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baby sleep

Motherhood, Olive

Here are some lies people tell you about infant sleep

Before I posted this, Adam peeked over my shoulder, saw the title and said, ‘”Oh my god, stop writing about infant sleep. No one cares.”

If this statement applies to you, SORRY NOT SORRY THIS IS MY LIFE, ADAM!

Now for our regularly scheduled mom post.

I know that many of you don’t have babies yet, or have babies that are younger than Olive – I am writing this post for you.

When O was about four months old I remember taking her to a talk put on by the local library. Each week they hosted different speakers, and this particular week featured a public health nurse speaking about the unique nature of baby sleep. It sounded interesting and I needed to get out of the house and talk to real grown up people that didn’t shit their pants, so off we went.

At the beginning of the talk all of the moms went around the circle and introduced ourselves and described our baby’s sleep patterns. Many moms expressed frustration and/or insanity at the lack of sleep they were getting, but because at that point O was sleeping like a rockstar I just said she was sleeping well and was interested in hearing the talk.

I did, however, happen to mention that I typically nursed her to sleep, and at that point the speaker interrupted me to let me know that nursing a baby to sleep was not good. Not just not recommended, but like NOT. GOOD. at all, ever. Period. Her sternly angled eyebrows added extra emphasis.

She was pretty clear about the fact that all in all of the popular approaches to baby sleep, and all the books written by all the experts, the common thread was that “sleep props” like nursing impede a baby’s ability to self-soothe. She told me that Olive would never sleep through the night if I continued putting her to sleep this way.

I nodded, because everything I had read – by all of those experts in all of those sleep books – agreed with this statement. And that’s what I do in the face of confrontation, I nod and smile.

But despite my robotic nodding, I didn’t agree.

Olive WAS sleeping through the night, despite the nursing. And she DID wake up and go back to sleep, I could hear her several times a night – waking, talking to herself and then rolling over and drifting off.

But I sat there and nodded because who I was I, a first time mother with a four month old, to argue with a nurse (not to mention all of those experts?)

Complicating matters even more was the fact that I happened to be, at that very same moment, nursing O to sleep because it was her nap time. As the introductions moved on to my left, I guiltily unlatched her, and then spent the next forty-five minutes walking her and bouncing her and trying to hear the nurse over her cries because she was tired and wasn’t done and I had stopped nursing her because I couldn’t bear to be doing it wrong.

The next day we tried a mild form of sleep training, involving some bullshit that they call Pick-Up, Put-Down, and I call HORRIBLE. I was supposed to hold Olive, and when she looked drowsy, put her in her crib. If she cried I was to pick her up, hold her until she had JUST calmed down, and then put her back in her crib. Aaaand repeat.

The idea is a no-cry sleep training. In reality it was 45 minutes of lots of crying – from an exhausted baby who just wanted to be snuggled, and a confused, frustrated first time mom who didn’t understand why what she had been doing was wrong, but desperately wanted to be doing it right.

At the time that this all went down – the nurse and the talk and the day of failed “sleep training”-  I remember feeling incredibly helpless and confused. I was scared that they might be right, that I might be ruining Olive’s ability to self-soothe and she would be a horrible sleeper and rely on nursing as a “sleep prop” forever, and never be able to go to sleep on her own. EVERRRRRR. 

Looking back now though, as the mother of a one year old, I mostly just feel angry.

What is this bullshit? Why do we do this? Why do we voluntarily subject ourselves to sitting in a room full of people, being told we are doing it wrong simply because a handful of self-proclaimed experts with books to sell say so?

You can’t sell a solution if there isn’t a problem, and in the past fifty years we have increasingly categorized what amounts to normal, human infant sleep as a problem needing to be solved.

Experts, and books, and exorbitantly priced “Sleep Consultants” have proliferated and because we are terrified new parents with bags under our eyes the size of Samsonites we eagerly open our ears and our wallets to find a solution, any solution! And we are frustrated. We’re frustrated because our expectations are out of whack, and our expectations are out of whack because we are being sold lies -LIES I tell you!

