Newborn Sleep Advice Sucks
Last night I woke up at 1230. Well, let’s be clear, my 4-year-old woke up and I went to her room to comfort her (let’s be even more clear, my husband was already sleeping in there with her, but sometimes you just need a mom).
After that, I had a beast of a time going to back to sleep. So I did my best to exacerbate the problem: I looked at my phone.
What did I find? A parenting advice thread on Instagram. I won’t tell you what it was, because I’m about to talk a little shit about it. Of course, lots of parents were asking about various sleep issues. And they were getting the standard response: the problem is you soothed your baby to sleep, so when they wake up, the don't know how to go back to sleep, you have to lay them down sleepy but still awake and let them fall asleep on their own.
I hate that advice. I’m guessing it is freaking genius for a certain (maybe even large) percentage of babies. But it sure as hell didn’t work for either of my babies, and not without trying. You know what that trying got me, utter hell. You know what hearing that advice over and over got me, a total loss of confidence.
The thing is, that advice is pervasive. It is in every book. Every pediatrician will give it to you. Its in every handout from the doctor, the library, the lactation consultant, the baby wearing group, its in every mom group on Facebook.
Even worse, if you dare to mention that advice doesn’t work for your baby, you’re told that you’re just not doing it right.
Babies, like People, are all Different
I don't know what your baby is like, and you don’t know what mine were like, but I do know that when I was in the thick of it, I needed to hear the stories of other parents who’s babies bucked the standard advice. So here’s ours.
Magnolia hated sleep. From 8 weeks to 5 months, she screamed when she was tired (at 4 and a half she’s still pretty pissed about having to sleep). If you could manage to get her calmed down enough to start to drift off, she’d start flapping her arms and hitting herself and wake herself up. To be honest, we were hard pressed to even comfort her to sleep. We ended up spending a lot of time walking around with her stopped to our bodies. Sometimes this meant walking for 3 hours to get a 20 minute nap.
It also meant that she slept in the bed with us. She woke up to nurse when she wanted to. Frequently she woke up and wouldn’t go back to sleep so John would get up with her. He’d never seen the Sopranos so he watched it during Magnolia’s first year, mostly in the middle of the night when she wouldn’t sleep.
From around 10 months to 15 months we had to pat her butt while she nursed to get her to fall asleep. Our arm muscles were exhausted by this. My nipples were exhausted by this.
We discovered how much she loved music, and how she was soothed by music, and we started playing music to help her fall asleep.
From 15 months well into two years we had to sing “The Water is Wide” while she fell asleep. We had to repeat it until she was fully asleep. Sometimes I would count the repetitions, sometimes I’d sing that song 100 times, sometimes more.
From 2 years to 3 years Magnolia and I would fight about naps. Sometimes I’d feel so much rage that I’d leave the room and lock myself in my bedroom and pound the floor until the heels of my hands were bruised. Sometimes I’d yell at her then feel so ashamed afterwards. But sometimes she’d play in her room, with some music on, until she got in bed and went to sleep on her own. I never knew what kind of nap we were going to have.
Meanwhile, from 2 to 3 years at night we had the same volatile variability. Sometimes, drifting off to a song, sometimes tapping the wall to help her stay up for hours. Sometimes she would even use her fingers to hold her eyelids up.
Finally, we dropped the nap. Bedtime became routine and predictable. Night time wakings became about going potty, turning the music back on and going back to sleep.
It took nearly 4 years and a crapload of creative techniques, but we have a kid who falls asleep on her own and mostly sleeps through the night.
We were our most successful when we listened to our intuition and to our kid.
Boston Parents: I got your back
The best parenting advice you can ever give someone is that every kid is different and you have to figure out what works for you and your family.
All the tips and tricks are just that: tips and tricks. They’re amazing to try out but just as amazing to let go of if they’re not working.
So if you ever need to tell me how messed up your sleep situation is, how desperate you are to fix it, I’m here, I know what that’s like, and I believe you’ll get through it. You might want to try putting your baby down sleepy but not asleep, but then again, you might want to comfort your baby and snuggle all night long, heck you might want to do both of those things and none of them at the same time. And that’s ok, too, because you got this, I know you do.
A Note about the Boston Family Pictures in this Post
These are pictures from a Real Day Session that I photographed. As an artist I’m committed to making pictures that support parents, specifically mothers, in the herculean and often thankless task they’ve taken on (most likely unknowingly - they tell you how hard its going to be, but its impossible to understand). I don’t think we get enough support as parents and starting down this road can be a kick in the pants. Add to that the fact that there’s really no instruction guide (a lot of advice books that, lets be honest, can help or make you feel like a complete failure). So think about these storytelling pictures as a kind of personal advice book. One that shows you all the ways your intuition as a parent is succeeding. If you’d like to know more about having one of these sessions for yourself hop on over to my home page to read more about it.