Nine months of sleep deprivation (OK, ten or 11 if you count the end of pregnancy) and this is EXACTLY how I felt.
You see, I was raised in a natural-birthing, home-birthing, attachment-parenting, baby-wearing, extended breastfeeding, nursing on demand kind of family. I have four older sisters, all of whom are VERY opinionated on this topic.
So, by the time I was expecting my first child, I was fully indoctrinated to follow every word that came out of Dr. Sears’ mouth.
Shawn was a very healthy baby. Born at home in the fall of 2006, 8.5 lbs, and was 20 lbs by his three month birthday. My sisters lovingly called him FatBaby (only they said it "Faaat Baybay" with a the same tone of voice as when you want to devour something delicious). He was an enormous butterball with that drew stares from strangers. He was so big that I actually sustained a shoulder injury while trying to lower his carseat into its base in the car! On the other hand, I was proud that my breasts seemed to produce pure milkshakes. This was my newfound superpower; I had enough milk to feed quadruplets, I’m sure of that.
Mastering breastfeeding for the first time was amazing, but as soon as I mastered the art of breastfeeding while lying on my SIDE I realized I had discovered the great secret that allowed me to sleep AND nurse instead of getting up in the middle of the night to nurse while nodding off in my rocking chair.
Shawn slept with us. I had no fears about that. We had a bassinet by the bed (he exceeded the weight limit very quickly….) but as all first time moms have a compulsion to check that the baby is still breathing, for several reasons I found it easier to just let him sleep with us.
Every time he’d so much as chirp, I’d roll over, whip the boob out, and plugged him in and nurse him back to sleep. This went on for nine months. I didn’t want to pump, I didn’t want to wake hubby to get up and feed baby…. it was just...convenient.
It solved certain problems but created more. Shawn was eating every 2-3 hours AROUND THE CLOCK. I felt like a machine. I needed a break. I needed REST. I was totally confused about this part of motherhood. I was nursing and napping all day and all night. I felt like I couldn’t do anything else or go anywhere. My Magic Boobs were Shawn’s only consolation in life. He was dependent on me obviously, but I was dependent on nursing him to get him to do what I wanted - calm him down, stop crying, go to sleep, take a nap, stay asleep. Night and day. Did I mention this went on for nine months?!
I was totally sleep deprived after 9 months of this and I was a total, complete WRECK (especially when other moms told me they had NOOOOO PROBLEMS WHATSOEVER getting their baby to nap and to sleep for the night). I asked what they did and they were like, I don't even understand your question. Clearly I had missed something. I was beginning to resent baby Shawn for not being one of those easy, sleepy babies. My chiropractor asked if Shawn was sleeping through the night and I burst into tears, feeling like a totally defective mother.
And, I couldn't just let him cry it out. That was not an option for my mother heart. Nobody I asked seem to remember how they did it. It was some grand mystery of motherhood that just kind of "happens" apparently.
I got online and started doing some research about how to get babies to go the hell to sleep. I came across videos and newsclips, ebooks and websites, mommy Yahoo Groups (yes, this was pre-facebook and the internet moved a tad slower than it now does.)
I found BabyWise. I got the book from the library and read it immediately. It felt like salvation…. the idea of putting your baby on YOUR schedule and making sure your needs are met first. Then, I dug deeper and unearthed some serious controversies with that method that completely turned me off. I tossed the book. I was back to square one. My hopes had been dashed to pieces.
I found Kim West, AKA The Sleep Lady, and after watching some of her principles in action via news clips, I put Faaat Baybay in the car and drove straight to Barnes and Noble and bought her book. I read it right away. I immediately committed to implementing her advice. This was gentle, humane, not the cry-it-out method, but what she called Sleep TRAINING. This was the first time it ever occurred to me that going to sleep and staying asleep and self-soothing is a SKILL that many babies must learn. It’s not just inherently programmed.
Wow. That made a lot of sense. And, I’m not a failure of a mother, best news of the year besides "It's a Boy!".
