5. The perils of the co-sleeping, infant-wearing, baby whisperer
Katelynne paces up and down each night in a routine that starts with 8 or 9 stories and doesn’t end until her 3-year-old says it does nearly two hours later. She sings and rocks, dances and pleads for her little one to just go to sleep already! She’s performed this ritual for three years and still no relief.
A quick browse of the parenting section in the library finds a majority of popular books agreeing with her bedtime routine. You’d be hard-pressed to find a recent book on sleeping habits that doesn’t have mom or dad doing this type of bed-time dance for as long as it takes for junior to feel ready to sleep.
But Katelynne and her husband feel miserable. When I saw her last, Kate handed me a parody of a children’s book she found that makes us laugh so hard we can’t breathe called Go The F*ck To Sleep. Sounds harsh, but at some point, that’s what we’re all thinking!
With my first daughter I rarely let her out of my arms, even for a moment. If I wasn’t nursing her, I carried her strapped to my belly in a sling. As she got older we shifted to a backpack so I could cook and do laundry hands-free. The obvious choice for us was co-sleeping since it was back in style and I was literally already attached to my child during the day.
And what did I learn? Deep sleep does not exist when your precious baby snores right next to you. Though, it’s still a precious sleep and easy for nursing (however the ease of it wears off rather quickly). Soon your lethargic newborn grows into a squirmy infant who prefers sleeping securely attached to a nipple or nestled between mom’s boobs. (And all the husbands sarcastically say, “Great.”)
After 9 months of co-sleeping (including a week straight by a baby who wanted snacks all night long every 15 minutes), I decided to transition to the crib. Thus began the great “sleep training” experiment from Hell. My sisters used the Baby Whisperer method and they thought it answered all questions. Of course, they also still stayed up all night. It didn’t sound good to me but I figured I’d try it.
This method consists of picking the baby up immediately when they cry and shushing them until they stop before putting them back down, called the pick-up-put-down method. Except my baby just never stopped crying. So what do you do then? If I rocked her to sleep she would only stay asleep as long as I held her. The minute she hit the mattress the screaming would begin again. After about a week of this and running on about 3 hours of sleep a night (and never consecutively), I began to understand why some mothers snap and end up in prison. I knew I had to find another way and so decided we would try a cry-it-out technique.
This is also hellish but at least you can put your head under a pillow to block it out. However, after 2 weeks of crying, I knew that wasn’t working either. We ended up finding an in-between that worked by going in every few minutes to talk to her and then leaving and making each interval a little longer. She finally figured it out but that’s one year of my life I’ll never get back.
Three years later I had another daughter; I resolved that this one would sleep. We came home from the hospital and I laid her in her crib and off to sleep she went. I learned a valuable lesson. It was all my fault. By co-sleeping with the older one and wearing her like a necklace she learned that sleeping wasn’t done without me. With the youngest, from the beginning she knew that her crib was a safe, restful place and mommy isn’t anywhere near it. To this day she still loves playing in it and she’s 2 1/2.
My attitude was the biggest change in the sleep process. Instead of being anxious about what would happen, I simply made up my mind that my new baby would sleep in a crib, that it is perfectly acceptable and good for her to be able to put herself to sleep and she did. When I hear others telling stories of sleepless nights, I wish someone told them right from the beginning: put that baby down and put her in her crib! Don’t nurse them to sleep and if they fall asleep nursing, change their diaper and then put them down so they can fall asleep naturally on their own. It really is magical stuff. A baby who never knew falling asleep on mom never misses out on anything.
Respecting your sleep zone helps your marriage too. Little marital love goes on with babies in the bed. Further, we are far more likely to lose our tempers and patience when we don’t get sleep. A peaceful, rested mom is one of the best gifts a child can get. If you’ve already gotten your baby addicted to you for sleep, I’m sorry. You’re pretty much buggered. Good luck trying to undo that and try again on the next one.
Next… are you wired?