Up all night!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on August 28, 2008. As parents, we engage in nighttime parenting because we know that our children don’t stop needing our care at sunset. The author does well to validate the challenge of meeting children’s needs when they happen at a time that is not so convenient for their parents.

starry-night-1443822-mExcuse me if this post is rambling, it’s written by a very tired mammy — one who only went to bed at half past 4:00 this morning and who got up again at 9:00 a.m. But it’s nowhere near the sheer exhaustion I remember from the first few weeks of my daughter’s life. This is just regular tiredness: I feel like I was out dancing all night!

Littlepixie has just cut her first molars, four or possibly five all at once. The poor pet! Understandably, her mouth is a little sore.

Last night, she nursed to sleep and I snuck downstairs to get some Internet time in. In retrospect I should have gone to sleep, too, because as it turned out it would be a good many hours before my little head hit the pillow!

Littlepixie woke around midnight and was clearly in pain: She was banging her mouth with her hand, crying and sobbing, “Teeth. Teeth.”

We gave her some medicine, but it didn’t seem to help much. Nursing was acceptable to her but only while sitting up with the light on.

Littlepixie and I retired downstairs to the living room.

We’ve been quite lucky recently with her night-wakings. Usually she nurses straight back to sleep. But not last night.

We snuggled on the couch under a big blanket, nursing and reading her bedtime book over and over again. We found every bear, rabbit, sock and red balloon in the book, chatted about them, laughed at them, counted them and then started all over again.

I got sleepier. Littlepixie did not!

It was really just a case of watching the clock tick by and waiting for her to get sleepy. The medicine finally seemed to take effect as she was no longer complaining about her teeth, so that was good.

But I was barely awake!

So, after a while of playing with Littlepixie’s dolls, I resorted to putting on a DVD for her to watch. I know the middle of the night is not usually prime TV time, but the show was nice and calm and of course had no advertisements.

We watched the DVD for about 15 minutes while nursing and reading more books. I then brought her into our office where she often nurses for her naps, in the hopes that she would think it was nap time.

No such luck!

At 4 a.m., we went back up to bed where my husband read her another story, and she finally nursed back to sleep, with her foot lodged firmly in his face.

We were able to sleep in to 9 a.m. We’re very tired, but Littlepixie is in top form. Her teeth don’t seem to be hurting her, and she’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Attachment Parenting can be hard work! But it’s worth it. Littlepixie clearly needed some extra care last night, and I’m glad we could help her out. Fingers crossed we all sleep well tonight!

What about all of you? Do you have any particular things you like to do when you’re passing the wee hours of the night awake with your child?

Lessons from Parents of a Sleepless Baby – Part 1

by Abigail Flavin

My husband and I learned about Attachment Parenting when, after reading many, many reviews of various baby books, we selected one by William Sears, MD. We found the principles and practices intriguing. They offered us clarity for our own thoughts and hopes for ourselves as parents. Repeatedly, we discussed the principles, sharing anecdotes from our own childhoods and from what we were reading about parenting. We thought we were completely ready for our son’s arrival, since we had acquired a car seat, clothing, diapers, and parenting ideas. We were unprepared for our spirited son, Thomas, who has proven that babies can get by just fine on less than the required range of sleep time so often touted by experts.

The first month was about what we expected. Then, he stopped sleeping well and began fussing more. He never wanted to be put down, and even the sling and constant nursing never seemed to provide enough contact. Our pediatrician diagnosed him as having Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), which became quite serious between his third and fourth months, requiring medication. At that point, we could understand the irregular habits and the inability to sleep well, even with cosleeping and constant nursing.  By his seventh month, however, his sleep problems could no longer be linked to GERD nor did they correlate to introducing solids. As he began sleeping less often and less regularly, we became progressively more frantic.

We were always asked by others, how is he sleeping? Is he sleeping through the night yet? Honestly, these questions need to stop. They imply that either the parent is a bad parent or that the baby is a bad baby. They amp up the pressure that already tired and insecure first-time parents feel. Let us banish these questions to the realm of etiquette hell, where they belong.

