Saturday, March 17, 2012

Searching for the "Right" Way to Sleep

When I was pregnant with Sadie I "knew" so much more than I do now.

I knew we would never co-sleep.  I'd been reading parenting books and magazines non-stop, absorbing every little word, and the ever present advice of doctors rang through my head.  Sadie would sleep in a crib.

Oh it was a beautiful crib.  It was a maple sleigh that could be converted into a toddler bed when she was big enough, and we bought a matching jungle themed crib set that was set up and ready to go long before Sadie was done growing in my tummy.  I could just picture my tiny baby sleeping in it.

Then Sadie was born and reality struck, full force, handing me seven months of nights where more than one consecutive hour of sleep was a far off dream of a pre-baby world that no longer existed.  The child did not sleep.  She nursed around the clock.  And not like other babies who's parents could have rightly said "around the clock."  She nursed ever hour and a half... for about an hour.  Now since you time nursing from the start that's about a half hour break in there.  If I was lucky.  And then the screaming would start.

Now in hindsight I think she had reflux.  She spit up a lot.  It was the kind of spit up that permanently stained anything it touched (I didn't know all spit up wasn't like that until I had Mae).  It was all the time.  In large amounts.  And the word "projectile" frequently came to mind.  But her doctor at the time wasn't worried (he was a family doctor with only two babies in the practice) and I, in my sleep deprived state, was too exhausted to even consider that it wasn't normal.  After all, you always see people holding babies with burp clothes.  Babies spit up.  That was just how it was.

At a month old the child nursed for seven consecutive hours, screaming non-stop whenever I tried to cut her off and convince her to sleep on her own.  It was around this time that I realized that my "no pacifier rule" might have to come to an end.  I hung my head in shame the day I gave up the right to call myself an ecological breastfeeding mommy (and heard plenty of nasty comments about it online in forums at the time when I'd mention that we did everything that put us in the category of ecologically breastfeeding, but occasionally offered a pacifier since the child nursed non-stop... and I was told by other mother's something like: "how dare you even think that you're almost ecologically breasfteeding when you give your child that soul destroying piece of plastic to suck on.  There is no almost!  We have nothing in common.  Nothing!" {to paraphrase}).

After seven months of not sleeping and holding her pretty much around the clock, because the screaming would start pretty immediately once she was put down, we went down to visit Sadie's Godmother in the Bay Area before she moved out of state, and the room we stayed in, didn't have a crib.  She was finally too big for the Moses Basket we'd previously lugged with us when we'd been out of town for Paul's classes, and so I slept with her next to me.

Eight hours later I woke up, stunned.  I'd been very aware of her while I slept, and she had slept soundly through the night (I can't remember, but I think she may have nursed one time).  I was ecstatic.  Co-Sleeping was now a part of our life (although the nursing hourly returned quickly, it was much easier to do while co-sleeping).

A year and a half later Mae arrived.  Sadie had already transitioned to her big girl bed (a mattress on the floor, since she was not a fan of toddler beds) and I assumed that Mae would co-sleep with us.  I'd mentally prepared for the sleepless nights as best I could and braced myself for a half year of stumbling around half conscious.  I figured it would be somewhat better if we co-slept from the start.

But Mae Bae slept.  She slept for hours at a time.  She slept in the bassinet at the hospital.  She slept in our bassinet at home.  I didn't have to be in the room.  Then she'd wake, nurse for a bit, and drift off back to sleep.

I was shocked.  I was worried.  I asked the pediatric specialist who visited our room at the hospital if I needed to wake her up to feed her more frequently.  He looked at me like I was insane and told me to let her sleep when she wanted to sleep and feed her when she woke up.

When Mae outgrew her bassinet I moved her into the big bed.  She rolled around and kicked.  She slept restlessly all night long.  She'd spend a good portion of the night trying to shove everyone else off the bed and would get very little sleep.

