Sleep and nighttime parenting is one hot topic when it comes to newborns and babies and even into toddlerhood. This is not a post on tips for sleep training, or intended to start war on nighttime parenting choices. If you hang around the positive parenting connection you know the goal here is to support parents not tear them down. This post is just about one formerly tired mama sharing how I avoided going down the crying it out/sleep training path in case other parents want to choose this as well.
Letting my babies cry it out, based on instinct and backed by science was just not what we chose for our family. Every so often research will pop up and tell you sleep training is fine, and then another one will come out and say it isn’t… Like most things parenting, expert recommendations change all the time. Even Dr. Ferber has changed his original “Ferberizing” recommendations.
Dr. Ferber director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital in Boston, stated “we’ve had a lot more experience. There really are a lot of different ways” for children to learn good sleep habits.
It was tempting at times to think about it sleep training my first because parenting while tired is really tough…. So here are some things we did to resist sleep training and get more rest:
1.Forget what everyone else’s baby is doing: It’s hard not to compare notes and find out from other parents what their children are doing. I confess I had “sleep” envy at times. My first only gave up night time nursing around 13 months. At that point he slept 10 hrs straight, although still occasionally woke and sought comfort before going back to sleep. In the end, I learned not to worry about what other babies were doing but to care for my baby in the way he needed me to. The latest research tells us that genetics plays a key role in how much and how long babies will sleep and that training isn’t quite optimal anyways.
2.Invest in yourself: I worked two jobs and went to college at one point and I was always “tired” – but it was nothing, and I mean nothing compared to the exhaustion of sleep broken nights with a newborn. Getting naps in, lounging on the couch guilt free, eating healthy foods and snacks and prioritizing my energy was in my eyes an investment in myself and my children. If you can afford a sitter or have family that can help even better, take long naps while someone else watches baby or takes care of the house. That renewed energy will help you get through the next night.
3.Dishes and dust bunnies can wait: On occasion (ok more than on occasion) my sink sat full of dishes and the corners had dust bunnies, did I feel lazy and guilty? Yes, sometimes I did. Most of the time, I remembered I was storing energy for what to me and my child was most important in that stage of life: breastfeeding and night time parenting.
4.Change the routine: I always made breakfast but one morning due to broken sleep, handsome hubby stepped in and took over making breakfast which allowed me to sleep in a bit. It worked so well we changed our morning routine more permanently. I highly recommend exploring similar alternatives that can maximize the sleep time you get.
5.Adjust ideals: A tired mama made for a not very fun mama so when my third baby came along I learned that it was alright to let my two older ones watch a children’s show while baby and I napped for 30- 40 minutes. This went a bit against my original ideas on TV viewing, but rested I also felt ready to tackle long walks, bike trips and playground time so it was a short term trade that worked for all of us.
6.Drop the resentment: At the end of the day, being tired and not looking forward to another night of broken sleep is not an ideal frame of mind. Instead, I started to focus on the beautiful stillness of the night, the outline of my babies face in the glow of the nightlight, the inspiring shadows on the wall from the garden and even hearing the sweet sleep of my older children. Yes, eventually, each one of my children did start sleeping peacefully through the night, barring any illness or the rare monster invasion, so I knew it was possible, that possibility helped me chance my mindset. That knowledge gave me peace and a way to cherish these night time parenting moments.
7.Learn about tiredness cues: I used to miss the mark sometimes as to when my first was ready to nap or sleep for the evening and miss an opportunity to rest as well. By learning to recognize when my babies were truly ready to drift off to sleep and creating soothing routines things became progressively better.
8.Load up on patience: Some days, waiting for baby to fall asleep can be difficult,but in the end the waiting is not wasted time. The time I spent laying next to and waiting for my babies to babble and toss and turn and process the days happening and to finally drift to sleep have turned out to be the perfect time for me to meditate or plan meals, day dream about the future and even catch up on some sleep.
9.Find a support network: Surrounding yourself with like minded parents and a supportive pediatrician can be very encouraging and a great not to feel alone in your choices. I haven’t met many families that haven’t tried CIO, and I get it, not sleeping is horrible – many pediatricians still even recommend it and the sleep training literature, sleep training books and manuals, magic programs and the works are multiplying and popping up everywhere. Yet, there are moms and dads out there opting for different paths. In my experience, natural and attachment parenting websites have been a good place to connect with other parents. One resource that helped me tremendously seven years ago- The No Cry Sleep Solution (I am not affiliated but ever so grateful for Elizabeth Pantely’s wonderful, gentle ideas on creating nice sleep habits)
10.Know that it gets better: When the nights get long and the morning seems to arrive all too fast, take heart that eventually you and your baby will be sleeping if not through the night, at least longer stretches at a time. My three, five and seven year olds go to bed with smiles on their faces, drift to sleep on their own after some serious cuddling and wake up 11 – 13 hrs later with smiles on their faces. Phew, with all that sleep…maybe it’s time to consider having another little one.
Resources for Better Sleep for You and Baby:
Sleep, Changing Patterns In The Family Bed Dr. Jay Gordon
Peace & Sleep Well