When I discovered I was pregnant, Google became my best friend. I was anxious to know what fruit or vegetable my baby resembled in size, I signed up to all sorts of newsletters telling me about each weeks important milestones. I watched hours of YouTube videos about the different stages of delivery.
Then baby came along and I no longer had time for all this research. It came down to facing a problem and then quickly searching online for solutions.
I guess becoming a mom abroad and away from friends and family made Google a must have, as I needed advice.
Despite being an early childhood teacher and knowing most developmental milestones from birth to age 6 by heart, none of this is valid – at all – when it has to do with your own children. The shoemaker’s son always goes barefoot, they say.
If there is one topic we new parents always need advice on, no matter how great and well behaved our children are, is sleep.
It’s hard to come to terms with the reality of our baby not letting us sleep. So we turn to all sorts of places for the solution. We purchase the books on this topic and read tons of articles, we join Facebook groups where we hope to meet other people who have found the solution.
And we do find tips. We find tons of tips. Lots of great advice that worked well for that mom and that solved that other mom’s sleep deprived-ness. Lots of suggestions that helped this and that family’s baby sleep like an angel at three months old….
Lots and lots of advice…. But the truth is…. (no matter how harsh it may sound)…. It will probably not work …
“Feed your baby cereal and make sure you fill him up before bedtime.”
“This way, he won’t wake feeling hungry throughout night.”
But what if the baby is not waking up because he or she is hungry? If so, no matter how much you fill them up, they will still wake during the night and all you will be doing is forcing their stomach to grow beyond their current needs… you may even end up confusing your baby’s instinct to identify when he or she is actually hungry.
I tried this with my baby when he was 8 months old. Not only was it a struggle to get him to accept the bottle with cereal, which caused a big fuss at bedtime, it also made him a big gassy. Both of these things clearly didn’t help him sleep for longer at night. So, mission aborted.
“Swaddle your infant baby.”
“This will remind him of the snuggly feeling of being in the womb and he will feel safer and therefore sleep longer and better. This helps babies experience less anxiety and prevents unnecessary wake-ups due to the startle reflex.”
Sure…. yes, of course I tried this and I even got swaddles that I loved. My baby looked super cute in them… but did he sleep longer and better?…. No… he continued to wake every three to four hours, no matter how tight I strapped him. … sigh…
“Stop breastfeeding him!”
“Every time he wakes you are giving him positive reinforcement to continue doing so.”
This one I can understand. It completely makes sense that being breastfed to sleep is the most soothing and relaxing thing that can happen for a baby and yes, if our beliefs are mostly behaviorist, doing so as a response for a specific behavior will most likely be interpreted by the baby as a motivation to continue with such behavior. Something like “hey check this out! Every time I wake I get my favorite thing in the world! I want to keep waking up!”
But I tried not doing this anymore… and desisted. Mainly because I still want to breastfeed my baby and stopping it during the night could have a negative impact in my supply, but mostly because of the tantrum that results of a sleepy, moody baby not being breastfed. Thi tantrum ended up escalating and causing the whole house to be wide awake for at least an hour. I don’t want to have to deal with this yet…. maybe in the summer, when we all have more time and patience…
“Keep a consistent bedtime routine.”
“A soothing bubble bath. Relaxing music while you give him an essential oil massage, cuddling together in the rocking chair with a book and teddy bear, singing a couple lullabies and then, in your crib you go for the perfect all night sleep.”
Except you don’t. For sure having routines with your baby since an early age has tons of benefits and it’s something you should definitely do. But do you really need to have this picture book, romance story, fairy tale like evening? Will it really help your baby sleep longer? No, not necessarily. I’ve tried all these things, no progress.
“Keep a shirt you’ve worn in the crib.”
“That way when your baby wakes he will sense this familiar scent and feel safe and secure”
…. Yeah…. you go ahead and fill your baby’s crib with tons of unwashed clothes… let me know if does the trick. (Note: if your baby is under six months old you should never leave extra soft things in the crib because of the risk of SIDS).
“If your baby sleeps with you he will definitely sleep all through the night.”
I do not have the intention of debating whether it’s ok or not to share a bed with your children, and must say that though I am not a co-sleeping advocate, I have ended up doing it – at least for part of the night – for survival. I guess it does make it easier because I don’t have to get up and sit next to the crib or walk around the house while rocking the baby to sleep. Instead I can just roll over, pat him on the back, cuddle close to him, and even breastfeed while I continue sleeping. But does this make him sleep longer? Of course not.
“Let him cry it out.”
“It will be four – five max – days of screaming bloody murder, but he will eventually understand that bedtime and nighttime are for sleeping in his own crib. After this, it’ll be heaven.”
Will it? Really? I respect we are all different and most importantly all babies are different, and therefore react differently to methods like this. I know babies who, once past the four to five days mark were able to sleep much longer on their own, I know others who continued struggling way past this initial stage. Those babies that I know did manage to get past this first step, were they definitely able to sleep all through the night and self soothe back to sleep? Consistently and regularly? No! Sure they have some nights when they do, maybe most nights. But they continue to have some nights where they wake and cry. It is also really hard on these babies when there is a change of routine… the sleep training has to start all over again.
