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There is no secret to baby sleep


I woke up today and felt wonderful. The sky was blue, not gray, like the typical Pennsylvania sky looks between the months of January and March. All of the birds were chirping. All of the lights were green. I’m convinced, when I took a gander in the mirror, my appearance was five pounds lighter and my skin had cleared up. Why, you ask, was I having such a wonderful morning? Because my 8-month-old finally slept in his crib for an entire night.

I know, I know…we’re late to the game. Part of that may have something to do with my child is an unrelenting belly-sleeper. I was so paranoid about SIDS that I kept him in a rocker next to me for six months, so he could sleep on his back and ease my terror of him rolling over on his stomach and suffocating. When he started rolling over, he went into a pack-‘n’-play in our room–that he hated–mainly so I could keep an eye on him if he rolled over and became stuck. This resulted in: 1) no sleep for him because he was uncomfortable; 2) no sleep for me because he was awake; and 3) ample sleep for my husband because he can sleep through the Titanic sinking in the middle of an air-raid.

Dumber people than we have figured this out. We should be able to do the same.

I felt like we’d tried everything. We’d tried swaddling. We’d tried feeding him a larger portion than normal right before bedtime so he wouldn’t wake up hungry. A small dose of Children’s Tylenol before bed, because maybe he was teething. White noise machines. Sleep sacks. Bath time before bed. Story time. We’d referred to books on sleep methods.  YouTube training videos. The Ferber Method (or the check and console method), The Extinction Method (or the Cry-It-Out Method – I didn’t have the heart), The Chair Method, The Bedtime-Routine Fading, The Bedtime-Hour Fading, and The Pick-Up/Put-Down/Shush-Pat. Seriously – that’s the name of the method. The Pick-Up/Put-Down/Shush-Pat. I tried it…but I abandoned the practice out of the absurdity of a scientific method sounding like the name of a children’s song.

I have one friend who has a 20-month-old and claimed safely co-sleeping was the only way that worked for her family. She tried the crib at 3 months, and he just wasn’t ready. Around 6 months, one night, she decided to lay him down in his crib and that was all she wrote. They were no longer a co-sleeping family and he had graduated to his crib like a boss.

Our neighbors have a 1-year-old girl. Somewhere around the 6 to 7 month mark, they referred to their pediatrician. The pediatrician recommended just letting her cry it out. The first night she cried for over an hour and a half. The next night 45 minutes. The next night, less. Ultimately, this “trained” the baby to know this was the new process for bedtime and she was able to self-sooth. That was what worked for them. That did not work so well for us.

My niece, who is now 5, slept in my sister’s room in a rocker until she was 7 months old because she had acid reflux. After the rocker she advanced to a Pack-‘n’-Play that was all kinds of modified (safely) due to said reflux. I’m pretty sure she didn’t make it into her own room until she was well over a year.

Another friend of mine has three boys. All of them were in their cribs by the time they were 3 weeks old and sleeping through the night. I don’t know how she did it. She gave me tips only when I asked for them and couldn’t have been more kind about her methods. Yes, she swaddled them when the boys were newborns. She shushed them and let them fall asleep in her arms before she put them down. Sometimes a pillow wedge under the crib mattress helps. Her hardest lesson was that each boy had his preferences and each was a little different. And her best advice to me was this: No two babies are the same.

The light bulb went off.

No two babies are the same.

Every story I’ve heard about any child becoming sleep-trained has never been the same as any other story. But all of the “training methods” tell each parent to train each child exactly the same as every other child. That makes no sense. Come to think of it, most adults don’t sleep the same. I don’t sleep in the same position my husband does for the entirety of a night. My sister loves a fan blowing. My mother has slept on one side of her bed and barely moves an inch. One of my college roommates freaked everyone out by sometimes sleeping with her eyes open. No two people I know of sleep the same – why would I think my baby would sleep the same as all of the other babies in the world?

I threw the method-thinking out of the window. In an age where we promote individuality, we’re really missing it in one area: child rearing, particularly in sleep patterns. There are ways to guide parents in the right direction when it comes to the general upbringing of a child. What is safe? What is socially acceptable (minus the judgey white-wig looks from other moms)? And what is going to guide my son into a night of uninterrupted sleep that is going to aid his health and well-being? He is not going to end up being 25 and still sleeping in a pack-‘n’-play in our room. If he does, then there really is a problem.

I turned my focus onto what my son likes when he does manage to fall asleep. He’s a mom-cuddler. He thrives better without screens, and he likes to fall asleep on my chest after he’s had a later, hearty meal. He does fixate on sound, so Ocean Sounds were the winner on noise machine. His pajamas are flannel because he likes to be warm, but we don’t do blankets for safety reasons. He’s old enough and strong enough now that if he turns onto his stomach, he can get himself out of the position safely. And that’s it. He just wasn’t ready to sleep on his own, in his own room, in his own crib, until now.

Sometimes that’s the secret – that there is no secret. No two babies are the same. No two humans process things the same way. Grasping that concept is one of the strongest parenting philosophies I think I’ve found so far. I hope I can continue this through walking, talking, potty training, education and beyond. With any luck, this will lead to infinite green lights, birds chirping, and being 5 pounds less for every milestone moving forward. A girl can dream…now that I’m back to full nights of sleep.

Carley Lucas is a working mother of one hysterically giggly 8-month-old. She, her son and her husband live in Central PA and firmly believe a household of laughter is the best form of medicine for any situation.

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