Here is one lie: The secret to a three month old sleeping 12 hours straight is just $20 away.

Another lie:  It isn’t normal for an infant or toddler to wake up a few times a night.

And one more lie: It is now, and has always been, customary for humans to sleep in solid 8-12 hour increments.

Enough of these lies! I call bullshit! I want the truth! I can handle the truth!

This series of articles published in Psychology Today was honestly the single best thing I ever stumbled upon as a new parent.

It is totally worth a read – all six parts – but if you are text-averse like Adam, I can sum it up for you by saying this:

“Infant/toddler sleep is erratic, unpredictable and doesn’t conform to our expectations. Children’s sleep habits have evolved to best serve the child, even if they don’t make sense to the parent. Adjust your expectations, not your child’s sleep habits (within reason).

Don’t stop being a parent at night.

And y’all, seriously, stop being so crazy with the books and the shushing and the picking up and putting down and the intervals and the living by the clock.”

The whole series of articles made me feel as though I was getting a good, old-fashioned wallop of common sense from some stern lady with a wooden spoon, but the line that stuck with me the most from the whole thing was this: “…one long-term study looking at child sleep between 3 and 42 months found that there was no stability in night wakings or even sleep duration…”

Guys – there is no pattern! There is no rhyme or reason or explanation! It does not matter if you sleep train or don’t sleep train or nurse to sleep or rock to sleep or whatever. Just give up! Adapt, react, give in. You don’t have to train your child to sleep, you don’t have to enforce rigid guidelines and you don’t have to stop nursing your baby to sleep out of misguided fear, perpetuated by experts looking to make a buck.

Here is the truth, from a mom who has nursed her baby to sleep for more than a year: It is easily one of the best parts of our day.

It is an indescribably sweet feeling to sit quietly with her as her eyes flutter and her breath slows. I love that pause, that stillness, and honestly, there’s a reason it works so well. Night time breastmilk contains tryptophan, the same chemical found in turkey that makes us feel so drowsy after huge thanksgiving dinners. (and even as adults, what is the old wives remedy for insomnia? “Have a glass of warm milk…”)

More importantly than all of that however, and this is the part that makes me mad thinking about my scared, impressionable new-mom self: They were wrong.

At twelve months old, nursing is absolutely not the only way Olive can go to sleep. Grandma can give her a bottle and rock her and she will drift off without any fuss. Adam can snuggle her and she’s out in five minutes. And recently, miracle of miracles, there have been a few times that I have put her into her crib awake for a few of her naps and at bedtimes, and she has rolled around for a bit, talked to herself and then fallen asleep. BY. HERSELF.

It doesn’t happen every time, and now that I have share this information with The Internets, I have ensured that these events will never, ever repeat themselves, but I was told that this would never happen periodbecause of the sleep props, and the bad habits, and my horrible, terrible, lazy parenting with the bedtime nursing.

For months I felt guilty, instead of content, every time I sat there with her and watched her drift off.  And guys, that’s why I’m angry, because no mom should feel like that for nourishing and comforting her child.

It’s hard being a new parent. Not just because of the incredible changes affecting every facet of your life – your career, your finances, your home and your relationship – but because everyone has an opinion. About everything you are doing, and more importantly everything you are doing wrong.

Not being able to breastfeed is heartbreaking, but being constantly guilt-tripped over it is worse.

Being up all night with a baby is challenging, but being lectured on all the ways you are ruining your child’s future sleep patterns when you admit it, is worse.

So here’s what I recommend to all of you new parents or soon-to-be parents, or someday far away in the verrry distant future parents: Read the article I linked to above, and have zero expectations. You might have a baby that sleeps, you might not. You might have a baby that tricks you into thinking they are a sleeper and then messes with your mind by suddenly stopping the sleeping, like Olive did. But regardless, when someone asks you how your baby is sleeping, smile and say “Like a baby”.

That will be the truth.

And so is this: It’s normal for a baby to sleep 9 hours straight. It’s normal for a baby to be up every hour. It’s normal for your baby to do the former one night, the latter the next (and it’s totally normal to feel like an insane, husband-hating, coffee-chugging, borderline-emotional-wreck while this is happening.)

