A Lot Of Words About Sleep

I took care of other peoples’ kids for years of my life. YEARS. Professionally. That’s a lot of time to study the effects of parenting decisions and form some ideas of how I would and would not parent my own children. I always thought I’d be firm but loving and I would run my household on a schedule which my children would understand and appreciate. My house would be clean all the time and I would kiss the top of my sleeping angels’ heads before retiring at 7:30 to read a book or watch some TV, then off to my own clean bed with my husband for a sound night of sleep. Oh, and we would eat all organic, unprocessed food that I made from scratch each day and enjoy it. I would look fresh and be showered and anyone who wasn’t doing all of these things just didn’t have as much experience taking care of kids as I did.

Are you laughing yet?

We’re almost eight months in and let’s just say that the dream has been drastically modified. But what I really want to talk about today is sleep. I’m going to give you a rundown of Nora’s sleep habits and I’ll save the bitching for after you get a sense of what we’re dealing with here.

Let me first say that I’m not much for a schedule, as it turns out, though we do have a routine. Because I stay home I can pretty much adjust my day to whatever Nora’s needs are so she naps when she’s tired. She does have a bed time (7:30) but I think being somewhat flexible with nap times has encouraged her to be a little flexible if we miss the 7:30 slot at bedtime a night or two, as we did two weeks ago when there was a death in the family and we had stuff going on every night for a week.  I should also mention that I have tried the nap schedule business but my child has inherited every ounce of stubbornness that Zack and I had to pass on (that’s A LOT) and she is what’s called a tension increaser when it comes to crying it out, so unless she’s willing to go to sleep it’s an epic fight for a 30 minute nap. Max.

Oh, that’s the other lovely thing about my daughter: she’s a power napper. 30 minutes and she’s refreshed and happy for hours, nevermind my need for the occasional break.

The 30 minute nap thing, now that I don’t try to force her to nap when she’s not ready, isn’t actually that big a deal. Really, Nora is amazingly willing to entertain herself in whatever room I’m in for impressive amounts of time. That means my attention is almost always divided but I can still accomplish most things that are required of me during the day.

At night Nora has been all over the map, sometimes sleeping long stretches and other times waking up as much as every 90 minutes. Because her nighttime sleep has been kind of rough we decided to co-sleep, so she’s in our bed, and we’ve been doing that since she outgrew the Rock ‘n Play about two months ago. Man, did she love the Rock ‘n Play. She currently sleeps cuddled up to me or flopped on her stomach in between us, and she still wakes up a fair amount (usually 2-5 times) to nurse or, more often, just for reassurance that I’m there (all I have to do most of the time is touch her skin-to-skin and she settles back into sleep). It is not uncommon for breastfed babies to wake during the night to nurse, though many are capable of sleeping through the night. As of today Nora has slept through the night twice in her life. I usually nurse her to sleep for naps and at bedtime.

Okay, so now you have a basic idea of the sleep situation. I know there are things we could do to get Nora out of our bed and sleeping through the night. I’ve read books and blogs and articles and listened to webinars and I am in love with all of Nancy Holtzman‘s ideas on parenting in general. Our pediatrician encouraged us to do a controlled CIO sleep training method at 4months and that was atrocious (and when we learned she’s a tension increaser). I am not into the CIO method. Nora naps in her crib some and we’ve tried doing the first part of the night in her room to get her used to being in there, but she never sleeps as long there, or as well. Which means Zack and I get no time to ourselves in the evening and definitely no time together, as one of us is constantly in dealing with her wake ups.

I know that some of you are reading this and thinking that we’ve created this situation (we have) and that I shouldn’t complain about it. The thing is, I’m not complaining. I know it’s hard to believe, but Nora’s sleeping habits do not bother me now that I am used to them*. No one is more surprised that I am not more of a stickler for a schedule and some sleep training than me. I NEVER expected to bed share and I certainly didn’t expect to love it. But I do, I love being able to watch her sleep, I love the reassurance of being able to hear her breathe, and I love knowing that she is absolutely at ease knowing that we are right there with her. I’m not worried that she will be in our bed until Kindergarten even though we don’t have a plan for when she needs to be sleeping in her own room or how we’ll get her there. I get so much more sleep than I would if she were downstairs in the nursery or even in the Pack-n-Play next to the bed, because all I have to do is touch her or bring her close to the breast to nurse and we both go back to sleep.

My biggest issue is really that I hate telling people how much Nora wakes up at night (AND EVERYONE ASKS – why must this be the stick by which a “good baby” is measured?) and I’m tempted to just start lying about it. I feel like people think she *should* be sleeping through the night and either we’re doing something wrong by not forcing the issue or that there’s something wrong with her because she isn’t there yet. Whether it’s working for us never seems to enter into the equation. I am way more of a crunchy hippie attachment-parenting type than I expected to be and I love it, but it’s taken me some time to come to terms with the fact that I’m a very different type of parent than I imagined I’d be. Isn’t it interesting how much we can surprise ourselves? I also own the fact that I am a little lazy and unwilling to sacrifice sleep in the short-term to sleep train using a gentler method like Holtzman’s trade-down approach.


We are going to a wedding in California over 4th of July weekend and we are leaving Nora with her grandparents for three nights. Understandably, they do not plan to share a bed with her; she will sleep in a Pack-n-Play in the next room. Obviously they can’t nurse her to sleep. They’ve been really our only babysitters, having her at least once a week most weeks even for only an hour or two, and anytime they have to get Nora to sleep it’s a struggle. We plan to do some practice runs where they’ll have her overnight while we are home to help get her more used to sleeping there.

My feeling is this: I don’t want to change what’s working for us just for three nights of someone else dealing with my kid. Is that awful of me? Parenting is such a personal thing, and I really work to not judge other people for their parenting choices. I feel strongly that the best thing for Nora right now is to be in our bed and the best thing for my family is for me to nurse her down at night. It makes bedtime a smooth thing almost every night: it’s soothing and relaxing for Nora, it’s great bonding for her and I, and she sleeps better when bedtime is calm, giving Zack and I an hour or two before I need to go to sleep to spend time on our relationship. I don’t want all of that to shift prematurely because of this trip and I don’t really think it needs to. The three nights we’re gone are going to be difficult no matter what because Nora is used to being with me 99% of the time. It’s the nature of having a stay at home mom. Most of the time it’s the best thing for my kid but it sure does make leaving her extra hard for everyone involved.

It’s amazing to me how many aspects of sleep a person can find to agonize over.

*It took some time for my body to adjust to broken and generally less sleep, but I get 8+ hours most nights and I function fine the vast majority of the time.


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