Dear parents, I support sleep…that is all

I’ve been reading and hearing about sleep issues all over the place lately; on facebook, on twitter, in my inbox, in various blog posts, and in clinic.

I’ve heard and read:

I feel like a failure, my 3 year still doesn’t sleep through the night.

I’ve somehow failed my child, she can’t sleep unless she’s in my arms.

I’m still getting up with my 2 year old in the middle of the night, and it’s driving me crazy!

Sleep is elusive when you’re a parent of a newborn and/or young child and yet, it’s so vital…not a luxury at all!

In addition to the above pleas, I’ve read about pediatricians confessing to being sleep softies (myself included), moms confessing to taking the cry it out approach, and still many more moms unsure of how to get the best sleep for themselves and their child.

Over my last year and 8 months of blogging, I’ve made a few confessions myself: how I became an accidental co-sleeper and how both my kids hated the crib, so spent only a handful of nights in them. It’s why I wrote this post a year ago about how we should really just ditch all the guilt and find what works for our individual families.

I could devote this blog purely to sleep and never run out of post ideas because sleep is that important and so many of us struggle with finding that sleep rhythm with our children. I recall one night with my 8 month old…vividly….it was the turning/breaking point for me. I was up for the 3rd (maybe 4th) time; rocking, soothing, shushing him back to sleep. I was so absolutely T.I.R.E.D.

I scream spelled the F word. Not at my child. At the situation. At feeling like an utter failure. At simply wanting to lay down on that bed I was standing next to…and just SLEEP.

My husband looked at me like I was crazy. I was. Exhausted and crazy. It’s how I spent the first 8 months of my son’s life.

It’s no way to live people. We need sleep. Our babies need it, we need it…we must find a way to get it.

Admittedly, I was lost when it came time to getting my baby to sleep that didn’t involve my arms 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I’m not exaggerating here. As a pediatrician and first time mom, I felt I failed my baby in every conceivable way. How can he not know how to sleep? How did I mess this up?

The hard truth was, I had my own agenda. My own preconceived notions of where, how, and when he should sleep. In a crib and for at least 6 hours at night by this point (8 months), right?

My baby didn’t fit the mold. He hated the crib, my gentle attempts at CIO were met with red-faced wails, followed by dry heaving and vomiting. Needless to say, I ditched that method fairly quickly but immediately felt like a failure. How come I couldn’t make it work? I was patient. I listened to his cries, came back in to soothe, went back out, and so forth…only to be met with more intense wailing and shrieking.

I was fighting every instinct I had (that was telling me to pick that baby up and hug him) because I thought it was what I should do.

I decided right then and there that I needed to find another way. We both needed sleep. Desperately. But we weren’t going to find it this way.

In that moment, I went straight to our room, put our queen mattress on the floor, stripped it of all the blankets except for the sheet. My husband was relegated to an aerobed until we bought another mattress. Baby and I slept on that mattress on the floor for the next 8 months.

Ideal? No

But did we sleep? Yes we did, and peacefully.

A world of difference.

He was eventually weaned to a mattress on the floor in his own room at 16 months of age and our weaning process was gradual. He was (and still is) a child who needed a lot of nighttime parenting and soothing to sleep well.

I was completely prepared for the same once baby number two came along. But, thank the heavens, this girl could sleep!

A girl after my own heart.

There were only 2 nights I can remember when I had to let her fuss it out a bit. That’s the thing…she fussed…she didn’t wail or shriek. I knew she could do it, so I gave her the space and time to find sleep on her own.

It’s worth repeating…

So parents, this is what I say to you…sleep will come (eventually) and what I’ve found is that it’s our children who usually show us the way. We can’t so much as choose their eye color as we can choose how well they will find sleep on their own. We can help, yes, and encourage healthy bedtime routines and habits. However, getting to know your baby before you commit to a particular sleep strategy will save both of you unnecessary sleepless nights.

*A word about babies and sleep cycles: the first 3-4 months of your baby’s life is truly like a fourth trimester. They have shorter sleep cycles and cannot be expected to sleep through the night. Some will, but most won’t. Somewhere around the 6 month mark, their sleep cycles mature and can sleep for longer stretches during the night. And? No you cannot spoil a baby by rocking, cuddling, and responding to his cries. Let’s debunk that myth once and for all. When our babies cry, they are communicating with us and it’s up to us to decipher what they mean. We become pretty good at that, don’t we?*

So, whenever I answer parents’ questions about sleep, I first ask this: are you okay with your current sleeping arrangement and is the sleeping area safe? If yes to both…forget the negative chatter, ditch the guilt, and carry on.

If you’re still searching to find the right way for you and your child, know this: there is no one right way, forget the “should dos” and listen to your child. Your sleep needs matter too. Try a strategy that feels right for you. Whether it’s some version of the cry it out approach, co-sleeping, or some combination of various approaches…do what you know is right for both you and your child.