*****

Here’s another thing, while we are on the subject of truth telling. Two months ago Olive went through a week long stretch of waking up every 1-2 hours at night. I call this, “The Dark Time”.

The Dark Time happened to coincide with deadlines for the final draft of my book, and every morning as I hauled myself out of bed, I wanted to gouge my eyes out simply because the eyeballs were taking up valuable space that could have been filled with more coffee.

It only lasted a week or so, but it felt like an eternity measured in 1-2 hour segments. Sleeps that were never long enough, and eyes gritty like sandpaper. I was like, “Oh my god. They were RIGHT. She is EFFED. EVERYTHING IS RUINED FOREVER NO ONE WILL EVER SLEEP AGAIN MISTER FERBER WHERE ARE YOU WHEN I NEED YOU?”

The thing is, the week after The Dark Time, Olive began crawling, started standing unassisted, and then popped out two teeth.

And her then her sleep went back to normal.

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You see? There’s a reason for all of it,I promise, even when we don’t understand. It’s not our job as parents to understand, it’s just our job to parent. That’s all.

All we need to do is respond to our child’s needs, even when they need things at 1 a.m. And 2 a.m. And 2:30 a.m. and every single other a.m. that you didn’t know existed.

It doesn’t make sense and it gets better and then gets worse and the nights seem long and the crying oh god the crying, but the dawn always comes. The sun always rises.

And that, my friends, is the truth.

 


Nov 18, 2013:I added a follow-up post to address issues about sleep training-shaming. It can be found here

Nov 23, 2014: Edited to add: This post is getting some attention again so I just thought I would add a little update. I weaned Olive at around 18-19 months and transitioned into reading books to go to sleep. There was an adjustment period of around three days but she is now just over two and we still read books together every night. She usually falls asleep mid-Horton-Hatches-The-Egg and then sleeps for a blissful 12-13 hours. Hey! Looks like I didn’t ruin her after all 😉 Thank you so much for everyone who has commented and emailed to express how much this post affected them – I am so, so glad!


Did you enjoy hearing me ramble about infant sleep? I also ramble about other things, too, in book form! 

If you are interested in learning how to estrange your husband by composting, make your neighbours uncomfortable by flashing your under-lovelies, or start shampooing your hair with baking soda, click here!

Uncategorized

The time I accidentally almost bought a (gorgeous! but still) Kilim rug off of eBay

Nighttimes are interesting around here lately. And by lately I mean for the last four and a half months. I am trying not to be a mommy martyr about it because I mean when we had a baby we knew we wouldn’t be getting much sleep – that’s kind of the deal, right? 

You get an all access pass to chubby bellies and gurgling laughs and unlimited hugs and entertainment, but you don’t get sleep. We were prepared for that. Nevermind the delicious trickery that happened in months 0-6 where Olive was a rockstar sleeper, we don’t talk about that anymore. For fear of nostalgic tears. 

So anyway I am taking it as this matter of fact, “We have a baby. We, like most people who have a baby, aren’t sleeping” and leaving it at that. Nevertheless, the ramifications of this sleep loss do make themselves known in strange and interesting ways. Like the time I accidentally almost bought a $200 rug from eBay because I was so sleep deprived.

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This was the rug – and I am not going to lie, when I woke up the next morning and read the “You currently have the winning bid!” eBay email I was filled with a mixture of “What the WHAT? No! How am I going to explain THIS?” and “Oooh! Pretty!”.

It didn’t come totally out of left field, this rug. I am moderately to severely obsessed with jaunty Kilim rugs right now, and I like to think that this bid was my subconscious’ way of acting out all of the nesting urges that my conscious self is to practical to engage in. I mean who buys a $200 rug without a room to put it in? 

