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Don’t Ask if She ‘Sleeps Through The Night’

Don’t Ask if She ‘Sleeps Through The Night’

As I sit typing with my two year-old snuggled to my back in my trusty baby carrier, I ponder sleep. Specifically, a child’s sleep. My children can sleep so profoundly that at times, loud bang in the midst of their slumber elicits not even a flicker of response (not that I regularly bang things while they’re sleeping). Other times the scrubbing of a toothbrush stirs them awake. And so often, they fight sleep like heavyweight champs, succumbing only to sweet bliss after an intense knockout round of bedtime stories, songs, and back patting.

When I first became a mother, I felt insane with sleep deprivation. Reams of infant sleep solution literature in every library, book store, and baby boutique didn’t help. Because despite the obvious paradox of hundreds of diverse and contradicting “solutions,” parents can become quite wrapped up in what they profess to be the “right” sleep techniques that, if only other parents would get with the program, would grant us all nightly bliss. As I struggled with sleep, I learned to listen for the conversational cues that would indicate when I needed redirect these folks before they asked the inevitable “…but does she sleep though the night yet?”

The bottom line is that in working with a lot of new parents, I have noticed few “right” solutions that work for every parent/child relationship. For many people, different sleep solutions work for different families at different times in our children’s lives.

Many new parents are faced with exhaustion so great, they simply don’t know where to turn but books outlining strategies that initially seemed so outrageous they never imagined they’d try them. And sometimes the strategies work, the parents are blissfully energized, much happier parents. And sometimes the strategies don’t work, and I wonder if at times children might be more stressed about sleep, or even physically harmed in instances when the breastfeeding relationship is compromised.

I know it’s not this way for everyone, but nighttime has been a very important time to bond with and nurture my children. My girls are extremely outgoing and adventurous, and nighttime seems to be one of the only times that they settle into our arms and surrender. So despite having never “pulled an all-nighter” my entire pre-parenting life, my instincts have dictated that I stick with them through their struggles.

I have been humbled. I’ve tried to create good sleepers, but despite my best attempts to find effective strategies I can live with, one might say I’ve failed to create solid-sleeping kids. Failed. And yet, “failed” might be too permanent a word; my five year-old child sleeps most nights through. So maybe I’ve just failed to create solid-sleeping babies and toddlers, and maybe that’s not quite so bad. It just means I need coping techniques to ride through the storm until my younger gets there too. And even though some days I barely cope, I’ve felt like I couldn’t parent any other way.

One coping method is to refuse to be trapped by sleep. Although it’s against “expert” advice, I live full days and take a jog at naptime with my kids in the jogger. Maybe it makes nighttime sleep worse to allow them out-of-bed sleep-time, but I certainly haven’t been able to tell the difference. And at least I’m getting exercise and personal freedom out of the deal.

Another coping strategy that worked well until she could roll over was sleeping with my second baby right from the start. I never worried if she was breathing and could easily fall asleep after she awoke to nurse. But by the time she was moving around in bed, I began to feel seriously tired. I’d love to bedshare, but I simply cannot sleep well with an arm tossed over my back, let alone legs in my ribcage. So she moved next to the bed, and still wakes me up during the night. Just not every time she moves.

And recently, in order to make the bedtime routine a bit less of a fight, I’ve added a new, rather tribal step to the bedtime routine for my two year-old. If she cannot settle to sleep quickly, she gets a choice. She can sleep in her “backpack” on my back while I work (clean the kitchen, work on the computer, fold clothes…) or she can have tea in her bed. These days she opts for the backpack, and I feel happy not to fight her tears throughout the evening.

The bottom line is that a night’s sleep feels like a living riddle with answers that change by the day. It could very well be one of the most challenging parts of parenting for me, pushing me past limits I never thought I could achieve.

And as Chloe lays heavy against my back in deep slumber (Sleepytime tea crashed to the floor 10 minutes ago, only a slight twitch), I’m reminded that if I’m happy, if our sleep strategies are working for now, I can always go back to the drawing board and try again.

Have you had to cope with children and sleepless nights? What have you done to cope with the anxiety and exhaustion?

