep?  Is there a golden ticket?  Do I wait it out till he’s ready or take a more active approach to prevent further problems?  Cautionary tales?  I’m all ears.