Browsing Tag

sleep training

Motherhood

Oh MY

Let me tell you, the last two days have been interesting.

It started on Friday, when I noticed that I had around five hundred more page views than normal, which brought my grand total to 600 (haha! Kidding) (But close).

“Gee!” I thought to myself, “How swell!”

I checked it out a little further to see what it was that was suddenly garnering so much attention, and it was this post about baby sleep. Yes, the one that starts off by saying how Adam told me not to write it because, “Ugh. Another post about baby sleep? No one cares.” 

I took a few minutes to gloat obnoxiously because clearly people do care, ADAM. FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE! And then I got over myself and went to sleep.

The next day I checked again to see if the trend had continued. At noon I had six thousand page views.

“What that WHAT?!” I exclaimed in shock/horror/excitement/disbelief, and then Adam tore the phone from my hand and I didn’t see it back for the rest of the day. He spent the entire day (we were travelling, so there wasn’t much else to do, really) refreshing my site statistics and shrieking numbers at me. “Seven thousand!” “Eighty-five hundred!” “Ten thousand!!”. My in-laws, who I was travelling with, were similarly stunned.

“But it’s not even your funniest post!” cried my mother-in-law. “What about the cupcakes?”
“I know!” Adam exclaimed.

At the end of the day Saturday the post was at well over eleven thousand page views. “This is ridiculous” I thought to myself. I had no idea how this was even possible. I mean, I was even getting nasty comments telling me that Olive was going to grow up clingy, dependent, and obnoxious because I still nurse her to sleep!

Strangers on The Internets were judging my parenting style, I mean this was real mommyblogger stuff!

I thought that was the end of it, and was sort of mind-boggled that it had happened at all. I mentally checked off “Go viral” from my life list and went to bed Saturday night feeling slightly overwhelmed.

(note: I do not now, nor will I probably ever have, a life list. If I did, “go viral” would be more likely to read “eat hot dogs”.)

This morning I opened my stats expecting to see the other side of the curve, the numbers decreasing as sharply as they rose.

Forty thousand.

That’s how many people read that post today. What does it mean? How is that even possible? That’s four times the population of the town I live in.

Guys, is this what it feels like to be Oprah? I am walking around demanding that Adam separate my m&m’s and redecorate my house entirely in white. I am ordering everyone to avoid direct eye contact with me, and smile without showing any teeth. WITHOUT TEETH I SAID, OLIVE!

I am drunk with power.

But a wise (spider)man once said, with great power comes great responsibility. I am not quite sure what that responsibility entails, but I am pretty sure it involves writing, so here are a few things I wanted to share in the wake of this strange event:

  1. There are an incredible number of moms out there feeling guilty for rocking their babies, for picking them up when they cry, for nursing them to sleep, and for co-sleeping. So much guilt. Let’s just agree to not feel guilty any more for giving babies what they need, okay? Picking up a crying baby is not the same as giving in to a toddler having a tantrum. You are not spoiling them, I promise. I wish I could tell new-mom me that, and so I am telling you that instead.I am a research person, and I like seeing cold hard facts and studies when I am talking about warm fuzzy things like babies. I am working on assembling a page with a bunch of my favourite legit research, peer-reviewed articles, and posts that helped keep me sane in case anyone else likes that sort of thing, too. In the meantime lets just agree that you can’t spoil a child with love.

    Cheesy, but I 100% guarantee it to be true.

  2. Many people commented that more than the actual sleep deprivation, the worst thing about their child’s sleep habits (or lack thereof) was the feeling that it was their fault. I just found that really interesting and I wanted to share.
  3. I am not against sleep training. This post was really popular in the attachment parenting community, and I totally understand why. Much of the way I choose to parent falls within the AP model, but I often find myself resisting the label because sometimes parenting methodologies skirt a little too close to religion for my taste – preaching one truth at the cost of another (I mean if I believe 100% that I am right…what does that make you over there doing the exact opposite?).

