Sleep. If you’re like me, you like your sleep. You may like to fall asleep early and rise early, or you might be a night owl and like to sleep in; either way, you enjoy sleeping. For me, waking up feeling recharged after a good night’s sleep is one of life’s greatest pleasures, but I still went ahead and had a baby anyways, knowing my sleep schedule would never be the same again.
Day 4 of Leda’s life around 8 am. That was my second cup of coffee.
People warned us we would be tired, and I’ll admit it, we completely ignored those warnings. We were oh, so smug. We thought we were above the sleep woes of new parents and figured our bundle of joy would just figure out how to sleep. After all, how hard could it be? The experts say to put them in their crib when they’re drowsy and let them soothe themselves to sleep. Easy peasy! Except there’s two problems with this well known advice:
- Many babies, if put down while still awake, will organize the world’s best one-person protest. They will not like being put down, out of the comfort of their parent’s arms, when every fiber of their being in that moment wants to be comforted and cuddled
- Letting them figure out how to soothe themselves isn’t really a thing. Many babies stop crying in their cribs because they figure out no one is coming to get them, not because they’ve learned to soothe themselves. Sarah Ockwell-Smith, a parenting expert says on the First Time Dads podcast, “We know it’s physiologically and psychologically impossible to teach a baby or toddler to self soothe. They don’t have the brain development or physical dexterity to do it.”
*Disclaimer: many parents are able to sleep train their babies using the cry it out or extinction methods and if that works, great! I’m not judging those who have done or will do sleep training. I just want to present information for parents who have had no luck with sleep training and feel like they’re crazy as they bring their baby to bed with them yet again in order to get a few hours of sleep. When you look at some the research, “temporarily, there’s a positive effect. In the long term…that child [who has been sleep trained] will not sleep better than the child who was never sleep trained” -Sarah Ockwell-Smith
We discovered firsthand that our baby would not simply figure out how to sleep, and she hated being put in her crib when still awake. Even at a younger age, she would look at us with such betrayal in her eyes, and she would scream to the point of hyperventilating and hiccuping (which, if you’ve never witnessed a baby get that worked up, is one of the saddest things ever). So began our journey of navigating night time with a baby.
It took trying advice from all our friends and family, the almighty Reddit, and our pediatrician before we found (at 9 months!) what works for our daughter using our own instincts and listening to her needs. It’s not perfect, it’s not what parenting books or our pediatrician told us to do, and it’s not what our parents did with us. BUT it’s safe, and we’re all getting more sleep, so we’re rolling with it.
However, I didn’t gain the confidence in my own instincts until I listened to the First Time Dads podcast episode, “So…everything you think about baby sleep is pretty much wrong”. The guest on the episode, parenting author Sarah Ockwell-Smith (whose quotes have already been sprinkled throughout this post), shared research findings about sleep and busted a lot of myths about baby sleep, and not only was it eye opening as a parent, but I enjoyed learning more about human development. I was also frustrated at how little we’re taught about our babies growth and development, and it made me wonder how much more successful parents could be if we were given better knowledge when our babies are born (like teaching us what our babies’ brains are capable of each month of the first year).
Besides for giving me confidence to trust my parenting skills, Ockwell-Smith smacked me right in the face with this (paraphrased) quote, “Suck it up, buttercup, and stop holding onto what your life was like before. Your new normal is disrupted, little, or no sleep every night until your child hits late toddlerhood”. Ouch. As much as it stung to hear those words, I needed to hear them. I, like many new parents, have often had the fleeting thought (usually when I’m sleep deprived), “What the hell did we do?? Our life was fine before and I got good sleep on the regular…”. Hearing that this is my new normal snapped me out of that mindset. Her struggling to learn to sleep and us not getting sleep doesn’t suck any less knowing this, but to know this is normal and that we’re not doing anything wrong or screwing her up gives me huge peace of mind. Most importantly, realizing this is my reality for the next few years has given me permission to drink even more coffee (coffee is my love language!).
Honestly, I’m not sure how to wrap this post up, probably because I’m so tired, but the point of writing this was to say, “Hey, exhausted parent, I see you, I feel you, and I want you to know you’re probably not messing up your kid. Look into the science of babies and sleep and you may feel a lot less frustrated by your baby just not getting it. Knowing why babies sleep the way they do won’t get you more sleep, unfortunately, but it may bring you some peace of mind, like it did to me, and make you feel less neurotic about sleep training your kid. Good luck in all your parenting endeavors, and best wishes for more sleep!”