Friday, January 28, 2011

Some Thoughts on Sleep and Babies/Toddlers

I am positive that I have mentioned that BBZ is not a fantastic sleeper.  As an infant, he was stellar.  He'd sleep for 12-13 hours without even a peep.  When he woke he'd find his sweet, chubby little thumb and fall right back to sleep.  After his surgery at 9 months, all of that changed.

Up until this week, we have been fighting a battle with him and the big-boy bed, which we put up around his 2nd birthday.  At my whit's end, I posted a message to my online LLL yahoo group for some thoughts.  I don't think I really even wanted advice, but I sure wanted a place where I could go and get some clarity about what I was feeling and my back and forth about how I wanted to address is.

I sent copies of the emails to a friend who had also been struggling lately with some sleep issues with her baby.  She appreciated it so much, I thought I would share it here as well.  It is very long, but the ideas are so in line with the way I want to support my child all of the time, especially at night, that I think it might be helpful for other moms too.

I have heard tales of LLL being called La Leche Nazi's, but my experience has been quite the opposite.  While they do hold strong to certain ideals, the members of my group have always held true that we as moms know our babies best.  Perhaps these responses will shed a new light about this group if people have heard negative things about them.


BBZ has never been a fantastic sleeper. He was great as a tiny infant, but a surgery at 9 months left him more than needy at night, and his close call left this scared mama willing to do anything at any time for him. I always nursed him to sleep and would never hesitate to give him whatever he needed at night time. While we had some rough times, each battle ended up fading away into restful nights for all of us.

He is now completely weaned, something that was 100% child led. While it was a slow process, the actual end occurred very quickly as the first time he ever fell asleep without asking to nurse was during Thanksgiving break and he was completely done 3 weeks later. This coincided with him going into a big boy bed, which is the full size his crib converted to and I would lay down with him until he fell asleep.

He would fall asleep and wake once or twice at night and I'd go in and lay down again. After a month or so and it didn't let up, I told my husband something had to change. I thought of moving our room closer to his (we are now on the lower floor) which would allow him to just crawl in with us, but my husband didn't love that idea. So when I said something had to change, my husband volunteered to be the one to go in, something that I had done for his whole life until then.

At first, BBZ resisted his daddy coming in, which was actually a good thing because he would go back to sleep immediately after learning that I wasn't coming. This didn't last long though. He then started asking for my husband to lay down with him, something that N had never done as I was always the night comforter. And of course, N loved it. Who wouldn't love sweet toddler cuddles at night?

So now he still wakes up at least once or twice and gives us both a hard time about laying back down.

I have started a new routine of reading for about 15 minutes, then getting out of bed and sitting in the rocker until he falls asleep (instead of staying in bed until he is completely asleep). This works, but he still wakes up. I got up the first time with him last night and he went back to sleep, but woke just a few minutes later. Nate got up the second time and did the same thing. He went back to sleep easier for Nate, so I think I will just let him keep up with it.

I should add that we also have a tension gate at the doorway so he can open the door, but he can't leave his room. Since our room is quite a ways away, he has been known to wander around the house looking for us, which makes me more nervous than the risks of having the gate up.

In times like this I find myself finding articles that say let him cry, lock the door so he can't get out, and other things that really don't match the way I want to meet his needs while giving us all good nights of sleep.

Does anyone have any gentle suggestions for us? Do some children just always need to check in with mom or dad at night? Some books say that kids manipulate, is that what he is doing? I have always met his needs and the need goes away, but this has been going on for 4 months (since he moved into the big bed) and it just doesn't seem to be letting up.

Sorry for the long email, but I am at a loss!



though we moved away some time ago, i still hang out in this group and really felt a personal call to respond to your message.

i hear your struggle and frustration with the sleeping situation. you have listened to your heart and to your child and met his needs in loving, gentle, respectful ways. and you are continuing this style of parenting by searching for ways that you can recognize and honor your family's nighttime needs.

i assume that, as part of your reading, you have come across the sears family books (i feel comfortable mentioning the sears family, as so many of their books are in LLL group libraries). i have also found some personal comfort in reading their thoughts, reflections, and suggestions on sleep at their website, their assessment of what is common infant and childhood behavior, plus their approach of attachment parenting and gentle discipline, fits very much in line with what my husband and i practice with our own children.