It was a disaster in our case….
“Get a glow in the dark pacifier!”
“That way, when your baby wakes, he can find it on his own, put it on and soothe himself back to sleep with it!”
As soon as I heard of this idea I ran to the store to get one. What ended up happening? My baby thought it was the most entertaining thing ever to see how the pacifier glows even when it’s hiding under covers, and, oh! How fun it is to put it inside your pajamas and watch your tummy glow….
“Use a night light.”
“It will help your baby feel secure being able to see a bit in the dark.”
All babies are different, we all know that. What worked for your baby might not work for mine, and may be horrible for that other baby. My baby hates light (or loves it, in the case of a glow in the dark pacifier…). If there is so much as a tiny bit of light in the room, he gets distracted and has a whole lot of trouble being able to settle down for sleep. Forget about looking at my phone while keeping him company as he sleeps. The shining light of the screen keeps him up.
So, clearly, using a night light will not necessarily help your baby sleep longer and better.
“Use white noise.”
“It reminds them of the noises they heard while in the womb.”
This sounds so magical and simply feels like it should absolutely work, right? Well…. it won’t necessarily! I know of some babies that do get a better and longer sleep with white noise, but do they manage to sleep all through night, consistently? You guessed it… no…
“If your baby wakes in the night, resist the urge to run to him and pick him up.”
“He may, surprisingly, fall back to sleep on his own.”
I know of some people that truly and urgently feel they need to pick their babies up when they cry and they hate it when they are told they are spoiling them. I am one these people. It’s like there were a superhuman instinct that takes over me, perhaps something imprinted in my genetics, a behavior that has been part of the human race sin prehistory… Or maybe I’m just paranoid. Whatever the reason, don’t believe when people tell you you’re spoiling your baby by picking them up. It’s not true. It will teach them that you are there for them and that you care.
Having said this, I have tried to see what happens if I don’t pick him up at the first squeal, just as an experiment. To my surprise, there have been a few times when he has stopped complaining on his own and no more noise can be heard… but does this work all the time? Of course… NOT!
“Put him to bed early!”
“An extra tired baby will have more trouble falling asleep.”
At first it seemed obvious that the more tired he was, the faster and better he would fall asleep, and for sure he would most probably sleep longer… However, it turns out it is true that an overtired baby will have more trouble sleeping.
In my case, it seems like my baby gets possessed when in an extreme state of tiredness. He get crazy active, can’t control the urge of jumping up and down, climbing me up to the top of my head, and biting me like a zombie.
So yes, an extra tired baby will have more trouble falling asleep. But will putting your baby to sleep early guarantee that he will sleep longer during the night? No. Sorry….
“Put him to bed later, maybe he is just not sleepy enough…”
Oh the contradictions! Yes, it may be true, and for sure you should try to find the ideal time at which to put your baby to sleep. Not too early… not too late. But, again, will this help your baby sleep longer and better… No, no, no.
“At around six months of age, babies are more able to sleep on their own, and for longer periods of time.”
So, something like the older he gets, the more mature he will be and the more developed his circadian rhythms? All this fancy talk has to be true… right?
Well… at least in my experience… No! I have found that the older my son gets the harder it is for him to fall asleep and stay asleep.
As a newborn he slept great! Sometimes six and even eight hours in a row (just imagine what happened to my chest…). At around three or four months, it turned into hell, with him waking every one hour, one hour and a half at most… It got a bit better at around nine months, then went to hell again at around a year of age.
In sum… perhaps there is a pattern, and we are all at mercy of it.
“Put your baby down drowsy but awake.”
I hate this advice. Anywhere you look, whoever you ask, all books you read… they will all say this. So if someone can tell me how on earth you tell if your baby is “drowsy”, please let me know so I can try this out.
I am convinced that the hardest part of becoming a parent is coming to terms with the fact that you will no longer have the luxury of pleasant, all night, uninterrupted sleep.
Much of the problem is an inconsistency between our expectations, and the reality of what babies are like. For some unknown reason, society, media… even our mothers and our mother’s mothers… have made us believe that babies and young children can and should sleep through the night.
And the harsh reality hits us hard, because, in fact, biologically, babies are not meant to be sleeping through the night, at least not until they are three (or maybe four… or even five?!) years old.
It is also quite disappointing how very few mothers actually say this in an outright way. In fact, studies have shown that usually, one out of three parents lie about how well and how much their babies sleep.
It is amazing how when you start asking around for people’s experiences, you usually find that most mothers who have children under the age of four are having the exact same “problems”.
In conclusion, I think it all depends on the fact that we look at is as a problem, when in truth, it’s a reality and natural characteristic of human beings (not just babies… believe me, my husband probably wakes at least four times every night for a drink of water and to use the bathroom).
I am still not 100% comfortable with this reality, and I continue to look for ideas on how to help my son sleep better at night. Perhaps it won’t work, perhaps some day I’ll find the secret elixir. So if you happen to come across an idea that has helped you better withstand the long nights of baby waking, please contact me and share away!
Sweet dreams… !