This is what happened: I was sleeping, Olive started crying, so I went and lifted her out of her crib and took her into bed with me to nurse. I found myself sleepy, but awake, so I grabbed my trusty iPhone to see if anyone had posted anything interesting at 4:08 am (Answer: no. No one ever posts anything interesting at 4:08 am. I really need to branch out my social networks to include people in different time zones so the Internet can entertain me at all hours of the night and day. Dream big, Madeleine. Dream big.)

On my iPhone I decided to open eBay on a whim, for I am not an eBay person – something about the competitiveness of bidding, I just hate it. When I was in Thailand I infuriated the street vendors by just paying whatever they were asking. 800 baht? Sure! Here you go! I figured I was doing a good thing, because here I was this entitled white girl on vacation, who was I to be haggling over what amounted to $1-2 Canadian dollars?

It wasn’t until our guide, a sweet Thai man named Pipith, informed us that by not haggling I was ruining their day because the vendors immediately started second guessing their prices and wishing they had asked for more, that I realized my mistake. And then I just started shopping by proxy, making one of my friends do all of my haggling for me.

“I want that wooden photo album” I would whisper surreptitiously, and she would do the haggling, which she quite enjoyed, and look at me every so often for confirmation and  I would give tiny indiscernible signals like nods or ear pulls. It was all very clandestine and exciting. 

So I opened eBay and searched for Kilim rugs. And then I don’t know what happened next but I can guess, judging by my email account, that I put in a bid on that rug. The gorgeous multicoloured monstrosity you see above. I don’t know what I wanted it for. Olive’s future room maybe? A bathroom? It’s a beautiful vintage thing, 60 years old but roughly 5×7 in size, which can be kind an awkward size for a rug anyway. 

(That’s me trying to console myself because I didn’t win the rug I didn’t even know I wanted)

For the whole rest of the day I kept compulsively checking my email account, because the auction closed at 6pm. I was able to do this without raising anyone’s suspicions because I always compulsively check my email account. 

And then at 5:47 I got an email that I had been outbid. By two measly dollars! Internets, I was so relieved. And outraged! And relieved. And heartbroken! 

I had already prepared my, “Haha, oh my goodness, you’ll never guess what I did last night!” speech to Adam. I would recite the funny tale of a sleep deprived mother’s sleepwalking antics and Adam would laugh and I would laugh and when the rug was delivered (within 5-7 days, as promised) we would admire it and laugh some more. Maybe talk about how I made good decisions in my sleep. And in our future home whenever anyone commented on the rug we would get a kick out of telling people how I accidentally bought it at 4:08 am one long summer’s night, when Olive was just a baby. 

I am not saying that I considered re-bidding, but I didn’t not consider it. My finger hovered over the button, is what I am saying. 

Is it a bad thing that what stopped me wasn’t the impracticality of buying a completely unnecessary rug with nowhere to put it, but instead, my reluctance as a  writer to interfere with the integrity of the narrative?

So it was with wistful sadness that I bid adieu to the rug. And hid my eBay app in a harder to locate folder on my phone. But when I went to the expired listing to get the picture for this post, a “Related Items” tab popped up, and what should appear  but THIS little darling!

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Oh my.

Motherhood, Olive

Why New Parents Are So Obsessed With Sleep

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Never talk to a new parent, for we are an obnoxious sort of people, full of anxiety and milestones and percentiles and pediatrician’s advice.

But if for some reason you are unable to avoid it, if you have a new parent for a friend or relative or co-worker,, you may have noticed that it takes approximately 2.85 minutes for the conversation to veer around to how their baby is sleeping.

If they are sleeping, when they are sleeping, where they are sleeping, how they are sleeping, and the all-time favorite, WHY WON’T THEY SLEEP?

There are many reasons for this obsession, and I think this is one of those things I never really understood (not in the truest, nitty grittiest of ways that you can really understand something, anyway) until I found myself here, on the other side.

So here is a list, which is meant to function both as an explanation and an apology to anyone who has had a longer-than-two-minutes conversation with me anytime in the last eight and three-quarter months.

