Some babies can sleep through the night as early as a couple months old, or maybe even younger! Some babies never sleep through the night. Our baby is one of those that has slept "through" the night maybe just a handful of times if even that. Though we dabbled with some sleep training, we didn't keep it up and I've learned a lot throughout the process that I'm incredibly grateful for.
I had previously written a blog post about whether sleep training was worth it or not, and at the time I thought it was, because it seemed to work relatively well. That didn't last though. For the couple of months after we did some gentle sleep training techniques with our son, our son was constantly teething, so it seemed that disrupted his sleep again. Sleep training programs will tell you to just push through, and "usually" teething pain shouldn't bother your babe too much. But our baby would scream cry, and it was a different cry than his normal middle of the night, "where's my mommy" cry. So, I couldn't let him just cry for 15 minutes then go in and say some sweet words, then leave and wait another 15 minutes, etc. When my instincts tell me my baby needs comforting, I try to give it to him. When they tell me he's just whining because he needs attention or is bored, I have other ways to respond.
With my son, I don't rush to him as soon as he cries in the middle of the night, but if I hear him crying in discomfort or unable to settle down, then I'll go in and be there for him. Often times I can tell, too, when he's stood up and crying and I'll go in as soon as I realize that. When I go in, sometimes that means climbing into his crib with him and sometimes that means nursing him, or both. Sometimes I can even get away with just helping him find his pacifier :).
I read an article a while ago, before I was ever pregnant, and it made a strong impression on me. The writer had gone to another country for work and visited an orphanage. She was astonished to find that there was a room full of babies, yet it was completely silent. What she learned was the babies were silent, because they had cried so much with no one to tend to them, that they stopped. Why would you keep crying out for help, if no one is coming to help? My guess is that that's where the cry-it-out method essentially came from, too. In the orphanage, no one was there to love these babies and to respond to them and their needs. So, the writer said for this reason she would crawl into her daughter's crib whenever her daughter needed her mama. She wanted her daughter to learn love instead of abandonment. This really stuck with me. Especially in these early foundational years, I want my son to know that I'm here for him physically and emotionally. He's safe with me.
I was reminded of this story when I learned early on that my son sometimes just wants to be next to me. It's not just because we've been in a pandemic and he's always with me. I remember on the second night in the hospital after he was born, I was having trouble soothing him. I thought he was hungry, and that we were having a latch issue. The nurse tried to help me out, and as soon as she moved him into a position so that he was nestled warmly next to me, he calmed down. We realized it wasn't food that he wanted, it was Mama.
When we brought him home and struggled with getting him to sleep in his own bed next to us, we eventually brought him into bed with us, because it was the only way he would sleep better (not great, but better). So, we co-slept until it became too crowded in our bed. I still bring him into our bed from time to time, but he at least starts in his crib. Sometimes he just sleeps better in our bed, but sometimes not! So, overall I just try to listen to him.
A few months after our initial gentle sleep training attempt, our son seemed to have a major regression. At first I thought it was teething, but then it continued for a few weeks with no new pearly whites. Then we learned he had a small ear infection, and antibiotics helped at first, but towards the end of that treatment he was back to screaming a few times a night. This lasted about three months, and then all of a sudden he started sleeping better (still not great, but better). Very recently (and gosh, I hope I don't jinx this) he's been sleeping what I'd consider quite well. We even got one night of more than 7 hours of sleep straight! That was a first in 16 months!
Through the worst of the nights though, I tried everything. I tried the sleep training techniques, but maybe not consistently or persistently enough. I tried putting him in a disposable diaper for the night to see if that made a difference, because I thought maybe his night cloth diaper was too bulky...nope. Nothing I did seemed to work and at another doctor's appointment I was told he was probably having bad dreams. I question if he's really having nightmares every night though. Is it overexcitement because now that we're taking him out more everything is new and exciting? I don't know. Maybe he's just an active dreamer like me, and being so little, he isn't able to or doesn't know how to sleep through those dreams yet. As someone who sometimes suffers from insomnia, I understand sleep struggles.
