Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Pronunciation: \ˈslēp\
Definition: the natural periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are restored

Wow, what a crazy couple of months we've had. Way back at the beginning of October, things changed in our house and our family. Although there have been small challenges along the way, for the most part, Brian and I have had it relatively easy with this new baby of ours. Sadie has rarely been fussy, we didn't have any trouble with breastfeeding, she responds well to change, after a few hiccups she adapted to a bottle for the days when I'm at work, she's taken to solid foods very easily, she travels well, she's had barely a touch of diaper rash, and she's overall a very happy, sweet baby.

Sometimes I'd tell myself..."this is much too easy". This can't last....

And then back at the beginning of October, when Sadie was about 7 months old, she started having trouble sleeping. At the time, she was sleeping in her crib for naps and at night, after moving out of our room at about 4 months old. When she started sleeping in her crib, it seemed to be what she wanted. After waking up several times a night when she was sleeping right next to me, we decided to see how she did in her own room, as an experiment. And she slept through the night! Every single night for several months!

Wow, were we impressed. And thankful to not be experiencing the sleep deprivation that new parents so often talk about.

Well, starting a couple months ago, Sadie starting waking up at night, crying out to us from her crib. I would automatically do what we do when she's napping during the day, and what seems natural to me....immediately respond to her cries. I'd go into her room, pick her up, soothe her in whatever way she needed, and gently put her back to sleep. This was easy enough...and despite the interrupted sleep, she would go back down fairly quickly and I'd go back to bed.

Well, then things started getting a bit tougher. At first, she would just be waking up several times a night, and I was starting to get tired of getting up so often. But, we still felt like it was manageable. As it became clear that she probably didn't need to be nursing every time she woke up, Brian and I started alternating when she'd call out to us. After a couple weeks, however, she started taking a LONG time to fall back asleep. All our tricks came out of the bag, every single time she woke up. Nursing, rocking, bouncing on the exercise ball, singing, soft music and even being worn in her sling would eventually get her to sleep (sometimes after 2-3 hours), only for her to wake up again (sometimes within an hour after finally getting her back to sleep). This meant that many nights we were only getting a few hours of sleep.

At first we told ourselves that this is what having a baby is about, and we didn't worry or complain about it too much. Although we thought this might be a phase, or related to teething, we smiled, took naps when we could, and kept at it.

After weeks and weeks turned into months, we started to get worried. And seriously delirious. And frustrated. We recognized that it was time to start thinking long and hard about what was happening with our little girl, and more importantly, how we were going to respond to these new habits of hers. We were worried about how frustrated we were getting in the middle of the night. We worried that we were so focused on being good parents to her at night, that we weren't being the best parents we could be during the day. We were worried that the extreme sleep deprivation we were experiencing was affecting our marriage, our jobs, our health, and our sanity. We were worried about how long this would last....and if we could last as long as it took.

And in the back of our heads, we were wondering if we were doing the right thing. It certainly felt right. The most natural thing to me as a mother is to respond to my baby's cries. Every time she cries. No matter how often, what time, or why. Every time.

But there are very different schools of thought on this question. As we've been going through this journey, we've heard from friends, relatives, acquaintances, and perfect strangers...

She's manipulating you!
She doesn't need you for anything at this age!

And I don't begrudge these opinions and advice...in fact, I've sort of asked for them by sharing my struggles with anyone and everyone who has asked. I'm sure if I'd smiled, put some concealer on the bags under my eyes, brushed my hair and said, "Yes, my daughter is sleeping through the night...everything is just fine" I wouldn't have received these comments.

This issue is very controversial and I believe it is the personal decision of every parent. Of course, there is scientific evidence that letting a baby "cry-it-out" can be harmful to the baby and the effects can be longlasting (even into adulthood). However, I'm sure there is also scientific evidence to the contrary. As my pediatrician said (and he made sure to mention that he was quoting John Lennon...I LOVE our pediatrician!)...it's Whatever Gets You Through the Night.

Overall, I've been operating on pure instinct. I strongly believe that trusting in my maternal instinct is the only way for me to know what's best for Sadie. In modern times, there is so much information available, and so many experts trying to tell us what's best for our babies, that many people in our society have stopped listening to their own internal instincts when it comes to parenting. I find it interesting that the U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that routinely forces babies to sleep by themselves. I don't think that's because it feels right, I think it's because that what we're told is "best" for the baby. How can letting a baby cry until they vomit be what's "best" for them? How can I let the person I love most in the world cry and cry and ignore her? I wouldn't ignore another adult, friend, partner, parent, dog, or complete stranger on the street if they were crying out to me, so why on earth would I do it to my own daughter? I believe that when Sadie cries, it is because she is trying to tell me something, because crying is her best form of communication at this age.

