A few days ago I was having coffee with some mom friends of mine and we were discussing sleeping. Both friends (and while we’re at it, practically every young mom I know) have read Babywise and follow it loosely. They were talking about nursing your baby to sleep-which I have done from day one. To my understanding, Babywise operates under the wake/feed/play/sleep mantra. I mention casually “oh, I always nurse to sleep.” To which, my one friend replies, “don’t listen to her, her baby sleeps 14 hours in a row, she doesn’t count.” I shrug, she’s right. My baby does sleep 14 hours in a row at night.
I have been extremely lucky when it comes to sleep (but don’t talk to me about the nightmare that nursing has been for me-Ha!). From the very beginning, the ONLY problem we’ve encountered is the now infamous “no-nap” day. By this I mean, several days of crying and gnashing of gums during the afternoon and the eventual culmination of the glorious nap-DAY. She did this for almost the whole month of September and part of October, but now we’re back on track. But here’s what I’m trying to figure out: are we lucky, or did I read an awesome book on sleep and apply it (as much as I could and loosely at times) to my daughter.
Being the natural rebel that I am (and particularly when it comes to popular literature) I came into motherhood disliking the idea of Babywise.*** I’d not read it, but the rigidity of the system turned me off. I knew, however, that I needed to read something about sleep. So, a friend suggested that I read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. I immediately got a copy and got to reading, as this friend’s 1&2 year olds were the best kid sleepers I’d ever met. These kids slept like CHAMPS. They went down at 6:30 or 7:00 and slept until 7:00 the next day at about 6 months. AMAZING.
Weissbluth is an MD who has been studying the sleep patterns of children for decades, so I trusted his credentials from the beginning. I’m a little tired of reading kid books by regular old parents who think they’ve cornered the market on child rearing (anybody with me??) The book is divided up into several sections, beginning with basic sleep physiology and moving to sleep at different ages.
The main tenants I’ve taken away are simply this:
1. Babies need to sleep a lot! In the first few months, our little ones need to go down 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours after they wake, at the very minimum. That means that they’re sleeping practically ALL of the time. Because of this, Weissbluth discourages the idea of “sleep training” until at least 4 months. This is when their little schedules begin to regulate and organized naps appear.
2. Babies will let you know when it’s time to sleep. The moment Charlie exhibits any form of sleepiness: rubbing her eyes, yawning, grumpiness, etc, we let her try to go to sleep, even if it’s not nap time. Because of this, we rarely (though occasionally) have a screaming bed time baby on our hands. Figuring out sleep cues took a while and sometimes there’s a small nap window before she hits the over-tired mode (which is nightmarish), but after about 6 months, this too, seemed to fall into place.
3. Sleep begets sleep. This truth is truly the most bizarre and wonderful thing about the Weissbluth method. I have found it to be amazingly true that the more and better Charlie sleeps during the day, the more she will sleep at night. Also, since we are still in the morning nap phase, if she gets a morning nap (and sometimes our schedule doesn’t allow for one) her afternoon nap will be longer and better.
Most of our days look like this: Wake: 7:30-8:30, Nap 1: 10:15-11:00 (or sometimes later), Nap 2: 1:15-3:30 (give or take 3o min.), Bedtime: 6:30-7:00.
There are those occasional times that she wakes earlier than 7 or goes to bed earlier than 6:30. For instance, last night because she was such a grouchy pants, we put her down at 6:00 and she went right to bed and slept until 7:30 this morning.
I hear a lot of friends talking about putting their kids to bed at 9 or after, and Weissbluth addresses this matter by suggesting parents up the bedtime by 30 mintues to an hour. It’s often thought that if you keep your kid up later, they will sleep later. At least in our experience, this hasn’t worked AT ALL! So, we put Charlie down early, she enjoys 12 hours of sleep, and we get grown-up time. We all win.
4. Bedtime routine doesn’t really matter, just keep it consistent. Here are some varying bedtime ideas: rock your baby to sleep, lay your baby down awake but sleepy and let them self-sooth (and sometimes cry it out), or nurse your baby to bed. And guess what, any of these methods are ok, as long as you keep it consistent. We are of the milk before bed and self sooth persuasion, but to each their own, whatever is best for you and your baby. Charlie is NOT a cuddler and she’d rather snuggle with her teddy than with me, so we go with it, and it works great.
Like I said, I’m so grateful and fortunate that kiddo sleeps so well, and I’m sure at least some of it is luck, but I’m also pretty sure that a lot of it is thanks to Dr. Weissbluth and his years of researching kiddos for parents like you and me. Also, as a disclaimer, I’m certainly NO expert on sleeping and I may be absolutely throwing my hands in the air with my next kid, but so far, I just want to pass along some little tid bits that have helped me along the way.
***I did try to read Babywise last summer because I wanted to write something about it but was so offended by the arrogance of the preface and this quote that I didn’t make it past the first chapter:
” Spend time with relatives and friends who follow the La Leche League attachment-parenting style of infant care, or those who practice hypersheduling and certainly observe Babywise parents. [and this is my favorite part] In which homes do you observe order, peace, and tranquility? Observe the marriage as well as the children. Is mom in a perpetual state of exhaustion? Is dad sleeping on the couch [what??] What is the family like when a child is six, twelve, eighteen months? Is mom stressed, exhausted, frustrated, or insecure?” (etc, etc).
In the words of one of my favorite fictional characters, Gob Bluth, “Come on!”