Debating With Myself About Sleep Training

I really can’t complain too much about how well Babycakes sleeps. I’ve mentioned before that she’s always been a bit of a crappy napper (other than the three days we were in the hospital), but besides the first night home when the hubs and I had no clue what the hell we were doing and Babycakes spent the majority of the wee hours screaming her poor little face off, she’s really had great night sleep. By three weeks she was doing a consistent 6 hour stretch, and by 12 weeks was hitting the 10-12 hour mark every night. We had a bit of a sleep regression…thing around Thanksgiving, and since then she’s been back to waking anywhere from one to three times a night to eat. Additionally, while she was taking four pretty solid 45-minute naps a day, she suddenly started resisting naps at the beginning of January and then transitioned to three naps. She might be on the cusp of another transition down to two naps, but I’m not sure yet.

We’ve also been working on an earlier bedtime. When she was still room-sharing with us, we’d all head to bed around 9:00. This started getting a little tricky once she began sleeping those monstrously long stretches. Babies make noise in their sleep, which disturbed me, at least. And it’s kind of hard to keep from disturbing baby when you’re snoring, or tossing in bed, or getting up to go to the bathroom, whatever. That was the main reason we decided to move Babycakes to her nursery once she hit the 3-month mark. Doing so also meant we could work on putting her to bed earlier, like by 8:00, and still have a little time to be adults before heading to bed ourselves (which for a while was still close to 9:00, at least for me). Granted, that “adult time” tended, and still tends, to consist of cleaning up the kitchen from bath time and doing baby dishes and maybe finally checking some email and, occasionally, watching a TV show or that Netflix that’s been sitting there for two weeks. We have a great bedtime routine in place, and have for a long time, and the sleepy sweet spot seems to be pretty consistent between 7:30 and 8:00. (Seriously, there’s a sweet spot. Too early and it takes forever for her to fall asleep on her own. Too late and there’s the chance, if she doesn’t completely conk out while nursing, it’ll take forever for her to fall asleep, and then she has a wakeful night. I tested this last night. It was a little rough until about 1:15.)

For quite a long time, I’d say since she was at least a month old, Babycakes hasn’t been completely lights-out when I set her down after nursing. She’d be all swaddled up, full of milk, and nice and warm, and when I laid her down in her cradle, she’d do this little resettling thing before truly falling the rest of the way asleep. Even when we moved her to her own room (and went cold turkey on swaddling because she managed to accidentally flip herself on her tummy that evening), I’d lay her down, she’d do a little stretch, then settle for the marathon sleep session.

Suddenly, sleep training started to creep into the conversation. “She’s old enough now to learn to go to sleep on her own.” That’s usually how it’s phrased. And this was something I’d known for a while, long before any relatives mentioned it, or before the baby development books brought it up in force. I think she was already kinda doing this, but I wasn’t laying her down wide “awake but drowsy”, which is what sleep training basically requires them to be. Nursing to sleep is very appropriate, especially for newborns up to 3 months of age, but even beyond that if it works. And I think it’s important to really tank Babycakes up before bed. Plus she really only eats well when she’s going to sleep, not after she’s woken up (which is why the eat-play-sleep routine during the day hasn’t worked for us, at least not yet).

I’ve been a little obsessed with her sleep for a long time, particularly once we moved her to her nursery and she seemed to settle into a predictable routine revolving around her waketimes and naps. But after Thanksgiving, I felt like I was being bombarded by so much information – and let’s face it, a little bit of pressure from a lot of different sources – to start working on sleep training. Since the beginning of December, I’ve been gathering as much information as I can get my hands on about sleep training methods. I’ve read everything from the Ferber Method (also known as the dreaded “cry-it-out”), Elizabeth Pantley’s “No-Cry Sleep Solution”, the Sleep Sense program by Dana Obelman, Nicole Johnson’s Baby Sleep Site, and many others. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has weighed in. I won’t deny that there are babies out there who need sleep training so that everyone in the house can get a full night’s sleep. I’m talking about the babies who wake up every two hours or less. So yeah, there’s definitely a time and place for sleep training, if it’s what the family needs, right? Otherwise, why would there be so many pediatric sleep specialists and sleep consultants out there, promising personalized sleep plans to help your baby learn to fall asleep and stay asleep for that magic 12-hour night?

