Everyone with a baby has had someone tell them to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” But when you have a toddler that no longer naps or is on a different schedule than your baby, that is pretty much impossible advice to take. And I have discovered that the first communication among siblings is to send secret signals at night to one another to take turns waking up their parents in 30 minute intervals. This gives you juuuuust enough time to fall asleep before the next one startles you awake and you forget that REM sleep ever existed.
With my first child I never wanted to sleep train. I figured rocking her to sleep was temporary and I was all about the extra cuddles even if sleep was hard to come by. And eventually by eight months old she figured it out on her own and started sleeping through the night (with the help of a good environment and routine) and has been a good sleeper for the most part since then. Once baby #2 arrived, the topic of sleep became an entirely different conversation. I couldn’t rock him to sleep endlessly as I had another child waiting to be put to bed. If he screamed for a two hour witching period, it would wake up his sister. I could get him to sleep after a feed and then his sister would call out wanting a drink at 2 am and there would go my break in between feedings. My husband was convinced that he would be like his sister and just learn to do it on his own, but I was sure of only two things:
- There are no guarantees with babies – the second one seems to do things completely different from the first.
- 1 toddler + 1 baby + 0 sleep = very little patience
The four month sleep regression hit us hard and naps were extremely short, night wakings were frequent and I was willing to sell my soul for a good snooze. So, this time around I began to explore my options beyond reading books about healthy sleep and gentle methods of sleep training. I am a pro at putting all the right tools in place (consistent environment, dark, white noise, cool temperature, sleep sacks, on their back, etc) but I needed help with a plan. So, when my son was five months old I went to see the best in the biz, Alanna McGinn of Goodnight Sleep Site. She runs a free sleep clinic the first Wednesday of every month at the Nestled store in Burlington and the first step was to check in with her there and seek out some tips. I found solidarity at this clinic as there were at least ten other families with the same issues with naps and sleep. Alanna provided some great advice about timing of his naps and sleep and I went home feeling more confident and ready to try.
I implemented some of my new tips and saw an improvement right away. It wasn’t perfect but it was better and I started to feel a glimmer of hope that maybe I would one day sleep again. We worked on naps some more and tried a bit of sleep training at night. Though we saw success, I was wavering. Should I be cuddling more? Should I go in and check on him more often? Should I let him cry it out? Am I damaging his brain? Am I teaching him not to trust me by not going to him immediately when he cries? The thing is, there are all sorts of methods to teach your child to sleep and learn to soothe themselves. You have to find what is right for you and your family and then STICK TO IT. This was the issue I was having. I had some of the tips, I knew I wanted to do it and move towards much better sleep, but I just couldn’t stop second guessing my methods or wondering what to do when it didn’t work. This is when I knew I needed more help and support.
So, I booked a consultation with Alanna to work on a full plan for our situation and our needs that we would be comfortable with. After our very first phone conversation I immediately felt better. I had a plan and I was ready to stick to it. It was detailed and involved a schedule, and I thrive on both of those (turns out, babies do too when you do it right). The difference this time around was that I had advice from a certified expert, it was one set plan, and I could have confidence that it has worked for hundreds of other families and that I could reach out to Alanna to troubleshoot and give me the push I needed to continue. Learning to sleep train from articles on the internet is similar to diagnosing your medical problems on webMD- there are real and possible solutions there but you don’t have anyone to provide the support you need to confirm your diagnosis and take you through the treatment. Alanna told me right away that the plan itself is really only about 10% of the service. The support of the consultant is where the other 90% comes in and is the real reward and pay off lies. For me, this was 100% true. I had so many questions about what to do if my first solution didn’t work and in times when I was ready to waver, she was there to guide me and talk me off the ledge, knowing that if I stuck to the plan, it would work out.
And the results? I have a 6.5 month old baby who is currently sleeping through the night and taking naps that are 1-2 hours long every single day. (Here is the part where I pray and cross everything that I have not jinxed myself by publicly saying this). The training was hard, I won’t lie about that. There was guilt involved and some tears from us all. But I don’t regret it and we are all much happier now. I am proud to have a baby who has learned to fall asleep on his own. I love that he wakes up cooing in the morning instead of crying. I have taken back some “me” time in the evening and can’t believe how good that feels. And I have resumed my own love affair with sleep. I do miss some of the extra cuddles though so I am taking those in the day when and while I can!
The bottom line with sleep and your baby is, you have to do what works for you. You love to co-sleep? Awesome, enjoy the snuggles! You bond over breast or bottle feeding to sleep? Perfect, eat up, baby! Your rocking routine is the most peaceful time of day? Amazing, rock on! I will never judge anyone for their sleep strategies because I know as well as anyone else, you do what gets you through. And the only thing worse than being extremely tired is feeling like you are being a bad mom/parent on top of it all. For me, sleep training worked to ease my anxious, slightly depressed, overtired, growling, guilt ridden self. I am a disaster without sleep and regaining it has turned things around for me. And though it was hard to do, especially when I was so against it the first time around, I am thankful I did.
So, to all of you struggling with sleep and the guilt/sleep deprivation of second baby syndrome, let me be the first to tell you, whatever you decide, you will get through. Do what makes you all happy and rested and, if you can, take some time out for yourself. When your baby is eighteen he likely won’t be sleeping in your bed or asking to be rocked to sleep so know that it isn’t forever. The love you have with your pillow and your bed is unconditional, it will welcome you back to solid sleep whenever you are ready, even if it is just in time to send baby off to college!
Katie is a new mom of two and will be sharing her experiences in parenting a toddler and a newborn though this series “New with Two”.