Everyone who has had a baby knows that sleep is a huge issue. How do we get our babies to get enough sleep, to fall asleep on their own, to not get woken up easily? These are just a few questions that parents have to face with their very young ones. Some folks do a “family bed,” though many experts warn against this. Some people do “sleep training.” Some babies just fall into a routine without much effort on the part of parents. In my opinion, there are no right or wrong ways to help your baby with this issue. It is up to you to decide what works best for you. However, I can share what I did with my own babies.
Not every child has the same sleep needs. Some babies will take morning and afternoon naps. Some of them will take only one nap a day and some will take several short catnaps more often. My daughter rarely took naps and had trouble falling asleep at night. Once she fell asleep, she slept well. My first son still took afternoon naps until he was 7 or 8, coming home from school most days and falling asleep on the couch. It’s important that we pay attention to what their sleep needs are and help facilitate their sleep. I believe that we should let them lead us in what they need, within reason of course.
I always sang to them before putting them down for bed, whether it was a nap or their regular bedtime. I did this until they were old enough not to be tucked in. When they were little, I rocked them and nursed them before bed, singing while we rocked. As tiny infants, I usually held them until they fell asleep then laid them in their beds. At first, they didn’t want to stay in their beds but wanted to continue being held. I gently patted them, singing while I did until they settled and slept. When my children were little, we put them down on their stomachs. Now, the recommendation is to lay them on their backs, but you can still pat their tummies or chest. Once I thought they were asleep, I stopped patting but continued to sing for a few more minutes getting quieter until I was no longer making a sound. I didn’t like the routine of letting them cry themselves to sleep. I understood the concept of babies learning to self-sooth and agreed with it but chose to go about it in a gentler way. Sometimes, they would fall asleep in the car. In that case, I would carry their car seat inside and let them finish their nap there. If it was a very bright day, I'd throw a light blanket over it to block out the light or put it in a darkened room.
I decided not to have a “family bed,” though I have nothing against them, because my husband was such a sound and active sleeper. The other downside for me of a family bed was that I didn’t sleep well enough. I needed to have a good night’s sleep without worrying about the tiny child next to me. We had a partial family bed in that I brought my children into my bed to nurse and snuggle, and they were always welcome in the early morning when I would just doze. My infants were in the same room with us and right next to the bed, so I could reach out and touch them at any time. After all I thought, who ever wants to sleep alone given the choice? After being in the womb, surrounded by warmth and the smell and sound of their mother, it must be very alien, and maybe frightening, to suddenly be all alone. However, I had to deal with practicalities. When they were infants, I wore my babies in packs during the days and sometimes slept with my babies for their naps but found I couldn’t leave them to catch up on chores for fear that they would fall out of the bed, so I often moved them into their own beds once they were asleep or slept on a mat on the floor with them so that I could sneak out without worry.
I had just turned 22 when my daughter was born. Her dad and I were musicians, practicing and jamming sometimes late into the night. I knew I needed her to stay asleep in spite of the loud sounds around, so I made lots of noise. I always recommend this to parents who don’t want to have to tiptoe around their babies. I vacuumed in her room while she was sleeping. I dropped heavy things and spoke or sang loudly right next to her as she slept. She learned to block out those sounds and once asleep, slept soundly. I did the same with each of her brothers and with my grandchildren. They could sleep through anything, so I had to train them to wake for certain sounds like smoke alarms.
Babies are incredibly resilient. They learn quickly and definitely learn how to manipulate adults when they are very young. Most people don’t give babies enough credit for being as smart as they are. They are like little sponges, learning new things every day, even every hour. But they are also strong and know what they want. The tricky thing is learning to stand your ground without squashing their spirit. Every parent knows instinctively what to do. Follow your heart but be aware that parenting is hard work that requires us to do things in the best interest of our child, and some of those things may not seem as though they are in their best interest at the time when they are crying. And honestly, wouldn’t it be nice if we could all get everything we wanted by just crying?