When nothing else worked, we fell off the AP wagon and tried the graduated extinction sleep-training method. Three days in, he was down to sleeping six out of 24 hours, the worst he’d ever slept. We were all exhausted and miserable. I saw a long, bleak tunnel ahead, and I am sure our son only saw pain and confusion. Where was Mommy? Her warmth? Her food? Her snuggles? Why am I alone in a crib, in the dark, and nobody is coming to me? What is wrong with me that they won’t come to me? I cannot find the words to describe how I imagine my child must have felt, for it is far darker than that. We gave up and gave up ourselves completely to our son so that he could reestablish his trust in us. We kissed and snuggled him constantly, providing one favorite activity after another: reading, peek-a-boo, snuggles, bath time, walks in the garden, singing, and of course, co-sleeping. Of course, he recovered; our little ones are far more resilient than we can imagine. And in the meantime, he taught us the value of patience.

What many sleep methods bank on is that parents want results now; we are exhausted, we sometimes miss our “old lives,” we wonder when we will have space and time to enjoy some of our independent activities, we long for a few hours where we do not have to decide whether to take an uninterrupted shower or call an old friend. What we must learn from our children is the value of patience, of delayed gratification. They teach us these lessons so that we may, in turn, teach them as they grow older.

Check back with us for Part 2, where Abigail shares tips she learned from a long and exhausting period of irregular baby sleep.

The Llama Book and Why I Still Sing My Daughter to Sleep

Ever since my daughter was born my favorite part of the day was bedtime (and not because it provided me with much needed rest.) I loved to rock my sweet baby and listen to her breath start to steady and slow as she drifted off to sleep. The fingers she had so tightly wrapped around locks of my hair would loosen and my heart would nearly burst with love as I looked down at those beautiful half-moon eyes closed so tightly.

I swear in the moment that a child drifts off to sleep, they become an angel. Nothing on Earth is more angelic than the face of a sleeping child.

Now as my daughter has grown, our bedtime routine has shifted and changed more times than I can count. My daughter is going to be two and a half next month and while she still ends up in our bed at some time around 3:00 am, she generally likes to sleep in her own bed where she can stretch out. One thing is for sure however, she loves to have her Momma and Daddy put her to sleep and we are more than happy to do it.

When friends come over and I excuse myself to put my child to bed and go missing for 45 minutes or when I schedule evening outings late so that I can be the one to put my sweet angel to bed before having a family member come over to stay with her, I often find myself once again justifying why I don’t just teach my daughter to put herself to sleep. The short answer is I am against sleep training and quite frankly I don’t want her to feel forced to put herself to sleep. She wants her Momma and it’s my job (and my pleasure) to be there for her.

Here is a more lengthy explanation which began when my daughter and I sat down to read Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney. Now before I continue, my daughter and I both like the Llama Llama books and don’t see anything inherently wrong with these books, I just tend to disagree with some of the practices that are displayed in the story line.

Picture this…

My darling curls up on the couch as bath time approaches and says “will you read to me Momma?” The answer is always yes and I told her to go pick a book. She came back to the couch and handed me Llama Llama which had been given to us by a friend. We were both excited to read a new book and we settled ourselves on the couch for some pre-bath snuggles. I began to read.

“Llama llama red pajama reads a story with his mama.” So far so good.

As the book goes on however, my heart aches for baby Llama, and for all of the sweet babies who are left to put themselves to sleep.

As the story continues, Llama calls for his mama who says she will be up soon but then busies herself with dishes and an unexpected phone call. Llama begins to get increasingly upset.

When we got to the page that depicts baby llama softly crying and feeling alone and abandoned, my daughter began to get upset. “Why is he crying Momma? Where is his Momma?” she asked sympathetically. I explained that not all mommy’s sing their babies to sleep and reassured her that I would continue to do so as long as she needed me to.

The page that really broke me was when baby Llama began to fear that his mother might never come back.

Now some may find this comical or gloss over it without a second thought. But the fear associated with feelings of abandonment at nighttime are very real to a great number of children. This truly made me sad for all children who feel this way while being sleep trained.

