I have two children right now. The Bean is almost three years and the Chickpea is almost eight months. Last night, and the night before that, and the night before that, I parented my three year old to sleep until he was soundly, deeply, out. On those same nights I nursed my eight month old in the rocker in her room, rocked her with her pacifier, and put her in her crib sleepy but awake. Then I left her alone and walked out. Within a few minutes, a few quiet minutes with a little tossing and maybe a sigh she was asleep.
If you only knew a little bit more about Bean, you might understand the shock induced heart palpitations I experience when Pea falls asleep alone. Bean has never been what might be referred to as a natural sleeper. And the road that has led us down has been one I had never imagined before having kids. Now, having two very different children who are two very different sleepers I feel so convinced that sleep, like speaking, or eating solids, or learning to walk, is a developmental milestone. If you do nothing but follow their lead and meet their needs sleep eventually happens.
I guess you could say I am a proponent of Baby Led Sleeping. Before Bean was born I never put a lot of thought into sleep training, or letting a child cry himself to sleep, or “cry it out,” or co-sleeping, or nursing to sleep, or any of it. I had watched people put their children down in a crib, heard a little crying, and then the child was asleep. It felt a little bad to me but it wasn’t my child. I didn’t stop to think about any other way to do things.
When the Bean came along he had other things in mind. For the first few months we shared a bed with him and everyone I knew was supportive of having him with us. Then around three months the questions started. When would we move him to his crib? Was he sleeping longer stretches? Was he sleeping through the night?
I was in a foreign land all of a sudden. My baby wouldn’t sleep if he wasn’t touching me. Often I held him while he slept. Otherwise we were safely on the bed, with no blankets or pillows, and he was nestled in with me. When I tried to move him to the bassinette in our room he protested, loudly, and repeatedly. If I tried to put him down in his crib in his room his eyes popped open the second he hit the mattress and the crying began.
I read books about sleep. I found an AP friendly website with forum I could ask questions on. I slowly realized that my parenting was going to be different from other parents we knew. I was going to meet his needs in so many ways. I knew this is what made sense for us, but it seemed the most glaring and difficult piece of our puzzle was sleep. The Bean was not a natural sleeper. And I could not begin to imagine that leaving this sensitive, touch needy child alone in his crib wailing was a good idea. It broke my heart. I was afraid it would break his spirit.
There was research out there that supported my feelings but for me the most convincing thing of all was how I felt. It felt wrong to me. It felt like the wrong thing for my child. I wouldn’t do it. And so the months and then years passed. I nursed him to sleep, he woke several times a night and I always rolled towards him and nursed him back to sleep. Slowly, as he grew older and I got pregnant things changed. S l o w l y.
When my milk dried up he started snuggling me when he woke up at night. When the pea was born he weaned and I started laying on the bed with him and letting him twiddle a mole on my stomach to fall asleep. Some nights he would let my husband parent him through the night. Some nights he needed me. We just kept following his lead and meeting his needs.
Now here he is, almost three, and yes I still parent him to sleep. But, he sleeps. Most nights he sleeps in his bed, in his room, through the whole night. Some nights he wants me to come in for a bit to help him get back to sleep in the middle of the night. A few times he has let my husband parent him to sleep for the night. Things have changed. It has taken three years of patience and of doing things differently then anyone else we know here but it is happening. So, sleep is proving to be within his grasp and ours.
Now perhaps you can imagine my shock when Chickpea, just a few months old, still a chubby nursathon baby, fell asleep in her crib. I was putting her to sleep in the rocker like I always have. And the Bean was over tired and having a spirited child moment crying hysterically for me so I whispered to her that I would be back in a moment and I went to comfort him. A few minutes later I returned to her room and she was sleeping. I had to check to make sure she was alive. Then I had to run down the stairs with the video monitor and show it to my husband. Shock.
I was sure it wouldn’t or couldn’t happen again but I knew I should try. So each night I nurse and rock and cuddle her and then I put her in her crib. She falls asleep. She sleeps – not for one hour or two even but five! One night she slept for eight hours – eight glorious hours of sleep!
Did I sleep? No. Maybe that comes some other time. After three years of being up every two hours or so I am not sure when I will reset. But, the baby is sleeping. She may revert, she may go through phases, she may start waking a lot again. But she has given me a gift. She has shown me that my parenting intuition was correct. I can let go of the doubt about whether I did the right thing with Bean. I can stop wondering if there was truth in the assertion some people made that I “created” the Bean’s sleep patterns and needs.
What I created was a safe place for him to develop as his own speed. What I did was follow my child’s lead and trust that in a secure environment he would eventually come to sleep longer, more easily, in his own way. And he has done just that in his own time. The Pea is now showing me that the same method of nurturing can lead to an entirely different picture with a different child. I hold her, I nurse her, I rock her, I follow her lead, and she can fall asleep without me.
If you are parenting a child like the Bean please don’t worry. Please listen to your heart and follow your instincts and shut out the doubt and the doubters. Your child will sleep. The day will come. Trust me and try practicing Baby Led Sleeping. It is a gift and a blessing and a lot of hard work and you will never ever regret a second of it.
Sweet dreams my little Pea. Sweet dreams my growing Bean. Sleep like only you can sleep.