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18 comments

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2:06AM PDT on Jul 24, 2012

thanks

3:47AM PDT on Jul 22, 2012

thanks for sharing

3:47AM PDT on Jul 22, 2012

thanks for sharing

8:36AM PDT on Oct 12, 2009

Good on you for working with your kids and not trying to give them a script to fit into that's written by people who have never met them and never will. Experts on kids are only reliable where "normal" kids are concerned. Since no such thing exists, I push every parent I meet to work with THEIR kid, regardless of what "normal" or "experts" say. My daughter slept through the night from day one -- going to sleep at between 2 and 4 am and getting up between noon and two. She slept beautifully like this, with us gradually rotating her schedule, until now bedtime is 10:30 and sleep-time is by midnight, with waking at 8-8:30 am. She is well-rested, and goes to sleep when she's tired, naps well with no coaxing, and while she's an adamant little thing at age 4 she's downright compliant most of the time and brilliant to boot. I know no expert would endorse this, but they don't have my daughter, and I do.

5:02AM PDT on Aug 21, 2009

Things get easier as they get older, our 3 year old now sleeps through the night on his own, we went through a tought time when he was 2 but now it works fine.
Every child is different, so just because something worked for someone else don't feel bad if it does not work for you.

7:58PM PDT on Aug 19, 2009

I read Tracy Hogg's Baby Whisperer, and loved it as well. All 3 of my babies were sleeping in their own cribs right from the start. It was harder at first, just because I actually had to get up out of bed to feed and comfort them when they woke, but I figured the earlier they got used to it, the better. They were never allowed to sleep in our bed. Like Tracy's book said, start as you mean to go on.
One thing I liked about Tracy's EASY system, was that if you played with them enough, they were good and tired at sleep time. And if it was nighttime (like 3am), all they got was food and a diaper change, no playtime. And then during the day I stretched play time as long as I could.
My first daughter slept a solid 12 hours through the night on a regular basis by the time she was 6 months (but she was the best-tempered, easiest baby I'd ever seen in my life). My second was 18 months, and my third started just a couple of weeks ago, and she just turned one. My older girls are now 4 and 5, and they rarely have trouble either going to bed, or staying asleep (unless there is thunder!!)

2:25AM PDT on Aug 18, 2009

ps note the time of my post! i have a nursing 3 month old in my lap as i type.

2:24AM PDT on Aug 18, 2009

Hilary I genuinely love your attitude. What a great idea to give your two yo a choice that you could live with. I will remember it if I need it in another year +.
My 8 yo didn't sleep thru the nite, every nite, until kindergarten. Besides keeping her physically active, as other readers have mentioned, I found keeping her mentally stimulated was crucial. Not Baby Einstein kind of stimulated, unfortunately for my couch potato tv-lovin self, tv only hindered sleep. Little activities like playing Memory or Color Days (today is a red day, we dress in red, lets find red things all day!), etc. Summertime is now her difficult sleeping time for I cannot provide enough stimulation, but its not as bad as it once was.
Loved your article! Thanks!

4:00PM PDT on Aug 17, 2009

Dear Hilary,
It is an important part of our children's development to become indepedent and autonomous!
However, you are doing the right thing, if it works for you and your children, by assisting them to sleep each night. My oldest woke every night til just before she turned 7. A week before her 7th birthday instead of bringing her little sister home we had to tell Sara her sister was in heaven. No surprise when she started sleeping with us after waking in the middle of the night again. My third child, McKenzie, just turned 4 and I still lay with her each night to put her to sleep. I really enjoy this time to cuddle her, say prayers and talk about her day while I was at work. (I just went back to work about a yr ago.) My oldest is 14 now and the time I had with her when she was young is a treasured memory (esp since she's a teen now and wants virtually nothing to do with her parents).
About a 1 1/2 yrs ago we lost our youngest when I was 5 months along. He was our 4th and final child and our second in heaven. So I will continue to assist my pre-schooler in nodding off EVERY night until she no longer needs me to. I am her mother and I will do what is best for her regardless of what doctors say. I will never put my need for a good night's sleep ahead of my child's need for comfort and my touch. Good luck and God bless to you Hilary and your children. Hopefully, one day you will see the reward of following your heart.

7:14PM PDT on Aug 15, 2009

Debrah Roemisch is right on when she says that "her mommy brain was always listening for them". I have two teens at home and I instinctively know when all is well just by listening to their sounds. I can even sleep through some of their music. I imagine that it will always be this way until they are living on their own. Unfortunately with my kids, I also "know" when they are up to no good . . . they can't seem to get away with anything! The good news is, they're smart; the bad news is, they're smart!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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