Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On Sleep

First, a word of thanks to those of you who offered me your support in letting go of some of the guilt. I appreciate it so very much, and it does help.

And now, a post that really isn't about loss at all, but about being a parent for me, right now. Around here lately I’ve been consumed by sleep, or my lack of it. I suppose one could really be more specific and point out that it is Fiona Clementine who is struggling with sleep, not me. I imagine that if left, alone, in a dark, silent hotel room, I would probably sleep for about 27 hours without waking once. But, in fact, I live in a small-ish, old house with thin walls and shutter-style doors. And so if one person does not sleep, we’re all around to bear witness to her struggles.

Struggle, schmuggle, I often think, when people speak of their babies’ sleep issues. Babies aren’t supposed to sleep well, they aren’t supposed to sleep for long, they aren’t supposed to sleep alone. By saying this I’m not implying that I disapprove of people who do put their babies to sleep alone, because I absolutely believe in every family choosing the sleep style that works best for them, and I withhold judgement. But you can’t deny the biological fact that babies aren’t supposed to sleep alone, and so there is an element of learning that has to take place around all of this. What I’m struggling with is the fact that my baby, while still a baby, is going to become a big sister. And my internal struggles with what I should do about sleep and Fiona are becoming further complicated by incoming molars and a 4:30 wake up time... yes, 4:30 AM. Almost every day. Wow.

This might not be so awful, you might think, because I am co-parenting so one might imagine we could tag team. Except that my dear husband leaves for work at 5:15 AM, so once I’ve tried to put her back to sleep, and rotisserie-nursed for 40 unsuccessful minutes, he’s gone and the house is empty and cold and it’s hours before real morning should arrive. And Fiona Clementine is tired, but fiercely determined to start her day, and I’m pregnant and eager to get back into bed. And I wish I had some way to get her to agree with me that sleeping until 6 is a good idea.

Fiona has always been, since the age of 10 months, my most independent sleeper. She slept tucked into my armpit comfortably until she was 9 months, and then spent a month trying to clue me into the fact that she was ready and wanting her own space. Now, she actually likes her bed, she likes the space of it, and she really doesn’t like to sleep with me anymore. Ever. Some people might imagine that this seamless, happy transition to her own bed would be in my favor, and I admit that with the coincidence of my positive pregnancy test and her decision to sleep alone, I would almost jump to agree. Except that when she’s having trouble sleeping, I don’t have the back up plan of pulling her into my bed and letting her snuggle in and nurse and snooze with me. Because she won’t snooze with me. She’ll nurse, and crawl around, and then get extraordinarily frustrated that I’m not getting up with her. This is possibly the only time I ever see Fiona Clementine exert her will: when she wants to get up in the "morning".

But still, at some point about a week into this struggle, the nursing and snuggling did start to seem kind of nice to her. So even though she wasn’t really sleeping, and even though she was waking up, and wanting to switch sides, and maybe chat a little about every 6 minutes, she decided she didn’t really want to get into her crib. And when nap time rolled around, she was putting up a mighty protest, which was leaving me sitting bewildered in the rocking chair, baby at my breast, wondering what had happened to my champion napper. It also left me bewildered at 4 PM with an absolutely exhausted baby who was ready to go to bed for the night.

It was then that some really wise words my cousin gave to me rang a bell in my head, and I combined them with some of my own, personal wisdom.

The wisdom I have always held so dearly to is simply that sleep is important, and that babies need a lot of it. I cringe when my babies (under 3) get less than 14 hours of every 24. At our house we strive for 12 solid hours at night (solid doesn’t mean no nursing, just good sleep!), and when they’re little, at least 2 hours during the day. Fiona was doing an average of 3 daytime hours before the teeth and the fussing, and suddenly it dawned on me that we had whittled her 15 hours of sleep down to about 12, with the decreased naps and early wake ups. To me, this is a recipe to catch a cold, in addition to being an obvious precursor to a crabby baby.

So this is my wisdom, knowing that sleep is a health issue, and keeps my children not only healthy, but happy. I'm proud to say that in almost seven years of active parenting and three children, we've only been to TWO doctor's visits (knock on wood!) that weren't well child-- and we've had TWO bouts of vomiting and a handful of colds. I have been so lucky-- and I really do think a lot of it has to do with how well rested they always are.

And then, back to Fiona, I thought of my cousin Briare’s wise words which were, sometimes not sleeping is just an issue of saying NO, and remembering who is in charge when it’s in your child’s best interest. If your child fussed for cookies and cake every time she got into her high chair, you wouldn’t give her them no matter how hard she cried, would you?

Obviously not.
And so, sometimes, even when your baby says, I don’t feel like sleeping right now, and they are old enough to know their safe place in the world and to know you are always there for them, and to hear your voice saying, I know you don’t want to take your nap, but it’s important for your healthy body to have a rest right now... Then I think you do just lie them down in their little bed and let them be for a little while.

So I did it. I committed this for my little Fi, and I told myself that I had to just pick a routine and stick to it without fail so that she would know what I expected of her. Just like I give her healthy food to eat, and even though I know she loves ice cream I don’t give her ice cream when she throws her green beans on the floor.

