Sleep- A hot and familiar topic to new parents. Some of the first questions people ask upon meeting your new baby are “How is your baby eating? And, how is your baby sleeping?” The glassy, dark circled eyes should be evidence enough to answer question number two. “Not good” had been my anthem for months.
Getting Sage to sleep required “nursing her down.” That process could last anywhere from one to two hours and consisted of feeding her while patting her bottom and rocking her in the glider. Once I believed she was in a deep sleep, I carefully and cautiously placed her in the bassinet. Many of the nights were joyous in that I got to spend many hours getting to know my little girl, but by the fourth month, I felt trapped by this routine. We also got into a bad habit of bringing Sage into our bed halfway through the night. At first, it seemed like a good idea to feed her lying down because I could get more sleep. But as the months progressed, she got very used to having me (Ok. I should rephrase that: having my boobs at the ready for an all night feeding fest). Her constant access to my breasts became her soothing device, and should I dare roll over, she started to fuss. To keep the peace and preserve what little sleep I could in our crowded bed, I let her use my nipples as a pacifier. My husband got the brunt of on the other end- she would kick him in the ribs all night.
Our saving grace was reaching the 4-month mark. That is when we sleep trained our son, Shay, and planned to do the same with Sage. I know sleep training is a little controversial, but my husband and I are avid subscribers. For both kids we worked with sleep consultant, Jessica Shapley. She came to our apartment and asked about our bedtime routine She then created a specific plan for us to follow. Part of her technique does involve “crying it out,” though in very short intervals (starting at just two minutes). But I will say those two minutes feel like a lifetime!
With Shay, the whole process took about 15 minutes and two nights. Sage was a little longer. The first night she cried on and off for about 45 minutes. My husband and I had a stop watch with which we stood over anxiously as we waited for the allotted time to pass before Joey would go in to see her. This ritual occurred for a few more days. I felt like a horrible mother. Every time she cried I was convinced she felt like I was abandoning her. I checked in with Jessica everyday to talk over how things were going and constantly tailored our schedule to best serve Sage. She also talked me down from the ledge and assured me I was not emotionally scarring my child. It has now been 10 restful nights since we started this process. We have established our nighttime routine and Sage now goes down without so much of a whimper. She wakes up once a night for a feeding and starts her day around 7am.
We have also been able to regulate a nap schedule and will soon conquer putting both kids into the same room. While in the tumultuous sleep pattern we endured for 4 months, I did not realize how sleep deprived my husband and I had become. We were short tempered, haggard looking and my memory was shot. Life feels manageable and pleasurable again.
We have allowed ourselves to be a bit tied to our kids sleep and nap schedule. This is our choice. For our family, routine works. At 3 years old, Shay is an amazing sleeper and napper. Sage is well on her to following in her brother’s foot steps. Some people have scoffed at us and said we need to be more flexible with sleep and nap times. But to have a drama free bedtime routine established has led to peaceful nights with my husband and a sense of freedom that I treasure. By 7:30 every night, I close the bedroom door and with a big sign, relinquish my role of mommy for a bit.
For those interested in sleep training, I recommend researching to find which method is best for you. There are some schools of thought that do not support the “cry it out” method and encourage attachment parenting and co-sleeping. If this approach resonates with you, I would recommend looking into The Baby Sleep Book by Dr. Williams Sears or Baby Whisperer by Elizabeth Plantley. Registered nurse, Tracy Hogg wrote a book called The Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. Her approach is the middle path between “cry it out” and attachment parenting. You may also find it help to invest in a sleep consultant who can formulate an individual plan and who will also be on hand for questions.
In my opinion, putting the time and effort into helping your child to sleep well will pay off a hundred fold. I have friends who lament they cannot get their children to sleep in their beds, and bedtime is a battle every night. From my own experience, sleep training around 4 months old was one of the best parenting decisions my husband and I have made. Here’s to a good night sleep for all!