Now once again, I am not condemning parents who do not stay with their children until they fall asleep completely. Some children don’t need them to, and some parents simply don’t realize the feelings of fear, abandonment, and panic that their children often experience.

As we continued to read, my daughter was very happy when Llama llama’s mama finally came upstairs to tend to his needs once more, but we spent a few extra minutes cuddling before bath.

At bedtime that night, I was ever more grateful for the privilege of helping my baby girl fall asleep. As she lay on her belly, I rubbed her back and sang “Tiny Bubbles.” She held on tightly to two of my fingers and 15 minutes later as her grip softened and she slept soundly, I kissed her once more on her forehead told her how much I loved her, and slipped quietly out of her room.

My baby won’t need me to do this forever. Every day I bear witness to the fact that she is growing more quickly with each passing day. She is such an independent, curious, brilliantly imaginative child. I can feel these moments slipping away and there will come a day when she won’t want me to sing to her and hold my hand each night, so I am going to be sure to enjoy and treasure every moment of it while it lasts.

Childhood is a fleeting gift. Life gets too hard too fast. I love being her mom and I adore the opportunity to be there for her whenever she needs me to.

Making the Best Sleep Choices for my Family

This week someone got in touch with me to talk about a new study in the journal Pediatrics, which suggests that there’s no long-term harm associated with certain methods of sleep training. These methods use controlled crying in order to encourage babies to fall asleep on their own. They followed two groups of babies at seven months – one of which used sleep training techniques, and one of which didn’t. They followed up with these groups at six years old, and found no statistical differences. Their emotional health, behavior and sleep problems were the same. As well, the mothers’ levels of depression and anxiety were the same.

Many of the newspaper headlines around this article suggested that this means that sleep training is okay, or recommended. These two methods, when practiced with seven-month-olds, don’t appear to cause brain damage, so why not use them?

I have two children, who are now four and seven years old. The days of being up all night with a baby are currently behind me. I remember them all too well, though. And I remember how I handled them. One of the eight principles of Attachment Parenting International is ensuring safe sleep, physically and emotionally. I tried to do that, by keeping my babies close to me at night, and responding to their needs. I didn’t do this because I was afraid of causing them brain damage, I did this because it’s what worked best for my family.

Day 16

The truth is that many, if not most, parents go through periods where they’re not getting enough sleep. We all handle this in different ways. This is as it should be, because every baby is different, and every family is different. Each child will learn to sleep independently on a different timeline. Even with my own two children, I’ve seen very different temperaments and developmental paths. As a result, I don’t believe there’s any single answer when your baby is keeping you up at night, including sleep training.

I also don’t believe that I should do something simply because it isn’t harmful. There are many things that simply aren’t right for my family, even though they’re safe. For example, I have rules about not eating food on the couch. This isn’t because my children will be damaged if they eat on the couch, it’s because I don’t want to clean it. In the same way, I have always known that I didn’t want to let my babies cry themselves to sleep. It’s not about avoiding harm, it’s about making the choice that I feel is best for my family. Listening to my babies cry wasn’t best for me, or my family.

As well, I think it’s important to point out something about this study. It looked at two very specific sleep training methods, used with seven month olds. It did not look at all methods, and it did not look at four month olds or two month olds or even younger babies. We can say that there aren’t any apparent negative long-term effects in this case, but this doesn’t mean that would be the case for any sleep training method with any baby.

There were hard nights as the parent of an infant, but looking back I can honestly say that I’m happy I didn’t let my babies cry it out. It wasn’t for my family. And one study can’t change that.

What methods have you found effective to help everyone in your family get enough sleep, other than using “cry it out”? And do the results of this study change your opinion on the method?

Bedtime Routines: Not Just for Children

As parents, many of us find routines helpful. For example, over time some lovely bedtime routines have evolved for my children. We don’t adhere to them religiously, but most nights we do things in more or less the same order, at more or less the same time. These flexible routines help my children ease into sleep.

While my kids have a fairly regular bedtime, I do not. I’ve fallen into some habits that a lot of parents will find familiar. My kids go to bed at around 8:30 or so. When they finally nod off, I get some time to myself, often for the first time that day. I revel in the quiet for a moment. I visit the bathroom all by myself. I eat a bowl of ice cream, and I don’t share any. I start doing all the things I’ve been putting off, or that I couldn’t do with my kids around.

