(THIS POST PROBABLY CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. OUR FULL DISCLOSURE POLICY IS REALLY BORING, BUT YOU CAN FIND IT HERE.)
Of all the hard things that come with having a baby, I don’t know if there is anything more difficult than sleep.
(If you’re here at 3 am because you googled “when will my baby sleep” or “why won’t my baby sleep” then Hi + Welcome! Also, I promise it gets better.)
At least for me, baby sleep has certainly been the most difficult thing. I would go as far as to say that my life was controlled by anxiety over my baby’s sleep. Since the day he was born I have been distraught about his sleep – if he was getting “enough” sleep, the “bad habits” he was developing, and whether or not he might suddenly stop napping. I don’t know why. Maybe because the whole time I was pregnant people kept telling me that my days of sleeping were coming to an end.
Or possibly because from the day he was born I have been awake.
(Kidding. Sort of.)
Or maybe just because people make such a big deal out of how to handle baby sleep. “You must sleep train! It’s the best thing for your baby, teach them to sleep and they’ll be well rested and you’ll be well rested and everyone will be well rested and happy. You can’t be a good parent if you’re exhausted!”
On the flip side, “You must NOT sleep train, ever – if you do you’re a cold heartless cow!”
(Why is there no good middle ground?!)
I sort of believed I would eventually sleep train. I know sleep trained kids that seem 100% connected to their parents, they don’t seem damaged by it, and yes, everyone in their house is well rested. It looks like a good solution for tired parents.
Plus, who doesn’t want a baby you can put to bed every night at 8 pm and like clockwork they wake 12 hours later, smiling and cooing? EVERYONE wants that baby!
So I tried to prepare myself for sleep training while I was pregnant, reading every blog post and baby sleep theory book out there. I knew ALL THE THINGS I needed to know to make sure this baby would sleep well, from day one.
Related: The Best Baby Sleep Tips
I even knew that I could make it easy on myself and “teach” the baby to sleep from birth.
That way, sleep training later would be a non-issue.
For a few weeks my plan went perfectly. I put the baby down drowsy but awake, and let him fall asleep on his own. I didn’t let him doze off while nursing and I was diligent in making sure he got enough “daytime sleep” so as not to get over tired and struggle with nighttime sleep. I made sure that I was at home 98% of the time so he could sleep well. (Yes, 98% of the time. We did not go out – because the baby needed to work on his sleep.)
I rarely held him while he slept, so as not to allow him to become dependent on being held to sleep.
EVERY ASPECT of my life came second to the baby’s sleep.
I did all the things right.
And then, almost overnight, he developed colic and that was it.
There was no more putting the baby down drowsy but awake, there was almost no more putting the baby down. If the baby DID go down, the baby would wake gassy and screaming just a short while later.
Even if he was having a decent (in regards to colic) night, he firmly believed 2 am was bed time. Eventually we stopped trying to force earlier sleep, because it was just so frustrating – hanging out in the dark bedroom for hours on end – not accomplishing anything. So we gave in, and watched back to back episodes of Jane The Virgin until 2 am every night, taking turns holding squishy baby. Having long worried discussions about if we were “allowing” him to develop bad habits that would haunt us for years. (As if we had any say in the matter.) And then we’d sneak to bed for two hours of sleep.
It felt like we would be awake (and exhausted) forever.
But as time went on and we neared the age where we could start sleep training, I realized… I didn’t want to.
It’s not really about what sort of parent I am, or about the long term effects of sleep training on a baby (I’m still not sure that there are any – who really knows?!). But I just flat out don’t want to let my baby cry himself to sleep, and I’m his mother and I have the right to not want to do that.
For the record, I don’t consider myself an “attachment parenting” parent – I have never “worn” my baby, and I don’t hold him all day. I feed him store bought baby food. I use disposable diapers. I will let him watch TV.
But I do think the internal anguish that I feel when my baby cries is an instinct that suggests it’s unnatural to just let your baby cry. (Not evil – just unnatural.) Part of my subscription to motherhood seems to have come (for me) with the understanding that I don’t want to sleep train. I want to be there for him when he cries, even if that makes me tired.
