Home > Child Development, parenting > Sleep, My Baby, Sleep

Sleep, My Baby, Sleep

So here you go! Someone who has a Ph.D. in Psychology finally said it clearly! “ [L]etting babies get distressed is a practice that can damage children and their relational capacities in many ways for the long term. We know now that leaving babies to cry is a good way to make a less intelligent, less healthy but more anxious, uncooperative and alienated person who can pass the same or worse traits on to the next generation. ” (Dangers of “Crying It Out”, an article written by Darcia Narvaez, an Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Collaborative for Ethical Education at the , and published in Psychology Today on December 11, 2011)

My husband and I heard about the “crying it out” method early on. If our son wasn’t such a bad sleeper, maybe we wouldn’t have heard about it from so many different people, but it was a common method in unsolicited advice we received.

Before Andrei came, I never had any doubts that I wanted to be the kind of mother who would instantly respond to every need of his to the best of my abilities. Yes, I bought a book on attachment parenting, but I never read it. I leafed through it and based on the chapters I skimmed, most of the recommendations simply made sense to me. They seemed instinctual and natural enough, so I decided to go back to reading fiction. To alleviate my anxiety and the feeling that I was not skilled enough to take care of a baby, I also bought (and this time read) a “how-to” type of book for new parents (covering topics such as diapering, bathing, etc.) But then again, I went back to the comfort of reading fiction.

As soon as Andrei was born, I made it clear I wanted him close to me, not in the nursery. I thought he was going to mostly sleep on my chest and that at some point I would be able to put him down in the basinet next to my bed while I would get some sleep myself. Well, like so many times after that, Andrei quickly convinced me that making any plans pertaining to him was in vain (Woman, you really thought that was going to work??? is a voice I frequently hear in my head after my ideas about how to do something with Andrei simply fail).

So Andrei was born. Everyone told us babies sleep a lot – A LOT – in the first few months. Well, not Andrei. I held my one-day-old, two-day-old, three-day-old Andrei on my chest. My husband did too. One of us was holding him all the time. But most of that time Andrei didn’t sleep. He simply hung out. Wide awake. Everyone who saw him said, Oh, he is sooo alert! He was. If we tried to put him down in the basinet, he screamed. So we held him.

This is how we ended up co-sleeping with our baby. Because in the first week or two that was the only way for us to get some sleep. Gradually, I moved Andrei from my chest to the bed, but right next to my body, his head placed on my arm. My husband and I continued to sleep with Andrei in this way for months to come. Either I or my husband would “have” Andrei  during the night. During the day I simply napped with him until one day we discovered the baby swing. He slept alone in the swing, which gave us a bit of time to do chores, cook, etc.

When Andrei was six months old, he was still waking up every hour during the night. Literally. I felt like I was on some serious drugs. My husband and I walked through the house like zombies. Sleep was the main topic in our household. Everyone around us encouraged the cry-it-out method. Ouch! I whispered. Never! I said to myself. I bought the book No-Cry Solutions: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night. This book suggested keeping a journal to track wake/sleep cycles so I gave this method a try and discovered that my son was indeed waking up every forty-five minutes to an hour. This level of sleep deprivation is a form of torture, I said. I tried  the solutions outlined in the no-crying book for a month. Was there any improvement? Not really.

Then I remembered the book Andrei’s pediatrician recommended at his six-month appointment: Sleeping Through the Night, a book outlining a fairly gentle version of the “gradual extinction” method (widely known as the crying-it-out method).  When Andrei’s pediatrician originally mentioned this book, I shook my head: Nothing that involves ANY crying. He asked me if I thought that it was possible to change Andrei’s sleep pattern without ANY crying. I absolutely refused to discuss any method that included any crying.

The day Andrei turned seven months, I was ready to give a try to this approach. My husband was too. OK, we agreed to try the gentlest version possible, the one I can stand. I am never going to leave the room. I’ll stay right next to the crib. I’ll pick him up as soon as he gets upset.  I’ll put him down into the crib when he has calmed down.

Talk about torture! I felt tortured. We did this routine only at bedtime. When Andrei would wake up an hour later, we would just take him to our bed (the idea was that once he learns how to soothe himself, he will naturally start using this skill during the night and sleeping through the night). The first night Andrei fell asleep within thirty minutes. The second night: forty-five. The third night: only twenty. Did Andrei’s sleep get better? A bit. Now we had some two- and even three-hour intervals of sleep. Then we went away. That was it. But two- and three-hour intervals of sleep were definitely better than hour-long intervals. I felt less drugged, more functional.

At eighteen months, my husband and I tried to train Andrei again. We chose the same method “pick-him-up-put-him-down-never-leave-his-room.” We did it for two nights in a row. Andrei screamed, and at times just started playing, and then got upset and started screaming again. Both nights it took him about four hours to fall asleep. The third night, after an hour, I picked him up, took him to our bed, and said, I am finished. Never again.

Now that I read this article, I have to say: I stand guilty. I tried something that never made sense to me. It was against the primal instinct to hold your baby close to you, always. But, I was desperate. I wanted Andrei to learn how to get a good night’s sleep, and I wanted my husband and me to be able to get a good night’s sleep so we can take care of Andrei as well as ourselves. Training looked like a logical solution. I forgot that my heart had all the right answers.

My son is now almost two-and-a half, and he sleeps through the night. Sometimes. On most nights he sleeps in his own bed because a month ago he decided he wanted to sleep “in that other bed.” He also thinks I come (or should come) bundled with the bed.

He is still not a good sleeper. My husband and I wonder why. Maybe it’s his temperament. Maybe he has difficulty letting go of the conscious mind. Of the activities of the days. He dreams a lot, and he talks a lot in his sleep; maybe these are the night terrors many books are talking about. Maybe these night wakings are all normal at his age as some other books claim. I don’t know. I can’t really know. I can only speculate and listen to my heart before I decide to do anything else – get him off the pacifier, potty-train him, send him to school.

  1. quinn
    December 30, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    As a teacher, I have seen children who cannot funcion well in the classroom because they are not used to the word no. Parents who are divorced often overindulge
    their child, sort of in a competitive war with the othe parent…..or sort of in an attempt to mend the damage the divorce may have done to the child. These are parents who listen to their heart but also produce a child who is manipulative and spoiled.

    Food for thought: Where does one draw the line between thought and feeling when raising a child? Can our instincts mislead us as mothers? How do children become spoiled? How do children develop healthily? What makes children feel secure? Boundaries? Routine? Lack of one of those? What makes children feel insecure? What does Erick Erickson have to say about child development in the first five years of life……I actually had to know that at one point and now forget………. thanks for writing the blog!

    • January 1, 2012 at 9:44 pm

      You’ve brought up some very interesting points that most parents ponder. My feeling has always been that in the first year or maybe eighteen months of a baby’s life, parenting is not about setting boundaries but building attachment, trust, and laying a foundation for a an emotionally healthy individual. There is plenty of literature to support this, but most importantly this approach has always felt right to me. As the child grows and becomes a toddler, a need for boundaries gradually emerges, because you now have a toddler who might, for example, get angry and, still unskilled at dealing with this strong emotion, try to hit, bite, snatch…and you suddenly feel the need to deal with these types of behavior and expand your parenting skills to include setting boundaries in addition to providing love, trust, etc. At least, that has been my experience so far.

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