“Sleep when the baby sleeps.” That sounds easy enough, right? When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I remember being told this more often than not. I also remember hearing, “sleep now, you won’t get much with a newborn.” How contradicting! Such wonderful, ahem, shards of advice.
As a mother of two girls now, I can honestly say the biggest challenge I have dealt with, with both of my girls is sleep (or lack thereof). My first-born was a colicky baby. She’s a spirited kid, even now at the age of five. She keeps us on our toes and didn’t sleep through the night (on her own) until after the age of three. THREE! Three years of inadequate sleep makes you, well, nutso!
When I became pregnant the second time around I was adamant about my sleep and the quality of it. I literally put my foot down and told my oldest she had to sleep in her own room. I couldn’t withstand the potential rib kick in the middle of the night with a growing baby inside of me.
I work outside of the home with an hour drive to and from work. You can imagine the type of Mombie I turned into. It was ugly, painful, and I felt completely isolated. I remember many days arriving home from work without remembering driving, or dozing behind the wheel, and just feeling numb. It’s a dangerous situation and something a lot of working parents struggle with.
Now that I have a second child and have endured the sleepless nights with my oldest, I am making my way through the fog with my second. The ages one to three is a trying time. My youngest was a terrific sleeper as a newborn. She didn’t have any sleep issues until I returned to work and the four-month sleep regression kicked in. And it has been an on again and off again battle with her.
I think there are some misunderstandings when it comes to sleep training. ALL kids and even adults experience some type of sleep disturbance throughout our lives. There are many variations of sleep issues. Here are some misconceptions on sleep training:
You can “hire” a sleep trainer to come and teach your child how to sleep. Too good to be true? Sure is. I consider this type of service a scam because no one can teach anyone how to sleep. It is a rhythm of one’s body. Save your money and buy a $10 book instead. I have read several books on sleep. My very favorite is by Dr. Weissbleth: Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.
Routines aren’t necessary. The only “thing” you can teach is consistency, how you respond to your child’s cries at night, and how you put your child to bed each night. This is a decision that will shape your child’s sleep behavior. As you might already know, sleep is a learned behavior. For some, it comes easier than others. Some babies are unicorns and just sleep well without any added parental guidance. Hooray for you if you’re one of those lucky ones.
You do it once and are golden. This is very far from the truth. The first few years are uber challenging with a young child. Sleep dictates their behavior during the day, so you want to make sure they and you are getting it! And if you decide to let your baby cry-it-out (CIO), you will more than likely have to do it more than once or twice. It sucks, it totally sucks. Babies and toddlers will cry though.
So when your child cries in the middle of the night and you respond, a pattern is being created – whether good or bad. Keep in mind there are simple things you can do to aide your child to find a restful slumber. Here are some tips I learned along the way that actually help:
Get your spouse on the same page.
Be consistent. This is numero uno. If you’re consistent in your actions, your child will be equally consistent.
Check out free websites or blogs. Think you’re the only one to have a child allergic to sleep? Nope, you aren’t. All information you need can be found online.
White noise machine. Buy one that stays on all night.
Swaddle or sleep sack. So important. Babies like to be swaddled and as your baby grows, you can switch over to a sleep-sack for added warmth and comfort.
Black-out blinds. Another must. Because babies and toddlers should always (well, almost always) nap in the same place they sleep at night.
Cry-it-out. This is by far one of the hardest things you’ll have to do as a parent. I didn’t commit to CIO with my oldest which explains why she didn’t sleep on her own until well into the age of three. And with my youngest, I waited until she was almost nine months. And most pediatricians will tell you to wait until over the age of six to eight months.
Keep in mind there will be times you’ll want to bring your child into your bed. If they are sick or have a bad nightmare. Just understand you will have to train all over, and it’s totally OK. Three days seems to be the magical number for getting them back into the pattern. And with each day the tears are less and less.
Of course, I’m not an expert, just a tired mom yearning for those teenage years when my kids will “sleep till noon.” Or at least I’ve been told.
Did you do sleep training with your child? What did you find helpful in getting more sleep for the whole family?