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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Your baby, the (normal) "problem sleeper"

There's so much parenting advice out there, some of it really good, and some of it pretty awful. Sometimes it's hard to know what to do, especially if you're a first-time parent, and many times people can make you feel really guilty and pretty horrible for listening to your gut instinct when it comes to raising children.

If there's one thing I learned after having three kids, is that they're all different. As much as the mechanics of babies are the same (yeah, they eat, poop, sleep, repeat) they're not: their personalities begin to emerge early on, and as they grow and learn, you have to tailor your parenting to fit their needs and differences. But I came to the conclusion based on the advice of others, and in observing others and what's considered social norms, that sometimes we think it's the other way around.

Getting your baby on a sleep schedule, whatever that is, is probably a perfect example. People will ask you if your child is a "good baby," which must mean "Are they sleeping through the night yet?" when they're 3-4 months old. I remember with my oldest, as a newborn he would be awake at all hours before I finally thought, What am I doing?! This child should be in bed.  But lucky me - I was spoiled by what I'll call the "Perfect Sleeper."

He slept through the night probably around four months, which I'd say is great (when compared to my other two). If he cried or fussed at night, it usually meant one thing: he'd filled his pants and needed a diaper change.

I can't imagine if I had taken this advice - from the cringeworthy What to Expect website - you know, the book everyone loves to hate. It reads like something out of a Dr. Spock time warp:
"Your baby's bad sleep habits are being rewarded. If your child cries at night to be fed and you feed him, or if he cries because he wants to be held, and you pick him up, then he learns a tricky lesson: Cry and I'll get what I want. But by six months, rest assured he needs neither a nighttime snack nor a cuddle; he's just getting away with that because he can..." (emphasis mine) Healthy full-term babies are capable of fasting for up to 12 hours at night by six months of age..."
Unless, of course, your child is like mine and has just taken a giant dump when he's "supposed" to be sleeping. I mean, really. Every child is different! This is basically assuming that there surely must be something wrong either with your crappy parenting or your child - who can sleep for long stretches but simply doesn't want to. Stop cuddling your child at 2 a.m.! He doesn't need it!


I don't think there's a parent on Earth who would say, "I really regret spending more time with my kids." Love them, hold them, feed them, rock them - they're only little once.

All kinds of things can mess with their sleep schedule: illness, hunger, emotional needs, or meeting milestones (that always kept my kids up - they were practicing their new skills!). If your child is going through a growth spurt, heck yeah they're going to want to eat in the middle of the night. It may not happen to every kid, but it doesn't mean there's something wrong with yours if it does - it's totally normal!

Fast forward to children #2 and #3 - who probably slept through the night at around 18 months. I very briefly tried the "cry it out" method with my middle, who was having none of it, and just wanted the breast, for crying out loud. It was so much easier to just give it to her, spend the five minutes to nurse, and then both of us would go back to bed. End of story. Is she waking up every three hours to eat now that she's six? No. My youngest was probably the same way, I can't even remember. But somewhere in there I realized something crucial: if I don't change my perspective, especially on nighttime feedings, this is going to get old. Quickly. And I can't afford for that to happen because we've got a lonnnng way to go.

I noticed, especially with my youngest, all he wanted was five more minutes. Just a little longer on mommy's lap, at the breast, and he was okay. The more I tried to rush things because I had something else to do, the more he just wanted that time with me. It was like a way of forcing me to slow down, relax, and listen to him and his needs, instead of demanding that he conform to my schedule.

I'm not going to say it was a bucket of laughs the entire time, but once I started seeing it as less of a nuisance and more of an opportunity to just love my children, it totally changed how I felt about dragging my butt out of bed in the middle of the night to deal with that "problem sleeper." My youngest, who is 4, still occasionally gets up to come to me in the middle of the night, even if it's just to cuddle and fall asleep in my arms, and will gladly go back to his own bed to kick, thrash and roll around as much as he damn well pleases.

And by the way, all of them were breastfed exclusively for six months (my daughter a little longer), and were nursed long-term. All treated much the same in terms of feeding and bedtime routine, all with different results. I know some parents struggle for long periods either getting their children to go to bed, to stay in bed, to sleep alone, etc. - they're all different. No one method is going to work with each and every one of them, and sometimes it will take great feats to get them to just lie. still. for. five. minutes. It will seem, as it did for me for many many many nights up with one baby or another, to be an eternity, and before you know it - poof, it's gone. That's what you should expect.

For much better advice, click here. :)