If I have learnt anything over the past couple of years of being a parent, it’s that there are two huge topics to steer clear of both in conversation and over social media: Breast Feeding and Sleep Training. How many times have you stumbled upon a post and just scrolled through the hundreds of comments where everyone and their grandmother are dying to put their two cents in and begin a frenzy of mom shaming over such ridiculous scenarios – pretty entertaining, am I right? I will never completely understand the obsession people have with dictating how a child should or should not be fed. With that being said, I should probably avoid this post altogether, but thats not gonna happen. I’m doing it – here goes.
My first child, sweet daughter of mine, put us through the wringer when it came to sleep habits . Like clockwork, she was up every two hours to nurse, regardless of how long she had previously been on the boob for. She would also wake up if the neighbor three doors down sneezed in his living room. She was not a good sleeper, to say the least. But we just figured it was typical baby behaviour and kept at it. Around the 5-6 month mark however, I slowly began losing my mind. I hadn’t slept in what felt like years (because lets face it, even before baby, who really sleeps, besides our partners, during that lovely third trimester when we’re peeing every 3 minutes and too busy being huge)
I couldn’t even get someone, anyone, to take over for me and let me catch up because she obviously refused the bottle time and time again. She was repulsed by just the sight of it and would scream bloody murder whenever we would try, and oh did we try – I could open a store for how many different bottles I have lying around here.
The worst of it came when I started talking about the struggle I was going through. I would get answers like, “they are only little for so long, enjoy it!” – Really?? Because sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture in some countries – causing hallucinations and psychosis – I’ll enjoy other moments in her life, how about that.
“Give her formula, it will fill her up and she will sleep longer” – Fun fact, around the 9 month mark baby girl decided she didn’t want to be breastfed anymore, and just like that from one day to the next she abandoned the boob and took a sippy cup. As much as it saddened me, I embraced this new chapter, thinking back on those “words of wisdom” I had received months earlier. Let me just say I call bullshit on this one. She was chugging down 9oz bottles of formula like it was going out of style – and still woke up constantly at night.
Lastly, here’s my personal favorite: “Just stop complaining about how you don’t sleep when it’s your own fault. You got her used to falling asleep on the boob, its no wonder you’re in this situation – she’s manipulating you because you let her” Oh the wonderful world of judgmental comments coming from “friends” who don’t have kids. Yes, I rocked my baby to sleep. Yes, I let her nurse until she passed out in my arms. Yes, I went in to get her every time she let out a whimper. I did it because I wanted to and because her tiny cries broke my mommy heart – which in hindsight are nothing compared to the ear piercing screams she lets out now as a toddler. But the reality was it was making me sick. I felt and looked like a zombie. I was beyond exhausted, and no longer coherent most of the time. So after going to a sleep seminar, reading a dozen books on different methods of sleep training and even talking to her pediatrician about it, my husband and I decided we would try to sleep train her.
So we did it, we let her cry it out in short intervals. Going in every 5-10-15 minutes. Pick her up. Calm her down. Put her back down. Do it all over again. It was agonizing. You would think she’d pass out after hours of this. Not a chance. I would go sit in the garage and stare at the baby monitor, counting down the seconds until I could go in and pick her up. I don’t know who did more crying during that time, her or me. We couldn’t stay consistent with it and would start and stop only to end up in the same situation.
Being pregnant again at the time, I was starting to get anxiety just thinking about how we were going to deal with two screaming babies who don’t sleep. I was picturing scenarios where one would wake up the other and I would be going back and forth all night long from one room to the next. It was a nightmare. So finally we decided to start again, and stick with it. On the third night, I put her down and expected the shit storm to start up again, but it didn’t. She rolled around, whimpered a bit, then drifted off to sleep and slept for 10 glorious hours!! It was a beautiful thing. Nearly a year old and I was finally able to breath a bit. From there on in, we had a good thing going. Sure some nights were harder than others. Teething, sleep regressions and babies being babies were still a thing. I still rocked her nearly to sleep, both for her naps and at bedtime. I still tended to her when she cried out. The only difference being I actually had the patience and was in the right mindset to do so. I was able to be a better parent to her by having tended to my mental health, which is so much more important than most people realize. Not to mention the fact that once she started sleeping longer stretches at night, she would nap better during the day and was actually in a much better mood all around. It is also around that time that her development started to pick up drastically. It became evident that I wasn’t the only one who was sleep deprived and suffering from it, she was as well.
I realize not veryone will agree with the method we chose to use. I also realize that every baby is different, and what worked for us may not work for others, and thats ok too. What I do want people to take from this are the following three things:
*Sleep training, in my non professional but motherly opinion, is not as terrible as it is made out to be, and is definitely not something we should judge each other over.
*Sleep is sacred and oh so necessary for little babes that are rapidly growing and developing at the speed of light. So when
they’ve developed poor sleep habits, it may in fact be something to discuss with their doctor instead of just chalking it up as “normal baby behavior”.
*Mental health – more importantly – a parents mental health, is just as important as the child we are caring for. It is not selfish to take care of yourself, it is necessary. If you are able to function at full capacity on 2 broken up hours of sleep a night, then power to you. But if you aren’t, please realize you are not alone in that reality and it is OK to do whats right for you and your family.
With that being said, breastfeed for a few months or do it for a few years, don’t breastfeed at all and bottle feed, sleep train, don’t sleep train, co-sleep, or carry your baby around all day in sling for all I care. Do whatever the heck works for you and your babies and be happy doing it – no judgement here mammas.