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Ah, sleep. Every parent’s greatest desire. Infant sleep is tricky. There’s the newborn stage, sleep regressions, object permanence, and so much more. What’s a parent to do? Research. Research the shiz out of infant sleep. Seriously, I wish I would have done this before M was born so that I could have a leg up on the situation. In my quest for knowledge about infant sleep, I’ve learned 4 lessons and I’ve learned them the hard way (so you don’t have to!). Here are 4 things you should know about infant sleep.
Unicorn Babies Are Just That
Babies are amazing. I seriously love them. I was never really a huge baby person until I had my own, and then I was all like, omg babies. They’re so squishy and kissable and lovable. I just love them all. There are some babies in this world that are unicorn babies. Unicorn babies are magical creatures that smile all the time, never cry (ever), and are happy to put themselves to sleep and sleep independently.
99% of babies are not, in fact, unicorn babies. If you are a parent of a unicorn baby, congratulations. Seriously, that’s fantastic and I’m super happy for you! Parenting is hard enough, and the fact that you have a sparkly, squishy, huggable baby that sleeps on their own? Love it!
For the rest of us, our babies need help to sleep. Whether this help is being swaddled, bounced, swung, walked, driven, or rocked to sleep, they need it, and they need it bad. And I would venture to guess that the majority of parents are cool with doing any of the above listed activities for a while. I know I was. Whatever it takes to get them to sleep, right? Right.
And I know I’m not alone here.
Since you’re reading this blog, I’ll assume that you too have a baby that cannot be categorized in the dewey decimal system of parenthood as a unicorn baby.
Solidarity. -fist bump-
We’ve got this. Let’s continue.
There’s No Magic Sleep Solution
To the mom who just read that heading, and is now crying from exhaustion/losing hope, I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry. But it’s true. There are so many companies that market baby sleep products claiming to be the perfect solution for your babies sleep problems! Many of these products are swaddles or swaddle transition solutions, or maybe a vibrating mattress pad or a sound machine. It could even be a sleep training program.
I’m here to tell you, straight to your face, that none of these products or services will immediately solve your baby’s sleep problems. It’s not a flip of a switch situation. They take time for your baby to adjust to. This is especially true for swaddle transition products. When M wouldn’t sleep, I researched every baby sleep product on the market (not really, but it felt like it in my sleep deprived mombie state). We bought this swaddle and that one. And none of them put him to sleep for 12 straight hours like so many of those strategically placed testimonials promised they would.
With that being said, I am a big fan of the Zipadee-Zip. I do think it’s a great wearable blanket for babies, and I love that it comes in different sizes. The only thing I don’t like about it is that M can’t have his hands out in his Zipadee-Zip, which means he can’t suck his thumb at night to self-soothe. And yeah, the thumb sucking thing is something we will have to deal with in the future, but at this point I’m more concerned with him sleeping than with whether or not he’ll be a thumb-sucking social pariah until the end of his days.
Anyway, my point is that just because you buy a swaddle or a sleep training program doesn’t mean that your baby will immediately start to sleep independently or through the night. It just doesn’t work that way.
Sleep Training Works
There’s quite a bit of debate about sleep training. Most parenting philosophies are either strictly for or strictly against it, with not much middle ground. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen my post about our decision to sleep train. It’s been a struggle, which I talk more about here, but let’s dive into what sleep training is and a few methods to explore.
Sleep training, if you’re not familiar, is exactly what it sounds like: a process of training your baby how to sleep. There are no-cry and cry-it-out sleep training methods. But the thing is… no-cry sleep solutions don’t exist…
Let me be very clear: there is no such thing as a no-cry sleep training method, except in the case of the aforementioned unicorn babies. The other 99% of babies that require some form of coaching or training to achieve independent sleep will fuss or cry to some extent during that training period.
There are gentle sleep solutions, which involve a technique called fading. This is where you are present with your little one in the room, and gradually remove yourself from their bedroom over the course of a few nights, and the baby eventually learns to sleep on their own. Sleep Sense and the Sleep Lady Shuffle subscribe to this method of fading.
I tried the fading methods. And I know for a fact they work for some families. I liked the idea of M seeing and knowing that we were there with him in the room, and that we weren’t leaving him to cry alone in a dark room. Unfortunately, this method did not work for us. He just got more frustrated because he could see us, and couldn’t understand why we weren’t picking him up to soothe him. We needed something that removed us completely from the situation, but didn’t leave M in a dark room to cry alone. Which was difficult to find…
I did more research, and found Precious Little Sleep. The author, Alexis Dubief, was just a sleep deprived mom like the rest of us, who needed a solution to her son’s sleep problems. So she researched the shiznit out of the subject, and became an expert. She wrote a book, and it’s fantastic. This is the first book that I read that didn’t make me feel like a failure for my son’s sleep issues. For the first time, I just felt like a normal mom, with a normal baby, who was going through normal infant sleep problems. And for the first time, I had hope.
We implemented the strategies in the book, and this time, we are seeing ACTUAL results. Has it been tear-free? No. There have been lots of tears. From M and from myself. But there is progress. He’s learning to put himself to sleep, and he’s sleeping for 3 hours or longer at a time. He’s happier during the day, and he is actually interested in his toys and books now. He’s okay to be set down for a few minutes without feeling abandoned.
Trust Your Gut
The most important takeaway? Trust what your gut is telling you about your baby’s sleep. Do you feel compelled to sleep train? Do it. Do you feel that co-sleeping and bed-sharing is the best solution for you and your little one? Do it. Do you feel like a cry-it-out training method is your best option? Do it.
Simply do your research, confirm with your pediatrician that your little one is physically ready to sleep train (there are guidelines to follow, which the Precious Little Sleep book is fantastic at outlining), and start implementing the strategy you feel most comfortable with.
I will say that once you decide on a strategy, commit to it until you are SURE it is not working. Each sleep training method takes a different amount of time for different babies, but each baby will need time to adjust to the changes being made. Your intuition will tell you whether or not something is working, but make sure you give it enough of a chance to take root.
Ultimately, whatever you decide to do for your family, is the best decision you can make. You might try a few options before you figure out THE one. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you love your baby any less than any other mom on the planet. You have intense love for your little one, and it’s proven by your relentless research and quest for answers.
Just know you’re not alone, and that whatever you choose, it’s the right choice.
What are your thoughts on infant sleep? Comment below to share your experience!