So we’re not going to sleep train. At least not right now, not while he can’t understand us. And I don’t know if we will want to sleep train later either. I sort of doubt it.
But we were still freaking exhausted – and desperate for a solution.
We bought no less than five baby beds in the first few months of our baby’s life.
No, that does not make us crazy. It makes us desperate. It appears that the number of baby beds you buy is in direct proportion to the amount of desperate you are to find a way to make the baby sleep AND allow yourself to sleep. (I’m here to tell you that buying lots of baby beds doesn’t really change anything.)
(Based on all my “studies” I would tell you to get either this bed for when they are new, or this one, if you aren’t comfortable having the baby in your bed. Those are the two that we really got our money’s worth out of.)
I swore my baby would never sleep in our bed.
I’d read all the warnings and the horror stories, and not least of all, the threats that he will be there until he’s 27. That’s why we bought this baby bed, and it really did work – sort of – until squishy started waking every forty minutes. (If your baby sleeps for a few hours on end, that bed will be amazing for you. But… my baby didn’t do that.)
I found myself putting him into – and getting him out of – his bed up to eight times per night. Sometimes, if it was a GREAT night, I only lifted him in and out of it 5 times.
I’m not the type of person who can fall asleep in a few minutes, and often by the time he woke again I still hadn’t been to sleep since the LAST time he woke.
But, I swore we would never co-sleep, just – you know – forallthereasons.
There are plenty of times in our lives when we need to decide – is this a hill worth dying on?
It occurred to me suddenly that this is probably one of those times.
We’re co-sleeping, and hallellujah
Here we are, eight months into this baby raising thing – and where does the baby sleep? In our bed, between our pillows.
But did you catch that? The baby SLEEPS there.
WE ALL SLEEPS!
Two nights ago he slept for FIVE HOURS IN A ROW. That’s the longest he’s slept since he was born. Ever.
The first night that we co-slept was actually an accident. I fell asleep with him in bed – I suppose the sheer exhaustion finally just won – and woke a few hours later to find him peacefully sleeping in my armpit. I was so surprised to find him sleeping that I decided to just see what would happen if I didn’t put him back in the crib. I slid him over and up, between our heads, with his face far away from our pillows or our blanket, and I went back to sleep. I got more sleep that night than I had gotten in 6 months.
When he wakes up in the night I can settle him back down before he is so awake he thinks it’s time to party (a very real risk!), and I don’t ever have to get up and wander around in the dark. I don’t wake up so fully that I can’t fall back to sleep, and to be honest, there is nothing like waking up to his tiny little face 6 inches from mine.
I had been so afraid to co-sleep that I lost out on months of sleep, but I also almost lost out on experiencing how awesome it is to cuddle up with my baby at night or wake up to his happy little face. It makes me sad that this will be a short lived season in my life. One day, my baby will sleep in his own bed. For some reason this doesn’t seem nearly as exciting as it used to.
To sleep train or not? To co-sleep or not? Is this something you’re struggling with?
Frankly, everyone is entitled to have their own opinion… and what – exactly- will work for you isn’t something that I can help you with.
I understand being worried about the baby – that’s smart – and I was too. You can read up on safe co-sleeping and you should – if you’re going to try it. Or maybe you’re thinking of sleep training and you’re worried about THAT… well, research is your friend!
No one but you can decide what will work for you.
But I CAN encourage you to just stop and rethink everything, if you’re working on any pre-conceived notions. If you’re not sleep training or not co-sleeping just because you SAID YOU’D NEVER… well, is that a hill worth dying on? Is THIS battle really the battle that you will choose to fight until you’re hardly functioning?
I know people who have had amazing success with the sleep sense program. This program involves CIO.
I know people who have used no-cry sleep training programs, and they worked for them too.
It’s ok to do what works for your family, and for that to be something different than what you’d thought it would be.
Regardless, I promise, it does get better.
I can say this, because even tho we still struggle with sleep at 8 months, we are almost ALWAYS in bed by midnight now and he generally sleeps for a few hours at a time. It’s heavenly compared to what it used to be… and I know it’s only going to improve more as time goes on. No one keeps their parents up all night forever 🙂
Hang in there!