    A few people left comments that very respectfully disagreed with what they saw as my dismissal of sleep training, and I replied to each of them for the same reason that I am writing this , because I think this point needs clarification. My railing against sleep training had nothing to do with the sleep training itself, and everything to do with the fact that I didn’t want to do it but I felt like I should.If whatever sleeping arrangement you have goin’ on is working for you, then you don’t need to fix it. And that’s where I was getting angry, because there is a whole industry built around fixing problems that often aren’t viewed as such by the only people to whom it really matters (namely the parents and the child).I wanted to write this post to let people know that it’s normal and developmentally appropriate for infants and toddlers to have erratic sleep, and that it is not necessarily indicitave of something you are doing wrong, or something that needs to be fixed, so if you are happy, just keep on keepin’ on and don’t feel like your baby sleeping poorly is your fault somehow.

  4. HOWEVER, if you are going crazy from no sleep, if you are snapping at your husband and slamming doors in strangers faces and falling asleep mid-sip of your morning coffee; if your physical, emotional, or psychological health is suffering; or even if you simply don’t like what is going on with your baby’s sleep – the right thing to do is to change it. By all means, change it. 

    There is no point becoming a sleep-deprived crazy person out of a misguided sense of martyrdom.

    (I do think that methods of sleep training like CIO [cry it out] require a bit of research, as even most of their original proponents recommend that they be used only on children six months or older, and don’t advocate simply leaving a child in a room to cry by themselves. If you’re going to go this route, talking to a pediatrician and thoroughly reading the philosophy and method to understand what it entails would be a good idea.)

    I haven’t sleep trained, because I like nursing Olive to sleep. I don’t mind having her in bed with us if she’s having a rough night, and I am ok with getting up with her a few times throughout the night. If that changes, our routine will also change and she will adapt and so will I.I wanted to clarify this because the whole energy behind my post was trying to strike down the judging. I felt judged. I hated it, I hated that I changed my behaviour because of the pressure (real or imagined) that I felt. It kind of drives me nuts thinking that other people might be coming away from my post feeling like I am looking down on them for sleep training. Not at all.

  5.  Furthermore, the only way we are going to kill this whole blasted “mommy wars” thing is to trust that each woman is mature, intelligent, and compassionate enough to be doing the right thing for the wellbeing of herself, and her child.More than that, if someone is sleep training there is a reason.No one just decides one day that it would be fun to listen to their baby cry for half an hour, it’s hard on everyone involved but for whatever reason, that has emerged as the best choice.Let’s trust that, ok?
  6. So many moms left comments about their four, eight and thirteen year old children who were once nursed, rocked, walked or co-slept, and are now happy, healthy, independent human beings fully able to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own.Do you know how incredible it was to read that story in different variations, dozens of times over? So many women coming together and saying, “This was my experience. It worked. I loved it, and looking back, I miss it.”That was what I was looking for all those months ago, I was searching for that community of women to tell me it would turn out okay, and over the course of the last few days and the sharing of all of those experiences, a lot of new moms found that in the comments section. Thank you so much for commenting.
  7. I have a doppleganger out there somewhere! One woman posted that she too has a husband named Adam, and a daughter named Olive. I have SO MANY QUESTIONS for this woman! A sampling:- Does your Adam also steal wigs from mannequins to transform himself into J. Biebs?
    No words.
    – Does your Olive also talk for 58 of every 60 minutes in the day, and happily shriek so loudly that she makes other babies cry?
    – Are you me in the future? Should I get that coat I am lusting after? Can you slip me some lottery numbers? What does Adam want for Christmas? Help yourself out, here lady!
    – Do you also happen to have an obscenely large, semi-blind, perpetually drooling dog named Gus, by chance?
  8. It’s so much fun to have so many of you around. I really loved the comments, the sharing and the feedback – even (and perhaps especially) from those who disagreed. It was great to have such a conversation going, and more than that, it was so incredible to see that something that I wrote with my two hands resonate with so many people.Writers write so that someone can read, that’s where the satisfaction lies.Knowing that I might have made someone laugh, cry, think, or identify with my words is one of the best feelings I have on this earth.I anticipate things going back to normal here in the next day or so, the audience will contract and things will become soft and quiet again. But before they do – thank you! Thanks for reading, and thank you if you were one of the ones to comment, email, or share my post.I truly appreciate it.
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!