Sleep is a complex parenting issue and many parents have found help turning to “sleep training” techniques. In my opinion there is no one-size-fits-all solution to getting your baby to sleep at night. This is simply because babies are physically hardwired to wake often, usually after each sleep cycle. The real sleep training secret is that parents should do their homework when it comes to infant sleep. The first step is to know each of the tried and true techniques of the experts. There are many baby books out there and all of them include infant sleep advice.
Nighttime parenting is the hardest part of being a parent. There is a little known fact that most babies don’t sleep through the night until long after you thought they would. Our daughter started sleeping through the night at twenty-three months. Our son was born three weeks later. It took an entire year for me to get used to the sleep deprivation and be at a point where I could at least complete daily tasks. My body eventually adapted to an average of five hours sleep a night. When my daughter was two, I slowly began to loose my bitter, angry resentment over the fact that I was constantly sleep deprived. I had to accept that things weren’t going to get better anytime soon. Then I realized that changing my attitude about sleep was the only thing I really had any control of.
As I write this my children are two and four. My younger one still wakes at night crying though I only have to get out of bed one or two days a week. This is usually because someone fed him nuts by accident which causes him to thrash around with stomach pains. It also happens if he eats too many grapes or too much of any food. I try telling him not too eat a bowl of watermelon as big as his head because it will keep him up all night with gas pains. It never works. They always know when there is more of any food in the fridge. Recently my son learned how to open the fridge himself and climb inside using a stool.
Whatever the reason may be, your child will wake up during the night and cry for you to get out of bed and care for him. I have put a lot of sleepless thought into this topic and am an expert on it since I have two children who don’t sleep through the night. This process of sleep deprivation requires two things in order for us to handle what is a know form of torture:
1. You are bonded to your baby.
2. You change your relationship to sleep.
For those of you whose newborn has slept through the night since six weeks or even four months then you should go buy a lottery ticket. This information is for the rest of us which I would be comfortable guessing is at least 85% of parents, if not more.
As discussed earlier, bonding is critical to the development of a baby. When your newborn is up every one to three hours for the first few weeks of life you begin to accept the reality of a helpless human baby entirely dependent upon you for their survival. If you have a strong bond with your newborn things are generally easier. For example you can wake up at night even though you are tired and feed him when he is hungry. Also, you can’t stop smelling him. This is called being bonded to your baby. However, things can get in the way of the bonding process. Sometimes it can be interrupted and the “mother” is slow to emerge. Or with baby blues the mom can feel sort of neutral about her baby, which is not in a child’s best interest. This is when dad or a surrogate needs to step in because babies are needy, especially at night. I actually know a mom who wore earplugs at night. Luckily her babies had a very nurturing father.
Bonding is essential when your four month old cuts two teeth and you want to fire your pediatrician for telling you that the lower front teeth don’t hurt coming in. Really? Then why is my baby waking up screaming every two hours reminiscent of the newborn days. Then your sixth month old starts exploring real foods which give him horrible gas pains that keep you up for two hours straight at night, every two hours. Then your husband goes away for a ten day long surf trip to Baja which causes your nine month old to feel your anxiety (which causes low milk production) and he goes on a nursing strike. This causes him to be hungry every three hours at night only he refuses to nurse and makes you get out of bed to make a bottle. Then your one-year-old starts to get in his fifteen month molars and you suddenly believe your pediatrician about the other teeth not hurting. If you are not bonded to your baby you simply can’t survive these sleepless nights.
We have all heard the stories of mothers with several children driving into a lake with everyone in the car. I think that these women were probably sleep deprived (and mentally unstable.) The mom with five kids that I used to nanny for brought this up once. She said that she could actually relate to moms who have daydreamed about driving off a cliff with their kids in the car. She said there have been times when she was pushed to her breaking point. Only, she was bonded to her five children. I believe this is the only thing standing in the way of doing a child harm. Even though her dark circles under her eyes would just get worse and worse as time went on… she remained steadfast to her children. I was pushed to my breaking point once when my daughter was just over a year old. She had been crying all night with such intensity that I was truly at a loss. I had tried everything and all there was left to do was hold her and cry along with her. The next morning I noticed something in her poop. She had swallowed a bow that somehow came unglued from one of her stuffed animals.
As far as changing your outlook on sleep there is one women who always makes me feel better. Elizabeth Pantley wrote “The No Cry Sleep Solution” which is about getting your baby to sleep without crying (not you though.) She has this way of getting you to accept that most children wake up at night until they are two or three, or even four! Obviously if your baby is waking up every hour there is a problem – which she offers solutions for. Generally, however babies wake up once or twice at night. Many moms cherish the memories of nursing their babies at three-am when all is quiet. For me it is important to look at sleep as something that will happen again someday, just not at this time in my life. I actually tell myself “I will sleep though the night again… someday.” For right now being there for my kids twenty-four hours a day is what they need. After all, how else are they going to develop into someone capable of nurturing another tiny soul.