No one method seems to jive with our parenting goals and ideals, and while I can cull a lot of suggestions from each that, altogether, could make a method that’ll make me, the hubs, and Babycakes happy, it’s so overwhelming and confusing, I’m not even sure if it’s something we should systematically attempt at any point. They all contradict each other. One resource says to start working on sleep training at night, another says to do it first at naptime. One says to respond quickly when baby cries in the night, another says to set a time frame that you’ll wait (sometimes as long as ten minutes or more!) before responding if baby doesn’t go back to sleep on her own. Some say to keep baby alert during breastfeeding (have the “experts” ever actually tried doing this?), others say that because breastfeeding is so relaxing for both mom and baby, it’s an acceptable way to get baby nice and drowsy. Some say to keep baby fully awake during night feeds, even if it means changing the poor little one’s diaper in the middle of things, while others say to keep it quick and simple, not to change the diaper unless it’s a stinky one, and not to worry if baby falls asleep while nursing (though a lot of night feeds in our house happen when Babycakes isn’t even fully awake to begin with).

I recently shared a humorous but oh-so-true new mom’s take on the whole sleep training thing that illustrates how ridiculously all the expert advice contradicts itself. And here’s what I’ve determined about all the “rules” of sleep training:

guidelines

I’ve been a big proponent of following my own maternal instincts when it comes to our daughter, and while I know I’m obsessing over how much she sleeps, how well she sleeps, how she falls asleep, whether she can effectively self-soothe when she wakes up in the night, etc., she’s really doing awesome at the sleep thing. I know that.

Plus, there is stuff out there that basically says not to worry about sleep training at all because it’s more of a societal thing rather than a developmental need, it doesn’t really work, and baby will figure it out when she’s ready.

See why I’m debating with myself over this?

For now, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing. Babycakes generally is well-rested, happy and healthy. I’m sure at some point, we’ll have to decide on a game plan for our own version of sleep training. I do miss the nights when she was sleeping 11 or 12 hours (and waking up between 7 and 8 rather than 6 and 7, as has been the case the past several mornings), but overall we’re not desperate for sleep.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to put Babycakes down for a nap.

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What I’ve Learned About Being a Mother

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Today, Babycakes is three months old.

How did that happen?

In this time, I’ve learned several things about motherhood, at least in my own life and for my own baby, that I never imagined I’d learn. Let me share.

  • You do actually forget how much labor hurt. I mean, I know it hurt. I remember crying, struggling to breathe through back labor, throwing up, squeezing my husband’s hand, and, at one point saying, “I don’t think I can do this!” But I don’t physically remember the pain.
  • You shouldn’t doubt your maternal instincts. They’re called instincts for a reason. We’re programmed to intuitively know certain things, and that includes knowing what to do for our babies. I spent a lot of time in the beginning (and admittedly still) second-guessing myself. Am I feeding Babycakes often enough/too often? Do I respond too quickly when she cries, or not quickly enough? Is she getting enough stimulation and learning time? Do I hold her too much or not enough? Once I learned to stop questioning myself and start listening to my daughter, things seemed to get a lot easier.
  • You are the expert on your own child. Sure, it’s great to read up on all the different parenting techniques and ask for advice. But you’re also going to get a lot of unsolicited input from a lot of people, especially well-meaning relatives who think you should’ve been giving the baby cereal by now and nursing her to sleep is a bad thing. But as with maternal instincts, I am the most knowledgeable person when it comes to my baby. And I’m going to do what seems right to me. Will I make mistakes? Sure. Probably already have. Oh well.
  • That whole “babies sleep all the time” thing is a total myth. At least in my house. Babycakes is a stellar sleeper at night – we were getting 5-6 hour stretches by 3 weeks, and now she regularly sleeps up to 10 hours a night, interrupted by an early morning feed. But she does not like to nap at all. The lack of time during the day to do anything but entertain her is offset by the uninterrupted sleep we’ve been getting.
  • No baby is as adorable/smart/funny/etc. as yours. My daughter still hasn’t really figured out her hands, and tummy time is like torture. But she figures things out that we didn’t think she was developmentally ready to do. Plus she’s hilarious. And beautiful. And far too alert for her own good – she has to look at and listen to everything. That’s probably why she’s such a crappy napper. She communicates to us in her own language that can sound like anything from a kitten to a baby wookie, and responds when we imitate. She’ll be going to Harvard next week, I’m sure.
  • Each baby accepts things out in their own time. Babycakes screamed her face off every time we put her in the car or stroller for the first month of her life, which was particularly challenging since she also hates pacifiers. Suddenly last week, the car was no longer akin to being put on the rack (though she still hates the buckling/unbuckling process), and just on Tuesday the stroller was not a torture device. She loves eating milk off a spoon, but still won’t take a bottle, even if it’s the only option she has.
  • Things will hit your emotions in weird ways. All it takes sometimes is a particular song on the radio to make me well up. It took all my willpower not to start sobbing in the doctor’s office waiting room when one of those hungry-kids-in-Africa commercials came on the TV. I cry sometimes when I see tears in my baby’s eyes. It was probably harder on me for her to get her first set of vaccines than it was for me, though she’d probably assert the opposite if she could say more than, “Ah-goo.”
  • You will discover immense capacity for worry. Along with hypersensitivity to every sound your baby makes. You want only the best, and for your baby to be happy and healthy. You’ll wonder every minute you’re awake in the middle of the night if the baby is sleeping okay. You’ll reach over and lay your hand (gently) on her chest to feel that it’s still rising and falling properly. You might even try to get her to squirm a little in her sleep, just to make sure she’s alright. Moms have been doing this, I’m sure, for centuries.
  • Your capacity for worry will be nothing compared to your capacity for love. I loved my baby before I ever met her, but since she’s been born, I often find myself overwhelmed by how much I love her. There are many times I’ll be snuggling and rocking her after she’s fallen asleep nursing, and I just can’t contain my tears of joy and love. The first time my husband found me practically sobbing over our newborn, he was afraid something was very wrong. But rather, everything was very right.
  • You will finally understand how much your own mother loves you. My mom said to me recently, “You know how you feel about her? That’s how I feel about you.”

