3 Regrets and 3 Smart Things about Baby Sleep
From my drafts – I originally wrote this back in October 2012
Every parent’s bane. Or every parent’s joy (when they have a “good sleeper”).
I’m not going to talk about whether Ezra is a good or bad sleeper because I don’t want anyone comparing their child to mine. I feel like sleep becomes this huge competitive issue among parents – there will be one mom who says “Well, my baby was sleeping through the night at 7 weeks old” and she just might be saying that because she is proud or excited…but, inevitably, the mom whose baby was not sleeping through the night at 7 weeks old will feel like she is being judged, or will look at her child and think “Why the heck aren’t you sleeping through the night?? You are 8 weeks old and should be doing that by now!!” It’s a slippery slope.
I fell into that trap, of comparing and stressing and pressuring myself and, to some extent, Ezra, into fitting into this mold of what I thought sleep should look like.
Sleep stopped being a battle when I stopped worrying.
I have heard and said so many times about so many things “let go” but I think, with this sleep thing, I actually learned what that means. I simply let go of all expectations I had on it. And by expectations I mean things I thought Ezra should be doing, or things I thought I should be doing. I accepted the fact that my baby has never read “Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child” or “The Happiest Baby Guide to Sleep” or any other sleep book, so he simply didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing (;) 🙂 ). I accepted that some nights he will sleep 12 hours, other nights he will sleep 8 hours, other nights he will wake once, and some nights he will wake not at all. I accepted that, like anyone else, he will have an overall sleep pattern that is unique to him. I accepted his body knows what it’s doing to help him figure things out.
And, wouldn’t you know it… when I accepted those things and let go of trying to fit this sleep stuff into a pre-determined package, we all became well rested, because the stress was gone.
With all that said, I’m going to share 3 mistakes we made and 3 things we did “right,” but keep in mind “right” is a subjective term here and what is right for us may not be right for you.
3 Things We Should Have Done Differently
- Not waited so long to transition to the crib – We did not transition Ezra to his crib until he was 4 months old. He slept in his Rock N Play from birth until 4 months (he also spent about a week sleeping in a pack n play). This was a mistake for us because Ezra became so accustomed to sleeping at a slight incline (the RNP is slightly inclined) that sleeping flat on his back was very hard for him. He struggled to fall asleep because he just wasn’t used to being flat on his back. The next time around, I’ll either start immediately with using the crib or, if I do use the RNP, have other times where the baby sleeps on his/her back (like during nap time or something).
- Been more consistent with swaddling – We swaddled Ezra pretty consistently for the first week or so, then decided he “hated” swaddling because he was always breaking his arms out. Well, I don’t know that he hated swaddling so much as he was just a squirmy baby. He had a very strong startle reflex and, in all honesty, we probably weren’t swaddling him tight enough. When we finally got a proper swaddling blanket (Aiden + Anais), and started swaddling him tightly every night, he started sleeping longer stretches. We should have done that consistently from the beginning.
- Believed a book or sleep system was the “correct” way and tried to make it work – This is a huge mistake. I’m not saying don’t try sleep solutions you read about (see point 1 below), but I’m saying when you see they aren’t working…just move on. Don’t dwell on it. Don’t think you failed or your baby failed. Just mark it down as experience gained and move onto the next. We made this mistakes once and it really disrupted everything – trying to force Ezra into a certain sleep mold ended up not only impacting our nights but our days as well..naps became messed up, feeding schedules went awry, it was a mess.
3 Things We Did “Right”
- Tried, tried and tried again – If one thing didn’t work, we tried something else. We also did not completely rule anything out until after we had tried it for three nights. Early bedtime is a good example of this. We tried it at 2 months and it did not work. Ezra thought it was playtime and ended up going to sleep at his then-normal bedtime (which was 9pm). We gave it a fair shot and, after the third night, we went back to 9pm bedtime and things were fine. At the 5 month mark, we started noticing Ezra getting tired earlier and earlier so we decided to introduce an early bedtime and see how he did. He took to it like a champ and now goes to bed at 8pm. And that leads me to number 2…
- Listen/Pay attention to baby’s cues – I truly believe there is no one single solution that will work for every single baby on the planet when it comes to sleep. Think about your own personal sleep habits. I’m sure they are very different from your significant other, your mom, your sibling, your neighbor and your dog. We all have unique ways we like to fall asleep. With that said, there are a few things I think every baby does like (loud white noise, a dark room and a swaddling blanket) but even those things can vary slightly from baby to baby. Having never met your baby before, you have a lot to learn and their sleep habits is one of them.You can’t learn it until you start trying things and paying attention to how your baby reacts.
- Built a solid routine from the start – Some parents balk at the words “routine” and “baby” appearing in the same sentence. If you are one of those people, it might help you to better understand that when I say routine for baby, I am not talking about a schedule. I am talking about crafting a series of actions that are repeated night to night, that sync up with your baby’s natural rhythms. I strongly believe that over time your baby will know there is a routine in place (and that it won’t take long for them to catch on) and this routine will become your saving grace – when traveling, when at grandma & grandpa’s, when you’ve had a bad day, etc…It’s something comforting for everyone to fall back on. We were touch and go with a routine for the first couple of weeks but, as we started figuring things out, the routine emerged. I don’t believe in enforcing a routine just to have one, or because it’s what you think should happen. Pick a couple things you want to happen (for example, story time, bath time and a snack or something), pick an order that makes sense for your and your baby, then see what happens.