So many ask this question of new parents. It’s a measure of success or of failure. The inquirer wants to classify the new parent as struggling, or “sooo lucky,” based on baby’s sleep patterns. But there isn’t a simple answer, at least, not in my experience. My child can sleep through the night, and has many times. A full night can be 12 blissful hours. On the other hand, I don’t know if he’ll awaken at 1:30 a.m. on any given night.
Breastfeeding complicates things, because you wake up to feed little one for months on end. Frequent feeding can help maintain a mother’s milk supply. So middle of the night waking is not discouraged, but reinforced. I’m not sure at which moment this becomes counterproductive, but I think it’s before one is driven into a deep state of sleep deprivation.
At some stage of development, Baby should be able to sustain himself through the night, without waking up hungry. But he wakes up because he’s accustomed to mommy time, and a full belly at 2 a.m. This is habit waking. I know because it plagued my home for a couple of months.
Husband doesn’t wake up for these cries. He snoozes peacefully, while Wes’ midnight wail fills the space between us. It sounds like a siren. The wakings increase in frequency through six and seven months of age, making me desperate. They occur up to 4-5 times each night.
Is it teething? Nightmares? Is he afraid of the dark? My husband and I speculate. I add a bucket of baby sleep podcasts to my roster. The information search is as discerning as throwing spaghetti at a wall. I’m looking for any advice, and if I can find that gem, I will reach parenting nirvana. For a moment…
I wanted to follow the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and keep Baby in our room for his first twelve months, but I didn’t realize how hard that would be. My health and sanity hang in the balance. My energy level trends toward zombie. Waking up for work feels dreadful. My partner sees it’s wearing on me. It is time for Baby to move to his own room. It’s exciting, and sad. It’s uncharted territory. Is it cold of me? Of us?
Moving him into his own room is bittersweet, then wonderful. I don’t flinch every time my husband kicks the sheets. I put the baby monitor on the faintest volume possible.
That night, we awaken just once. In the morning, I feel as fresh as wet grass. I can soar over mountains.
Before embarking on parenthood, I enjoyed the entertaining wit of the parenting memoir, Bringing up Bebe. From this book, written by an American expat living in France, you would think sleep is a matter of parental discipline. Weak-limbed American parents who run to their child’s side with every whimper do it to themselves. The French know better, utilizing “the pause.” If baby doesn’t settle on his own in a few moments, it’s OK to go to him. It all sounds so tidy compared to my experience, a couple of years later. I wonder if the French pause is longer than the American pause, or if French parents are so tired from the sex and cigarette smoking, that they peacefully sleep through it all?
I don’t know if we are in the Ferber camp, the Baby Wise camp, or the attachment parenting camp. I just know there are separate camps. Borrowing some from each is antithetical to the principles!
There is a time when we have to be the grown-ups in the situation, and be decisive:
“Baby, you are tired. We are going to put you down, even though you don’t want to sleep.”
The little one craves being with us, even while furiously rubbing his eyes, his telltale tired signal. We call this baby FOMO (fear of missing out).
He cries himself to sleep every night for less than 10 minutes, if we are lucky. I mistakenly believe that sleep training, or “crying it out,” will last a short while. It drags on. Sometimes he goes down with a short protest, sometimes he doesn’t. He sits up, cries, and face plants. He rolls back and forth. We watch the drama unfold on the baby monitor. When his head is wedged in the corner of the crib, face down, we are in for some rest.
I institute a bedtime routine. My husband resists. He says, “Put him down, it’s fine. He is going to cry.” He accepts, almost embraces the crying.
I don’t feel he should be wailing himself to sleep. It is hard to listen to. It grates on my well-being. I feel emotionally exhausted, and it makes me want to snap at my husband.
Over time, the routine helps. Bottle, books, crib, sing songs, creep out. It’s a parenting win!
We are initially averse to a nap schedule, because want baby to meld with our lives, rather than forcing us to contort around his. But I begin to question our philosophy as our sleep struggles continue.
My postpartum doula sends me sample nap schedules, which suggest a typical baby wakes at 6 a.m., and goes down for a morning nap by 8. Since my baby sleeps until 9 or 10, this doesn’t quite fit. Can we shift the schedule back 3-4 hours?
One sleep source suggests a daily “tea time,” for baby, I’m guessing, without actual tea. The source allows just 20 minutes for some naps, after which a parent is to wake baby up. To me, this is madness.
Now, at 15 months, Wes sometimes naps for over 2 hours at a time. Some nights, he sleeps longer than 12 hours straight. But I don’t get too comfortable.
I hear toddlers like to climb out of cribs, crawl into their parents’ bed in the middle of the night, and wake them up early each morning. Some are rowdy enough to be confined to their rooms by their parents, using special latches.
The path can be riddled with failures, even if you're doing it right. In this recording, I share some of my gaffes with you.