While I enjoy my quiet time, the hour creeps later and later. I start to feel tired. I know that morning will come all too soon. But I don’t go to sleep, because I’m enjoying the quiet and the freedom of having two hands all to myself. I end up staying up far later than I probably should. In the morning, I’m not well-rested. In fact, I may even be flat-out sleep-deprived. But still, I do it all over again the next night, because once again I don’t want to give up that precious time in the evening that I have to myself.

One of Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting is strive for balance in your personal and family life. Part of striving for balance is taking care of yourself, and meeting your own needs.

Me and my babies
Most of my life is spent in the company of children

When you have small children, sometimes you won’t be able to meet your needs in the way that you would most prefer to. As a work-at-home parent, I know this very well. I don’t always keep normal office hours. My most productive time is when my children are sleeping. Normally, I prefer to work in the morning. But I’m juggling multiple schedules and trying to meet everyone’s needs. My quest for balance, in part, means making concessions and working in the evening.

All the same, I know that when I’m chronically sleep-deprived, I’m out of balance. I’m also cranky and impatient, which doesn’t make for the most positive parenting. It doesn’t make me the most productive worker, either. While I may revel in the quiet time, staying up late every night isn’t serving me. This is why, recently, I’ve created a bedtime for myself, which has given me 30-45 minutes’ more sleep every night.

Half an hour may not sound like much, but one of the things about striving for balance is that it’s easier to make (and stick with) smaller changes. If I tried to get 90 minutes’ more sleep every night, it would be much harder to keep up. By starting small, I’m making it more achievable for myself. And really, even 30 minutes’ more sleep has had a real impact on my mental state. I wouldn’t say my life is now totally in balance, but it’s more balanced, and I can feel the difference.

I’ve discovered that routines – including bedtime routines – aren’t just for children. Sometimes, as parents, we need to take care of ourselves, too. That could mean going to bed a little bit earlier, like it does for me. Or it could mean getting regular exercise, drinking more water, or taking some time to write in your journal. Really, there are countless ways we could all take a little bit better care of ourselves. Why not try to make a small change for yourself, and see what kind of impact it has?

Working When I Should Be Sleeping

Most people I know are sleeping at 2 or 3 in the morning. If they’re awake, it’s because one of their children is, too, like a new baby needing milk or a preschooler retelling a bad dream. If their children are asleep, they are, too…usually.

Every one of us has probably experienced that uncharacteristic bit of insomnia that seems to occur when you most need your sleep, like the night before your child’s birthday party or a road trip where you’re the driver. Perhaps, you’ve been awake at this early morning hour when you’re watching the end of a great movie, or at least a movie that isn’t restricted to PG ratings. And I imagine most of us have been up in the middle of the night putting gifts under the Christmas tree or exchanging teeth under the pillow for money or putting candy in the Easter baskets – and perhaps enjoying some of that chocolate without the pressure to share.

For the most part, parents are likely sleeping during normal sleep hours, the majority of the nights of the year. Unless, like me, you have online jobs or you work from home. And then, I know I’m not the only one awake at 2 or 3 in the morning on a regular basis.

I’ve been working from home for the past six years, never a time without children at home, and I’ve come to value the time of day after everyone has gone to bed and is sound asleep. It is a wonderful time to get some work done, the only time of the day that I can be sure to work uninterrupted.

I’ve come to know a lot of fellow work-from-home parents in these odd hours. We all seem to share the same love of uninterrupted work time even at the expense of a full night’s rest – though, rest assured, we do get our sleep. There are plenty of challenges to working from home, but there are also plenty benefits and two are flexible hours and bed in the same building as the office.

Still, I am often surprised when I see another person online at night on the same continent as me. I don’t know how many times I’ve received an e-mail from a colleague at 2 a.m. and replied back with something like, “Wow, you’re up late! Go to bed.” It’s not until that person replies back with “So are you!” that I even realize the irony of my comment.