Your baby really does want to sleep (in spite of loud protests); and it’s ultimately up to us to figure out the best way for our unique child. Don’t be afraid to try out a few strategies before finding one that fits. Know that you will and that you can.

We have enough guilt to contend with as parents, getting our children (and ourselves) some much needed sleep shouldn’t be added to our guilt list.

Dear parents, I support sleep…however you achieve it…heaven knows it’s a necessity, not a luxury.

How did you finally find a sleep rhythm with your children? Was it a struggle? What was the best sleep advice you were given? The worst?


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28 Responses to Dear parents, I support sleep…that is all
  1. Practical Parenting
    February 7, 2012 | 10:43 am

    Yes! Sleep is so very important! People don’t realize that preschoolers go through crazy sleep issues too…it’s never ending! You just have to keep trying until you find your way :)

    • Melissa
      February 14, 2012 | 1:25 am

      Yes, even my 1st grader has got some sleep issues..I’m guessing I ‘ll have to wait for the teen years until that one sleeps, huh?

  2. Natalie
    February 7, 2012 | 11:15 am

    I think my first lessons as a mom was that I can’t do the cry it out, and that co-sleeping was the only way for me and baby to survive. My youngest, 3 now, is still having sleep issues, so we just do what we have to do to get us all sleeping and rested up. We moved him to his own room at 2.5 and he sleeps with us 1-2 times / week.

    • Melissa
      February 14, 2012 | 1:26 am

      My first couldn’t tolerate the CIO, neither could I. Your 2.5 year old is mostly in his room? That’s pretty good, I’d say :)

  3. Kasey
    February 7, 2012 | 11:39 am

    It is so true that each child is different. Only the parents know what’s ‘right’ for each child. My first was the type that I had to let fuss it out. Rocking her or holding her would just overstimulate her and she wouldn’t sleep. We learned that if we let her fuss, or even cry (not scream), for a few minutes she would fall asleep on her own. It never took more than 5 minutes. My second is totally different and although sometimes I can lay her down while she’s not quite asleep, most times I have to rock her until she falls into a deep sleep. It was an adjustment to learn that we had to change our methods but I tried to be flexible and listen to what each one needed. There are so many people willing to give you there version of right but you have to do what works for you.

    • Melissa
      February 14, 2012 | 1:27 am

      That’s exactly right. “Their version of right” and “you have to do what works for you”. So true.

  4. Jessica
    February 7, 2012 | 11:48 am

    I love this post and could have written it myself. Every word. My first daughter needed to co-sleep, and as a new mom, I needed to co-sleep with her. She is now 24 months and mostly sleeps in her own bed, but sometimes she doesn’t. This used to bother me, but now I’ve come to accept it. My second daughter is very different than my first. We do not co-sleep. And, she enjoys this. We never did CIO, but I allowed her to learn to sleep independently by getting out of her way.

    • Melissa
      February 14, 2012 | 1:28 am

      That’s how my daughter was…we needed to get out of her way. Ever since she was an infant, it’s like she would look at us and fuss…”go away already, I’m tired”. Children are definitely unique :)

  5. Alexandra
    February 7, 2012 | 11:54 am

    Sleep is important. I almost lost my mind without it after my first born, colicky. Slept only 25 mins at a time, while listening to Christmas music, and facing the fish tank.

    Finally, I put him to bed with me at 10 wks. Guess what? New baby. New mama. We slept like champs like that till he was 18 mos old.


    • Melissa
      February 14, 2012 | 1:29 am

      Oh, Colic…that will throw a wrench in sleep, for sure! Glad you found your way together…and found sleep!

  6. Yvette
    February 7, 2012 | 1:46 pm

    Sleep is such a touchy topic for many moms I’ve met. For my husband and I, the thought of letting our girl cry it out was too much. After five months of being woken hourly, yes hourly for a nursing session, we decided it was time to end the co sleeping arrangement and get us all some very much needed sleep. We finally decided that Dad would be the one to tend to get night time needs and to wean from night feedings. It took one night of off and on crying in daddy’s arms but it was well worth it. Our then 11 month of almost immediately began sleeping for 6 to 8 hours at a time! She’s now 18 months old and with the exception of colds or teething, sleeps 8 to 10 hours straight. And if she needs mommy when she’s nit feeling well, we all get a good night’s rest together in the family bed.

    • Melissa
      February 14, 2012 | 1:30 am

      That is awesome! Great problem solving. Which is what I feel many sleep issues are…need to find a solution for our unique child and family. Love success stories like these :)

  7. Olusola
    February 7, 2012 | 4:07 pm

    When I knew I was expecting twins, I was really scared of possible sleep issues. The best advice I got/applied was to start the babies off in their crib immediately and create a visible difference between day and night from the get go. I love the Healthy Sleep Happy Baby book

    • Melissa
      February 14, 2012 | 1:31 am

      I’ve heard great things about that book too. Haven’t read it though. Yeah, with twins, I suppose you really need to get on the right track from the get go :)

  8. jaclyn
    February 7, 2012 | 6:07 pm

    Our son only slept in the vibrating swing when he was an infant. At about 4 months old, we started transitioning him to the pack n play. He needed to be rocked to sleep (on a good night for 10 minutes, a bad night for an hour, a really bad night an hour and a half) until he was 10 months old.

