21 March 2013
Sleeping Like a Baby
When pregnant with Baby #1, Dear Hubby and I researched cribs and crib mattresses as if world peace hinged on our decision. Of course, we also had a bassinet for our room, where we figured she might sleep for "a few weeks, maybe" until we moved her across the hall to her own room, because . . . that's what parents do, that's what parents need, that's what babies do, that's what babies need.
Baby #1 (aka, Agent E) had a different idea.
I'll spare you the saga of long nights sitting up with E, attempt after failed attempt to get her back in that bassinet. How I swung back and forth between letting her "really" wake up (i.e., get mad enough to start crying) and grabbing her immediately at the first whimper. How it took me weeks (months? It's a blur now.) to realize that her night time needs were not going to go away, and I needed a sustainable plan for dealing with them while maintaining my own sanity.
Someone had given me a copy of a very nice sounding book about infant/child sleep. I won't mention it specifically, but let's just say it implied that following its recommendations would not only lead to "better" sleep all around, but also health and happiness. So promising! And then I actually read it.
Truthfully, it made me queasy. Forcing baby into a strict schedule to fit your needs (not hers), solitary sleep in a dark room with no contact presented as the only option, listening to your baby cry for up to an hour, even if she made herself throw up. I had a hard time believing (to put it mildly) that people read this and think, yeah, that sounds about right.
I knew there had to be another way. I wandered the "baby and child care" section at the nearest bookstore looking for something to pop out at me. I came home with a copy of The Baby Book by Dr. Sears. I began reading it a little at a time during E's nursing sessions (which were plentiful, and new-mom confusing in their own right, another post).
Holy light-bulb moments. I nodded along so much with the text, at one point I might have been mistaken for a Breastfeeding Bobblehead.
The thing is, I hadn't considered sleep "options" at all while pregnant. In my mind, there was only one thing to do: solo sleep, bassinet to crib as quickly as possible, baby in her own room basically from the get-go. I didn't even realize there were choices: bedsharing vs. co-sleeping (no; they're not the same), crib in the same room vs. crib in a separate room, starting out the night in one place and moving on the first wake up. It seems ridiculous to me now (and even a tad embarrassing) that it never occurred to me that I could do whichever one of these worked for us as a family and it would be fine.
Still, I hesitated. If I bought a bed rail, did that mean I couldn't change my mind and move her out of our bed later if it weren't working? If I asked Hubby to dismantle the crib and refashion it as a sidecar, did that mean I had to commit to this idea long term?
I know a huge part of the problem I had reconciling my choices at first was that conventional wisdom about babies and sleep led me to think in absolutes. I was confronted from every angle by if . . . then statements. If you bring baby into your bed, then she'll never want to leave. If you don't teach her to sleep on her own, then she will depend on you to fall asleep forever. If you always nurse to sleep, then she will always expect it.
The major flaw in this logic is that it assumes babies (and children, and parents for that matter) are inflexible and stagnant. This is simply not true. Babies' needs change. Parents' needs change. Everything changes.
The other flaw is that it imposes an unnatural sense of urgency on a natural development. The belief that simply waiting it out is not good enough. That you need to take action. Speed things up.
The truth is, it is okay to wait. It is okay to allow your baby (or toddler, or preschooler) to ease into solo sleep following his or her own timeframe. Really.
As for my little Agent E? The one whose newborn night time needs caused me to re-evaluate? She'll be seven soon. Contrary to what well-meaning folks tried to warn me about, she sleeps well, all night (barring any illness or nightmares), in her own bed, without coercion. Oh, and she weaned a long time ago, mostly of her own accord. As all children eventually do, she gave up nursing to sleep, she no longer needed me to be near her all night, and she learned to not just tolerate but actually love her own bed in her own room . . . when she was ready.