Why Baby Sleep Is So Stressful And How I Found Peace With It
Returning to the States, we've had a bit of jet lag at our house, so I've been soothing Bodie back to sleep when he wakes at around 4am. Since I have to be careful not to create a bad habit for both of us, on our third night home yesterday, we decided to let him cry it out and settle himself back into routine. I don't know why it felt much harder - maybe it's been a while - but for the twenty seven minutes that he tossed and turned and whined and wailed, I was under the covers, double checking the research on the long term impact of cry it out. Don't worry, all signs still point to it being good for kids in teaching them the skill of sleeping and for parents in saving sanity. Further proof, Bodie woke this morning happy as a clam.
Of the many choices we have in parenting, our approach to our kids' sleep seems to be one that can be an ongoing means of bonding or disagreement. Friends of mine were shocked when they heard I still occasionally go to Bodie if he cries in the middle of the night when he's teething or cold-y (I can't bear how frustrating it must be not to blow your own nose!). My mother in law is totally perplexed by why we put him to sleep at 630 and thinks it's way too early. My husband thinks I'm neurotic that I insist on Bodie taking his nap in his crib. And it's common chat with friends for the entirety of the 12-18 month stretch about when we're ready to drop from two to one nap.
Given how much we talk about it, it's not surprising that we internalize our baby's sleep as a benchmark of our success as parents. So, I definitely thought I'd earned my stripes when Bodie slept through the night by twelve weeks old without any particular sleep training besides regular feeding during the day. And then I definitely felt like my world was falling apart when he was suddenly up every few hours at night at 16 weeks (the infamous 4 month regression). I had been so diligent about feeding during the day, sleep routines, what could go wrong? The book I picked up and now recommend to friends, was 12 Hours by 12 Weeks. I admit I skimmed the sections that felt pertinent and skipped the parts I didn't like. Ultimately, I adjusted his feedings a little, moved his bedtime up, kept up with his bedtime routine of a bath, books and bottle and let the rest play out.
And the regression passed. And in the time it took to pass, Bodie grew - he rolled, he saw further and he grew more engaged. And so I came to accept and really embrace the research that regressions, big or small, are correlated with your baby's growth and development. So next time we had a sleep bump, I felt a whole lot calmer knowing that he was just a little being growing and changing a ton so night wakings were par for the course and would pass.
The only issue being that the next bump was in the late summer of last year when we are often away with family. We finally caved and decided to do some version of "cry it out light". We didn't follow any method knowing that Bodie wasn't the type of child, nor were we the type of parents, where going in intermittently and systematically would help. We just decided to go cold turkey or "full extinction", as the experts say. It took him a full and exact thirty minutes to put himself back to sleep the first night, and twenty the next and by night three he got the memo.
Today, on the spectrum, I'm happy with the amount of sleep Bodie and subsequently, we get. But I'm not going to say every night in the last year has been a perfect twelve hour rest. There have been ear infections, fevers, colds and just unexplained sleep bumps. But the bumps don't feel as rattling or worse, like a failure, because of two things that I remind myself every time. The first being that, like grown ups, when we're unwell or going through changes, once in a while Bodie needs a bit more. It's not a sign of any larger issue or problem with him or us. And second, I know it passes and we can re-set habits. Meaning if I do choose or have to go in on a troublesome night, I'm not shattering all good habits but in a few days, when he (and I) are settled and soothed, it will take about a day or two of cry it out light to refresh him.
This is all to say, that like all else, it's about what works for you and your family. We all know our own tolerance level and our kids' needs better than anyone else.
Did you sleep-train? Do you go in and soothe often, sometimes or not at all? Do you feel like sleep is a hot topic for you? Or if you are past the toddler stage, what's been your experience in later years? I would love you to share xo
Featured Image via @BethaWells