Baby sleep. I believe, aside from what kind of sustenance you feed your baby (breast milk vs. formula), how you handle their sleep must be the most guilt-inducing and divisive topic for parents in today’s informative world.
As you can tell by the title of this post, my husband and I sleep trained our baby. Before I talk about how wonderful of a gift sleep training was for all of us (and I absolutely include our daughter in that statement), I want to share a little bit of our pre-baby plans.
Pre-baby plans are now an adorable part of my past. My 9 month pregnant self was ready to take on this parenting thing with vigor. I had all the books, all the knowledge, and all the patience necessary to be a baby-wearing, cloth-diapering, baby-led-weaning, bed-sharing, breastfeeding, attachment parent. (By the way, I typed that last sentence in one breath). What a lucky little girl I was about to bring into this world, I thought. I’m giving her exactly what she wants and needs, I thought. Pride was the name of my game in those last blissful weeks of not knowing anything about what I was actually getting myself into.
Can you guess, by the tone of that last paragraph, where this story leads? In short, I didn’t realize how strong a newborn’s personality already is when they’re just months old. After the first sleepy weeks, our daughter had enough of the cuddling. I couldn’t wear her without many loud protests on her part. Out with the baby-wearing.
Bed-sharing was another disaster. We were, again, astounded at our little one’s capacity for protesting louder than we thought possible. The next best thing, I thought, would be to hold her to sleep, and place her in her crib, but sleep never came easily. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the red, screaming face of my beloved child, as I sang lullabies, offered her my breast and rocked her for up to an hour. My husband and I took shifts trying to rock her to sleep. Finally, I think she only ever fell asleep because screaming wore her down. I don’t know that my efforts to soothe her ever really mattered.
Here is our sleep training story:
My husband is a teacher, and had the whole summer with our daughter starting when she turned five months old. I went back to work that first summer, leaving my husband at home alone with the colicky child that had so far eluded any attempt I made to soothe her at bedtime. Within days, my amazing, pragmatic husband discovered our daughter’s true preference. You see, he never agreed with the idea that we should be rocking her for hours trying to get her to sleep. If she was going to scream in any case, why not try sleep training her?
When I was home, I never made it five minutes into a sleep training attempt without falling apart myself. When I left for work, my husband started the routine. A diaper change, a small massage, a lullaby, and a cuddle. He then placed our content baby in her crib and walked away. Yes, she screamed, but here’s the amazing fact about our story: she screamed at most for 15 minutes. By the third day she was falling asleep without a peep. Every time.
She sleep trained us.
One of the major ideas in attachment parenting is that you should let your child guide you. I was so caught up in the idea that most babies prefer to be worn and to bed-share, so my baby must want the same. I think about how miserable she was in my arms, and how it never occurred to me that she might just be independent.
I feel blessed. I already shared how much my husband has taught me in an earlier post. Here is yet another example. I had all of my plans for E’s babyhood before she was born. Problem is, she didn’t have the same plans. Thanks to my husband, we followed her lead.
Baby sleep is probably one of the more frustrating adjustments when you first embark on the parenthood train. My story isn’t intended to make you feel like you shouldn’t plan at all. You should plan, and set goals, and know what you prefer. I just mean to forewarn you that your preferences might not rule the day when it comes to a newborn. Listen to your baby, even if what your baby says goes against what all the experts out there are saying. (Just don’t, you know, let your baby’s preferences endanger them!)