The thing is, no matter how horribly my son may sleep at night, he is always full of so much energy, smiles, and laughs during the day, that his bad sleeping doesn't seem to affect him...at least most of the time. He's quick, he's smart, he's curious, and he's incredibly independent. And letting his sleep journey take its natural course has been...interesting to say the least, and also fascinating. I can say that now that I've enjoyed a few nights of decent sleep. Through all this sleep struggle, I feel more persuaded to lean into my instincts and just "listen" to my baby, even though many times I have no idea why he's crying in the middle of the night.
For my birthday, my friend gave me a book called "Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans." This book has helped validate my resistance to certain parenting trends, like sleep training. It reveals that sleep training was first proposed by a surgeon-turned-sportswriter. In fact, the book claims that much of the parenting advice we're given today is not actually based on scientific or medical studies. And much of it comes from men who shouldn't be giving parenting advice.
The book also shares insight on the fact that up until the late nineteenth century, it was very normal for people to sleep in segmented chunks, each for about 4 hour chunks, and naturally wake in the middle of the night. So sometimes people would do chores in the middle of the night, while others may have just laid in bed saying prayers or pondering dreams until their next sleep came over them.
I believe science has taught us that sleep is very important; but maybe there's not one way to sleep. And maybe there's not a need to control sleep...except for the fact that many of us have to wake up at certain times to go to work or school. Still, maybe if we just followed our natural sleep cycles, then we'd naturally wake up when it's time to? No matter what, my son tends to get up around the same time every day. If you're a sleep expert reading this, I'd really love to know.
In general, I love hearing what has worked for others and what hasn't when it comes to parenting, but I unfollowed all "Mommy Influencers" because everything we're told feels so controlled, which didn't feel right to me. In the end, all of these "Mommy Influencers" are also just moms figuring things out. I'm not saying they don't have good advice, but I'm not a fan of doing things just because everyone else does them, or just because something worked for one person or even a handful. Obviously the various sleep training methods have worked for many people, because there are many people that subscribe to the various methods. That's still doesn't mean they work for every single baby.
So, my point is that baby sleep struggle is real and can be disheartening for parents. Unfortunately, it can take its toll on me and some days, especially in the mornings, I really struggle and may not be the most pleasant person to be around. However, my son motivates me to get up, keep moving forward, and stay as joyful and positive as possible. I mean, let's face it, if I don't get up, who is going to know when to change baby's diaper, feed him, get him down for his nap, bathe him? #MomLife
There are so many different ways to deal with baby's sleep, and it's amazing the amount of pressure this can put on a parent. Some parents stick to the sleep training techniques through all regressions and rough patches, and some just sort of accept the circumstances like I have. If sleep training works for you, great. If it's not your cup of tea, don't overthink it or put pressure on yourself. But also, if it's not baby's cup of tea...maybe we don't have to force it on baby? I mean, what did people do before we had all these books and methods? I'm definitely not here to dole out baby sleep advice, but just to share my experience, and say hey, if you're struggling with baby sleep, I feel ya! It can be totally unpredictable, too.
In his first few months when most babies seemed to be taking 1.5 to 2 hour naps, ours took half hour naps if we were lucky--40 if we were super lucky. Oddly, he's now a great napper, typically napping between 1.5 to 2 hours...sometimes he's too good at napping! And as I've mentioned, though he's never been a great sleeper at night, it does seem he is moving through his own natural ebbs and flows. I'm hoping that as he gets older, and once he's able to communicate, we might learn what causes him to toss and turn at night. Maybe we'll never know, but we'll see.
So, I guess what I've learned is that every aspect of raising babies is a rollercoaster, some more wild than others, and when I just do my best to enjoy and navigate the ride as each drop and loop comes, things are less complicated and stressful than when I'm trying to over-control the ride.
What are your thoughts and experience with baby sleep? Any of you struggle like I do? What has worked for you?
Also, in case you were wondering...except for not being long enough, I find baby's crib quite comfy and I wouldn't trade the snuggles for anything, even though some nights I want to cry while someone holds me, too.