Today on the blog – in conjunction with Touro Infirmary – we are absolutely thrilled to be opening a dialog about sleep through our “Rest Assured: You Are Not Alone” series. As moms we are all often sleep deprived, and we struggle with making decisions around our children’s sleep habits as well. Should we use a crib or a bassinet? Is co-sleeping safe or not? Should we sleep train? And who IS the expert on sleep training anyway? Will the baby ever sleep more than 2 hours at a time? Why does my toddler have night terrors? When do I move the toddler to a “big kid” bed and oh my word why won’t they stay in the darn thing? Our goal through this series is to create a safe place for all of us to open up about the sleep issues that trouble us and to acknowledge that no matter our struggles or choices, we are never ever alone.
Sleep. On this topic, I’m incredibly uneducated, yet very experienced. If I could trade the hours I’ve spent pursuing sleep for mommy naps, I’d be a very well-rested woman.
I’m well read on a lot of topics, but have never felt inspired to read anything on sleep. Everything I know is from personal experience and observation of friends. Here’s what I’ve learned…
I have two children. I had no position on bed-sharing or co-sleeping before birth, but quickly had my babies in my bed with me. It just made sense. After I’d breastfeed my firstborn, I’d lay him back in the bassinet beside my bed and he’d stir and cry. Pretty quickly (as in day two), I learned that if I laid him on my chest, he’d sleep deeply and so could I. I propped up with pillows so I was sleeping semi-reclined and supported, and we’d wake hours later in the same position. He’d go to sleep at first in his bassinet, but would sleep best on my chest after middle of the night feedings. My son spent most 3:00-6:00 a.m. periods in our bed for his first year. I’d bring him into bed to nurse and we’d all go back to sleep together.
My daughter’s first weeks were similar, but around a month or so, I found that she and I both slept better if I’d put her back in her bassinet. My position on bed-sharing now? Educate yourself on safe bed-sharing while you’re pregnant so that if the baby you end up birthing likes to sleep with you, you’ll know how to do it safely.
Sleeping through the night
My personal opinion is that it makes zero sense to say that a baby is ready to start sleeping through the night at X or Y age. In my experience, babies are SO different, so why would they follow similar sleep rules? And as for “no longer needing to eat at night,” breastfed babies are in control of how much they take at each feeding and may be quite used to spacing their calories out throughout the day and night. To change that would need to happen gradually and the baby might not be on board with the change.
My son never was one to “sleep through the night” but now at four (and even back at age two), he’s become a steady nighttime sleeper. (I throw that out there to offer both you and me hope.) My daughter is now 19 months. She was our beautiful sleeper from two-seven months. She only woke around 3:00 a.m. to nurse. This was marvelous in our eyes. But then we traveled, she was sick, she had minor surgery and we have struggled with sleep on and off since then.
The 5:00 a.m. feeding
This is the hallmark of a Landry child. And you CANNOT convince me it needs to change. My son kept this time of waking and nursing well past a year and my daughter still does it. For my son, it allowed me to fit in two nursings before I went to work (5:00 and 7:30 a.m.) and not have to pump (I worked part time). For my daughter, she goes to bed at 6:30/7:00 p.m. and sleeps till close to 5:00 a.m. I nurse her and put her back in her crib and she goes back to sleep until after 7:00. She gets the sleep she needs and we don’t have to start our day at 5:00 a.m.! (Side note: I’m a big fan of the side-lying nursing position, as it means you can doze comfortably while you nurse.)
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about naps with other moms and this is another area where I’ve seen that children are very different! My son about broke my sanity fighting naps between ages two and two-and-a-half (basically my entire pregnancy with my daughter). I persisted, tried everything I could think of, cried, called my mom a lot and was generally frustrated. It was a great lesson in learning that you can’t make your child do what you want him to, even when you feel confident it’s in his best interest. (Filing that lesson away for later.) He did eventually go back to napping by the way. Naps gradually tapered off (some days he’d just rest and read; other days he’d fall asleep; EVERY DAY I’d read to him and put him in his bed.) He didn’t drop naps entirely until he turned four.
Through my daughter, I’ve seen how powerful routine is. She goes to school two full days and I watched how her nap habits at school have influenced the time and length of her home naps. Because school naps are shorter than what she seems to need, she makes up for the sleep by showing signs she needs an earlier bedtime and by continuing to sleep until we wake her up in the morning a little past 7:00 a.m.
So to sum all of this up, my personal sleep philosophy is to do what feels comfortable, be suspicious of blanket rules, save yourself stress and don’t expect babies to sleep “through the night,” and remember the cardinal rule: “You cannot MAKE your child sleep.” Sleep is such an evolving thing and what once works well, may change completely when your child hits a new developmental stage or gets sick/goes on a trip/etc. I believe it’s time to make a change when whatever your reality is no longer works for your family. There are lots of strategies out there to tweak your routine or to make big changes. It’s all about your child and your family. And if what you’re doing works for all involved, then you should consider yourself successful!