Nighttime Parenting So Far
We’ve only raised one child through the baby ages, and she’s still only barely a toddler, but since sleep is such a big issue for any parent, I wanted to write out (parts of) our sleep journey here. From the start, we’ve been very opposed to letting kids cry it out. With all of our children, we believed from the start in providing them with a safe, comfortable environment for sleep. That was first tested when our Middle One joined the family at age 2.5. His transition out of his old family was fairly traumatic and he had a difficult time going to sleep. Really difficult. His language skills were very delayed, speaking only about 30 words – when he was in a good space. We spent months lying down with the kid. Some nights MrH or I fell asleep while he stayed awake. We tried rubbing his back, holding him, reading more stories, everything. Eventually, however, it tapered off and he started to sleep. Each summer, he still “regresses” and really struggles for a few weeks. So we lie down with him again, and now we feel more at peace with that. We know, not just in blind faith but through our actual experience, that this phase will pass and he will soon be able to be tucked in and go to sleep again.
The baby, well, she’s a whole other story. We started off co-sleeping and LOVED it. Really. There was something so satisfying about sleeping with her and it really drew out the fiercely protective elements of my mother instinct. She’d usually start the night off in the co-sleeper and then stay in bed after the 1st, 2nd… sometimes the 3rd nursing. She nursed a lot through those early nights. I didn’t love nursing in general those first few months, but during the nighttime it was more bearable: I was lying down with comfy pillows, she was so small and snuggly, and she latched on fairly easily for those feeds.
A few months in, maybe around the 3rd month, we noticed that she woke up a lot less when she was in the co-sleeper, so I started making it a point to transfer her back after each feed. She started sleeping longer stretches, even making it through an entire night once (when we were camping, of all times!).
Then there was the regression. Did you know that most babies have a sleep regression somewhere around 4 months? I had no idea and it kicked me while I was down. Raising three kids, my husband starting a new job after being home with us all summer, and suddenly the baby wasn’t sleeping. So back in bed she came, it was all I could do to keep me sane. And while the sleep was interrupted, at least my feet never touched the floor.
It didn’t get better from there. When she outgrew the co-sleeper around 6 months, we moved her to a crib about 4 ft away from me. I tried to be diligent about putting her back in after nighttime nursings and sometimes it worked, sometimes not so much. This was the point where it was not fun. At all. Exhausted, with a baby who kept me up all night when she was in bed, or kept me walking back and forth much of the night when in her crib, life was no fun. This was the stage where we sometimes let her cry, only to realize that while it got her to sleep (and quickly – within 5-8mins), she slept terribly the rest of the night. We worked on a sleep plan inspired by the No Cry Sleep Solution, and while that helped us practice some healthy habits, they didn’t actually help her to sleep any better. The Sleep Lady didn’t seem to work either, nor the attempt at night-weaning.
After months, during which she sometimes slept well for a while and sometimes slept terribly, and during which we tried just about everything we could, we recently just made peace with the interrupted sleep, the unpredictable nature of it, and the often prolonged bedtime routine. After reading Sleepless in America, we began working harder to help keep her tension levels down so that sleep became an attainable thing once again. This helped tremendously. We rebuilt all of her trust in us: showing up next to her crib whenever she called, picking her up to nurse just a little longer even though she clearly wasn’t hungry, and leaving a hand on her back until she was mostly asleep. It’s been a very intensive way to parent her during the night, but you know what? She’s sleeping BETTER. She got onto a schedule where she only woke up once or twice a night (she’d been waking every 2 hours or more). I feel much less frustrated with the nightwakings, and have more faith that this phase will pass, just like I already believe with the older kids. You know what else? Other people can now get her to sleep too! And best of all, our communication has been restored. She trusts me to hear her, and I trust her to communicate with me. And she does.