Writing with a Newborn – Ha!

“Babies sleep most of the time.”

HA!

My daughter (let’s call her Babycakes, as that was her nickname before she was born and we were keeping her name top secret), is five weeks old today. (Holy crap, already?) It’s been an interesting few weeks. She’s a very good baby, really doesn’t fuss much unless she’s hungry, outside of her “fussy time” of course. And she sleeps like a champ at night. We’re already getting 4-5 hour stretches, and Monday, by some miracle, she slept almost 6 and 1/2 hours straight.

During the day? Not so much.

I figured we’d have a little bit of a writing hiatus until she was on a feeding and napping schedule, and I wasn’t bone tired and in need of naps myself. But then I’d be able to use those long naps babies are suppose to take to get some good writing done, both on my fiction as well as a few freelance jobs (I started freelancing part time just before Babycakes was born).

She did not get the memo, apparently. She sleeps for twenty minutes at a time, if that, unless she’s being held or worn in the Mobywrap. It’s just enough time to attend to Nature’s Call and stuff a sandwich in my mouth.

Don’t get me wrong. I love snuggling her. It’s hard to set her down (now even more so because I know she’ll wake up within minutes, wanting to be held). Yes, it is developmentally appropriate for a newborn to want that snuggly security, especially since I’m also acting as a 24/7 restaurant, and she gets very insistent when the service is slow. And the fact that she doesn’t really nap well during the day probably contributes to her sleeping so well at night already. Getting solid chunks of sleep at night has probably really helped me recover from the c-section I ended up needing after 12 hours of labor.

But, oh, to have her napping 2-3 hour stretches twice a day, rather than 5-6 twenty to forty-five minute catnaps! As rested as I feel in the morning, I’m fried by the time the hubs gets home from work. Thank God my mother has been able to come over every day to help with laundry and cleaning and occupying Babycakes so I can get a physical break a little earlier in the day than 5:oo.

So not so much with the writing yet. I’ve read and been told that, eventually, her sleep habits will mature and she will not only sleep through the night (meaning 7-8 hours before waking to eat), but she’ll settle into at least one longer nap during the day. So there’s hope.

That said, I have already informed the hubs that my September BIAW goal  for next week is to finish chapter 27 of the historical romance, and it’s going to require some uninterrupted time in the evenings while he’s home and can entertain Babycakes. I’ll even take a half hour if I can get it. No word count goal or anything. Just finish the chapter I started before she was born.