Sunday, August 16, 2009

Breaking the rules

When my first daughter was a newborn, I was getting multiple free baby magazine subscriptions and piles of baby-related junk-mail. I guess that's what happens when you pop-up on on the baby-marketing radar screen. And, like most new moms, I was utterly blind-sided by the whiplash of sleep-deprivation and was positively desperate for sleep. So I devoured those baby magazines each month--hoping each time that this issue would contain the secret that would give me back my sleep.

At the same time I was fishing for advice from other women, both experienced and new moms. My grandma urged, "Just let her cry. Eventually she'll go to sleep." Another new mom recommended On Becoming Babywise, by Gary Ezzo, adding that it was the reason her small baby had learned to sleep through the night at 6 weeks.

If there was one cardinal rule of infant sleep among all the experts and moms I consulted, it was this: do not, I repeat, do not nurse (or rock) your baby to sleep!

The problem was that I was already nursing my baby to sleep. I felt right nursing my baby to sleep. I liked nursing my baby to sleep. And I felt wrong letting her cry. In the end, my heart won out over the "experts."

Now, almost six years later, I have nursed-to-sleep and slept-with three babies. Fortunately, I ended my subscriptions to those baby magazines early-on and found my own parenting niche with Mothering Magazine, all things Dr. Sears, and helpful books such as Our Babies, Ourselves, by Meredith Small, and The No-Cry Sleep Solution, by Elizabeth Pantley.

I love this excerpt from Elizabeth Pantley's book:
Your baby . . . has learned to associate sucking (having your nipple or his bottle or pacifier in his mouth) with sleeping. I have heard a number of sleep experts refer to this as a “negative sleep association.” I certainly disagree, and so would my baby! It is probably the most positive, natural, pleasant sleep association a baby can have. The problem with this association is not the association itself, but our busy lives. If you had nothing whatsoever to do besides take care of your baby, this would be a very pleasant way to pass your days and nights until he naturally outgrew the need. After all, this is natural. You may not even see this as a problem, in which case it is not. It's all a matter of your perception and your personal needs. (Click here for more excerpts)
I couldn't agree more. It definitely is all a matter of our perceptions and personal needs. And those perceptions and needs can change over time as our children grow older or our circumstances shift.

So I broke the rules. Did it take a long time for my daughters to learn to sleep through the night? You betcha it did! Do I still need to help them fall asleep at night? Yes. (My husband and/or I lie down in my daughters' bedroom almost every night until they fall asleep.) Do I regret my decision to nurse them to sleep and respond to their night-time cries? Absolutely not.

I share this not because I believe my way is the "right" way, but because I want to encourage other parents to "break the rules." Whether it be your grandma's rules, your next-door-neighbor's rules, the baby magazine rules, or your pediatrician's rules... don't let them dictate how you choose to parent your child. When it comes to your baby's needs, YOU are the expert. Follow your heart.

If you're anything like me, it will tell you that there's absolutely nothing wrong with rocking that sweet, precious baby (or toddler, or big kid) in your arms or cuddling them to sleep. In fact, in my view, it's the greatest thing in the world.

P.S. You get used to the sleep-deprivation. :-)


The Reluctant Crunchy Mama said...

I completely agree with you. Funny how often we can't predict what our parenting style and decisions will be when we are thinking of becoming pregnant. We are very lucky in that I have the choice to be a full-time stay-at-home mom. What has been hard for me is the on-going, nonstop exhaustion. I feel like I would be a better mom if I was more rested. That being said, my daughter is almost 2 and I never have and never will feel comfortable with cry it out. I still nurse her, including 2-3 times in the middle of the night. God help me, but it is what works for us, despite me being tired. If my child slept through the night, I'd say she is perfect! She is gradually sleeping longer chunks of time. I think we will be in a better place when the last molars are out.

Buscando la Luz said...

I remember being where you are, Crunchy Mama. :-)

There were nights that I thought to myself... will I ever sleep through the night again? Is all this time and effort really worth it? Will my children ever be able to stay in their own beds all night? And I can now happily report that the answer to those questions was/is YES!

My 3-year-old and 5-year-old go to bed at about 7:30 (in their own beds, in their own room) and stay there (except for bathroom visits or the rare illness) all night long. :-) I do wake up fairly often with my baby boy, but I welcome those feedings--because I've learned that they'll help keep my menstrual cycle from returning. Big plus for me!

Those nights of interrupted sleep will soon be a memory, but you will never regret the time you spent soothing, cuddling, and feeding your daughter. :-)

Sarah H said...

I loved the sweet pictures of you and your husband cuddling your childern. Sooooo sweet!
I agree with you. everyone has different parenting styles, but I was not a cry it out or schedule type person. My twins did not both consistently sleep through the night until they were 13 months . I really don't regret it.

Liz Johnson said...


My grandmother had seven kids spaced over twenty years. Her advice to me rings so true:

"Over twenty years, I have seen 'experts' opinions change from one extreme to another and everywhere in between. After having one kid, I had gobs of advice. After having seven, I have none save this: do what your heart tells you. Each child will be different, even in the same family. Pray like crazy, and then trust your intuition. A mother's instinct is very, very real."

She is a smart lady, that one.

The Fifes said...

i like liz's advice.

the thing that surprised me most was how many differing opinions there were out there. One book that came highly recommended was Baby Whisperer. I hated it. i only got through the first few chapters, and all it was giving me was guilt for wanting to love my child. I felt a pit in my stomach every time i tried to read it. So i abandoned that.

i think reading can help give you ideas and help you realize what you feel comfortable doing. Every child is different.

Buscando la Luz said...

I just read a review of The Baby Whisperer... oh my. I don't blame you for abandoning it, Amber!!