While I make the conscious decision to forgo my sleep at night in order to spend more of my day with my kids, it’s not an easy decision. I empathize with my fellow work-at-nighters. It is hard to stay balanced, no matter whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or you work outside the home or you work from home. Me time, sleep, and work often compete for the same time slots when the kids are sound asleep. And when you choose to work, you have to be especially careful to be sure to choose me time and sleep when you have the opportunity. Life becomes an even bigger juggling act. I’m often tempted, due to my reading the articles on sites like https://kratomystic.com/, I’ve learned that there are natural ways to get your self to sleep, even when you are stuck in your insomnia. Maybe when the kids are older I will experiment with stuff like that. For now though, I will stick to my routine.

I’m OK with the challenge. I like it, even. But I’ve been doing this for several years and it’s just the way my life is, by now. I don’t even think I can live a “normal” schedule anymore; I tried a little bit a couple years ago and was bored with the routine. I’m to the point where my brain is wired for this work-from-home life; I’m happiest with a full life of kids and work. But when I meet other parents working from home, I often wonder if they knew what they were getting themselves into?

This post is part of the delicate balance series, which chronicles the juggling act of work-at-home attachment parent Rita Brhel.

Nighttime Parenting Isn’t Always Pretty

My first had always been a good sleeper. We co-slept through about 18 months or so, and when we moved, Little Man jumped right into his big-boy bed and that’s where he wanted to sleep.

After I had my second child, we went through a phase where Little Man would wander into my bed in the middle of the night. Which was fine for a while. Hey, if he needed some extra security or mommy time or whatever it was, I was happy to oblige. After all, he was adapting to a pretty big change.

After a few months, he would wander into the bedroom in the middle of the night, where the other 3 of us were sleeping, and start asking for trains. Or cookies. Or to go to Zia’s (his aunt’s) house. And when we would say no, a full-throttle tantrum ensued. So, the 3 of us would have to wake fully, get Little Man settled, then try to settle ourselves and the baby to sleep.

He did this every night for about a month. It had gone on long enough that we were all becoming tired, cranky zombies.

I have no problem waking with him for nightmares, for monsters in the closet, or if he’s not feeling well. But to burst in at 2:00 a.m. every night, getting everyone all fired up? It affected everyone, every day. And I didn’t want to start feeling resentful.

Okay, I was already feeling a little resentful.

At a loss, I did something about it. One night, when he came into our room, he made his usual request for something he could be sure we would shoot down. As soon he showed the first signs of tantrum, I picked him up and put him in his bed. I told him he could come back in and talk to us or sleep with us if he could do it quietly, without waking the baby.

Of course, this made him wail. When he came back in, I took him back to his bed, and repeated what I had just said. By the third time, I had almost given up. I felt like I was doing a form of cry-it-out for almost-three-year-olds. But because I was inviting him into our bed and the alternative (sleepy, crabby family) wasn’t good for anyone, I decided to stick to my guns this time.

After one more round, he started to calm down. I asked him, “can you come into the big bed quietly?”

“Yes,” he whispered.

I tucked us all in.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Get trains,” he said.

“No, it’s dark down there and we won’t be able to see them.”

“Okay.” He rolled over and went to sleep.

That was the first and last time I had to do anything like that at night. Now, when he wanders in, he sneaks in quietly and nobody knows until morning. We can all wake refreshed and happy. He has his nighttime security, we have our rest.

Still, as with every parenting move I make, I can’t help but wonder if I did the right thing.

Nighttime Parenting

My son has been awake in the middle of the night often over the last few weeks: because he needed to pee, or had peed in his sleep, had a nightmare, was cold, was hungry, transitioned between sleep cycles right as I was making some sort of noise like watching TV or talking on the phone.

Whatever the reason, I’ve been called on to nighttime parent much more frequently than I have in months (since right after my husband and I separated), and before that since he still nursed at night.

Nighttime parenting is one of those areas that can become controversial parent fodder very quickly. Some people can’t imagine having their baby in a crib while others would never consider having her sleep in the same bed. Many fall somewhere in the middle.
Continue reading “Nighttime Parenting”