To say my child was a difficult newborn might be an understatement. He was the type of child that woke every 2 hours to eat and had to be held 24/7. And when I say 24/7, I mean exactly that. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When we brought him home, I learned my first real lesson as a mother: flexibility. I was adamant against Ethan sleeping with us. I was terrified of SIDS and bought into the whole idea that the safest place for the baby was in a bassinet or crib, but never ever in your bed. Ethan slept with us in one way or another for 6 or 7 months. He started sleeping in his crib at night without coming to bed with us around 5 months. Naps took a little longer.
I had heard tales of the baby who slept in his or her bassinet with ease. I had heard tales of the baby who started “sleeping through the night” at 2 or 3 weeks, understanding that sleeping through the night meant 4 to 6 hours at a stretch. I had even heard of babies who had to be awakened to be fed because they slept so much. I wondered if that baby actually existed. There came a point, however, when it became a matter of safety and necessity that Ethan learned how to sleep on his own and for longer than an hour at a time.
I’ll start at the beginning of our efforts to change Ethan’s sleep habits. As any sleep-deprived new mother can tell you, figuring out how to get more sleep becomes an all-consuming goal. We struggle on so little energy to care for these needy little creatures that bring us so much joy and so much pain. In the early hours of the morning before the sun even begins to brighten the skies, we cry and scream and beg for just a little more sleep. I can’t think of a single mother that would say they weren’t ecstatic when their little ones hit that monumental milestone.
I read and read and read about sleep and how to get more of it. So at 8 weeks, we tried implementing a routine. It was loose at first with 3 basic steps: bath, book, and eat. After feeding him, I’d lay with him until my husband was ready for bed. Typically, we tried to have him in bed by 8. At 10, I’d feed Ethan again, and then my husband would take a shift, allowing me to go to the other bed for a little undisturbed sleep. I didn’t really see much improvement. So I kept the routine and pushed for more.
I tried everything. I kept him active during the day. In fact, Ethan started child care around 8 weeks, so he stayed active. I put him down drowsy but awake. I would feed Ethan, and then hold him until he was almost asleep before putting him in his crib. I stayed to make sure he fell asleep. I tracked his sleep with sleep logs and made my child care provider write down all of his naps. I was meticulous. Still, even at nearly 3 months, my child did not sleep through the night. In fact, despite all my attempts, he was worse. He was waking every 20 to 30 minutes and needed one of us to sit with him until he went back to sleep.
With things going downhill so rapidly and our need to get some sleep (we were both working 40 hours a week), we started putting Ethan in his crib at the beginning of the night and bringing him to our bed when he woke. He still woke frequently, but at least we were right there to put the paci in his mouth.
At 4 months, I fell asleep on my 45-minute drive to work one morning. I almost wrecked. And I thought to myself, “I can’t do this. I’m going to kill myself.” And what’s more is that I knew it was true. I was delirious. Desperate. We let Ethan cry at almost 5 months. It took me that long to do the research and make the decision that we wouldn’t cause lasting damage.
I won’t go into the details. And I know many people are 100% against allowing a child to cry for any reason. I do not recommend it unless you have exhausted all other options. I had. And I almost wrecked my car on a winding road with several drop-offs. It had quite literally become a matter of life or death. It took about 3 nights, but Ethan started sleeping. He would still wake twice a night to eat, but he would go to sleep after that. It was a habit we had to break, and once we did, our little ray of sunshine slept great until teething and colds hit.
My son is now 16 months old. He quit waking up to eat many months ago, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still wake. In terms of sleeping through the night, he does fairly well. And we have a consistent routine to this day.
• We eat at 6:00p.m.
• We take a bath right after dinner.
• We play in the bedroom for about 15 minutes.
• We read a book.
• Ethan is in bed by 7:30.
As I said, there are still several things that cause him to wake at night. Our current culprit: molars. And that’s the other lesson I’ve learned. While things are far easier than they were in those early months, the life of an infant or a toddler is harder than we think. They start out by being ripped from a place of warmth and security. We expect them to do things, such as sleep, before they are even able to smile or acknowledge are existence in earnest. They try several foods that do all kinds of things to their tummies. Oh, and let’s not forget that they get sick, can’t breathe, and we stick bulbs up their noses that sucks out the gunk. Can you imagine how strange that must feel? And then they cut sharp teeth through hardened gums that sometimes bleed as the tooth breaks through. Really? I can’t imagine I’d sleep well under such circumstances.
While I believe in consistency and a steady routine, I also know that the real trick is a combination of your baby’s temperament and time that will get you there.
No one size fits all when it comes to sleeping through the night.