    We tried to let him CIO once at about 8 months, and he screamed hysterically for nearly an hour and then passed out in my arms as soon as I rescued him. We waited another few months to try again (and would have stopped after 10 minutes this times since we had learned that this method did not work for our son). But at 10 months, he was old enough to soothe himself to sleep after a brief crying spell, and within a week he went down almost every night without crying.

    I was told not to use the swing when he was tiny, since he would never be able to sleep without vibrations. This wasn’t true – he was able to give that up when he was ready. I also tell people to try CIO if they want to, but if their child isn’t ready to wait a few weeks or a month and try it again since their child might be more ready then. I would imagine that it doesn’t work at all for some babies, and consider it more luck than anything else that my baby now sleeps through the night.

    • Melissa
      February 14, 2012 | 1:34 am

      Thanks for sharing. I kept trying CIO with mine too. Often, I wonder if I gave up too soon. I think I gave up around 8 months old (as far as CIO goes). It’s good advice, to wait and retry if you’re wanting to CIO. Sounds like yours was ready at 10 months old :)

  9. Dawn
    February 7, 2012 | 8:04 pm

    Great article! My sleep issues started at 1-2 years old. My son never wanted rocked or held, but he wanted company. I went through an awful stage of sleep-revolting and realized I was doing 2 things wrong. First, I never gave him the “warning” that it was bedtime. I just put him to bed. Now he gets a 30-15 minute warning! Huge positive difference! Lastly, I have to lay on the floor next to his bed, in his room. He still wants company. Hes generally asleep within 20-30 minutes, sleeps all night and stays in his bed. Some say it’s wrong….but it works for us and we are all getting sleep.

    • Melissa
      February 14, 2012 | 1:35 am

      Not wrong at all. If he’s getting sleep, you’re getting sleep, and you’re okay with it? Completely right. Good job!

  10. Jessica Schecter
    February 7, 2012 | 11:40 pm

    Great post. My son is two months old. We’ve been co-sleeping since a couple days after we brought him home. Initially we put him in his crib, but it made me nervous being so far away from him. Was he still breathing? Was he cold or too warm? Any noise that came from the baby monitor made me wide awake and looking at the screen to see if he was ok.
    After a couple days of this, we were co-sleeping. I’ve just started trying to get him to sleep in his crib and it’s not easy. Today he got a bunch of shots at his two month appointment and he’s currently passed out in my lap. I can’t seem to part with him because I know how much pain I was in and could still be in.

    Knowing I’m not alone with the sleepless nights is nice.

  11. MommaKiss
    February 8, 2012 | 11:05 am

    agreed – Sleep. Just do what works to make it happen.

    • Melissa
      February 14, 2012 | 1:36 am

      absolutely :)

  12. JDaniel4's Mom
    February 9, 2012 | 12:20 pm

    JDaniel was awake for much of this first seven months of life. I was always tired. I think I slept anytime he did. It was really hard.

  13. Yvette
    February 9, 2012 | 1:52 pm

    Forgot to comment that at 18 months old, I still have to hold my daughter for naps. Anything that needs to get done around the house gets done at night when she’s tucked in her crib. It’s nice to hear that there are moms out there who are doing what works to get their babes to sleep. Even if it means rocking them for a couple of hours…

  14. Michelle
    February 10, 2012 | 7:40 pm

    You don’t know how happy I am to read this! I am the mother of three. My oldest child had no issue sleeping in his own bed. He loved his sleep and made it easy on me. My second baby refused to be separated from me at all. From the day he was born, and I mean that literally, he screamed if he wasn’t with me. There was no way he would sleep in his own bed, he became hysterical if I tried. So he slept with me and both of us got rest. My third baby also wants nothing to do with her crib. She’s sleeping peacefully next to me right now.

    I’m so tired of all the judging and “You shouldn’t do that”s. It’s refreshing for a doctor to say what you just did.

  15. Aubrey
    February 11, 2012 | 7:45 am

    My 3 year old was always a co-sleeper. He gets horrible night terrors, but we’ve learned it comes and goes in cycles. He’ll do great sleeping in his own room all night for a few months, then have bad nights and come to our room for a few weeks. I’ve learned that if I try to push him out back to his room, it gets worse. But if I just let him sleep in our room on a little “bed” of blankets for a few nights, he’ll start sleeping in his room on his own again. My second son however has slept 7pm to 6-7am since he was 2 weeks old. Made up for the first baby :)

    February 24, 2012 | 7:28 pm

    I love this post. I take a natural, but real world approach to parenting. I totally agree with this article!

  17. […] encourages us to follow our own parental intuition and get some rest in her article entitled “I Support Sleep, That is All“. She writes, “Whenever I answer parents’ questions about sleep, I first ask this: […]

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