Friday, February 12, 2010

Sleeping Through The Night

There are two things that complete strangers think are totally acceptable ... one is feeling the belly of obviously pregnant women. The other is asking the mothers of infants if they are sleeping through the night.

Define "sleeping through the night". Books I read say physicians define it as 5 hours of interrupted sleep, usually between midnight and 5 am. Some books (Babywise?) make you think that a 3-month old sleeping 9 hours straight is normal. Those nosy strangers seem to be of the same opinion.

Thankfully, my baby came into this world knowing how to nurse. She nursed for 40 minutes straight in the recovery room after my c-section, and she hasn't stopped since. I managed to get her onto a 3-hour schedule early on by encouraging full feeds rather than "snacking" whenever she wanted, but for the most part she has been breastfed "on demand" for more than 10 months now.

And for 10 months, her preferred time to nurse is ... all night long.

By the time she was 4 months old we had a decent schedule going. And most nights she slept for the 5+ required hours for the STTN definition. On average it was 6-7 hours. Bath time, swaddling, nursing to soft music and mommy reading quietly, then sleep. I felt like I could conquer the world when I got my baby to sleep easily and well. And then mommy went back to work and all hell broke loose.

To cope, I just put her in bed with me the majority of the time. I would nurse her whenever she woke up and we would both go back to sleep. It allowed me to function in my brand new job, and got her nursing in since she didn't get to nurse all she wanted during the time that I was gone.

And that's how we did it, from August on, nursing about every 2 to 3 hours all night every night in bed curled up together.

So when people ask me if she sleeps through the night, I say yes. She goes to sleep in the evening, and she sleeps through until morning, only barely waking to signal that she wants to nurse, and that is provided to her.

Of course, lots of people have issue with this arrangement. Everyone who finds out we cosleep ("family bed" is the term for bedsharing with your children) tells me how their kids STILL sleep with them at age 6, 10, 13. Wee One's daycare caregiver tells me her 13 yo daughter still sleeps with her. So I became afraid. Had I made a mistake? Oh, look at the horrible mistake I had made. I should have taught her to sleep in her own crib when she was too little to understand. Now she prefers to be close to mommy and that's just BAD!

Over my Christmas break I tried to institute new policies. Naptime would be in the crib only. She learned to rock to sleep for a nap instead of nursing (a good thing) and then occasionally she would relent to being put to sleep in her crib. She knows the difference between naps and nighttime, though.

A mattress on the floor of her room worked for a period of time. At least she's sleeping in her room, I thought. And I could get some rest in my bed without her. Then she got sick and came back into my bed.

Then the trouble started. If she doesn't go to sleep right away, I can't leave her in my bed. She doesn't respect the edge of any mattress, no matter how high above a hard hardwood floor it is. So I started getting frustrated. I'd give up and take her in her room and dump her in her crib. We'll try "cry it out", everyone else swears by it.

Read Elizabeth Pantley's description in "The No Cry Sleep Solution" about what happens psychologically and physiologically to a child left to cry alone in their crib. Is it any wonder she seems scarred and can't stand to even have her diaper changed in her crib anymore?

So then I thought it through. I like the idea of "attachment parenting" for a reason. The idea is that if a child has a healthy attachment to a parent or parents, then that will form a strong base for them to develop healthy relationships with others and with the world around them. Not all attachment parenting folks choose the family bed, but it fits with my philosophy about her early childhood. I want to meet her needs as readily as possible so that she learns the world is a safe place, and that if she ventures out, mommy will be there to support her.

I don't see her still sleeping in my bed at 13. Or even at 6. Eventually she will not be nursing, or family bed sleeping. Eventually she will venture further and further out into the world, confident that her mommy and her family are behind her to love and support her. And I will relish the nights that I nursed her every 3 hours and attached myself to her and got to be her mommy.

So ask me if my daughter sleeps through the night, and I will answer yes. And I won't be wrong or lying. If you thought I meant "in her crib" and "without waking to nurse" then you should have specified when you asked your nosy question in the first place.

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