How my baby “learned” to sleep

She slept in the Moby wrap a lot as a newborn.

People are always talking about “getting babies to sleep,” or, even worse, “making babies sleep.” Or, how did your child “learn” to fall asleep on his/her own?

Sleep is a funny thing in the parent world. There are basically two camps in the baby sleep world. There are the cry-it-out camps, where the idea is that “they have to learn to fall asleep on their own.” And then there is the other camp of, “babies will eventually fall asleep on their own, you just have to be patient.”

Most people in the second camp, start to lose their patience sometime in the second half of the first year. (Was the confusing enough? Around six months to a year.) Okay. (The truth is, once you’ve been through two or more years of sleep deprivation you look back and realize that six months was NOTHING. But I totally remember feeling those first six months in my bones. It WAS hard. I feel ya. The second six months is even harder.)

But the sleep thing is just one of those things that we cling to, at this point in time, as being Very Important in the parenting world. Once you’ve picked a camp, it’s really really hard to switch camps. There are some nights when you really fucking want to and you do something that makes you feel awful, or you try to change the routine, thinking that might help.

Then the next day, you take a deep breath, and resolve to have patience. And you sound the call of help amongst your mama networks. You blow smoke signals. You beg. You plead. You consider all the possible negative ramifications of doing The Worst Thing In The World. And then you breathe. And you tell yourself to have patience.

You do this a lot when you are in the second camp. You worry that the Awful Thing You Did Once has traumatized your baby forever.

And then, one day, they sleep.

But it doesn’t really happen like that. It happens slowly. So slowly, that sometimes you don’t even realize it until one day you hear yourself telling so-and-so that she slept all night long. But you know that she doesn’t really sleep all night long. It’s just that, she actually sleeps for most of the night now, with some brief wakings.

So I’m going to tell the story of How Annika “Learned” To Sleep. Because it’s the story I was constantly searching for when she was under the age of 2. To be honest, sleep still isn’t easy. But it’s gotten a whole lot fucking better. For now. Knock on wood.

Annika slept really well as a newborn. In hindsight, I realize how crazy easy she was during the first four to five months of her life. For the first  month, she slept four to six hour chunks. I was so paranoid about her waking up at regular intervals, I’d set my alarm and then lie in bed listening for her to wake up, every few hours. Since I didn’t know any better, I still thought it was difficult. To some degree, it was. I wasn’t used to waking up two or three times a night, but I was getting used to it.

By her second month, I wondered why people complained so much about their babies sleep habits. I figured that  her sleep was just going to get better. I had no idea what was in store for me.

By the time she was six months, I was expecting it to get easier, but she began waking up every 45 minutes to an hour unless she was nursing. I am a light sleeper as it is, and by that time, my sleep had become so disturbed that I felt like I was being tortured.

As it turns out, this is extremely common around six months. Something nobody tells you because sleep training is so common these days, it doesn’t come up until you meet people who practice Attachment Parenting. But around six months, which is also when separation anxiety kicks in, babies start to realize that they are separate people from their mothers and fear kicks in that when you are gone, you are never coming back. They don’t understand  object permanence yet. So at night, they become hyper aware, waking up at every sleep cycle to make sure you are still there.

This lasted for a few months, then she went back to waking up every few hours. That lasted for another year and a half or so. By that time, I had gotten so used to being woken up at night, it was just normal for me. I was tired all the time. I wondered how she would ever sleep without nursing to sleep. I wondered if all the stories about children spontaneously weaning were really true. I wondered if the stories about how children just sort of begin to do it on their own were myth.

The truth is, for us, it wasn’t quite that easy. She didn’t just start going to sleep without nursing. She still nurses to sleep sometimes.

But around the age of 2, she began to be more restless around bedtime. Nursing wasn’t making her fall asleep quite as easily and I was getting restless too.

So one night, after about an hour of nursing, and wriggling around, I asked her how she felt about trying to go to sleep without nursing. She protested. But I started talking about animals, she was way excited about animals at the time. She still loves to talk about them. But then she was still learning all the different animals.

So we listed animals for a while. Then I began to count. I counted up to around 120. She began to drift off to sleep. I couldn’t believe it. She was really doing it! Other than falling asleep in the car, she had only fallen asleep spontaneously, without nursing, a couple of other times.

So that’s my story. How she learned to sleep. It isn’t easy. Some babies are better sleepers than Annika. I feel lucky that she has never gone through periods of waking up for long stretches at night. At least, not with me. Apparently she’s been doing that when she spends the night with Toyin. I suppose that’s one of the benefits of extended nursing.

2 comments

  1. Liz says:

    You know I feel your pain, mama. I remember reading about your trials and tribulations. Olivia is a few months older than Annika, so we were in slightly different places in helping our babies “learn” to sleep. Right about the time I found your blog, I had done the “worst thing in the world.” For like an hour, Randy and I listened to our baby scream in an effort to “train” her. No matter how many times we went in and reassured her that she was not alone, she screamed and screamed. We finally freaked out and ran in to get her. The rest is history. Thanks for telling your story. :)

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