Reply turned post: Sleeping in the Gray Area

As you know, we’ve been backandforth some (okay, a TON) over Sadie’s sleep. Well, I am happy to report that things are still going swimmingly. Even in the face of some major teething. Sure, there are nights like Tuesday where she wakes up a few times for a little cuddle and some teething tablets. But more often that not, Sadie goes to bed between 6:15 and 6:45 pm, wakes up to nurse around 5:30, and is up for the day around 6:30. AWESOME.

One of the blogs I follow is API Speaks, which is the blog of Attachment Parenting International. I would consider what Trevor and I are doing, for the most part, to be Attachment Parenting. There was a post recently, however, that I think highlights a need in many parenting styles, and that’s flexibility (something my Aunt Margie would say is NOT my strong suit). I hope you’ll go on over and read the post and that you’ll chime in on the discussion over there, over here, or both.

Here’s my response:

I think there’s a gray area that doesn’t get talked about enough in Attachment Parenting conversations. And that is what to do with your older baby who actually DOES need more sleep than she’s getting. There’s so much talk about how we shouldn’t “sleep train” our babies in order to satisfy our own needs for sleep. And I agree with that. I signed on to parenting and all the nitty-gritty that comes with it. I also agree that infants, especially those who are breastfed (and of those, especially ones with working-out-of-the-home mothers), may need to wake up often to eat throughout the night.

But a 12+-month-old very well may have different needs. A toddler who sleeps no longer than two or three hours at a time has a problem. It’s called sleep deprivation. Think about how hard it is to go about our daily lives on low-quality sleep. Sometimes we’re groggy, we’re grouchy, we’re sloppy. Most of the time, it’s not that big a deal. You can grocery shop on auto-pilot. But what if you’re learning to walk? And what if you’re learning your first language? These are some TOUGH things to learn, and being groggy, grouchy and sloppy HAS to make it harder.

I believe that the intensive nighttime parenting we did for our daughter was the right thing to do. We co-slept when it made sense; we never left her to cry. I believe it laid a strong foundation for her to know that sleep is good and safe, and that her parents are nearby when she needs them. I also believe, however, that the time had come for a change. Sure, I’ll admit the prospect of getting to sleep through the night sounded awesome for myself. It also felt like something my daughter truly needed. More than she needed hourly check-ins with her dad or me.

I’ve been practicing Attachment Parenting in all the ways that it fits my family since before my daughter was born. And it’s a great fit for us. But I think there’s a danger in black-and-white-only thinking: you either go along with your baby’s sleep routine, no matter the consequences; or you leave her to cry for hours at a time causing her to lose her trust in you completely. Again, I completely agree that sleep training is potentially harmful to a newborn or infant. And that eventually, pretty much everybody learns to sleep through the night, one way or another. But why isn’t anybody talking about the in-between?

After recognizing that my daughter’s needs had shifted—from needing to nurse frequently through the night to needing a full night’s sleep—I was able to see that what we’d created was a habit of waking that was no longer healthy for her. I also realized what I already knew—she’s older now and CAN understand the concept of lying herself back down and going to sleep.

You say:

“Baby trainers often state that it is important for an infant learn to pacify itself, but an infant, like stated before, has no way of understanding that they are supposed to comfort themselves. They have no tools to do that. Leaving an infant to himself will in fact do just that; it will teach him to take his emotions and, instead of expressing them, it will teach the infant to internalize all that anger need and fear. The infant will come to an understanding that their wants/needs will not be met and that they must fend for themselves. When this happens in an infant, many people believe that the sleep battle has been won and that the parent has been victorious. What they do not understand is that they may have won the battle but they have lost the war for trust.”

But, again, what about toddlers? Who haven’t “naturally” found their way to getting a healthy night’s sleep? I honestly believe that an AP-raised toddler is capable of putting herself to sleep—and staying asleep. And I do believe that for some, like my daughter, the presence of a parent throughout the night can become an interference. A hindrance to learning to sleep well.

Why does it have to be all battles and wars? I’m not saying what we did would work for anybody else, but it is disheartening to now feel like we’re not “AP” enough because we decided that our daughter was old enough to put herself to sleep with a minimal (no more than five minutes) amount of (non-distressed) crying. We tried it. It worked. And I am 100 percent confident that my daughter gets the sleep she needs to fuel her days of learning and growing and that she continues to trust in her parents.

I guess what I’m saying is, there’s a gray area, and we’re sleeping in it.

And here’s what I added a few minutes later:

Oh, and what I left out (can you believe it?) is this: had we not been willing to put our AP-ness aside and given our daughter five minutes to figure out how to put herself to sleep, who knows how much longer she’d have gone without getting a healthy amount of sleep?

5 thoughts on “Reply turned post: Sleeping in the Gray Area

  1. TMae

    Last night I cried myself to sleep. It was 2:30a.m., and I had been awake since 11:30p.m. pacing the floor with baby who was alternately trying to throw himself out of my arms, and crying. Before he woke at 11:30, he had woken at 10, and before that 9. He went to bed last night at 8. I started putting him down at 7. My husband spent another 45 minutes walking him. He finally fell asleep around 3:15, and woke for the morning around 6:30. All told, I think he got 6 hours of sleep.

    Tonight he went down at 8:15 (I would really like to move his bedtime to 7, or earlier, but he’s been resistant) and woke up at 9p.m. for some pats. It’s 9:25p.m. now, and I’m waiting for his next waking. He wakes and wants to nurse. But not eat, he just wants a breast for 30-45 seconds. I don’t even think he’s really awake, if I catch it soon enough. If I nurse him, he goes back into his bed in about 10 minutes.

    But I can’t do this much longer. He’s almost 8 months old, and I FEEL TERRIBLE that I can’t take it. But I need to sleep. I *need* it. Sleeping for nearly 8 months is 3 hours spurts is killing me.

    Here is what I don’t know – is he hungry? I’m home with him, and he nurses on demand. But he is a distracted baby, so he nurses in fits and spurts. I assume he’s getting enough milk during the day, but I suspect he is also “trained” to eat small amounts frequently. Is he too young to night wean? I can’t get past worrying that I am going to irreparably damage him. And in the meantime – I’m functioning, but not much more.

    If you had to do it again, would you wait as long as you did? Or would you have done it earlier?

    Nothing like a total stranger unloading on your blog, right?

    (I do love your blog. I followed you over from Offbeat Mama. You left a comment on an Ask The Midwife post about the process of healing a negative birth experience. Anyway, I identified with your comment, and find that I identify with a lot of your posts. Thanks for that.)

    1. Brooke Post author

      I promise I’ve not forgotten your comment. I’m trying to gear up for a response, which I suspect will be lengthy.

  2. TMae

    I realize your sleep issues may not have been related to night nursing. And I’m not even sure I’m talking about night weaning…

  3. Ashley

    brooke, i think you did the right thing! trust is established the first year. after that, i agree that certain other priorities can come up to the top of the list. and it’s all about sensing and knowing what’s best for your child…it just so happens that her needs and your wants (more sleep) were actually in line with each other….so it probably was confusing because, a lot of times, we AP parents are going against our own wants to meet the baby’s needs, so it feels weird when they are in line! there is also such a huge difference between fussing for 5 minutes and screaming for hours! HUGE difference!!! the older the kid gets, months and years-wise, the tougher the lessons go on growing up, and that’s just a reality. all kids ARE different, and some do much better with learning to put themselves to sleep and stay asleep than others do. also, bad habits need to be broken if they are not related to a certain NEED. i totally agree and still consider you part of “the club”! haha!


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