One night I took her into the other room and put her in the large, still beautiful, sleigh crib.  I waited for the screaming to start.  But after a few minutes of fussing she closed her eyes and went to sleep.  Every night since then that we've had access to a crib, she's slept in one.  She sleeps most nights from 7:30 to 6 am.  When we're traveling and there's not a crib we all know it's going to be a tough night with lots of kicking.

 Mae Bae likes her space.  And she loves her crib.

One of the greatest lessons of the last three and a half years has been the realization that what's "right" when it comes to babies can vary widely.  I find myself chuckling more often than not when I flip through parenting magazines these days, and have let my subscriptions expire (unfortunately I had some very long subscriptions and some still arrive  now and then).  My job as a mom is much easier now that I've given up the notion that I need to be doing something in some way that some group of moms somewhere has prescribed as the only acceptable option.

Now, if only I'd learned that lesson a bit earlier.  I would have gotten so much more sleep!


  1. This is all so true. You simply can't listen to what "they" say. We were careful to do what the "experts" said you should do with our first child and while we didn't have it as rough as you did, we had many sleepless nights and months filled with excessive screaming/spitting up/around the clock nursing (around 20xs or more a day). All three of our girls have had reflux, but with experience, we've learned how to manage it better and our second and third daughters have had an easier time because of it. I'm sure the "experts" would cringe to know that my baby sleeps on her belly 99% of the time when she isn't being held or riding in a car. The child simply won't sleep on her back and neither would our second daughter.

    I also have the super long parenting magazine subscriptions. They're only good for whatever coupons and craft ideas that may be in them.

  2. I found myself nodding my head and smiling as I read this post. 16 years ago as I was awaiting the birth of our first child I had similar thoughts. We bought a beautiful convertible crib and pretty sheets and painted her room. How many times did she sleep on those pretty sheets (excluding daytime naps)? 1 night. I quickly realized I could not function without sleep and the only way to get any was to take her to bed with me. When our second daughter was born 21 months later, we bought a king sized bed. This ended up being a lifesaver as 6 more children came along with the youngest usually being a few months away from being ready to leave our bed when the new one was born. I now tell any new nursing mom with a baby that wakes up a lot at night to give in and take them to bed because everyone will sleep better. As for the pacifier issue, I don't understand why people get so angry and judgmental about it. Some babies just need to suck more and using mom as a pacifier doesn't work for everyone! Some of mine used it and some didn't, but they all nursed just fine! I agree with you..every child is different. Moms should be encouraged to follow their instincts and do what is best for their child, even if it's not "popular". The ultimate goal is a happy baby and mom and the road map for that goal is different for everyone.

  3. This is why in La Leche League you will often hear us simply say, "listen to your baby." As far as pacifiers are concerned...There is some real concern about pacifiers in the first month with nursing babies because sometimes they get used a lot and the mom's milk supply never really gets correctly calibrated so you end up with low supply. After the first month they can (and I really want to emphasize can, because with a Sadie baby they probably won't) impact on the fertility spacing associated with lactation. I'll admit to not being a huge fan of pacifiers, but it's mostly because I've seen them overused and I've watched them really mess up the milk supply of a mother whose supply was probably not going to ever tend towards oversupply. I've also watched mothers who use them end up with babies spaced more closely together than the mom and dad would have wished. If you want your babies spaced closely together, and you are anxious to get started on another baby ASAP then using a pacifier instead of mom probably will help that happen.

    If you want to really understand the ins and outs of eco breastfeeding and why pacifiers can (emphasize the can again) be a problem, read Sheila Kippley's newer books (The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding and Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood).

    With a baby like Sadie, one of the biggest problems may well be oversupply. Because these babies LOVE to nurse, they will really ramp up the supply, then they will spit up massively only to go back and nurse again (believe me I had one that did the same projectile vomiting thing that Sadie did). What works in this case is not less nursing, but more time spent on one breast. If instead of switching sides you keep them on the same breast for three or even more hours at a time, but let them nurse ad lib on that breast, and then switch to the other side it helps tamp down the milk supply. Block feeding like this really helps with those babies who love to nurse and don't mind spitting up all over the place. You only have to do it for a few days, but even after that it's a good idea to only give them one breast at a feeding until you're pretty sure you're over the worst of it.

