First off – I am truly sorry if I made you feel judged for letting your baby cry it out. I got several mails and messages defending your positions and a dear friend pointed it out too – it was absolutely not a judgement of you or your circumstances and I don’t think you are making a bad choice or that you are a bad mom! That wasn’t my intention; I was beyond exhausted and I was feeling defensive as it has been the go-to response from so many, so my tone was more forceful than is my usual; but I was writing about my feelings and my circumstances exclusively.
As with all things baby*, I genuinely believe that what works for you is 110% the right thing to do. Parenthood is the toughest job of all and you do what you need to to survive and be the best parent to your little people while staying sane! I not only don’t judge you, I have the most enormous respect for every parent who makes it through every day intact.
Maybe if I explain out sleep situation more thoroughly, less people will go straight to the cry it out recommendation. This stuff is all in the outline for my “What I didn’t know about sleep and baby” post, but since I’ve never posted it, you couldn’t know. So here it is. As long as I respond to her when she wakes Charly doesn’t cry at night unless something is really wrong. She doesn’t cry when she falls asleep. She doesn’t wake at night and want to play or talk. She goes to sleep happily on the breast between 7 & 7h30 most nights, and I don’t believe it will do any harm to her on the rare nights she is a little more alert and only falls asleep closer to 8h30.
When she wakes at night, she lies in her cot and begins hitting the side (of the soft camp cot); if I ignore it (yes, I have tried multiple times to see if she will go back to sleep), she starts talking very softly to herself; if I still ignore her (yes, I’ve gotten this far too a handful of times), she starts talking louder and louder until she is shouting; and the two occasions I managed to still not respond at that point, she started howling – and wouldn’t go back to sleep for 2 hours at 3am. So yes, I have tried to see if she will settle herself back to sleep – she won’t.
What happens now is: I hear her wake and start tapping her cot and I pick her up and put her on the breast and she is asleep again within seconds and after a few minutes (5-10 usually) she comes off the breast naturally and I out her back into her cot fast asleep until the next wake up.
There were times where we went through some difficulties; mastitis, bronchiolitis for almost 3 weeks, cramps, reflux and physical and developmental growth spurts, where she woke hourly to feed; but these were the exception not the rule. For a good long time, she slept and fed in 3 hour cycles.
For an exclusively breast fed (EBF) baby, that is absolutely normal sleep behaviour at this age. Something people don’t tell you very often is not all babies, particularly EBF babies, sleep through the night. It is completely healthy for an EBF baby to wake every 3-4 hours to feed until they are no longer EBF. And although in some cases, introducing a formula feed or solids will result in longer stretches because they are less hungry, this is not always the case; so it shouldn’t be the reason you do it – though there are a hundred other reasons you might.
We also had a very good day routine where she breastfed every 3 hours; she would wake, feed, play and sleep – I never fed her to sleep because I didn’t want her to associate the two. I did know better! And then, about 2 months ago, she started teething (still no teeth have cut), she got a cold, she went through a big developmental leap, and she started feeling separation anxiety (evidenced by hysteria every time I left her sight; most working mommies experience it when they need to leave for work in the mornings, so mommies know you are not alone, it happens even if you are with them at home). Things went pear-shaped; she would no longer sleep anywhere but in my arms, she wanted to be on the breast near constantly, she woke more often at night because she was sore and blocked up and feeling overwhelmed by the developmental stuff. And I went with it, because she is my baby and I wanted her to feel safe and happy and to help her in any way I could.
So for a time she had a perfect 3 hourly feed schedule, where she would nap in my mom’s arms, where she fell asleep after rocking and soothing, where breastfeeding and sleep had no correlation and where she would naturally wake when she needed to feed. We are now in a place where she will only sleep on the breast (meaning I feed up to 50 minutes at a time while she sleeps), she goes mental if my mom tries to get her to sleep, she feeds more or less every 2 hours so that she can fall asleep and she wakes throughout the night to make sure I am there and to do short feeds.
One of the questions I got was about her day naps, whether there were possibly too many or they were too long and that was affecting her night sleep. The answer is no, her day naps add up to the recommended 3h-3h30m and her night sleep does range between 10 and 11 hours; she just can’t do that without waking for a few minutes and needing to be picked up by me very regularly. So she is getting the ideal amount of sleep recommended by all the specialists at an average of 14 hours a day; she is sweet and content and happy most of the time; but I feel completely drained because of the interrupted sleep.
THAT is the biggest thing nobody ever explained to me about sleep with a baby – it has absolutely nothing to do with the number of hours you sleep; it is about the quality of that sleep and the fact that it is constantly interrupted. Whether that interruption is for 5 minutes or 2 hours makes absolutely no difference in my case, it’s the interruptions themselves that are the problem.
I know I have made some mistakes and the mommy-guilt overwhelms me on a regular basis. I shouldn’t have let her feed to sleep or have given in when she cried for me when my mom tried to get her down when she was sick; I shouldn’t have let her sleep in my bed when she was younger (even though I did break her of that habit); I should have forced her to sleep in her cot in the day; I should have introduced a self-soothing object earlier; I should have persevered in putting her to sleep awake in her cot (even though when I did she would get more and more hyper and awake), I should have established a formal nighttime routine when I brought her home from the hospital. Should’ve, would’ve, could’ve… the list is endless. But in the end, they are MY mistakes and if the disruptions I am facing now are because of those mistakes, I don’t feel like I should punish my child for it.
None of this means that I am going to complain any less about being exhausted, I am and I am suffering from it. But I am not necessarily looking for a quick-fix for it. I am sharing my experience of life as a first time mom, and in my case, a lot of that is tied up in being generally and permanently tired. The sympathy does help, hearing I am not alone for whatever reason does help. I also do believe it will end; I believe she will get bigger and eat better and be busier in the day and now that Summer is coming, get more fresh air and that it will all add up to longer stretches of sleep at night.
Every one of us has to make impossible decisions every day as parents; those decisions can derail our plans completely, bring everything into perfect harmony or have absolutely no effect whatsoever. Although I really do appreciate all the advice and support I receive through my blog and social media and I know without a doubt that I would not have made it this far without it; there are some things that I am not prepared to do. Or maybe I am just not prepared to do them yet.
I don’t plan to try letting her cry herself to sleep. I don’t plan on actively weaning her off any of her feeds until she is a year old, if she needs to feed less as she starts to eat more solids I will both celebrate and mourn the missed one-on-one time with her. If you need to do these things to make your lives work and give yourself the freedom to be a better happier person which I truly believe makes you a better parent, I think you should and I encourage you to.
When it comes to me, I feel the same about parenting advice as I do about religious guidance – tell me what works for you, tell me how it changed your life and I will celebrate it with you; but don’t try to convert me.
* Ok, that’s not totally true, because I do judge people who don’t vaccinate their kids – I respect your right to be uncertain and afraid of things you don’t completely understand; I do not feel you have a right to put your (or my) baby’s life at risk.