My Lovely Sleep Disaster
Here I sit at 10:00pm on a Tuesday night (having finally conquered bedtime) contemplating how I am going to describe our sleep plan for my two boys, ages 2 and 4. While I’d like to tell you that they go to bed on their own, in their own beds and sleep through the night … that’s not the case. Sleep in my home has been an evolution starting with a rigid approach for my first son and ending with a lackadaisical compromise we have grown to truly enjoy.
In the Beginning…
With my first son I read many sleep theory books during my pregnancy and eventually settled on the method that I felt was least harsh. I followed the steps in the book to a T for fear that I would not a be a good parent if he weren’t sleeping 8 hours in his own bed by 3 months of age. It was a disaster! I followed the steps perfectly and for 3 nights for hours and hours the two of us cried and cried and cried, but at no point (even after 3 hours!) did he fall asleep on his own. It was traumatizing for us both.
After our experience, I donated all of my parenting books and decided to take the “Natural Parenting” perspective. I decided that God gave mothers instincts for a reason. If my soul was crying out to me to comfort my child, then that’s what I was going to do! I never could have understood the soul-crushing power of an infant’s cry until I became a mother. It’s truly the most torturous sound I’ve ever heard. Sleep training had me as upset as my sweet young baby, if not more.
I felt a sense of relief once I gave myself permission to do what felt right to me and not what the books told me I was supposed to do. However, I was still terrified of co-sleeping for fear that I would suffocate him. To me, this seemed like an unnecessary risk at the time. I would stay up in the rocker and nurse him to sleep at each feeding, slip his pacifier in his mouth so he wouldn’t notice my absence, then gently place him back in his bed before returning to my bed. I was so paranoid that in the middle of the night I would feel movement by my feet (the dogs) and in a panicked frenzy, I’d jolt awake and try to catch my baby by my feet before he fell off the bed … only to look beside me and see my sweet angel sleeping soundly in his bassinet. The dogs thought I was crazy! That happened more than I’d like to admit. It was terrifying.
My first son was dependent on his pacifier for sleep and comfort. Ugh. I hated that thing. I’d literally have to get up 2-3 times a night to put the damn thing back in his mouth. I’d also hang over the side of the crib (a huge challenge when the mattress is on the lowest setting) and rub his back until he was soundly asleep. When my son was around 16 months of age a major change occurred; I became pregnant. I no longer had the energy to comfort him back to sleep 3 times a night. So, we started co-sleeping. He would go to bed in his crib and then the first time he woke up, I’d throw him between us and snuggle him. It was truly an “ah-ha” moment for me. I felt so stupid. How could I have missed this sweet cuddle time for a year and a half!?
I felt really cheated by the parenting books. How could I let them scare me into missing this sweet time with my child? He smelled so sweet and he curled into me like he was meant to be there. I was more rested and felt more connected to him; it’s time I’m so thankful we had together before I had my second child.
With my second son, I started co-sleeping around 3 months. I enjoyed breastfeeding so much more, I was better rested and I truly enjoyed having him there. He slept in our room until he grew out of the sleep ‘n play and I never pushed him to sleep independently. I nursed him until 13 months and then began weaning him off. He was probably around 15-16 months before he was fully weaned at night. For a long time, I was a human pacifier. I would fall asleep nursing him laying on my side and I’d only wake when I’d feel my milk let down hours later. I did initiate weaning at night, only because I wanted my body back!
Where we are now…
Now, they both start in their own beds, but by morning at least one, if not both, are snuggled tightly between us. Sleeping with my children fills me up with the positive energy I need to get through the day. It gives me the strength and patience I need. I know throughout the day, no matter what challenges we may face, we are going to have time to be at peace together that night.
Weekend mornings have become my cherished time. The kids wake up at whatever time and we all lay together in bed and watch cartoons. My husband and I wake gently and enjoy some morning cuddles before the hustle and bustle of the day begins. It’s become our time to reconnect re-fuel our family. I long to hear the ding of their NOLA Tiles nameplate hit the door as they throw it open, followed by the pitter-patter of little feet running towards my room calling out in a way that only a sweet child can, “Ma-maaaa.” It’s only a short time that we get to feel the love of our young children, pure and unwavering. My 4 year old only comes to bed with us occasionally now, and I truly miss him. Each passing month, he becomes more and more independent. He needs me less. I’m thankful for our “family bed” and I’m certain that I’ll never regret sharing our bed with them. I once read a quote that described how the more time you give them when they want you, the more time they’ll give you when you want them.
