Thursday, April 17, 2014

The journey from bed-sharing to independent sleep

Sleep.  The topic that will bring out the claws in with many moms.  The topic everyone...and I mean EVERYONE has an opinion that will try and sway you into believe is the right way to do things.  An area of my life I have been deprived of since H was born.  One of reasons I developed post-partum anxiety.

First off...I think every new parent is completely ignorant to how much sleep you will loose when you have a baby.  No one tells you about things like 4, 8, 12, 18 month sleep regressions.  I thought that once my child started giving me longer stretches at night, that would last forever.  Boy was I wrong.

We started off by having H sleep in her bassinet.  She and I would begin our night by falling asleep together, her nursing.  Once she was good and asleep, hubby would move her into her bassinet.  By 4 weeks, H was giving me 6-8 hour stretches.  At 4 months, she was waking every 2 hours or less.  That lasted until she was 14 months old.  To survive the 4 month sleep regression, I brought H into my bed.  Some nights she would sleep a few hours in her own sleeping space, and others she would sleep the entire night latched on.  This regression caused me so much turmoil.  I felt I HAD to do something.  I felt I was failing her, setting her up for a lifetime of bad sleep if I didn't sleep train.  I read TOO MUCH.  It was very overwhelming.  I didn't know what to do.  We already knew she was a horrible napper, needing to be bounced and worn for her to nap....I couldn't handle having a bad night sleeper too.  I cried. ALL THE TIME. I couldn't eat.  We gave her a bottle of formula at night to ensure she wasn't hungry.  We did white noise and lavander and everything else you could imagine.  I stopped eating dairy and wheat.  NOTHING WORKED.  I thought the only thing we had to do was let her cry it out.  I blogged about it.  I emailed others who did it.  But the thought of letting her cry made me sick.  Hubby refused to do it.  We argued about it.  Our world was focused and centered around sleep.  We even hired  sleep consultant who gave us an in depth plan.  We followed the plan and even though we had minimal success early on, by 2 weeks, I was waking up every 30 minutes with her and it was falling apart.  Nothing worked. 

It wasn't until I became involved with Le Leche league and started to attend mother's meetings, that I started to learn what normal infant sleep was all about.  I learned that my daughter wasn't going to always need me. That before 18 months, there is NOTHING you can do that can screw up a baby's sleep.  Crutches are things people use who need help with walking.  Babies don't develop crutches for sleep...or if they do it wont be forever. I learned the dangers of letting your child cry it out.  I read about attachment theory and how it is critical to develop a strong bond between parent and child.  I read about other cultures and what is normative and how we, in the west are 'abnormal' in how we treat infants.  I found my tribe for support and I slowly, became confident in my parenting choices.  This wasn't easy.  H was over a year old, before I can say I was truly confident in how we were dealing with sleep situation.  I went back to work, and H was still nursing all night long.  I would go to bed with her and stay in bed until she woke up.  I never had time for myself.  It was a long, hard haul.

Once H started daycare, she learned how to put herself to sleep other than nursing.  In less than 2 weeks, she went from needing to be bounced and worn to sleep, to sleeping for 2 hours on her own.  She has an amazing care provider and although there was some tears, she wasn't left alone to cry.  She realized since mommy and daddy weren't around, she would need to find comfort in another way.  We didn't have that same success at home.  At 14 months, hubby and I were supposed to go to a concert so he needed to learn how to put her to sleep so he could tell his mom what to do.  In 3 nights, she went from needing to nurse all night to sleep, to putting herself to sleep and staying asleep for long stretches.  If she did wake, hubby just needed to give her some water and she would go back to sleep for him.  We had reached an amazing milestone and we did it without letting her cry a single tear alone.  She did it because she was comfortable and confident we would be with her.  She was still sleeping in our room, but she was sleeping.  I would sleep in the spare room as my presence (milk) would wake her often.  The two of them had a good thing going.

Since she was sleeping so soundly in our room - but waking every morning with his alarm, we felt that it was time for her to move to her own room.  Last night, H slept 9 hours without waking in her own room.  It took her a LONG time to fall asleep - as she has never slept in her room before.  She wasn't secure or comfortable to just lie down and be tucked in and hubby say goodnight.  Hubby needed to rock her for a few minutes and lie her down to sleep.  But she stayed asleep.  She did wake up early and then came into bed with me.  But it was a start.  We are making progress. There maybe set backs, but she has made a huge leap in her independent sleep journey.  She knows we are there for her and she felt comfortable to sleep alone.  She slept for 9 hours last night...all by herself.  She woke and stirred a few times, but quickly put herself back to sleep. 

I am not writing this to say I'm better than those who sleep train. Some sleep train as its the best for their family.  Some do it as sleep deprivation has caused such sever PPD that it is necessary for survival.  Some tried and it only took 1 night of a few minutes of crying and your baby slept.  Some of you will be reading this and will relate to how I felt as you too felt pressured.  I am not writing to guilt anyone.  Everyone has a right to parent the way that they feel is best.  2 people can love their children equally but parent differently.  I am an advocate for Attachment based parenting because I have read the research.  It is what works for me.  I am not going to do what others did to me and condemn different parenting styles.

 I'm writing this for those who feel they can't sleep train. For those who feel they must do something or else they will be nursing their child to sleep forever.  For those with  babies who wont let them sleep train without hours, and hours and hours of crying like H would have given us.  For those who have tried everything and think their child will never sleep.  Yes, we actively sought out change and had hubby take over.  This was crucial to our success.  But we never left her to cry it out.  Every fiber of our beings couldn't let H cry.  Not being able to let her cry made me feel weak, and a horrible parent.  It wasn't until I found support otherwise that I realized I wasn't weak.  I needed to read these types of success stories early on.  But all I found were stories of cry-it-out success.

One of the best things about being a breast feeding momma, is the ability to comfort my child on my breast.  However, for some babies, that can also be horrible for the momma as nursing was the ONLY way to comfort H.  I felt I had to break this connection to get more than 2 hours of sleep.  Through patience and gentle guidance, we were able to extend the need for H to nurse without causing her any stress.  We didn't break the connection, just like we didn't break the connection when I returned to work.  It is possible.  Your baby is smart and KNOWS what it needs.  Once I realized that I just need to listen to my baby and forget about what others would say or think of me, the easier it got.  We knew when she was ready for a change and she showed us we were right.

I also realized that being unconventional is necessary to survival.  H used to sleep latched-on all night, we currently have wall-to-wall bed.  Hubby and I slept in separate rooms for over a year.  Yes this is all unconventional - but all temporary.  Babies change - yes there will be set-backs, but once a skill is learned it wont be forgotten.

For those momma's in sleep deprivation land, take a deep breath.  Relax.  It will get better.  Change your attitude around sleep and things will get easier.  Babies wake.  Babies need momma.  Don't listen to what your mom, neighbour, co-worker is telling you.  Babies don't know how to manipulate.  They only know what they need.  There are no wants this young.  Change your expectations and it will get easier. LISTEN TO YOUR INSTINCTS. You have them for a reason and they will never lead you astray.    It is hard.  Sleep deprivation - especially when working - is hard.  Your child will let you know when he/she is capable of change.  Find support.  Enjoy the snuggles while you can :)

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