“Sleep like a baby”

As a mom, I will tell you that “Sleep like a baby” is one of the most misleading phrases I have ever heard.  I don’t know about your baby, but our “baby” still doesn’t consistently sleep through the night at 3.5-years-old!  Sleep is a topic that is often fraught with strong opinions, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, hope, breath-holding, and tiptoeing.  My hope is to allay some of your fears and anxiety and encourage you to be creative.

Before our son arrived our doula did a wonderful job of trying to help us understand the intricacies of infant sleep.  She talked to us about co-sleeping and room-sharing.  Even after those discussions and reading The Baby Sleep Book: The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Rest for the Whole Family (Sears Parenting Library) we still naively thought that our baby wouldn’t “sleep like a baby”.  We thought he would sleep like an adult.

We were in for a rude awakening.  The first night in the hospital was pretty perfect.  I stayed awake all night holding him (much to the nurse’s stern disapproval – she told me I would spoil him), nursing him, and gazing at his perfect little body.  After 5 years of patience very few things could have pried him from my arms.  He dozed and nursed all night.  The second night was fairly similar, and then we went home.

We found out that it is that third night that often takes parents by surprise.  This is when babies really start waking more frequently and wanting to nurse more often.  Somewhere in there they also find their lungs and make use of them during those middle of the night diaper changes and feedings that don’t happen fast enough.  None of that bothered me.  I was so in love and thrilled that our baby was finally here that it was an absolute pleasure to be awake all night.  As we learned how to breastfeed, pump, and master diaper changes we continued on that sleepless path and we were content (thank goodness for those good mama hormones!).

I got a lot of smiles and hugs in those early weeks.  Everyone expects a new mom and dad to be exhausted, but almost everyone assured me that sleep got MUCH better around 6 months.  Our baby had dairy sensitivities so from about 6 weeks until 12 months we were up all night every night if I had any dairy in my diet at all, even a little pat of butter.  I learned to bounce and rock and jiggle in the dead of night and loved it.  Each moment was a moment I was spending with my baby.

It didn’t really occur to us how little sleep we were getting until we visited friends in Texas around 6 months and they remarked that they didn’t know how we were doing it.  Their breastfed baby was 2 months younger and sleeping through the night.  We didn’t even know what 2 consecutive hours of sleep looked like at that point.  We were tired, but still hanging in there.

By six months we had already utilized a variety of sleeping arrangements.  The very first night he was home we used the crib for part of the night and that was the last time we used his crib until he was almost a year old.  We moved the pack-n-play into our room and put it right next to our bed.  This worked for awhile, then he moved into our bed using an infant positioning seat. When he outgrew the positioning seat, he moved into the Nap Nanny on the floor next to our bed (before it was recalled).  He slept between that and our bed for another several months.  After he outgrew the Nap Nanny he slept with me in a rocking chair and then with me on a mattress on his floor.  We slept on the mattress until he was almost three and nursed through the night.  We remained flexible and adjusted our sleeping arrangements as necessary.  The bottom line: we found a nighttime solution(s) that worked for our family.

Our naptime options were more limited because if we put him down or stopped moving he instantly woke up.  Most often we bounced on an exercise ball while wearing him in a carrier (thank goodness for the Moby Wrap Original 100% Cotton Baby Carrier, Black
and an Ellaroo Mei Tai) .  We did this for the entirety of nearly every nap he took.  Sometimes we got lucky and could just rock with him and forgo the bouncing.  I say this was lucky because I perfected the napping while rocking skill.

As you can see from our experiences, infant sleep is sometimes anything but easy and peaceful.  It requires creativity, patience, and a sense of humor.  After three and a half years, many nights our son falls asleep within 5 minutes of laying down as we sit quietly next to him and he sleeps most of the night.  If he wakes up before the sun, one of us goes in and sleeps with him so that we all get another 1-3 hours of sleep.  He does have one or two nights a week where he suffers from night terrors.  If you don’t know about night terrors yet, they occur in the beginning part of the night and can be anywhere from about 10 minutes to 45 minutes.  Often the child screams/cries and cannot be consoled.  So, a couple nights a week, we sit in K’s bed and make sure he is safe during these night terrors.

Everyone’s sleep journey is different.  You may be blessed with a baby who doesn’t sleep like a baby.  That is wonderful!  If you are blessed with a baby who sleeps just like a baby should please know that this is normal (even if other parents don’t admit it).  The sleep path and journey are different for each family.  Be patient, try to rest when and if you can, do your research and choose safe sleep options, and be flexible.  Not all parents will tell you about their challenges, but each parent has a struggle of some sort.  You aren’t the only one.

Night waking, the need for comfort and food, and the need to be close are all developmentally normal for infants and toddlers.  Take a step back and think about it this way.  Think of your age.  This is the number of years you have had to get used to your surroundings and the societal norms we live by.  Now really think about how long your child has been outside the womb.  How long have they had to get used to the huge world and all of the societal norms surrounding sleep?  It is a big difference isn’t it?  I find it helpful to remember that my little guy has only been living in this world for 3 and a half years.  I have had over 3 decades to get used to the world.  That thought seems to refill my patience and energy banks when the supply is dwindling.

Patience, humor, and flexibility are the keys to wading through the sleep trials of infancy and childhood.

I would like to invite you to leave a comment or experience that will encourage other parents in their journey toward a restful night for the family.