Information available about sleep is so controversial and so confusing… so here are my thoughts thus far…
First of all, sleep “experts” and sleep training “methods” never used to exist… people just trusted their Mommy instincts and talked to their other Mommy friends about sleep to figure out what to do. Secondly, in the rest of the world and for thousands of years, people have slept with their babies in bed with them because it makes breastfeeding easier and it’s the safest way to sleep.
When Julia was first born, and throughout the first 3-and-a-half months or so, my basic attitude about getting her to sleep was that we should do whatever works to ensure that we all get as much sleep as possible. At the beginning, what seemed to work best was swaddling her and nursing her to sleep in bed next to me, then once she was sound asleep, we would gently move her into the bassinet of the pack-n-play, which is in our room right next to our bed. That worked for a long time, and if we need to fall back on that, it works now too. Swaddling was nice because it would calm her startle reflex and it helped to keep her asleep for longer periods of time than if she was not swaddled.
At the beginning she would sleep about 4-5 hours, wake up to nurse, then go back to sleep for another 3 hours, and then she would go back to her eating every 2 hours schedule. That was working out great! I didn’t feel like I was missing out on that much sleep. I like the idea of “co-sleeping” because it’s nice to have her in bed next to us, or at least in the same room. It makes nursing in the middle of the night easier and from some of what I’ve read, it’s the safest sleeping set-up you can have with a baby (as long as Mom & Dad don’t drink heavily, aren’t on drugs, and aren’t morbidly obese). But, there’s also this idea that you should try to get babies into their own crib and in their own room so that they have their own space, so that they can sleep better without distractions waking them up, and so that you can have your evenings back to do grown-up things–cooking, eating dinner together, watching movies, etc. So, when we got back from New Jersey after New Years, I decided to try putting Julia in her crib one night–I nursed her, she fell asleep in my arms, and I put her in her crib around 6:45. That night she slept until nearly 1 AM–6 hours! The next night I tried again and she slept 6 and a half hours! I liked this new plan and it gave me time in the evenings to hang out with Ken or do things around the house that I needed to get done.
So for most of the month of January that’s what we were doing: I would nurse her in the rocking chair in her room, I would let her fall asleep nursing, and then I would gently place her in her crib and she was sleeping 6-7 hours a night before waking up to nurse. (I should add that I understand that breastmilk is digested more easily than formula, which is why breastfed babies generally need to wake up in the middle of the night to nurse, and she will probably continue to need this until about a year old.) Then she got sick with a cold… and then a cough… and since she got sick, those 6-7 hour stretches of sleep have turned into 2-4 hour stretches of sleep. Around the same time that she got sick, she started to fight the swaddle… almost as soon as we have her swaddled, she pulls one arm up and out of the swaddler and then the other arm. The problem though is that unswaddled, she has a lot of trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep. The few times I’ve put her in her crib unswaddled, she’s woken up within 30-45 minutes because she startles herself awake. So new dilemma: she needs to be swaddled to sleep, but she fights the swaddle and breaks out of it in the middle of the night. I’ve discovered all kinds of products that are made and designed to help “transition out of the swaddler” and I’ve heard about people slowly transitioning babies out of the swaddler–first swaddling only one arm, then leaving both arms out, then transitioning to just a sleep sack without the swaddling arms. I’ve also heard of people having success with just going “cold turkey”–they’ll have a few horrible nights of sleep but eventually the baby learns to sleep through the startling.
I know that she used to sleep 6-7 hours at a time (one night she even slept 8.5 hours!) so I know that she’s capable of sleeping for longer stretches, which makes me think that when she wakes up in the middle of the night, she doesn’t really need anything. And that is what “sleep training” is supposed to help: the unnecessary middle-of-the-night wake ups.
The problem is information that is available about sleeping is so controversial and so drastic. There seem to be two camps of people: people who say “let the baby cry themselves to sleep” and the people who basically say “crying will psychologically damage your child.” Either way, it’s very confusing and hard to figure out what to do. The other problem is that there are mothers I respect and whose opinions I value who fall into both camps, so who should we listen to? My own mother never “sleep trained” me… she nursed me to sleep until I was weaned (at a little over 2 years old) and she would lie in bed with me after that to read to me, sing me songs, and rub my back until I fell asleep. I have very fond memories of this bed-time routine, and I eventually learned to go to sleep on my own with no problem so clearly “sleep training” is not necessary. Also, people other than myself have successfully put Julia to sleep without nursing her to sleep so she obviously is not dependent upon nursing in order to fall asleep, and when I’m with her I have no problem with nursing her to sleep.
For now, we have ordered a book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child,” by Marc Weissbluth. This book was recommended to me partially because it talks about the science behind sleep and explains how babies sleep differently from adults, but also because it has information about how important it is to get babies onto some sort of sleeping schedule early on, and it talks about the importance of daytime naps. I haven’t read it yet, so I don’t know for sure, but from what I understand it talks about creating healthy associations with sleep, putting the baby to bed before they’ve fallen asleep, and letting them cry until they fall asleep. It also talks about the importance of daytime naps and the importance of watching baby’s cues and putting them to bed as soon as they show any sign of being tired rather than waiting until they’re fussy and get over-tired. The idea is that the first night they might cry for a really long time, the second night they’ll cry a little less, and each night after that they’ll reduce the amount of crying they do until eventually (and the goal is that this happens within a week-10 days) you are able to put them in their crib awake, say “goodnight,” and they’ll just fall asleep on their own with no crying. The other goal is that if they do wake up in the middle of the night, they’re able to calm themselves down and soothe themselves back to sleep because they are not shocked by waking up somewhere different from where they fall asleep (which is what can happen if they fall asleep nursing and then you put them down in the crib sound asleep).
Hearing Julia cry is painful to me so I don’t like the idea of “cry-it-out” sleep training methods, but eventually we will have to do something. I’m okay with her waking up to eat once or twice in the middle of the night because I have chosen to breastfeed and I understand that breastfed babies need to eat in the middle of the night, but I am NOT going to continue being okay with her waking up every 2-4 hours at night when she doesn’t need to eat. And it’s not okay for it to take 1-2 hours to get her to go to sleep initially.
So right now we’re in the initial research stages… learning as much as we can about sleep and the various sleep training methods out there… we definitely have to wait until she is 100% cured from this cold/cough she has, and then we’ll have to figure out what, if anything, we are going to do. She might go back to her 6-7 hour stretches when she’s feeling better but if she doesn’t, then we may have to pick a method and just give it a go. The problem is reading these different blogs/websites makes things so confusing and no matter which “method” you choose, you feel like you’re going to cause irreparable harm to your child, and that is the opposite of what I’m trying to do! Everything I’ve read also says that consistency is key with whichever method you choose and that both parents have to be 100% on board with the method, so Ken and I will have to do our research together, but here’s some of what I’ve read:
- Psychology Today article about Sleep Training: basically says that breastfed babies need to wake up to eat at night, and that some waking up at night time is normal
- Blog Post about the “Sleepeasy Solution”
- Parenting Magazine article about Sleep Training without using a “Cry-it-Out” method (this is kind of what I’m leaning toward since hearing Julia cry hysterically is physically painful to me)
- Another blog post about Sleep Training–focused on the Weissbluth book mentioned above
- All kinds of advice on KellyMom about Nighttime Parenting in relation to breastfeeding
- There’s also another method which I’ve heard is very time-consuming and very involved, called the “No-Cry Sleep Solution”
Do any of my readers have any advice/suggestions? I’d love to hear from the proverbial “village”!