With the motivation of today's newsworks.org web chat on sleep with local child sleep expert Jodi Mindell at noon HERE, I wanted to start up a project I have had on hold for a little while.
Many moons ago (ok, like several months ago), I started a post series called Adventures in Parenthood. The idea behind it was that Parenthood is hard. Such a transition - one that I did not handle with beauty OR grace. One day, a new life is thrust into your world and you are never the same. It can be scary, exciting, funny and overwhelming. I've had my highest of highs and lowest of lows since becoming a parent. My greatest asset, though, has been realizing I am not alone. That's right, friends. It comes back to COMMUNITY! We're all doing this whole Parenting thing, so why not stumble through it together, and learn from each other on the way?
I summed it up best in the intro post (you can re-read it here). We then went on to have our first discussion topic on Newborns (which you can view here). I found it really insightful to hear all the different viewpoints and ideas. I had intended on posting different parenting discussion topics each week, but as I was entering my third trimester, it became too much, and the project got put on hold.
Now that I am in a new season of life with a 3 month old and an almost 3 year old, I've been inspired to reinstate the series. I've been reminded these past few months how much we can learn by each other's experiences!
Today's topic: Sleep
As parents, sleep is an elusive thing. Both for us and for our children! When I first became a Mom, I was completely unprepared for the lack of sleep that was waiting for me. I brought this little bean home, and I remember thinking the first night (around 10pm): "OK...so I guess we'll just put her down and head to bed?"
Little Chica was far from being a natural sleeper. I remember her just crying all night some nights. When she wasn't crying, she certainly wasn't quiet. The phrase, "sleeping like a baby" is a complete misnomer. We were totally caught off guard by all the whines, squawks, cries and sighs she made all throughout the night. Due to my husband starting a new job 3 days after she was born, we made the decision early on to move her bassinet from our room to her room. Hubby was just not getting any sleep, and was a mess when he arrived at work in the mornings. Having Little Chica in her own room helped us learn that she was actually sleeping when she made those noises! Since she wasn't getting picked up and disturbed with every squeak, she started getting better stretches of sleep, and so were we (there was still a long way to go before she slept through the night, though!).
Little Chica also wasn't a natural napper. For the first month and a half of her life, she fussed and cried most of the day. I'd spend my waking hours flitting from one activity to the next, trying to keep her pacified. We'd walk, we'd bounce, we'd sing, we'd rock, but after about 5 minutes, she'd start fussing all over again. Only after 6 weeks of this exhausting circuit did I catch wind of this little tidbit: newborns can stay awake, for at best, 2 hours. 2 hours!? She'd been up ALL DAY, for days on end! No wonder she was cranky - she was TIRED! After this amazing epiphony, I started doing research on kids and sleep. I spent time piecing together bits of information from here and there, and came up with some strategies to try. After a few weeks of trial and error, Little Chica began to be a regular napper. Not only was she napping, but her night sleep became increasingly better, and she was a much happier baby!
In my research (and subsequent solicitation of advice from many mommy friends), I learned that there were tons of theories and schools of thought on kids and sleeping. As I've met more moms throughout the past 3 years, I've seen many of those theories and beliefs put into practice. I have friends who co-sleep and friends who put their newborn in their own room the day they came home from the hospital. I know moms who are firm believers in Crying it Out from the start, and other parents who would rather soothe their children to sleep peacefully. Some parents utilize a schedule to aide their children in falling into their sleep cycles, and other parents who feel trapped by the idea of having their children on a schedule.
But in the end, we all do what works for us.
I cannot speak on behalf of what other parents do (which is why I hope many of you parents will be apart of this discussion and leave comments with your own experiences), but I can share with you what worked for me. Through trial and error, I have found myself to be a schedule/routine kind of parent. Maybe it's my personality? But when Little Chica was just a mess those first few months, helping her learn to sleep was truly the answer. For me, I found that getting into the rhythm of EAT-WAKE-SLEEP worked well for my kids (well, Bitty Bug is still kind of new, but she naturally fell into this rhythm). The idea being that we encourage our kids to have "waketime" after eating and before sleeping. This helps babies not to associate eating with sleeping, and therefore always needing to eat to fall asleep. As my girls got older, their waketime became longer, and their sleep became regular.
I will say, though, there are downfalls to being on a schedule. It makes you somewhat inflexible at times. Yes, your kids nap well. But it means being home for naps. Which can really cut into your day, being productive and seeing other people (which can be a lonely place!).
I've read that "sleep begets sleep." This has been true in my experience. As sleep began to fall into place in the daytime, it started to solidify at nighttime as well (and vice versa). Little Chica started sleeping through the night (of her own accord) around 13 or 14 weeks of age. She's been a relatively good sleeper ever since (she has the occasional night waking, and is at an age of resisting naps, but that's life!). Bitty Bug is still working her sleep stuff out.
I personally allowed my kids to cry. Even though I made this choice consciously, it was (and IS) still difficult. There seems a spectrum of letting babies cry: on one end, there is not letting your baby cry at all. On the other end is allowing your baby to cry without going in to comfort them until they stop. I fell somewhere in the middle, allowing my babies to cry, but setting a time limit (5 mintues, 10 minutes, 15 minutes). If they were still crying after the set time, I'd go in and comfort them. I never wanted them to feel that they were completely alone, but I also wanted them to have the skills to put themselves to sleep.
We're still working on all of these things - and as they grow, things change and kids throw you for loops. Bitty Bug is only 3 months old, and every time she hits a growth spurt or is learning a new skills, things get thrown off. Little Chica is almost 3, and has resisted her afternoon nap for a while now. Some days she naps, other days she does not. We moved her to a big girl bed a few months ago, and that brought some new and interesting bedtime issues (being afraid of the dark being one of them!). But Hubby and I are learning, adapting and giving our girls the best opportunity to be rested.
I'd love to open the discussion to all of you. There are so many ways to approach parenting, and we might find each other's thoughts and experiences a great resource for parents looking for answers or a new way to do things!
What are your thoughts and practices involving Kids and Sleep?
Share your story in the comment section below! And remember: this is a no-judgement zone. Let's handle each other's differences with respect and openness.
What are other Adventures in Parenthood topics would you like posted and discussed? Is there a parenting area that you would like some input or advice on? I'd like to post more in this series in the upcoming weeks!
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas.
And don't forget to tune in to the Sleep Web Chat at noon today!