When I first found out I was pregnant with my first son two and half years ago, my second reaction - after elation/shock/awe, of course - was fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of how I would handle an unpredictable screaming baby. And fear of whether I could survive the rigorous parenting boot camp known as babyhood.
Every time I bring up a conversation about sleep with new parents, I feel like I'm swapping war stories.
"So he screamed for two hours straight before going down for the night? That's nothing. My little guy screamed off and on all night long while I power nursed him, dream fed him, cuddled him, and patted him on the back until my hand fell off."
You get the picture. In the same way that hard-working, ball-busting career women (and men) get a high off of working ridiculous hours on little sleep, it seems like many new parents don't feel validated until they've been put through the wringer.
All I can say is thank God for my husband, a.k.a. Mr. Fix It. When I was still pregnant with my first son, I sent him an article about infant sleep, asking him which camp we were going to be in. Were we going to go all Attachment Parenting on this unsuspecting baby and cater to his every whim? Or were we going to be parents/drill sergeants that put him on a strict schedule?
To my husband and me, scheduling made the most sense. We ordered The Contented Little Baby Book by some fancy British nanny off Amazon posthaste, and it became our Bible. For new parents that were totally freaked out about what exactly to do with a baby every hour of the day, a very, very, VERY detailed schedule was the life raft we were looking for.
After a few months of hard work, it paid off. He was sleeping 12 hours through the night with solid daytime naps at five months, although it was a few months later than our precious book predicted.
We decided to have a second baby right away because we wanted our kids close in age, and we also wanted to get the "scary baby stuff" out of the way. Fast forward two years later, and I have an 18-month-old that has never had a problem sleeping since he successfully went down for his first, beautiful 12-hour night at five months.
Our second son is seven weeks old. I had a home birth, and from the very first night, we put him in his crib alone.
This time around, I have to say that I'm a little more lax with the schedule because I've seen how it works out in the end. Instead of feeling like I have to force my baby to comply with a strict time frame when he's tired or hungry at the wrong time, I focus on my second son's cues, while trying to stay within the parameters of the schedule.
I also took a little wisdom from Bringing Up Bebe. Whenever our baby cries, my husband and I don't run to him right away. In the night, we give him "the pause." Every time he cries, without exception, we wait five or 10 minutes without rushing to his side with milk or patting his cute little butt to help him get back to sleep.
At his newest, he was sleeping an average of four hours in each stretch in the night. More often than not, he goes anywhere from five to seven hours in a stretch at night without a problem.
Bringing up the subject of sleep training among friends or online is enough to get you crucified. I feel that the most common attack is on those who sleep train since you are often considered cruel, negligent, and inattentive to your baby's needs.
My only defense would be: It gets results! I hear over and over again support for formula feeding moms (I'm breastfeeding, not that it matters), offering encouragement because it's all about a happy mom and happy baby, no matter what it takes to get there.
Is it possible that sleep training can follow the same theme? Getting enough sleep at night makes me and my husband way happier. We're less likely to jump down each other's throats before our morning coffee. I also actually enjoy spending time with both kids (most days) in the afternoons when my toddler gets out of preschool, without feeling like I'm dragging ass, in desperate need of a nap.
Did I mention our kids are happier too? My toddler literally claps his hands when it's time go to bed at night, and – barring teething or sickness – is pretty chill and fun to be around. My 7-week-old is fitting the mold of the "easy baby" so far.
I happen to love sleep. I happen to love life when I'm getting it. I have to qualify this by saying that both of my kids aren't "sleeping angels" 100 percent of the time by any stretch of the imagination. They've both had bad nights where they were fussy and hard to settle. But those bad nights are few and farther and farther between.
I'm not planning on having any more kids, but if I did, I'd sleep train again from day one in a heartbeat.
(photo: Lila Jo)