For now, our sleep plan is as needed. All families are different and this is what works for us. I’m thankful to have let go of the pressure to follow a plan and do things the “right way.” Ultimately, many could say that this is a truly selfish approach to bedtime. I agree. I did what worked best for me at the time. However, I’d argue that when the mother is less stressed and more well rested, the entire family benefits. My children love sleep and bedtime, our house isn’t a battleground and I have more patience for their toddler tactics come daylight! They say, “Pick Your Battles!” For me, having my children in their beds throughout the night isn’t one I’d like to pick.
This is exactly how my life is right now. Except I only have one and we have been co-sleeping since birth. She is 13 months. I’m still a human pacifier. Did you night wean and put him in his bed at the same time? Was there lots of crying involved in the night weaning? I love cosleeping, but don’t think she will ever sleep through the night if I continue to nurse through the night. :):)
Hi Amy. No, I didn’t do both at the same time. He was a very large child and grew out of his sleep n play at 9 months. I don’t handle crying well so I slowly weaned. I would refuse the nipple about every other time and try to calm him to sleep without it. If that didn’t work, I would give in and give it to him then wait until he fell asleep before gently removing my nipple from his mouth. Eventually, he got used to sleeping without the constant flow of milk.
He is 27 months now and he still wakes around 4am and demands milk, only now it’s from a sippy. I give it to him and bring him into bed with me.
Trust yourself. You know your baby. It’s all about what works for your child. My eldest son stopped nursing at 7 months and went straight to the pacifier. My second son refused a pacifier and refused to be rocked to sleep, but nursed much longer. He likes his space and he likes to be still. Just trust yourself. 🙂
My son slept in our room till 8 months old, and we even bedshared for naps from 3 months till that time. It made breastfeeding so much easier for me personally. I can’t wait till he can crawl into bed with us 🙂
Hi Erin! I couldn’t agree more. Having the baby right there with you makes nursing so easy and convenient! 🙂
I’m so glad that NOMB posted this! While cosleeping is the norm in most other countries, it’s frowned upon by so many in the US because of bad research. I tried the Babywise method with my first and it just didn’t feel right. It went against every instinct I had. After 1.5 days, I decided to parent by my instincts and I’ve never looked back. It has been such a relief to not have to worry about if I’m doing everything right with baby #2. From the beginning, we coslept which made breastfeeding easy at night. And I got way more sleep this time. Now that he’s almost two, he’s night weaned and sleeps in his own room, usually waking once if any. Children will sleep through the night when they are ready. As infants, they are not developmentally ready. I wish the pressure that is placed on parents to have infants STTN would vanish. It’s just not supported by research and neither is CIO.
I couldn’t agree more. I’m now mother to 3 boys and each one was a little different. All children do things on their own time and if your able to give them a little room to show you what they need, it’s less stressful for everyone. I’m no expert and I could use more sleep than I am currently getting, but like most things, this is only temporary and I’m willing to make that sacrifice for my youngest son. 🙂
Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this!!! I felt the exact same way with my baby! For the first two months of his life, I tried to have him sleep in a bassinet in our room. I kept moving him closer and closer to me, ending up with me trying to fall asleep with my arm hanging over the side of his bassinet, which was not comfortable at all. He would constantly wake up, and in my relentless research, I came across the Arms Reach Co-Sleeper crib. This seemed like the best option, so I put in a rush order for one. All the while, I felt a deep desire to put him in bed with me, but was full of fear because of all the misinformation that had been hammered into my head for years.
While awaiting my co-sleeping crib, I started to go down the list of my fellow mommies and get their input on co-sleeping. The response was unanimous! They had ALL CO-SLEPT!! I thought, “Why is no one talking about this?!?” It was the first of many experiences in which my instincts trumped anything I read in a book. I did, however, find a book that was the final confirmation I needed to feel confident about co-sleeping. It was a book by the La Leche League called “Sweet Sleep”. We’ve been co-sleeping now for nine months, and I only wish I had been doing it from day one. Yes, it’s sometimes a struggle. I sometimes miss being able to take up as much room in my bed as I liked, but the few times I’ve been able to put some distance between us, I find myself waking up and getting as close to him as possible, and I can finally rest knowing my sweet baby boy is snuggled up to me.
We need more mommies to come forward with their co-sleeping experiences. To say that co-sleeping is never safe is the same as saying that cars are never safe to drive, because car accidents occur. Just like driving a car, co-sleeping requires that you make choices that will create a safe environment to be successful. If more women talk about their experience, more information of how to co-sleep safely will be available to future mothers. And maybe more members of the medical community will start to offer their support.
Thank you for your comment! We all just need to do what works best for us and our children. More than opening a conversation about co-sleeping, I’d like to see fewer absolutes. There isn’t one way to do anything and realizing that would make being a new mother so much less stressful! Enjoy your time with your little one!