Early on in my pregnancy I knew that I would be more of an "attachment" parent. Through the research I've done and conversations I've had with other parents, I believe that attachment parenting is the best choice for our family. Some of the principles of Attachment Parenting are:

Feed with Love and Respect: Sadie has been exclusively breastfed since birth, and I breastfeed on demand
Respond with Sensitivity: To me this means responding gently when Sadie cries. I believe that babies need their parents to soothe themselves. Although she can help soothe and calm herself, I believe that one of my roles as Sadie's mother is to calm and soothe her in all circumstances.
Use Nurturing Touch: Skin to skin contact, massage, and babywearing are common throughout Sadie's day and are important tools for soothing her both during the day and when she wakes at night.
Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally: Sadie's needs at night are no different than her needs during the day. My job as her mother is to meet these needs, whether they are for food, touch, company, or comfort.

The bottom line of this whole long response of mine is that we want Sadie to trust us...to know that when she needs and/or wants us, we'll come to her. No matter what. For the rest of her life.

So...where do things stand now?

Well, about 3 weeks ago, when Sadie started waking every 30-60 minutes some nights, I tried again to have her return to our bed. I think that cosleeping is great for babies and for parents, especially for breastfeeding mothers. Cosleeping (sleeping in the same room, not necessarily in the same bed) allows parents to immediately respond to baby's cries and can help the entire family get more sleep. After a few rough nights of having to teach Sadie that our bed is a place for sleeping (not for climbing, clapping, talking and/or pulling mama's hair), things have been SO MUCH BETTER! Although Sadie was still waking up several times a night, most of the time, she would snuggle up to me, and peacefully go back to sleep. This seems like the perfect solution to me and for the first time in months I feel like I can break out of this sleep deprivation fog I've been living in. I'm not sobbing every day in desperation, frustration and sadness. I'm not fighting with my husband for no apparent reason. I'm able to focus on my work and have the energy to run and play with Sadie all day. And I seriously love cuddling up and feeling the warmth of my baby next to me all night.

And then I left for 48 hours this past weekend. And after a rough Friday night, Brian was happy to report that Sadie slept all night in her crib Saturday night. She woke several times throughout the night, but put herself back to sleep each time, without crying! Hallelujah! I was sure that she had finally given up that her mama wasn't coming home and decided that it was probably time for her to get her act together with this sleep thing. And I completely expected that Sunday night, upon my return, she'd be back to her old habits.

The last two nights, we've put Sadie to sleep at 7 p.m. and didn't see her smiling face until 7 a.m. Didn't hear a peep, didn't open the door, and slept soundly...all night... in our king-sized bed.



Christy D. said...

Good for you. I hope you can replenish your "sleep bank" :) I remember when 4 hours of sleep in a row felt like a luxury, and how my oldest child never had a problem sleeping 12 hours in a row, and that my second and third didn't sleep through until they were 8 months old or so. I also remember "helpful" advice from well-meaning people. Sadie is precious. Thanks for keeping us updated on your blog!

Ginny said...

Rachel - I have to tell you how much I appreciate your comments about co-sleeping and attachment parenting. I'm definitely an attached mom and believe whole-heartedly that this is the right way for me (and Neil) to parent our boys. I'm always a bit sensitive to well-intended advice from friends and family members who disagree with my choices to co-sleep, wear my baby, breastfeed my toddler, etc. It may not work for everyone, but it works for us. I agree with you that there is so much information and expert opinion available to us today, that we forget about our greatest resource in parenting... intuition. My gut tells me everyday that this is what's right for us. And I believe that my bond with both boys is a result of such strong attachment since birth. I think you'll find that the toddler years become easier to manage as well with an attachment philosophy because of the mutual trust and respect between parent and child. It sure seems like you are doing a wonderful job with your beautiful baby girl. Congratulations!

Danielle said...

Thanks for the reminder that this too shall pass. Our 10 month old is doing the same sort of backsliding in the sleep department that you are describing. While just a month or so ago he was waking at about 1am and at 5am before getting up at about 7am, now he is waking every hour or so. This will pass. It must.