Before I gave birth to my first child I had never had much experience caring for babies. I had read some about them in books–a little in parenting books during my pregnancy, a lot more after my baby was born and I felt so lost, and when I was a little girl I read the fiction book Baby Island. As a teen I babysat for a little toddler who went to bed really easily. Oh, and I had seen babies in movies, you know, movies like 3 Men and a Baby. But I had no younger siblings, or siblings at all, myself being an only child. When my daughter came into the world that morning back in the fall of 1995 and the nurse put her on my chest, I was elated, though tired, and fell in love with her quickly. As the day went by and she began crying and crying I felt bewildered.
Why was she crying so much? I didn’t know why. Surely she wouldn’t want to nurse again so soon? Her loving daddy pushed her up and down the hospital halls in her bassinet trying to console her. I was unable to help much because I had lost so much blood and felt weak. When I was able to get her latched on correctly and nurse her she was content, but I didn’t realize how very often a newborn can need to nurse, both for nutrition and for comfort, and I didn’t nurse her often enough.
The next days were difficult, but when I finally realized that she nursing her would almost always calm her down, life became more peaceful. She didn’t like to be put down, and so we held her most of the time. My husband and I took turns caring for her at night. I would nurse her, and then my husband would hold her and dance with her and comfort her while I got some sleep. Then he would give her to me again when it was “time” to nurse her again. We were so very tired, but when we began sleeping with her at night and when I learned how to nurse her lying down it made things so much easier for all of us.
She didn’t really fall into any semblance of a routine the first couple months, except that I nursed her often day and night. At her 2 month checkup the doctor said to keep doing what I was doing because she was doing so well. But even after hearing his encouraging words I began to feel doubtful about nursing her so often, worried that it might not be best for her, and wondered if perhaps I should try to get her on schedule.
Due to other outside influences, people and books, I finally decided it was probably time to start helping her get on a schedule, one that would help her sleep longer at night and to sleep more in her crib, and I let her cry-it-out in her crib alone when she was about 2 1/2 months old. I wish so much I had not done that. She’s my only child I left to cry like that to try and get her to sleep better, and I did not do any type of sleeping training with my other three children.
She began sleeping through the night, but I didn’t sleep well. I worried about her and missed her. When she began waking early in the morning, usually at about 4:30 in the morning when her daddy left for work, I brought her to bed with me and we slept together and cuddled and nursed on and off the rest of the morning until we got up for the day. As she grew older and I learned about Dr. Sears and attachment parenting, I began to parent more responsively and worry less about trying to adhere to a routine. Each of my other children were nursed on cue as babies, I nursed them to sleep, they slept with me and my husband, and I nursed them when they wanted throughout the night. It felt right to do that, and it was peaceful and natural for us. Now I look back and remember how beautiful it was to nurse and rock my little ones to sleep and to sleep with them cuddled beside me. I’m so grateful so have been able to do those things.
My first daughter was actually the one who had the most sleep “difficulties,” as a little baby and through at least 4 years of age. I tried so hard to make bedtime a pleasant time for her. As she grew older I tried a lot of different things, such as giving her a snack before bedtime and really worked at making her before bed routine pleasant and good. I put lavender oil on her pillow, rubbed her back, and laid beside her until she fell asleep, sang to her. She had a pink moon nightlight we’d turn on at bedtime. It really helped when I realized that she needed to get to bed earlier than I was getting her to bed, when I realized that waiting too long gave her a second wind, making it harder for her to fall asleep. Finally, I guess it all worked out because, though I don’t remember when it happened, I remember it became a non-issue and that she became able to go to bed at night with no problems. She still has a hard time, though, even at age 16, falling asleep, and tends to stay up late reading a book and then sleep in late.
I have four children now, ages 7 (almost 8) to 16, and they all sleep just fine these days. They sleep in their own beds, no one still nurses to sleep, they learned to go to sleep on their own. They all go up to bed at approximately the same time at night, and then they usually read in bed until they fall asleep.
None of my other three children went through times when they fought sleep like my first child did. Their individuality shows up in their sleep habits, though, as it does in every other area, and they each approach sleep a little differently, even though I nursed them on cue and nursed them to sleep when they were little.
Like his older sister, my 13 year old son likes to stay up late reading and also has trouble falling asleep at night, but lately he’s been getting up earlier than he used to and seems like he may be falling asleep easier at night due to that. He sleeps very, very soundly, more soundly than my other children do, and it can be hard to wake him up. My 11 year old usually falls asleep easily at night, while reading a book, but sometimes she has insomnia and can’t get to sleep. My youngest, who is almost 8 years old, has amazing natural sleep habits. . . nothing I trained him to do at all. In fact, I nursed him at bedtime until he was 5, though at that age he didn’t fall asleep when I nursed him. He falls asleep so amazingly well. He has started to read to himself a little before he falls asleep, but when he is ready he turns on his side, lying there very still, and within minutes he’s asleep. He also wakes up earlier than any of us in the morning, rested and ready to go.
Sleeping with them and nursing them to sleep and nursing through the night when they were little didn’t create neediness or cause them to be clingy or dependent. None of the warnings I had read about came true, and my children have all turned out normal sleep-wise. I may wish my oldest would get up earlier or that my second child would be able to wake up easier, but I don’t think I can blame that on her sleep habits (or lack thereof) she had as a little one. Amazingly those are both things I myself struggled with when I was a teen! You know how you sometimes wish that your children would have children like them so they can see how hard it is (or have you never thought that)? Well, in the issue of sleeping teens, apparently that happened, because my mom used to worry about me, I was so hard to get up in the mornings, and my grandma used to encourage her not to worry, that there could be much worse things I could be doing! And now my mom tells me that story to encourage me as well.
I’ve found that sometimes things I’ve thought were really important at the time, really weren’t so important. Like getting my first baby on a schedule. I found that it wasn’t so important. Like getting her to sleep alone. I found out that wasn’t so important either. Sleeping together and nursing her on cue worked for us, and that should have been good enough, and it was good enough, though I didn’t realize it for awhile.
Sometimes we make decisions based on what we see other people doing or on what “experts” tell us, or we make decisions based on fear of doing something different or fear of messing up our child if we are too whatever. But we shouldn’t let ourselves feel intimidated or inferior or less able to make decisions for our family than other people are. They aren’t the expert on your child. You are the expert on your child. You are the one who knows your child best. It’s very good to make informed decisions and sometimes we can get important wise counsel and encouragement from others. It’s so important and freeing, though, to make choices that God leads us to make. He will help us know what He wants us to do if we seek Him. We can seek Him in His Word, through prayer, through listening to our God-given mothering intuition, and remembering His loving care of us, looking at the beautiful word pictures we see of Him as a nurturing parent in verses such as those in Isaiah 66 which say, “For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance. . . . you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (verses 11, 12b, 13a). Even when we aren’t sure, we can do our best, knowing that, like with the few fish and loaves Jesus fed thousands, our powerful and loving God can take our meager offering and turn it into something amazing and beautiful, something that will bring glory to Him and show His deep and abiding love, for our God is a very good and gracious God.
And now, talking about sleep, I’ve stayed up way too late, or rather early, finishing this up, and I need to go get some sleep!