I am constantly trying to explain my child’s behaviour.

I write this bleary eyed over my 2nd cup of coffee for the day. It’s been a rough few weeks with my little monkey, who has been pushing me to my limit. No matter how far we go, though, it seems I can always find just an ounce more of patience and energy to give my baby girl what she needs from me.

At around 2 months old, Avery began to sleep beautifully. She would be in bed for 12-13 hours at a time, only waking twice (sometimes only once) for quick feedings. It was wonderful. Especially now looking back. People warned me not to get used to it, and they were right. Just when I got used to it, she changed things up on me. DRASTICALLY.

Around 12 weeks, Avery started waking up every 2 hours again. It was really hard at first. After doing some research I decided she must be going through a her 3 month growth spurt, especially since she would wake up hungry and need to eat before she would go back down. Her pacifier, which was usually good enough, was not anymore. So, I did my best to deal with it, and figured it would get better soon.

In the 5 weeks since, it has not gotten better. In fact, one might say it has gotten worse. Much worse. There have been nights where she wakes up needing me each hour. There have been nights, and days, when she will sleep nowhere but in my arms.  Most nights her “long” sleep stretch is 2 hours, and only if I am lucky. Just two nights ago I was up with her 6 times between 11pm and 7:30am.  I am coping ok, and doing my best to deal with it. What makes my life easier is the fact that I am co-sleeping, and that often times all she needs is just a little bit of comfort (in the form of nursing in her mamas warm cuddly arms) before going right back down, sometimes in less than 5 minutes.

As her mother, I can’t help but feel like this is happening because of something I did. That if I did (or had done) something differently, this wouldn’t be happening at all. So, I set out to explain why my baby has regressed so terribly, and I realized that it is so common they actually have a name for it! It is called 4 month sleep regression. Hallelujah! It is not something I am doing wrong! It is not something that is my fault. It is completely normal. So normal that it has been studied and named. This made me feel much better.

Through all of the reading and research I have done on infant sleep, I have come across sleep training- aka “crying it out"- over and over again. This school of thought believes that if I let her cry it out and go back to sleep on her own, eventually she will teach herself to go back to sleep on her own without needing me.

Maybe I am a softie ( I have always been a fairly sensitive person) but the thought of it makes me sick to my stomach. Leaving my baby girl to cry it out in order to go to sleep is not what I am prepared to do (and logistically, would not work really well considering she sleeps only a foot or so away from me). It ignores what a baby's cry was designed for- to alert parents that something is not right. I just don’t think I could ever do it, even if this were to go on for many more months.

I knew when I decided to have a child that there would be sleepless nights. Forcing my infant into independence, before she is ready, is not something I agree with. My belief is that children need to be parented to sleep, not put to sleep. I feel (in fact, I know) she is too young to manipulate me, and by crying she is communicating a need- the only way she knows how. The CIO approach is, in my opinion, a mis-guided effort by some sleep "expert" to try and mold babies to fit into their parent's lives- not the other way around. Another aspect of the "let's have babies conveniently" mindset. A lot of research supports my feelings as well.

So, I will keep doing what I can to find the energy I need to carry on. I know that eventually, as her sleep system matures, she will learn to go to sleep on her own. Current findings say that this happens at some point between 10 and 18 months.

10 and 18 months??

I’d guess I’d better stock up on coffee.
 
Before Avery was born, I put a lot of time and effort into setting up and planning her nursery. We bought a beautiful crib, painted the walls and got the change table ready. I  imagined my beautiful baby sleeping in her (or his- we did not know the gender at this time) crib and swooping her into my arms in the morning. While I had planned on having her in our room temporarily to make breastfeeding easier, I did not expect it to continue much past 2 or 3 months.

It’s funny how your opinions and ideas can change so drastically after you have a baby.

Probably around 5 weeks old I started to realize that even though the bassinet was right beside the bed, Avery slept much much better when she was snuggled in the bed next to me (safely of course, following guidelines for safe co-sleeping). It has been such a special thing, waking up right next to a smiling, happy baby each morning, and knowing all night that she is warm and safe (and still breathing) right beside me in our warm, cozy bed. The thought of her in her crib in the other room, waking up alone, in the dark, not able to hear me breathe or reach out and touch my arm just does not feel right to me.

For quite a while I struggled with this decision. I was afraid people would think it was weird. So I started doing some research, and quickly found that co-sleeping is not weird, it is not unusual, it is not a fad- cribs are. It is only in the past 100 years or so, and only in western cultures, that babies being left alone to sleep has become the "norm". 

I did however, hate that Avery was not using the beautiful crib we bought for her, and felt like it was wasteful. So after careful research online for how to do it safely, we set up the crib as a side car crib and securely attached it to the side of our bed after removing one of the sides. We all have our own sleeping space, but still get to sleep together- the perfect arrangement- for us. (while I am an advocate of co-sleeping and attachment parenting, I fully understand that each family is unique and must do what works for them).
Dr. Sears, author of The Baby Book (and numerous others) and world famous pediatrican lists some of the scientific benefits of co-sleeping (or as he likes to call it, sleep sharing):

Popular media has tried to discourage parents from sharing sleep with their babies, calling this worldwide practice unsafe. Medical science, however, doesn’t back this conclusion. In fact, research shows that co-sleeping is actually safer than sleeping alone. Here is what science says about sleeping with your baby:

Sleep more peacefully
Research shows that co-sleeping infants virtually never startle during sleep and rarely cry during the night, compared to solo sleepers who startle repeatedly throughout the night and spend 4 times the number of minutes crying (1). Startling and crying releases adrenaline, which increases heart rate and blood pressure, interferes with restful sleep and leads to long term sleep anxiety.

Stable physiology
Studies show that infants who sleep near to parents have more stable temperatures (2), regular heart rhythms, and fewer long pauses in breathing compared to babies who sleep alone (3). This means baby sleeps physiologically safer.

Decreases risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Worldwide research shows that the SIDS rate is lowest (and even unheard of) in countries where co-sleeping is the norm, rather than the exception (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). Babies who sleep either in or next to their parents’ bed have a fourfold decrease in the chance of SIDS (10). Co-sleeping babies actually spend more time sleeping on their back or side 1 which decreases the risk of SIDS. Further research shows that the carbon dioxide exhaled by a parent actually works to stimulate baby’s breathing (11).

Long term emotional health
Co-sleeping babies grow up with a higher self-esteem, less anxiety, become independent sooner, are better behaved in school (12), and are more comfortable with affection (13). They also have less psychiatric problems (14).

Safer than crib sleeping
The Consumer Product Safety Commission published data that described infant fatalities in adult beds. These same data, however, showed more than 3 times as many crib related infant fatalities compared to adult bed accidents (15). Another recent large study concluded that bed sharing did NOT increase the risk of SIDS, unless the mom was a smoker or abused alcohol (16).

Click here to see resources.

While it may not be for everyone, and I certainly never expected it would be for us, co-sleeping has turned into the norm in our household.

Just another one of the many wonderful surprises that having a baby brought us.