they note that "nighttime can be scary for little people," "physical contact at night gives you and your child a chance to reconnect. The desire for nighttime contact may be particularly strong if your child had little or no contact with you during the day." this could explain his happiness to have a parent who has not spent the day with him to spend time together snuggling at night. in referencing a question about a a 3-year-old girl who wanted contact with her parents upon waking at night, the dr sears' response included: "Eventually, your daughter will spend more time in her own bed...a change in schools or friends, a move, or any of life's little upsets that can disturb children's sleep. Above all, don't feel you are spoiling your child or that she is psychologically disturbed because she can't sleep on her own. Many emotionally healthy children simply enjoy the nighttime security of sleeping close to their parents. When it comes down to it, the time your youngster spends in your room (or in your bed) is relatively short, but it encourages a positive life-long attitude about bedtime, conveying that sleep is a pleasant – rather than fearful – state to enter."

by this, i am not advocating any specific change in your sleeping location or habits - it's more to let you know that you are not alone in wondering what's going on with bbz's needs or when/how they will change.

i understand your reaction to and reluctance to follow the "advice" offered by "sleep training" approaches, many of which are variations on the age-old cry-it-out approach. i like to think of what we talk about at lll meetings: "mothers know their own babies best. some ideas may be new to you. take what seems right and leave the rest." when you look at the articles that recommend locking his door so he can't get out or letting him cry rather than responding to him, how does the information sound to you? does it seem sensible? does it fit your child's temperament? do you envision it fitting in with your parenting approach? again, from the sears website, they get at some important issues to think about: "Use discernment about advice that promises a sleep-through-the-night more convenient baby, as these programs involve the risk of creating a distance between you and your baby and undermining the mutual trust between parent and child. On the surface, baby training sounds so liberating, but it's a short-term gain for a long-term loss. You lose the opportunity to know and become an expert in your baby. Baby loses the opportunity to build trust in his care giving environment. You cease to value your own biological cues and judgment and follow the advice of someone who has no biological attachment, nor investment, in your infant. "

keep in mind that although bbz is no longer an infant, he is still very young and still needs you. he is still making the adjustment to a big change in his sleeping location - the "big boy bed" - which can be very exciting for many parents and for many kids - but some kids may initially be gung-ho about the change and then lose enthusiasm after it really sinks in. and although he is no longer nursing, that doesn't mean his need for you has diminished - it has developed into something different. i have heard many stories from mothers whose children have weaned (at various ages) about new forms of connection being created. he has moved beyond his need to be nursed back to sleep at night, but he still craves - and needs - physical contact or reassurance from the parents he loves and trusts so much to help him back to sleep. this is normal and natural. as you have found in your other experiences with him, you have met his needs and the needs go away, and this will, too.

another specific resource that may be of some help to you is elizabeth pantley's the no-cry sleep solution for toddlers and preschoolers. she is the author of the no-cry sleep solution, found in many LLL group libraries, and this newer book is targeted especially for the age range where bbz finds himself. further proof that your family is not alone in wondering how to answer sleep questions! i have found that her approach towards this developmental area is realistic, individually-oriented rather than one-size-fits-all, thorough, and practical.

as to the "manipulation" question - there is no lack of people who will tell you, at any and all stages of parenting, "that child is just manipulating you to get what he wants" and encourage you to think that you need to be strong or the child will win and you will lose. ugh. parenting doesn't need to be a competition or adversarial - there is another way of looking at it. i have another website that i use for gentle parenting perspectives, the author, scott noelle, wrote this about manipulation: "The word manipulate means "to handle skillfully." Since the main function of childhood is learning how to handle life skillfully, a "manipulative" child is only doing what comes naturally." your son is learning how to handle his nighttime needs skillfully, and right now that means he manages getting back to sleep with some help from a parent. trust your instincts. you and your husband, by responding to bbz's needs with love and respect, are teaching him that he is capable and you are there to guide him and support him while he finds his way.

i wish you calm and peaceful thoughts as you find your own way in this aspect of your parenting journey.

I too wanted to write to you. My daughter is now 6, has long been weened and sleeps through the night, though falls asleep with either me, my husband or both of us. I have just continued to receive the emails as well, and I benefited immensely from LLL and the encouragement I received from other mothers including D during those breast feeding years. I really appreciate all of what D just wrote and hope you continue to find what works for your son and your family.

