Infant sleep: 3 tips for putting advice into action

March 22, 2012 · 7 comments

peaceful sleeping baby

peaceful sleeping baby

I’m struggling with sleep issues. My first was an easy baby who slept through the night at 8 weeks. We never had to help him sleep. My second is 10 months now and I’m ready to drop. He wakes 5 or 6 times a night and won’t nap unless I lie down with him. I kept pushing through the months hoping things would change. I also have back issues and cosleeping leaves me in so much pain in the morning I can hardly walk.

I followed AP with our second baby and believed if he cried he’d get brain damaged ( I realize those articles now are not quite truthful and it’s more that excessive crying is a sign of neurological issues rather than the cause of them). I am so tired I’m worried about having a car accident.

I decided to do some of the methods I’ve read on here but I want to make sure I’m doing it right. He screams uncontrollably as soon as he’s placed in a crib or pack and play. He doesn’t stop. He only calms with nursing to sleep in my arms or in my bed next to me. I know he will have to cry in order to learn how to sleep on his own but I want to do it respectfully.

I started tonight by telling him all day about the new routine. He had a bath, books, and nursed until drowsy and then I put him in the crib telling him I’m confident he can sleep there and that it’s safe and I’m right nearby and I know he can do this and I understand it’s hard not to be in my bed anymore. So far he hasn’t settled down.

I’ve gone in every ten minutes or so for a half hour and then I gave him the 21 minute cycle. He’s still furious sounding. Not sure how long to let this go on. I’ve also sat with him calmly reassuring him and patted him. This is tough but in don’t feel guilty anymore, I need to help him learn to sleep better or risk an accident or just sleepwalking through our day and not being the mother I want to be.

I almost cried when I read this from a reader, because it was so much like me, but with my first baby. I was sleepwalking through my day, and I needed a change. The advice sounded awesome, but when I dealt with the reality of a screaming baby who sounded like they would never, ever be consoled, I wondered if it would ever (could ever!) work.

It can.

1. Remember that change is hard.

Even people who thrive on change have a difficult time with it. Transitions are stressful, even when they’re happy ones. Think about the times we’ve dealt with even the happiest change: a wedding, a new child, learning to drive. Going from one state to another, even when it’s welcomed, is a difficult thing. If you’ve recognized something needs to change for safety or sanity, talking your children through it and preparing them for the change is the best thing we can do — but it doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. The tears and frustration and resistance to change is completely normal, and it’s ok for our children to have unhappy reactions to it.

2. Don’t take it personally.

One of the hardest things for me to do as a parent is not take the unhappiness of my children personally, even if I’m the one who caused it by implementing a change. The first few nights of putting my sons to bed by themselves were so difficult, because they made it so clear they didn’t want to do it. It was hard, and they cried. But for my sanity, and the sake of my marriage, and for their safety, we needed to make a change. Like this mother, we prepared them for it, stayed calm through their emotions but let them express it, and supported them through the transition. The only thing that got me through it was remembering that I was responsible for the overall well-being of our family, and that was the ultimate goal. My children are entitled to their emotions, and I had to let that be my guide.

3. Success is not always a linear path.

When I instituted the sleep changes in my home, I wanted it to be a few minutes of crying before the magic of my calm demeanor and motherly reassurance assuaged their fears and they drifted off to peaceful sleep. Um, no. That is not how it happened. A few minutes were amazing, and then furious screaming ensued. One night would be peaceful, and the next would be an endless back-and-forth. Change is hard — not just for our children, but for us, who are learning to discipline ourselves. It’s ok to be gentle with ourselves throughout the process. If there is a night where we just can’t take it, or the guilt overwhelms us, or the cries just don’t sound right — go to your child! Comfort them! Comfort yourself! The goal isn’t perfection, or instant success. Change is a learning process for us too, and having nights where things don’t go the way we plan is completely normal (even if it’s the first night!). Some people will implement a new routine and have it down in two or three nights. Some take two or three weeks (or months! or years!). But we all grow, and we move forward. We have to go at a pace that it comfortable to us — and not cram ourselves into an idealized timeline.

Learning how to change is the first step, but the implementation of it rarely goes exactly the way we read about in articles or even hear from our friends. We learn by making mistakes, and by putting thoughts into action. It doesn’t need to be perfect — take your time, and trust yourself and your children. You will get to where you want to be.

Photo credit:  andrewmalone on Flickr

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