Friday, April 06, 2007

The habit of sleep

The Husband and I have been spending the past few weeks or so worrying about how Jack sleeps. He is now five months old, well over twelve pounds, and supposedly ready to sleep through the night. And as far as going to bed is concerned, we have been doing our utmost to put him down awake pretty much since he was born because we are very paranoid about his getting “addicted” to being rocked to sleep. We have been regaled with horror story upon horror story of two-year-olds who will not go to sleep on their own, and we wanted to avoid that particular problem.

And it was working! With hard work and patience, we got him to fall asleep in the bassinet, and then in the crib. I instituted and then lengthened a solid bedtime routine, and he was going to bed four out of five nights with no drama whatsoever. (That’s a batting average of 0.800, and any baby or child who goes to bed with no drama 100% of the time has parents who lie.) Better yet, he was starting to sleep for longer and longer stretches at night and was typically waking up only once after I went to bed. The husband and I congratulated ourselves on our superior parenting prowess. We rocked.

I imagine you can see where this is going. All of a sudden, about a week ago, he stopped sleeping well. He wouldn’t go to bed unless I rocked him to sleep, and he started waking up three or four times a night once again. Worst of all, he stopped going back to sleep easily after nursing in the night, and instead kept me trapped in his room for upwards of an hour shhing and re-binking over and over. It was a very hard to resist picking him up, given that he’d fall asleep in about five minutes if I just rocked him. Usually, I’d give in anyway.

And then the naps! He had been napping like a champ for weeks – a story, a few songs, into bed awake, and boom. Five minutes later he’d be asleep. But all of a sudden he required the rocking chair or the sling to get to sleep during the day. What had happened? Where had our easy baby gone?

Needless to say, The Husband and I were concerned. Were we instilling horrible sleep habits? Were we dooming ourselves to a lifetime of middle-of-the-night feedings? Were we going to have to rock him to sleep until college?

But we could tell that something was going on in that little head of his. He was undergoing the four-month sleep regression, or teething or working on a developmental milestone of some kind, because the kid has been atypically cranky, clingy, and oh, so very tired. The other day, he took two ninety-minute naps and woke up after each one with bags under his eyes. So clearly, we were dealing with something unusual here. But we were still unsure of how much we should cater to his rocking habit. It’s not that we were actually worried we’d be rocking him to sleep at sixteen. It was not for his sake that we were worried. It was for ours. We were trying to avoid that two-year-old rocking addict horror story we had be warned about.

So last night, after rocking him to sleep at bedtime, I called my sister, Big Sister #1. “I need someone with kids to tell me to relax,” I said.

“Relax,” she told me. “Relax, relax, relax, relax.” And then she told me that of her three daughters, her youngest was the easiest to handle simply because she was too exhausted by that point to spend any energy wondering about things like sleep regressions. “If she was hungry, I fed her. If she was tired, I let her sleep. If she cried, I picked her up. I remember nothing about her babyhood; and believe me, if she had screamed for hours all the time I would remember.”

“I’m just worried that we are setting ourselves up for a horrible time later,” I said.

And then she said something that changed my and The Husband’s entire outlook. “Look, he’s either going to cry now or later. So why not just rock him now and worry about it later?”

My sister is clearly a genius. He’s teething or something now, so now is when he needs to be rocked and held. And even if we do decide to fight the inevitable and try to get him to sleep without rocking, that is no guarantee that he will not cry later as well. And since he only needs about five minutes of rocking to get to sleep now, and since I secretly love to rock him to sleep because few things thrill me more than watching him fall asleep in my arms, what the heck are we killing ourselves for? I can spend 45 painful minutes in his room hanging over his crib shhing and re-binking, or I can spend 10 lovely minutes singing and rocking in a comfy chair. So we’re rocking him for now.

You know what else Big Sister #1 said? She said “You probably will have to work at getting him to sleep at some point. You’ll get him into a routine, but then he’ll be sick and you’ll rock him, and then he will want that the next night too. Parenthood is a job, and even though sometimes the job description isn’t exactly what you want it to be, you still have to do it. So just relax and accept it.”

For the record, last night he slept from 8:30 to 5:00.

Life is good.


PiesBonitos said...

I have two sons, I parented the same with both. One sleeps horribly, and one sleepts great (relative to his brother). I'm entirely convinced that sleeping depends on not only the parenting style, but the child. A very schedule oriented parent can have a really bad sleeper, and a very fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants parent can have a really great, scheduled sleeper. With my first son I stressed endlessly about his sleep habits, but it did nothing. If I learned anything during this time, it was that he eventually outgrew every single 'bad' stage he was in. For my second son, I decided what would be would be, and I would do my best. Relax, and follow your heart. This may be a stage where he simply needs you to do those things. Yes, he will probably get into a routine where he wants these things, but you know what..... you can break it when you feel he is ready, or he will decide he doesn't want it anymore. I've learned one thing being a parent these past 3 years, and that is sleeping is never consistant, no matter the child. So many things hinge on it such as teething, stomach problems, naps, stimulation during the day, etc. But take heart...a little lovin' during the night won't ruin him forever. With sleeping I think 50% of it comes from routine/schedule, and the other 50% has to come from what you think your babe needs. Good luck and here's a *hug*, cuz I know how bad it sucks to stay up shushing and rebinking. Best of luck tonight!

S. said...

Your sister is a wise woman! I have never heard a mother say she regretted the times she rocked her baby to sleep.