    However,in my humble opinion parenting magazines in general are best avoided. They are aimed at higher income secular moms who think that babies need every brand new gadget under the sun and their writers seem to believe that most mothers don't have the sense that God gave a sheep. If you like the coupons fine, but realize that the articles are going to be written so as not to be in disagreement with the advertisers. So if they're advertising cribs you won't see many positive things about co-sleeping. If they're advertising formula they're not apt to make breastfeeding look particularly easy. So caveat emptor.

  4. My daughter has slept with her now-11 month old either just beside her or in bed with her because it is the only way she would get any sleep. He is a little windmill all night, however, and if she gets 2 hours of sleep in a row it is a rarity.

    He has never had reflux, didn't spit up, but is as active at night as he is during the day, and nurses constantly. It's the movement, though, that keeps her awake.

    She goes back for the 3rd year of her doctoral program in early May and they must do something or she will be a zombie. She plans to start easing him into his own crib/room this week, as she suspects he is very easily roused. If he wasn't so constantly active, she'd just keep him in her bed, but she is desperate for sleep, poor thing. Should be an interesting few weeks!!!


  5. Great post. All babies have different needs!! Although, I'm still waiting for one that is happy sleeping alone and will just fall asleep when placed in a crib.

    Anyway, I wanted to mention that excessive reflux can often be linked to hidden dairy and other food allergies. Milk and other proteins are passed through breastmilk to baby and some babies are sensitive to them and it can cause reflux and colic. Some mothers find that eliminating dairy or other allergens (soy, eggs, etc.) from their diet can make a big difference.

    Also, babies that are born via c-section are more prone to colic and reflux because they aren't naturally colonized with the "good" bacteria which is passed to the baby from the mother as the baby passes through the birth canal. Some mothers find that giving infant probiotics (a powder you can put on your nipples before nursing)can help babies with reflux and colic as it replaces the good bacteria.

  6. I did the same thing you did. I planned for my son to sleep in crib and was so excited preparing his room!

    Then, when he came home after a two weekstay in the NICU, I couldn't bear to be apart from him from another minute. He started out the night in a pack and play in the living room, then moved to his bassinet in our bedroom after my husband got home from work. After his early morning feeding, he slept with us.

    This worked until he decided (after much trying on my part) to quit nursing at 9 months, he moved to his crib and I haven't looked back. He loves his crib and has only been back in bed with us a handful of times when he's been sick.

    I've learned that those magazines only make me question myself. As a first time mother, I don't need that!

  7. When my first was born, she was an absolutely horrible sleeper, like your first. I blamed myself. When my second was born, she was an absolutely fabulous sleeper and I thought, "Hey! I'm getting good at this!" When my third was born, she needed a little help but slept well and I thought, "Yeah, I have this down!" Then my fourth was born and she has been an absolutely horrible sleeper, like your first and my first, and now I know.... it has NOTHING to do with me. Every baby is different and they can sleep very differently just by their own personalities and sensitivities. I learned not to sweat it if they were a bad sleeper or pride myself if they are a good sleeper and I learned to do the best I could but do what worked best based on what kind of sleeper they were and remember that, even through the bad nights, this too shall pass.

  8. *hugs*

    Good grief people can be mean! Sorry that one comment just got to me.

    But yeah sleep is one of those things that varies between families and between children and all sorts of stuff. I love co-sleeping personally.. and not sure how I'll do if I ever have a baby that doesn't want too (I've heard they exist lol). We transitioned Kalila out too early (2 months) and made things harder on ourselves about the same way you did with your first. ZJ sleeps much better but still needs to be near me.


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