Sleep training is a tough and controversial subject as a new mama. It’s also something people will start asking you about pretty much the second you find out what you’re having. Are you going to CIO? Co-sleep? Baby Wise? There’s a book on every method it seems, and everyone has a favorite book you HAVE to try if you want ANY sleep in the first year.
Oh sisters, I’ve been there.
When I was having my first baby, I took in all the advice I could. I hadn’t walked in the path of motherhood before, and I wanted to follow someone else who had. It seemed Baby Wise was the top recommendation and the fastest way to get your baby to sleep through the night – which was the goal, I was told. “My baby has slept through the night since 6 weeks,” someone mentioned “Mine hasn’t woken up in the night since she was a newborn!” said someone else. So I figured I would try it out. It seemed like a no-brainer at the time.
And then I actually had my baby. She was so tiny and perfect and I loved her about a million times more than I knew was possible. She was simply an extension of myself and taking care of her didn’t take the least bit of thought, it just happened naturally. She was a fairly good sleeper from the beginning, sleeping in 3-4 hour stretches, only waking to eat and she’d settle back to sleep again in her bassinet beside me. By the time she was a couple months old, people started in with the questioning. “Is she sleeping through the night yet?” She wasn’t, but I wasn’t really unhappy with the 1 or 2 times she had been waking in the night. “Oh, you’ve got to start sleep training! Her waking will become a habit – it probably already has!”
So, panicked and feeling like a complete failure as a newborn mom, I ordered a copy of Baby Wise on amazon and expedited the shipping. As soon as it arrived, I already felt better. I started reading it and immediately became uncomfortable. As far as the book read, I was probably already too late as my baby was now 9 weeks old and had likely already formed her “bad habits”, and since I didn’t start from day one, I had to let her cry it out in her crib.. starting now. The thought of that sounded so miserable, but the guilt had already settled well into my soul and I thought it was my only option. That night I set the timer for 5 minutes.. I got about to 2 with her fussing and hurried back in. I felt guilty about not sleep training to begin with, but I knew I just wasn’t cut out for letting my newborn cry it out. I thought that maybe I could do a modified Baby Wise… one where I could completely scratch the CIO phase.. at least until she was a little older.
So I began diligently to get her on the baby wise “sleep, eat, wake” cycle. I set the timer and fed her exactly when the book told me to. It ruled the better part of my life, but at least she was sleeping okay (still waking once a night). There were nights I painstakingly let her cry in her crib in an effort to teach herself to soothe.. but no matter what, she would not stop that night feeding. I blamed myself for not being more strict with the Baby Wise book, but no matter what, I could not ignore her through that middle of the night wake-up.
And then something hit me. I did not mind that middle of the night wake-up. Honestly, I actually looked forward to it. It was our stolen time together when all the world was quiet and I didn’t have to share her with anyone. I would rock her and feed her in her peaceful little room, listening to the noises she made as she ate, and snuggle her close until she was back to sleep. The older she got, I realized how much I would miss this time when it was over. Somewhere around 17 months, Harlo started sleeping through the night. I had the time to wonder honestly why I had tried to fix something that wasn’t even a problem to me.
A few weeks later, I gave birth to Stella. There was something magical and familiar about delivering that second baby that created a confidence in myself I hadn’t noticed before. Nursing Stella was more familiar, changing her, knowing what she needed.. I trusted myself this time. I was her mom, and I knew her better than anyone else. I decided to throw all the rules and books and theories out the window. I was going to completely play it by ear and together, just Stella and me, we would figure it out. The very first thing to go was any ideas of sleep training or expectations on when she should sleep through the night.
I fed Stella when she was hungry and let her sleep when she was tired. I let her sleep in her carseat, in my arms, in the moby wrap, on the couch. There was no rhyme or reason to our method and both of us were completely happy and content. I noticed how much more relaxed I was doing it this way and in turn, how much more relaxed my baby was. To my surprise, she got on her own little schedule – naturally. Stella has never cried it out a day in her life and both of us are quite happy about that. AND, she started sleeping through the night earlier than Harlo did, even without sleep training.
The moral of the story is not that sleep training is bad.. I think it works great for the moms and babies it fits best. But as a mom, you can decide what works best for you. Maybe you sleep train one, but realize it doesn’t work as well for the other. Maybe co-sleeping is your thing and you don’t mind one bit having that baby snuggled close night after night. Maybe crying it out worked well for your babe and he self soothes completely now. Maybe you currently have a baby who wakes in the night and you’re exhausted and nothing is working yet.. what about that? My advice to you, sweet mama, is that these first couple of years – even thought it doesn’t seem like it all the time – is going by so incredibly fast. The problems you have this year will be completely different than the problems you have next year. You may be exhausted now, but I promise in a year or two you will look back to this year as the happiest in your entire life. Being exhausted is just part of it. Relish in those night wakings – they don’t last!
As moms, I think we can all be careful about passing judgement to others. Isn’t being a mom a hard enough job without the added pressure of what others think about how you birth, what you feed your children, how they’re sleeping, when they get potty trained, etc? We all know these kids don’t come with a manual and we’re all doing the very best we can. Let’s embrace our differences as moms and encourage and support each other.
To you new expecting moms, I will only tell you this: You will know. It doesn’t seem like it right now, but you will know what is best for you. You’ll feel it. Trust this! The sooner you do, the happier you and your sweet babe will be.