The hardest part about implementing her program was to confront all MY bad habits. I read in her book that many babies don’t sleep well because of the parents’ training the child to become totally dependent on being rocked to sleep, driven to sleep, swung to sleep, and in my case….nursed into oblivion. Those are what she calls sleep crutches, and we rely on them for sanity but they are not a long term solution.
I also had to give up my idea that cosleeping was the only true way. I realized that in my case there was a lot of CO but not a whole lot of SLEEPING. I was desperate to have a night of full sleep - please just even FIVE HOURS would be amazing - all apologies to Dr. Sears and my sisters.
I set up the crib - in our room - and committed to it.
It takes about two weeks of Kim West’s program to get your baby on a good sleeping schedule. It WAS THE HARDEST TWO WEEKS OF MY LIFE. All I did was sleep train it seemed. I got nothing else done, I swear. I asked my husband for reassurance during the moments I wanted to resort back to my old ways. We were a united front. My mental and emotional health depended on it!
The first thing I learned was “The Sleep Lady Shuffle” - which is a way of sort of weaning your baby from YOUR sleep-interrupting habits. You are, in effect, teaching your child to know that you are there, even though he/she can’t see you, and that you will respond to him/her if needed. You get them 90% asleep and then put them in the crib to do the rest on their own. First you sit right by the crib. Then, you sit halfway to the door. Then you sit AT the door. Then, finally, I had my victory lap: Shawn dozed off to sleep in his crib and I walked out of the room. He stayed alseep. It was the perfect mix of what my mommy heart wanted for me and my baby.
Kim also taught me about baby sleep cycles and habits like this fact: baby sleep cycles change every three months! So for all you moms that think you have the hang of it and then BAM, baby pulls a fast one on you - this is normal. Go back to the Sleep Lady Shuffle. Her book was my bible for the next several months.
Oh and also, I learned I'd been duped into thinking FatBaby had a short nap and then I went to his rescue all confused and whatnot. The Sleep Lady explains: Babies come up to the surface of sleep during their cycles. YOU think they are awake, but they aren't. I learned not to rush in every time I heard a squawk. He would soon settle and get back into REM sleep, which would usually give me just enough time to do something amazing, like, the dishes.
Oh - and as it turns out babies CAN go several hours through the night without needing to eat. I mean, it's not like FatBaby was starving - just look at him. This meant I didn't have to nurse him between the hours of 10pm and 5am. THANK GOODNESS. This helped my milk production shift one gear lower than hyperspeed.
But - the point is - it WORKED. Within that first two weeks, Shawn was sleeping at least 9 hours through the night, and taking TWO 2-3 hour naps during the day. I feel like I had balance. I had sanity. And best of all, I had longer showers and time to *gasp* blow my hair dry!
I share this with you because, as a doula and a prenatal massage therapist, and of course as a Mom, I am constantly encountering women who were just like me - frustrated, discouraged, depressed, sleep deprived, resentful… it doesn’t have to be that way.
I wanted to make sure I was giving my clients the BEST resources out there, so I went to the library and checked out and read literally every book on baby sleep habits, sleep training, sleep programs. By far my favorite is Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West. It works. I can personally attest to that.
By the time I had my second baby, Ryan, I was baby wise. (See what I did there?). I went back to the book and learned how to start off on the right foot with my newborn…. how to help him sort out his days from his nights, how to get through those first days establishing breastfeeding, how to help him soothe himself. He was sleeping soundly in regular, age-appropriate increments from the get-go. It was absolutely necessary to have this kind of cohesion while parenting two kids under two.
The first time I got them to take naps at the SAME TIME I felt like the queen of the world!
So - just sharing my story and passing along this great resource to all you sleep deprived mamas. Kim West now has a training program and has released an army of trained Sleep Coaches. Not sure if we have any yet in Utah (although I seriously considered becoming the first!)
Order the book Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West, or visit http://sleeplady.com/ for more great resources, and free downloads.
Happy napping and GET SOME SLEEP!