My daughter was never what one would call an easy sleeper, and sleeping through the night eluded us for may years - for many reasons hers, mine and my husbands (easy wakings, my trying to work from home while she was asleep, my husbands stress at work . . .!) I don't remember all of the specifics about her sleep, though is was huge in my thinking and heart. We valued co-sleeping and had to try different ways of getting the most sleep for everyone. I'm very thankful for our 2 queen size beds! Knowing my daughter now - her temperament and personality - I see that having the contact as night was important to her, and still is. She just lost her first tooth Friday and woke up calling for me. Poor thing, she was not excited at all and was very upset - she hates change!

It sounds like BBZ is responding well to the change to the big boy bed and falling asleep with you across the room after the story (he's willing to go along with it at the beginning of the night) - take courage with that!. It does sound like he just needs that comfort, what a blessing for him that both you and your husband are willing to try to meet that need - even though it is costly to your sleep! I too echo D's encouragement to try to stay away from thinking in terms of him manipulating you. When I began to listen to the advice that said my daughter was manipulating me, it kept me from responding to her as she truly needed and as I would truly want to respond. Sometimes all it would take for her to sleep again through the night was for me to sleep with her a couple of nights to bring that calm back to her and then she was able to sleep through the night again with out it becoming a battle.

I hope this brings you some encouragement, or at least comfort in knowing that you're not alone in these issues. Blessings to you and your family as you persevere through this time. Enjoy!

I second everything D wrote in her thoughtful message. I will add a bit from my experience.

My boys are now 4 and 8 years old. We have had musical beds from early on, and it continues today. The boys have their own beds now, and we have our mattress and box springs back up on the frame. Looking back, our sleeping situation has gradually changed over the years. At times, my husband would complain and talk about other families where the children were not allowed in the parent's bed, but he never made a specific demand, and we kept it flexible, mostly following the children's lead. I know it was difficult at times, but looking back, it doesn't seem like any trouble at all.

Today, my 8-year old wants to snuggle with me as he falls asleep. I was complaining about this, thinking I should be able to tell him goodnight and leave the room and do my own stuff. Then his teacher sent me something he wrote after learning about Martin Luther King -- he wrote that he feels peaceful when he snuggles with me at night - he feels loved and that is a peaceful feeling. So, I no longer resist that precious snuggle time, especially during a phase of development when he is resisting me so much during the day. He sleeps through the night, and sometimes will crawl into our bed in the early morning. My 4-year old likes me to rub his feet as he falls asleep, and sometimes calls out for me in the night and I lie with him and we both sleep together. The children's bedroom is directly across from ours, and there's no door, so it's easy access both ways. Their waking doesn't affect my sleep - in some ways it's good, because I will fall asleep with them instead of staying up doing other things.

The other thing I remember is that when the night waking seemed too much for me, like you I reached out to LLL members, and usually I learned something that gave me an insight about why the child may be waking so much, or somehow just telling my story to understanding mothers took the edge off, and things seemed to get better.

Thanks for sharing your story, and wishing you peaceful nights,


So there it is.  This is support.  Not once did these women say that I was doing something wrong, or even tell me what I should be doing.  They offered their experiences and validated what I was feeling.  I felt so much peace after reading their responses.

I hesitate to say (in fear of jinxing myself) that each night after I wrote this (this past Saturday), he has slept all night.  He woke at 6am a few mornings, but from 8pm - 6am is certainly sleeping through the night.

Each time we make it through a tough time, or I feel like I need to go outside of what feels right to find something that works, things do finally change.  Now of course this isn't perfect.  I had a dear friend tell me more than once that sleeping is not in the mothering contract.  While sleepless nights are certainly difficult, I wouldn't change having those wakeful nights for anything.  While I appreciate sleeping all night until the sun comes up, I do at times miss seeing him in the middle of the night while the rest of the house is fast asleep.  Those days will be once again, as we begin the cycle with our next child.

I can't decide if I should wish for this child to be a great sleeper as an infant or not.  BBZ sure was, but it wasn't a very accurate account of the kind of sleeper he'd be long term!  I guess I will just work with whatever happens, and hope that I feel as connected to this next baby as I do to BBZ.  I almost always know what he needs from me.

This connection is the key to our mother/son relationship, and what I rely on to help us all through tough times.  I think that connection is what I value most in out relationship, and I need to trust it as much, if not more than, my sweet BBZ does.