I promised a sleep post, but there are a lot of sleep posts out there. The truth is every baby is different, and there is nothing you can read that will change that. I know that’s not much comfort when you’re climbing out of your bed for the fifth time in one night. I know how badly I wanted a solution to my kids’ terrible sleep patterns. But my conclusion is that there is not much that can be done about how a baby sleeps. Here’s how I know that: I raised two babies, under exactly the same conditions at the exact same time, who sleep so differently you’d think they were raised on opposite ends of the earth.
So let me tell you about sleep according to Baby A. My daughter.
My daughter was a cluster-feeder. For three or four hours every evening she needed to be on the breast. She would scream bloody murder if I tried to take her off. She would fall asleep at the breast, and then, unconscious, finally roll off. By 5 or 6 months though, she was only waking up about twice a night. She slept beside me, and I would watch as she would kick her legs and kneed the blanket, trying to figure out how to fall asleep. And then, miraculously, around 8 months, I slept in the spare room one night, and she did not wake up once. Like so many articles said, by sleeping next to her, I was, perhaps, hindering her ability to sleep through the night. She slept through every night after that, and I would place her in her crib, drowsy but awake, and close the door to her room, only to go back in 12 hours later to my well-rested little munchkin.
Here is sleep according to Baby B. My son.
My son slept fairly well until he was about four months old. Then – growth spurt? Teeth? Developmental milestone? – he could not go more than 45 minutes without waking up. And he would not go back to sleep without nursing. By 12 months, he was waking up every 2 hours, and I considered that an improvement. He would only go to sleep with nursing and rocking. He needed to be sound asleep when he was put back in his crib, or he would jump up screaming. I stopped co-sleeping with him when he was 6 months old because he would just head-butt me and practice crawling all night long. One night, when he was around 10 months old, I spent the night at my best friend’s bachelorette party out of town, and my husband rocked that boy from 10pm until 5am. He would not go to sleep without nursing. There were times when we would let him cry. And I promise you, I PROMISE you, there was no crying it out for this boy. I have no doubt that he would’ve screamed all night long. By the time he was 18 months old, and I was heading back to work, I night-weaned him slowly over the course of a month. We talked about it a lot. I explained what was happening to him. And he finally, finally slept through the night. I don’t think it would have happened a moment earlier than it did. My son needed that time to figure out his sleep. He was such a busy guy during the day that I think he needed the night-nursing, to reconnect and get in some cuddle time.
My son napped hard. During the day, I could pop him into the pack ‘n’ play in the middle of the living room and he would be OUT. Later, it was a quick nurse and rock, and he would sleep for hours in his crib for 3 (or more) naps. My daughter required me. I gave up trying to get her to nap alone. My best bet was to wear her in a carrier until she nodded off, and then lower myself onto the couch for an hour of TV. If I was very lucky, I would wear her on my back, and once she was sleeping, I could transfer her onto the bed so that I could get a bit of alone time. My best memories of their early naps are when I would strap them into the car, drive around aimlessly until they were asleep, and then get myself a latte and chocolate chip cookie from the Starbucks drive through.
Now, at two and half years old, my son sleeps like a champ, asking to get into his crib for nap and bedtime. With my daughter it’s a bit of a negotiation to get her to finally lie down and sleep, and there are multiple sips of water, trips to the potty and songs. Her afternoon nap only has a 50% success rate.
When you read articles about how a child should “learn” to sleep, and what you should or should not be doing, remember that they are just that author’s experience. Follow each sentence of the article’s advice with “…if it’s right for your child.” For example, Help your child learn to fall asleep if it’s right for your child. Co-sleep if it’s right for your child. Put your child in a dark room with white noise if it’s right for your child. Night-nurse if it’s right for your child. So much of this is trial and error, but the only advice that should be apply, is the advice that is right for YOUR child.