Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sleep Happens

I'm keeping it real for you today and talking about our sleep situation around here. Getting babies to sleep is one of the great mysteries of humanity. There are countless methods, doctors, experts, books, old wives tales, and advice {both solicited and unsolicited} all focused on how to get a baby to sleep. Yet, the answers seem to change every few years on what works best.

In my experience, having gone through it once with our now 3-year old and going through it currently with our 7-month old, there is no one answer. What works for one kid may not work at all for another. Every baby is different, which makes it extremely difficult to apply any blanket solution or method to all of them. For example, Carsen started on a nap schedule by the time she was 4-5 months old. She established it herself and took two almost 2-hour naps every day without a peep until she was about 1 year old when she switched to one long nap. To this day she naps every single day from 1:30-4:30, and would sleep longer if I didn't go wake her. From about 6 months old she woke up once every night around 4/4:30 to nurse and would go back to sleep until 8/8:30. Once she moved into her own room around 1 year, she slept 12 hours every night and still does. Easy!

Reagan is totally different. I have been trying to figure out her nap schedule for months. She rarely sleeps more than 30 minutes at a time during the day. You could set your watch by it. I've tried laying her down earlier, later, swaddled, un-swaddled, her room, our room {where she sleeps at night}, and I've just never found anything that seems to make any difference. Usually when she wakes up at the 30 minute mark I can give her the paci and she'll go back to sleep. Sometimes for 10 minutes, sometimes for an hour, sometimes not at all. Again, I can't seem to find any pattern or indicator as to what makes for a longer nap vs. shorter nap. Night time is another challenge of its own. For a long time she slept 8 pm - 3:30 am, and then woke up for the day around 6:30-7. Then for about a month she started waking up around 11 pm and every. two. hours. after that for the rest of the night. Brutal! Just recently, thank the Lord, she has gone back to sleeping until a wee morning hour (3-4) and then waking around 6:30 am when I pull her in bed with me to nurse {she sleeps in an Arm's Reach Co-sleeper which we LOVE} and she snoozes for another hour or so.

Like many sleep-deprived parents, I've turned to the Interwebz more than once in a moment of bleary-eyed exhaustion when I thought I just couldn't take it any more. Of course, what I found indicates that I'm doing everything wrong. Here's the list of infractions...

  • Nursing her to sleep

  • Using a pacifier

  • Using a swaddle blanket

  • Staying with her until she falls asleep

  • Picking her up when she cries {though only when other attempts fail}

  • Nursing her in the middle of the night

  • Sleeping inches away from her {in separate beds though}

Most of the advice I find suggests that nursing her to sleep will make her dependent on the boob to fall asleep, as will the pacifier and swaddle blanket, and staying with her until she falls asleep. All I'm doing with all of those things is teaching her that she can't possibly  fall asleep without them. Here's my question about that... if I did all the same detrimental things with Carsen, how did she end up being such a champion sleeper?? My answer to that is simple- all those things aren't the problem.

I mean, is there even a problem? Some argue that babies shouldn't be waking all night long. Well, she doesn't. But when she does wake up, I do something about it and we're all back to sleep in less than 10 minutes. Sure, I'd love to know what it feels like to fall asleep at 10 pm and not wake up until 6 or 7 {or 8}. I'm just not willing to put my baby through a traumatic training experience for my own luxury. She falls asleep nursing, so no, I'm not waking her up just to teach her to fall asleep in her bed instead of happily snuggled against her mama. I have zero trouble transferring her into her bed once she's asleep. Per all the "rules," I've tried not swaddling her. Instead of waking up after 30 minutes, she woke up every 6 minutes. I haven't even attempted taking the pacifier away. While she only uses it for bed/nap times, it is very clear to me that its disappearance would not go over well. The pacifier and swaddling both provide comfort and are part of the reason I can easily get her into her bed. We've also tried putting her in her crib in her own room. It was a disaster. She woke up constantly, sometimes the second I'd step my foot back in our room. If you think waking up twice a night is torture, imagine waking up twice every hour and standing bent at 90 degrees over a crib for 20 minutes soothing a crying baby only for her to start all over again less than 30 seconds after you leave the room.

So why bother with all the rules? Like myself, here's another mom who suggests trusting your instincts and listening to your baby instead. My approach to parenting, and the advice I always give new parents, is don't over-think it. I use my own common sense and Reagan's cues to determine when she needs to sleep {and all of her other needs for that matter}. If it's not in a perfect pattern, then her needs must be fluctuating at the time. As I type this, she has taken a fantastic 2.5-hour morning nap and went right out for her afternoon nap. It's been a good day, but I've done nothing any different than any other day. The inconsistency can be kind of annoying, yes, but I have to accept that that's just her. I'm sure that when her system settles into a pattern it will emerge on it's own.

In counseling, we always approach things from a standpoint of impact on daily function. Do you need an intervention if everyone is healthy and functioning even if not "by the book?" If it ain't broke.... I'm just saying. If you can't function on the amount of sleep you get and your baby seems miserable, try something different to get more sleep. But you don't need to force a baby into an expert's mold. Your sleep habits are different from other adults, so why expect that all babies will sleep the same way and for the same amount of time? Do what works best for your baby instead of fighting them for sleep, and sleep will happen.

I'll keep you posted on Reagan's sleep as it develops. In the mean time, what worked for you? Does your baby sleep all night or wake up a few times? Is your baby a napper, or not?

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