Why New Parents Are So Obsessed With Sleep

  1. Because, in the beginning, it’s all babies do. Beyond discussing their physical appearance (cute!) and their poops (horrifying!) babies don’t offer up much in the way of conversation topics other than sleep. So for the first few weeks or months, literally 90% of your day is spent breastfeeding or putting your baby to sleep. (The other 10% is divvied up as follows: 9% spent talking about breastfeeding or putting your baby to sleep, and the remaining 1% on personal care, cooking, dishes, laundry, and pretending to be a real life human being. Obviously.)

  2. Because you asked. You in the grocery store line up. And you, co-worker who I have done no more than nod to whenever I passed you in the hallway for the past three years. And you, anxious-eyed old friend trying to evaluate just how hellish this experience really is, anyways. You asked. So we answered. And then we somehow forgot to shut up about it for the next four years. Sorry.

  3. Because WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU BABY AREN’T YOU TIRED FROM THE SCREAMING AND THE POOPING AND ALL OF THE BEING SO EDIBLY CUTE? SLEEEEEEEP DAMMIT.

  4. Because it affects every single aspect of a new parents life and that is not exaggerating even one tiny bit. If baby isn’t sleeping, ain’t nobody sleeping. And if you’re not sleeping, you are crazy. There’s just no way around it. Being woken up every two hours (or four hours or any increment of hours less than eight jesus christ) is just unsustainable in the worst, bleary-eyed, sharp-tongued, mountains of coffee and takeout pizza way. You are tired, and worse than that, your BABY is tired. Yes, him. THE ONE THAT WON’T SLEEP. Which brings me to point 5:

  5. Because it doesn’t make any sense! The baby is exhausted. Clearly, objectively, exhausted. This is a FACT. Rubbing their eyes, yawning, getting cranky, all of those clear-cut 100% positive, 0% chance of error, indications that baby is t-i-r-e-d. But they won’t sleep. They don’t want to be rocked or held or walked or swung or nursed or put down (oh god, definitely not put down) but what they don’t want most of all is to sleep. Because they are insane. And talking about this insanity with other human people is incredibly reassuring.

  6. Because you might have the answer. Every time a new parent tells someone about their sleep habits, (Ja-ahydein wakes up at 7 and then naps at 9 but only sleeps 20 minutes before he starts crying and if I get to him quick enough I can rock him and he’ll nap a little longer but if I don’t he’s up and grumpy and then naps again at 11 and we miss our baby zumba class!), they are hoping you have the answer.What answer? We have no idea. Some magik or witchcraft or top-secret method, or maybe you had a child JUST LIKE Ja-ahydein and you somehow stumbled across the cure for short naps and night-wakings and you have been standing there just WAITING for us to ask, so you could share your wisdom! This is the most hoped for outcome, I think.

    Next time a new parent talks about their baby’s sleep, look deep into their eyes and you will see it. That longing, that questioning stare asking, Do you have the solution? TELL MEEEEEEE.

  7. Because they don’t want to let their baby cry it out. In the past I have written about how I am not a fan of crying it out, and I realized after the fact that I may have offended some parents who were using that method, so this is an important one for me to write. Because here’s the thing: no one wants to do CIO.

    No one wakes up one day and thinks, “Hey! Look at this adorable chubby baby for whom I longed and dreamt and spent nine months waiting on the edge of my seat. Look at this child who gives me big gummy smiles and drooly open-mouthed kisses and thinks that I am the centre of the universe. Look at this perfect little being. I think that today I will let him cry alone in his crib for ten or twenty minutes- maybe even an hour! You know, just for fun.”

    No matter how against CIO you are (and I am against it in the “It doesn’t work for us, but if it works for you then rock on, mama” way), I think we can agree that no one wants to do it.CIO is the last resort of the sleep deprived parent. The parent that can’t physically drink any more coffee than she already is. The parent that cries at the drop of a hat because she’s emotionally exhausted and falls asleep standing up and has leg-hair longer than her husband. The parent that has tried everything else, I swear, everything! and just. needs. some. sleep.

