This is not info we share with a lot of people. On the odd time that it gets brought up, it's not unusual to get strange looks or disapproval masked in disbelief. When he was younger, I received a lecture from a concerned friend on how it was dangerous to his development to have him in the room with us. He would never learn to be independent, and trying to teach him to sleep on his own would be a nightmare. Her extreme concern was frustrating and flustering, leaving me with lame replies and half formed sentences. But, trust me, I know what I'm doing.
Before Bug's birth, we prepared for him as any couple would expecting their first child. We painted his room, arranged clothing on the shelves, picked out a tiny first outfit, stocked diapers, and bought a crib. All dark wood and shine, Boy set it up in Bug's room, and I made it up with an organic cotton mattress cover and cute blue sheets. The room was ready. Saying that, we weren't entirely sure when Bug would start to use it. I assumed we would, but I knew there was no way I would be ready for him to be down the hall from me for at least several months. We borrowed a cradle from neighbors and it set it up in our room so that he would be close by. I needed to be able to see him and hear him, to know that he was safe and ok through the night, and at the very beginning he was in our bed, but in his own little spot between us, away from blankets and pillows.
The first night we had Bug at home I began to get an indication that this sleep thing wasn't going to be anywhere near as smooth as I thought it would. I knew newborns woke frequently and needed to nurse often, but I wasn't prepared for him to cry every twenty minutes. It felt like as soon as I put him down, he would cry. I just fed him. Was he really hungry again? Wasn't he comfortable? Was he hurting? I couldn't figure it out. After a night or two, it finally occurred to me - this tiny person was used to being completely surround by me every second of day, how could I expect him to suddenly be ok with with not touching me at all? That's when he moved into my arms. Things improved a bit from there, but he continued to wake fairly frequently - anywhere from 30-60 minutes. I wish so much that I had known how to nurse lying down then. It would have made my life so much easier, but I couldn't figure out how to do it. I read one description/diagram, but it just didn't make any sense to me. So, I was getting out of bed at every wake, to sit in the lactation consultant recommend, hard-backed kitchen chair, strap on my (needed in a hard-backed chair) breast-feeding pillow, and nurse my baby. I can't remember how many times I fell asleep sitting there.
As things improved, we brought over the cradle and started trying to get him to sleep in it. I'd nursed him to sleep and slowly lower him into the cradle. Oh, the maneuvers we tried making that transition. Keeping my hand on him until he had settled, not unlatching him until I absolutely had to, even putting a heating pad under his blanket to try to make him think he was still getting Mama's body heat.* He slowly learned to occasionally stay asleep through the move, but his sleep got worse. He went back to waking every twenty minutes, and then it was ten, and then five. He would seem asleep and content, but a few minutes later he would be crying. Ahh! What was wrong with my baby? I asked family and friends for advice to no avail. Finally, a doula we knew suggested that we just bring him back into bed with us and try again later. I felt so frustrated and discouraged, but it seemed like the only option. So, he came back to bed with us. No more waking after five minutes.
Eventually I stumbled across information that helped me figure out that he had reflux that was greatly worsened by milk in my diet. Cutting out dairy helped, but didn't cure his reflux. We tried raising the head of our bed, but it was no help. Thinking he maybe needed a greater angle, we bought a Tucker sling. Remembering something my sister had done with her babies, we brought that beautiful crib into our room, took off the drop side, and slid it up to the bed. With the mattress raised and sling installed, we tried to get Bug to sleep there - no go. The angle might have been better for his reflux, but he was not a fan of it otherwise - and trying to get him in and out when he needed to nurse, ugh! It was horrible. The velcro would wake him even more than he was, and attempting to put a sleeping baby back into the sling was ten times worse than the cradle. We gave up quickly.
The sling went out, but the crib stayed. We lifted the head of his mattress for what little help it would give and I relished the bit of extra space it offered, as well as the security of knowing Bug couldn't roll off.
As he continued to get older, but not sleep any better, I got more frustrated. I kept feeling like I was failing in my job as mother. I couldn't find a way to help him sleep, I couldn't figure out what was wrong with him. I tried everything I could think of - swaddling, an early bedtime, bedtime routine, aroma therapy - everything but cry-it-out. It didn't seem right from the beginning, and as I read more, I knew that it was not an option I would ever try. But, as he grew the pressure was on." It won't hurt him." Yes, it will. "He needs to learn." Not that he doesn't. "He's safe. He's fine." He doesn't know that. But, it was hard to keep the doubt from creeping in. Nothing else I did was helping him to sleep for more than an hour at a time. So many tears were shed over his difficulty with sleep. Mine, not just his. I sat down one day, and thought to myself, "Ok, enough of what the world wants me to do, enough of what everyone else's babies do. If it was just me, no media to tell me how babies should be raised, no other parents to share what they did, no two month olds who are sleeping through the night, just me, alone on an island having to care for my son, what would I do?" "Exactly what I'm doing." I would continue to cater to his needs. Because they were his needs. He wasn't just demanding that we do things his way, or trying to prove who was boss, he was asking for help. He needed me to nurse him to sleep. He needed me to hold him while he slept. He needed me to be there helping him go back to sleep no matter how often he woke. And he needed me to be patient while he developed the ability to do this sleep thing on his own.
I remember the first night that I left him alone in our room. He had eventually gotten to where I could put him down once asleep, and after a while I realized I should try leaving the room. I turned our baby monitor up loud and rushed up to him the second I heard him moving around about his one hour wake up. But, we did it and it was ok!
He was about ten or eleven months old.
I remember the first night he slept for two hours! Amazing! Maybe he would keep going and start sleeping longer and longer! No such luck, but it was a breakthrough.
He was at least thirteen months old.
I remember his first night hitting three hours.
He was fifteen months old.
He's made it to four hours, but I'm sure I could count on my fingers how many times he's done that. Two months ago, he actually slept for five hours, 45 minutes, and I expect we will see that again, but who knows when.
This is my son. This is who he is. He's beautiful, and smart, and funny, and happy, but he doesn't sleep well.
I've been through many periods of discouragement, days of sleep deprivation, and times doubting my judgment, but despite his tendency to do one step forward and two steps back, despite the fact that he nurses half the night on a semi-regular basis, despite the VERY BAD PATCHES he goes through every three-four months - that I can't decipher, no matter how hard I try - I continue to co-sleep and night nurse. Because - I love my son, and I know this is what is best for him, and what works for our family.
- Listen to your instincts. They are almost always right.
- Newborn babies should not be separated from their mamas.
- Your baby's needs won't be the same as their baby's needs.
- It's ok to use a swing to help him fall asleep if that's the only thing that will calm his reflux that night. It's a tool.
- Only you and your husband are qualified to decide what is best for your family.
- Cry-it-out doesn't just feel bad, it is bad. Cons of controlled crying
- You will get a lot of unsolicited advice. Ignore all of it. It is almost never any good.
- Family beds are nice!
- Having a baby that does not do something well does not reflect the quality of your mothering.
- Sweet good-morning smiles cover a multitude of night wakings.
*I do not currently recommend anyone using a heating pad on or near their baby. There are far too many dangers in such use.