Ah, Sleep. I took you for granted in my youth, in my pre-parent days. As a teenager I didn’t know what the world was like before noon on weekends or holidays. In my twenties once I started my teaching career, being awake at 9 am on a weekend was blasphemous!
Then I got pregnant. I couldn’t believe the outpouring of love and happiness that everyone showed at the addition to our family. Apart from family members, those who were most happy were already parents themselves. It was like I was entering some sort of exclusive club that only having children permits. We also noticed a pattern in the congratulatory comments – they all ended with a knowing smile as we would be advised to “get our sleep now”.
Yeah, sure. I would think. We’ll be up for night time feedings and we’ll lose some sleep…boy, was I naive!
I had no idea that I would never sleep like I did when I was childless again.
I had my son. For two weeks he slept like an angel…so much so that he barely woke to eat. One Saturday afternoon, at two weeks old, he was awake. He was awake all day long. It was bizarre. I didn’t think much of it and enjoyed seeing my cutie with his eyes open for a change.
Thus began the sleeping circus. The child barely slept again. The next few weeks were a struggle because he slept in short spurts – rarely did he sleep longer than 2 hours at night. The only time he slept this well he was on his tummy. Yup, on his tummy. My exhaustion overpowered my fear of SIDS and I allowed him to sleep on his belly against every fear, against every piece of advice from doctors and sleep experts. It was the only way we could get any sleep. There were times I would just let him sleep on his tummy on my chest – it would make me feel more security and trust that he would be alright, that I could take care of him.
My husband and I would take shifts throughout the night to make sure the baby slept soundly (on his tummy) and was safe. So, he got more sleep, but we were at our wits end with sleep deprivation. We had help from my mother, but it was never enough sleep to take away the numbness of lack of sleep.
That’s when I was introduced to this book:
I devoured chapters 1-5 within a day. And, I was obsessed. This book did two things to my fragile, sleep deprived self: give me hope that I could help my son become a good sleeper and therefore, we could sleep…and, I felt so uneducated! I spent my entire pregnancy reading about pregnancy and delivery – not once did I think to read about what to do once the baby arrived. I felt it would come naturally. For a woman in her early thirties who had never changed a diaper there was nothing natural about any of it.
Weissbluth’s methods are strict and at times seem cold. Nonetheless, Weissbluth is direct, practical, does take into account the emotional toll of sleep training or lack thereof. His book enlightened me.
Every stage of my son’s growth and development was marked with sleep issues: multiple night wakings, rising too early, the world’s shortest naps. The only thing we had down was a great bedtime routine. He fell asleep easily enough. Every night I left his room I prayed for a full night or half a night’s sleep. Occasionally the prayers were answered, most nights he awoke and would not go back to sleep without me or his dad going to him.
Trust me. I read this and other books. You’re supposed to ignore. You’re supposed to not smile. You’re supposed to encourage and help the child learn to sleep by themselves. You’re supposed to let them cry it out. Extinguish the learned behaviour because as Weissbluth reminds his readers, lost sleep is lost sleep forever. You can’t make up sleep and this is detrimental to children.
I was now exhausted by reading, researching, asking, trying to get this child to sleep and nap properly. I needed off the misery-go-round. My husband hid the baby books and I didn’t ask where they were nor did I hunt for them. I had to go with what I knew of my child.
A fog lifted. Feelings of incompetence slowly turned into trust of … dare I say it… my instinct?
My son did not magically become a better sleeper. We still battled at dawn for more sleep; we groaned when he awoke after 30 minutes of napping, but my son was always happy. I finally recognized that my child cannot be defined by the stories or advice provided in a book. I had to learn to take my cues from him.
Marc Weissbluth’s book is a good one. It does give newbies like me a great structure and understanding of sleep in babies and children. I did use what I learned of his advice and applied it to my family and my child – and it worked. On my terms.
I reflect on this experience because I will shortly be learning another human being’s sleep patterns and needs. I think that’s the best advice I’d give any woman that’s expecting – unless you’ve had plenty of experience with babies and children and are supremely confident in your knowledge of them, put the pregnancy book down. Pick up one that tells you what it’ll be like when your gorgeous little somebody is in your arms. Yes, do it now, when you’re in your right mind, less sleepy, less (believe it or not) hormonal. Now is a good time to soak in the information and decide what tips you’ll take, what you’ll discard, what feels right for you. Once baby comes, it can all fly out the window, or you’ll use it – but at least you’ll know.
Note 1: I would never tell any parent to let their baby sleep on their tummy; I don’t intend to do so with my next baby – we were just desperate for our son to sleep.
Note 2: My son is now a great sleeper. It only took 4 years! We have a solid, early bedtime routine, he falls asleep & stays asleep on his own and (mostly) wakes at a decent hour.
What were your sleep training experiences like? Share your stories below!