Saturday, August 23

Sleep Rhythm and Spectrum

To all my sleep-deprived mama friends:
This post is not to give advice. It is not to make you feel jealous or prideful or judgmental.  It is not make you feel like you should parent the way I do.  I'm not entering the polarizing mommy wars of sleep-training.  I am just chronicling the simplicated issue of my journey in nighttime parenting.

When I was coming into this season of life again- having a newborn- I knew I wanted to do some things differently than I how I did with June.  I knew I wanted to try to get to a place where I could lay Nash down awake and walk away and he would go to sleep- with little or no tears.  I did not want to relive the year I had with June of nursing her to sleep, creeping away quietly so she wouldn't wake back up, only to have to nurse her again about 2 hours later because she couldn't go to sleep without it.  Or having to put her back to the breast because she woke up when I was "sneaking" out of the room.  When I tried to make June cry it out at various times, I was stressed and felt terrible. I read tons of books and articles and made a lot of decisions based based on the Attachment Parenting model because I didn't like a lot of what I read about with Baby Wise.

These are two opposing sides to dealing with your baby during the night- or as some put it- nighttime parenting.  On one side is Baby Wise- a scheduled sleep and eat cycle that is rigid and unyielding, ungracious and goes against my instincts and my desire to feed on the demand to keep my milk supply strong (I don't think anyone would argue with my milk supply.  On a side note- I only know of one BW mama whose milk supply did not diminish and nursed her child into toddlerhood).  On the other side is Attachment Parenting- which has many great facets, but generally includes feeding on demand and any other time the baby wants comfort, doing anything you can to prevent crying and sleeping with your baby.  What I didn't realize with June was that this issue is a spectrum.  It doesn't have to be all or nothing- completely one side or the other.  There can be a balance.  Sorry Nash, but you were an experiment to find that balance.  I call it having a Rhythm.

Scheduled babies are put on a cycle of wake, eat, play, sleep, repeat.  And doing this schedule at certain times of the day.  When I learned part of this approach was to let your baby cry it out until they learn this schedule of wake, eat, play, sleep, I was appalled and therefore kept my distance.  I wanted nothing to do with letting a newborn cry it out.  And I wanted nothing to do with assuming a breastfed baby could sleep as long as a formula fed baby- all our bodies have different milk capacities and to say that each breastfed baby can be on the same schedule is not reality.  So I had nothing to do with it when June was a baby- see above. With Nash, however, I am taking the rhythm of wake, eat, play, sleep, and letting the schedule go.  I don't do a schedule- that at 10:30 AM it IS time for Nash to wake and eat and play, and at 12:30 it IS time for him to sleep again.  I do a rhythm- whenever he does wake, I offer the breast, and he's usually hungry.  And whenever he shows signs of being tired, I do what I can to get him to sleep fairly peacefully, without tears, and without nursing again.  For Nash, he likes the swing, a pacifier, and a nice swaddle.  Are there times when he wants to eat outside of this rhythm?  Sure.  And I feed him.  I just try not to let him nurse all the way to sleep.  I will put him down sleepy, but not asleep.

Nash's sleep patterns were very typical when he was a newborn.  But slowly I began to see that because I was not nursing him to sleep, he would go back to sleep if he woke up during the night without nursing.  And this is key.  Because slowly he wakes up less and less because he doesn't get to eat every time he wakes up.  When June was a baby she quickly learned that I was an all-night diner, and meals were free anytime.  Nash has not learned this.  During the night if Nash wakes up, I will try to give him a pacifier to see if he will go back to sleep.  It's pretty obvious when he's truly hungry and when just a little sucking will get him back to sleep.  Last night I put him to bed at 8:30 and he slept until 1.  I gave him back his pacifier and he went back to sleep until 3:30, at which point I fed him.  This is a very successful night for us!  When we were gone on vacation, he slept from 10-4 without waking.  I got 6 hours of sleep in a row!  This success has made me want to write about this journey.  And wish the same success for all my mama friends.

I am not a sleep expert, and I don't know your kid.  What I do know is that I wish I could have heard the story of another mom who found a balance and found some success.  What I heard over and over was either "Feed on demand" or "Let them cry it out."  Find your rhythm, find your baby's rhythm, find your place on the spectrum, and for goodness sake, get some sleep whenever you can!

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