    This parent doesn’t need articles or studies or mommybloggers shaming them, they need sleep. On this issue, like all other parenting issues that quickly devolve into the so-called “Mommy Wars”, we have to trust that they know what they are doing. We have to trust that other parents are just like us, because other parents ARE us, and we are them and they have tried anything and everything else, and have decided that this is the best thing for their babies and for themselves.

    So sometimes when a new parent talks about sleep, they just want to be told that they are doing their best. Even if their best ends up being something you don’t agree with. Because they might not agree with it either, but it’s the only thing that’s working.

  8. Because they want, nay NEED to fix it. Because of the tiredness, you see. And the crazy. Oh, so much crazy. Do you know what I did a few weeks ago? I constructed an elaborate excel spreadsheet to track Olive’s sleep schedule. As I may have mentioned, her former sleeping-for-ten-hours-straight schtick is long gone, and we suspect that it may have been a ruse, a trick, a trap to make us love her. And dammit it worked and now here we are, stuck with a no-sleeping baby like a couple of CHUMPS.

    Well played, Olive, well played.

    Anyway, this spreadsheet had spaces for when she woke up in the morning and when she went down for her naps, when she woke up from her naps and when she went to sleep at night. And then, in a column the most scribbled and messy and chaotic of all (being as it was often filled in with a broken eyeliner pencil at 3 a.m.) a space to write down if (HA!) and when she woke up during the night.

    Do you know what I called this endeavor? CRAZY. And do you know what all of that qualitative data would have looked like after I analyzed it? This:

    Ok so the first day she woke at 10 then slept at noon and again at four with bedtime at 10 for total of 14 sleep hours but then on the 7th she slept a total of 16 hours because she had a third nap but look on the 15th she ALSO had a third nap what were the phases of the moon during those days and did I look at coffee on the first day let’s correlate the two statistically significant events with the lunar tides and Gus’ bowel movements oh my god…oh my god I’ve got it! The answer to everything! No wait. Forgot to carry the one. Shit.

    There was no rhyme or reason to it. Two days could look exactly the same and one night she’d sleep through the night and the next she would wake six times. Days where naps were the same time and durations had bedtimes that varied +/- three hours. It was chaos. But I spent an embarrassingly long time studying that spreadsheet because it was all I had. And I was going to figure it out if it killed me!

    (I did not figure it out. She is clearly an aberration. A statistical anomaly. A one-in-a-million sometimes-shitty-sleeping-but-always-wonderful, beautiful little outlier. Also known as a normal baby. Because babies do not sleep. Because they are insane.)

  9. Because it makes them feel like failures. Every book touting an easy-peasy solution to baby sleep, every friend who can pop their child into their crib where they fall asleep on their own and sleep for twelve straight hours, and every person offering helpful solutions that worked like magic but they have tried, I swear they have tried! makes a new parent feel like a failure.The thought process goes something like this:

    If I was a good mom she would sleep better. If I stopped nursing to sleep she would sleep better. If I breastfed she would sleep better. If I stopped co-sleeping she would sleep better. If I started co-sleeping she would sleep better. If I played with her more during the day she would sleep better. If she was less over-stimulated she would sleep better. If I stopped drinking coffee or started taking more iron or swaddled her or rocked her or stopped rocking her or let her cry it out, she would sleep better.

    Everyone else’s baby sleeps better. I’m doing it wrong. I’m a bad mom.

    I am doing it wrong.

So I know that all the talk about sleep can seem ridiculous and boring and like, seriously! the kid will sleep when she sleeps! get over it! (<—actual thing I have thought to myself when discussing this topic BC [before child]) it is important.

It is important because it affects how a parent functions, and how a baby functions, and how happy and sane they both are during their waking hours. It is important because sometimes as a new parent you feel like your whole life is spent putting the baby to sleep or waiting for the baby to wake up and it can be frustrating.

And it is important because although we know babies don’t sleep – I mean, we all know that right? Babies are notorious for not sleeping! – it is different when you are in it. And when you are in it, this sleep-deprived state of stained clothing and nothing but two hour stretches as far as the eye can see, you just want to be out of it but the only way out is time because eventually everyone sleeps.

And in the meantime, we talk.

Thank you, world, for listening.