A parent recently mentioned to me something about her mom making her feel guilty about the things she was doing to help her baby sleep and I thought this would be a good article topic to write about.
There are co-sleeping parents whose loved ones believe in cry-it-out and don’t understand why they wouldn’t let their baby cry-it-out. Then there are parents who do cry-it-out whose loved ones don’t understand how they could let their baby cry. And, of course, there is everything in between.
I am an optimist (at least I think I am) and try to find the good in people, so I remind myself that people are only trying to help and honestly feel they are giving their best advice. Those without kids that give advice, I definitely take their advice with a grain of salt. I mean I know *I* had all the answers before I had kids. It seemed so simple didn’t it? Little did I know what a loop motherhood would put me in! I guess I didn’t have as many answers as I thought, so now I don’t expect non-parents to have as many, either.
When I would mention to people what a challenging sleeper my son was I got ALL kinds of advice! From a lady (a stranger!) on an airplane asking me if my baby needed a bottle when my son was overtired and needed a nap and I was frantically trying to “hard rock” him (as we called it) into a slumber to my mother-in-law telling me to keep him up late so he’d sleep better, anybody and everybody thought they knew how to help my son sleep:
“You need to make more noise when he sleeps” – He can’t sleep through noise!
“Don’t let him nap” – Less naps meant more over-tiredness which meant more night-wakings!
“Keep him up late” – See above
“Give him a pacifier” – Yeah because I didn’t try that when he was up every hour last night. Thanks.
“Breastfeeding is not enough” – Yes it is! He’s not hungry. He’s tired. (I went on to breastfeed both sons for a year and didn’t start solids until close to 6 months)
“Put cereal in his bottle” – No solids until 6 months old, thank you, and it can be a choking hazard*. And, see above, he was not hungry.
“When my baby was 6 weeks, I just put her to bed and didn’t get up again until morning. (even if crying)” – No thank you. Not for me.
“Does he have to go to sleep now?” (when people wanted to visit) – Yes. Yes he does, because the ramifications of not getting him to bed now is not pretty.
The advice was endless and much of it might work for other people, but just not for me. The beautiful part is that these are my children and I’m the one who gets to decide what’s best for them. Well, okay, my husband does have a say, too. So, I nodded my head or said we tried it and, okay, in some cases e-mailed all the benefits of breastfeeding to educate
my mother-in-law people (by the way, I am pro-breastfeeding but not a strict “lact-ivist,” and feel formula feeding moms are just as loving and their babies will be just as smart as mine).
When you’re struggling with your baby or toddler’s sleep and everyone around you either has “the answer” or the baby or toddler who is that perfect sleeper, it’s easy to lose confidence and wonder if you’re doing everything wrong. You might question your ability to parent. But, what I tell my clients a lot is that sometimes you do EVERYTHING right and your baby just. won’t. sleep. You can only do so much. You can lead a horse to water, but can’t make him drink is how the saying goes and it is so true when it comes to your baby’s sleep.
Your job is to provide the soothing sleep environment and to give the opportunity for sleep and the rest is up to them (unfortunately in many of our cases!). When my son, now older, tells me at bedtime “I’m not tired” (when he says that every night and I know is not true and just that he doesn’t want the day to end), it is my job to set firm limits that lights are out at 8:30, no matter what. Most of the time he is asleep in a few minutes and other nights he might take 10-15 while he listens to a CD playing. Either way, I’ve done my job. And, when he was a baby, my job was to make sure we stuck to routine pretty regularly because of his temperament and get him the sleep he needed because of the ramifications if we didn’t. Sure, family members didn’t understand why we had to skip the barbecue for his nap (among many other things), but his sleep and well being came first and we knew him best. AND, we were the ones who had to get up at 10pm, 1am, 3am, etc. when he wasn’t sleeping from being overtired. They weren’t going to do it! There are many things to help promote sleep, of course, and that’s what this site is all about, but at some point you do have to let go and realize they are just going to do what they are going to do and they will have good days and bad days just like we do.
All in all, YOU KNOW YOUR BABY BEST! You are the one with them day in and day out (even working parents like me!). And, you know what you can handle as a parent. We knew the result if we kept our son out too late, so we chose our special events very very carefully. They would always set us back at least a week. Our second son has been much more go-with-the-flow, so I can definitely see how people do it. It just wasn’t going to happen with our first son and it’s not because he was first. It’s just his personality, temperament, and sleep needs. It’s just how the cookie crumbles.
How do you handle the guilt?
* Note: Some pediatricians will recommend some cereal in a bottle for severe cases of acid reflux, but please check with your pediatrician.