So I sang the same lullaby I always sing her, and rocked her and nursed her and smooched her, but then despite her request of “no” I did put her in her crib. The first time she squawked and fussed for the whole “nap time”-- which was 45 minutes long. But that was it. The next time she squawked and fussed for a few minutes, and after that, she would still let me know on my way to her bed that she didn’t want to go down, but she didn’t fuss. She already knows that I am always consistent, so she learns fast. And so I’m on my way to reprogramming Fiona Clementine for her health and mine, and I’m glad I remembered that even though it is so hard to hear your baby unhappy, when it’s a matter of keeping them happy and healthy, sometimes it isn’t a real choice.

I am not a mother who supports the true “cry it out” method. But I also don’t support children who perpetually don’t get enough sleep. There are all sorts of evidence that support negative effects of sleep deprivation, and I do believe that there are certain elements of attachment parenting (a style of parenting that I mostly go along with) that are not conducive to a well rested child. I have seen so many children parented in this style who look so bleary eyed and are sick so much of the time because they can't sleep alone, and so they go to bed late and nap infrequently. I believe that it is fully possible to have a firmly attached child who feels safe enough to sleep alone at times. I suppose what I support is really good communication with your older baby, so that you can make your expectations of them crystal clear, so they know that you love them no matter what, and that you will be right there for them when they wake up.

That's my diatribe for today. It's part explanation of where I'm at, sleep deprived, looking for change, and part trying to justify to myself in writing that what I'm doing is good for my baby and for my family and for myself. Fiona's at 14 months of age and she's had no colds and 1 ear infection in her life, and I'd like to keep things going in that direction. I love her too much to see it any other way.

And also? I'd like to get some sleep myself, mostly between the hours of 4:30 and 6 AM. I am not opposed to getting up early with my kids. I think kids are, and should be, early birds. But 4:30? That's just not morning, no matter how you cut it.


Ya Chun said...


I've noticed with Bea (who just turned 10 months today) that if the nap is off, after a couple of days she sleeps less well. So, maybe Fiona will sleep better after she gets caught up on her sleep (aside from those darn teeth!)

When did your older kids transition out of your bed to their own? Do you think they got enough sleep when they were in with you? And what were Fiona's and their signs that they wanted their own beds? Bea does not like to lay still long enough to fall asleep for her naps, so I usually end up holding her tight. But I think the nap needs to happen. But I don't like that it is a struggle.

Hope's Mama said...

Oh molars. Yep, we're getting them here as well. Angus and Fiona seemed to have switched roles. Our dreadfull sleeper has somewhat turned a corner. We can still get two good naps most days and if not, one good one and one not so good one. And he's down at 7.30 and gets up around 6am. He comes in to our bed then until about 7am. Sometimes he's up a bit ealier, but we rarely get out of our family bed until 7am, so I can't complain there. Interesting to note, Angus has had four ear infections, and all during the months where he Did. Not. Sleep. Since he started "sleeping through" (I hate that term, I just mean he started not feeding over night) at 11 months, he hasn't been sick and he's been a much happier kid to be around.
As Ya Chun said, all very interesting! Sometimes it seems no matter what we do, if they aint gunna sleep, they aint gunna sleep!
Good luck with it all! And Fiona, GO TO SLEEP!

ps: one more! And I must add I also realise having a non sleeping baby is a walk in the park compared to what most of us have been through. I'll take this problem any day.

Rixa said...

Lack of sleep is so hard. Right now I'm struggling with the same thing, only it's mostly because of pregnancy and a tad due to my 20-month-old. On his end, I suspect he's fussing at night because of eyeteeth coming in. But my struggle right now is that I can't sleep--can't fall asleep, can't stay asleep--even though I am totally exhausted.

I agree that kids need enough sleep and that you have to be firm about helping them achieve that. I'm all about cosleeping at first when they're tiny and nursing all the time, but once they get a bit older I do whatever helps them sleep best. At some point, that means getting them into their own room, in their own bed or crib.

Big Love, Big Acceptance - or so I say said...

thanks for sharing the parenting advice! I hope I can remember it when the time's right (expecting our first rainbow baby in May).

Charlotte's Mama said...

My other kids were in and out of the bed from the beginning; in the cosleeper, so putting them in their "own" bed didn't seem quite as big a deal as they were used to being held part of the time and then laid down for a while. I moved them both around 8 months to going to bed in their crib and then coming into bed with me in the wee hours... but they always napped in their cribs from about 5 mos. on. I think napping in the crib is the real key, eventually, because they aren't flexible to get out (sounds mean) and obviously if you have more than one living child, lying down with them or holding them during the nap is actually impossible. So that facilitated the napping for me-- that being said, Aoife was always a crappy napper who I'd usually rock and nurse for twice as long as she'd actually sleep once I set her down, which persisted until she gave up her nap at 2. She would also sleep from 6 PM until 8:30 AM, which well made up for her crappy naps. So you just work with what you get, every time.

LoritheOverchiever said...

My kids have all been fiercely independent from birth, all of them. I would try to lay down and nurse them, but none of them would have anything of it. So, I'd have to sit in my chair and nurse them until the went to sleep and then I'd put them to bed.

I also was lucky and had AMAZING sleepers. All of them were sleeping through the night by 3 months old, and by through the night, I mean 10pm to 6 or 7am. Brandon also would sleep from about 11:30 until about 5 during the day until he was almost 5 and would sleep just fine at night. We though there was something wrong with him, but the docs just said that he liked to sleep.