Viewpoints: One Lady’s Book and One Guilty Secret
Blowout diapers, daycare expenses, washing bottles, carrying around a humongous diaper bag—none of these things is a positive aspect of parenthood, but the one thing that is worse than all of these combined is the lack of sleep.
Sleep is quite a “thing” at my house. My husband and I loved sleeping in and taking long naps before we had our first baby. Then, our amazing no-sleep son was born, and our world was rocked. Did you guys know you're not your best self when it's 3 in the morning? Or that when you haven't slept more than four hours at a time for months you start to daydream about sleep like a supermodel dreams about cupcakes? (I'm just guessing that's what a supermodel dreams about …) In the first few months of my son's life, I would see my bed, and tears would come to my eyes because I missed it so, so much.
We were entirely unprepared for just how tired we could be when a new baby came into our lives. Why did I believe our son would be born and we would go right back to sleeping 8+ hours as a family? That didn't happen, and for four long weeks, I was in sleep-deprivation hell, rocking a baby who refused to shut his eyes during the loneliest time of the night.
I had no idea what to do. During a conversation about how tired I was, a dear friend asked if I'd heard of The Sleep Lady, Kim West. She went on to describe Kim's gentle sleep coaching methods and advice for setting a schedule early in your baby's life. I downloaded the book on my Kindle that same day and dug in during his (sporadic) nap time. I'm a pretty hard-headed gal, so getting my son to go to sleep and stay asleep became a challenge—a game—that would have one winner, and that winner would be a well-rested me.
I came to fall in love with Kim's method of sleep coaching. The advice in the book was so simple that I wondered why I didn't think of it before. The best advice (that I still use today with my son) was to get your child to bed during his sleep window, when the cortisol hormone is still low, and he or she is more apt to fall asleep naturally. If you wait too long, the hormone quickly rises and the sleep window slams shut. I imagine it sounding the same as your over-tired preschooler hitting his plastic hammer against the crib, or your toddler slamming various doors, or your patience hitting the proverbial wall. Kim West also shared her own method of gently sleep training your older baby, called The Sleep Lady Shuffle. My words can't do it justice, but it's a method of moving slowly out of the room each night to help your child learn to self-soothe.
Remember when I said I was incredibly hard-headed? Turns out my son is, too. When gentle sleep training didn't work, we pulled out the big guns: CIO.
I went through a lot of guilt with cry-it-out, mainly because I thought of all the people on social media who would figuratively shun me if they knew. It felt like my dirty little secret. That kid could wail, and to make things worse, he's one of those kids whose cry is excessively shrill. We cried it out for about five long nights, and he fought us tooth and nail. One night, he actually stood up in his crib and fell asleep that way. However, within two weeks, he was falling asleep and staying asleep until 8:30 or 9 am if I'd let him. He would take two hour naps (still does!) that you could set your watch by. The best part? At three and a half, he loves to sleep.
Crying it out didn't damage my child, so I guess I didn't need to be so anxious about being shunned by my social media friends. With a combination of schedule-setting, relaxation techniques, and, yes, letting him cry, we have so far raised a child who appreciates the need for sleep and can get to sleep without a bunch of gimmicks.
Now that baby number two has arrived, we're using the same kinds of techniques with her from the very beginning, and so far, she's doing great. My daughter might protest a bit when I put her to bed “drowsy, but awake” (another Sleep Lady term), she is able to self-soothe, and she also lets us know when her sleep window is about to slam shut.
When my pregnant friends ask me what they need to have for baby, I tell them diapers, a swaddle and Goodnight Sleep Tight by Kim West—the best $10 I ever spent.
This blog is part of a new series where various viewpoints on parenting topics will be shared. These views belong to the bloggers themselves and do not necessarily represent the views of EverydayFamily or other contributors. We share these stories because we recognize that part of building a community of parents is allowing for open and honest conversation on parenting topics. We welcome discussion and feedback in keeping with our community guidelines. Be sure to check back this month to hear from other bloggers on their experience with sleep during the first year, and on additional topics in upcoming months.