When expecting Ella, our Doula loaned us a book. We read it and thought ‘ha! This’ll be easy.” – then we had a baby.
It was pretty easy. But we didn’t follow the book’s advice for more than a week. The book relied on crying to let the parents know what the baby needed. But we usually knew Ella needed something long before she cried. In fact most babies give cues to their needs long before they cry. Why ignore our baby for fifteen minutes to an hour waiting for her to cry, when we could just run throughout the most likely culprits: hunger, needing a fresh bum, too hot/cold, sleepy, wanting to snuggle, wanting to be put down? It might take fifteen minutes to run through all of those possibilities in the beginning, but a baby’s a smart creature (and most parents are too) and soon baby and parents develop other tells that communicate those needs quickly.
With each of our babies, from birth until about twenty months, the two most important needs have been sleeping and eating. Ultimately I believe those are the two most important needs of all babies.
Ella slept in a crib on occasion. Not often, mind, but it did happen. She also slept in the stroller, sling, wrap, carseat, and on daddy’s chest once or twice. Once her nap routine was established (about 2 mos old) we were careful to protect that time. We were respectful of her sleep and didn’t make extra noise. Just as we’d expect others to be respectful of us while we slept. For Ella if we were out and about, moving, she’d sleep. No matter what. If she were cuddled against our chest, she’d sleep through almost anything. However, if she were in her crib, or on our bed she’d awaken and need lots of support to fall back to sleep.
We were told many times over that it was important to teach a baby to sleep through noises. We were told we should go out of our way to make noise while she slept. Certain people were rude enough to go out of their way to make noise when they came over. All in an effort to teach her to slept through noise. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually work that way. Making noise doesn’t teach a baby to sleep through anything, it just wakes the baby. Oh certainly some babies may sleep through it, some may ‘learn’, but mostly all that happens is a baby becomes more and more tired. And the parents become more and more tired and upset.
When Ella was about 6 weeks old, she became sick. We didn’t realize just how sick until she was around two, but because she was sick, she nursed. A lot. We co-slept. This meant buying a firmer mattress, increasing the overnight heat in the house so we only had one lightweight top-sheet on the bed. We removed the extra blankets and pillows, and bought a bed closer to the ground (though we’ve only ever had someone fall off the bed while asleep once – and that wasn’t a baby : ) . All the ‘rules’ for putting a baby to sleep in the crib applied, but she was in our bed. Next to me only, not daddy. At first I didn’t sleep that much, I was very concerned about rolling on her. But every time she moved or I moved, I woke up.
Then Agatha came along. Things were a bit more difficult. 3.5mm was maximum distance she could be away from me. However after the rough go we’d had with Ella nursing non-stop in the bed (she was very malnourished due to undiagnosed celiac’s disease), we were determined not to co-sleep. So the first 2 nights after Agatha was born I rocked her to sleep, and faithfully tried to get her into the crib. For two nights and days I slept in the chair with a baby cuddled against my chest. On the third day I realized how ridiculous I was being and Agatha came to bed with us as well. She’s 3.5 and still in my bed, and I’m happy with her there. She sleeps great, and so do I. Though occasionally I’d appreciate it if she didn’t feel the need to sleep on my head :p
We were careful to protect the girls’ sleep. When they napped or went to bed for the night we tried to keep the noises to a minimum. Partly for our sanity, the longer they slept, the happier they were and the more time Ryan and I had to ourselves. But also knowing that babies who develop good sleep habits by sleeping in a dark, quiet environment are more likely to be children with good sleep habits*, and then adults with good sleep habits who awake feeling refreshed. There was no reason for us to make noise. They were sleeping and as everyone knows it’s best to let sleeping babies lie.
*Note that you can’t force a baby/child to sleep, but rather create an environment conducive to sleep and see if the baby will actually accept your offer. Especially if you have a baby that has difficulty falling asleep it’s important to protect that sleep. If that means whispering from the hours of 10AM until noon everyday for two years, then do it. A rested child is a lot more fun to be around : )
Cordelia’s been a different baby from the other two. She fights sleep more than the others, but is more likely to sleep on her own. We still co-sleep, but we suspect the transition to night weaning will be easier, shorter than with the other two. Of course we have a few months or so before that’s likely to happen (assuming same course as the two big girls). Cordelia’s put herself to sleep more than the others, she doesn’t nurse to sleep very often, things are different. But we still protect her sleep. While she naps the girls are moved to a different level of the house if they want to be noisy. The dog is politely told to be quiet, or go in his kennel (on a different level of the house).
It has never been an inconvenience for us to respect our children’s needs. At 3.5 and 5 our big girls are great sleepers. They go to bed on their own, and sleep through twelve hours. They don’t fight bedtime, they have a very positive relationship with sleep. Even if they awoke many times in the night it’d be okay. The important thing for us is the positive feeling they associate with sleep. It isn’t a stressful event where they plead to stay awake and we say ‘no’. Instead if they wanted to stay awake, we’d say ‘sure’. Of course most nights they ask to go to bed between 6 and 8 depending on how busy our week’s been.
Sleep is such a touchy topic. A baby is ben and a week later everyone wants to know if she’s sleeping through the night. Hate to break it to you folks, but 5 hours is sleeping through the night and it isn’t normal or safe for ANY baby to sleep through the night until 6 mos of age – and not until 2-3 years before it’s expected they’ll sleep longer than that without getting up. So if your 3 yr old gets up once a night, count yourself lucky – many 3 year olds get up 3 or more times a night. And if your one year old gets up twice, she’s doing pretty good. I’m very lucky. I don’t know how many times my 1 yr old gets up, as a breastfeeding, co-sleeping mama my baby latches on and off without waking me.*
*Unless it’s after 5AM, then it’s too close to wake up time anyhow – and then I’m grumpy.