Question: It takes forever for my baby to fall asleep, and she only falls asleep if I breastfeed or hold her. I am truly distressed, as the lack of sleep is starting to affect all aspects of my life. I feel as though I can't carry on an intelligent conversation. I am extremely unorganized and don't have the energy to even attempt reorganization. I love this child more than anything in the world, and I don’t want to make her cry, but I'm near tears myself thinking about going to bed every night. Sometimes I think, “What’s the point? I'll just be up in an hour anyway.” Should I just let her cry it out?
Elizabeth Pantley responds: As your sleep issues cast lengthening shadows over your life, you may begin to live purely for the moment. Your sleep-deprived, foggy brain may focus so intently on sleep that you can’t think beyond the next few hours of rest. You may have one – or many – people telling you that you should just let your baby cry to sleep. You are probably frustrated and confused. What you lack is perspective. To gain that perspective, ask yourself these questions:
• Where will I be five years from now?
• How will I look back on this time?
• Will I be proud of how I handled my baby’s sleep routines, or will I regret my actions?
• How will the things I do with my baby today affect the person he will become in the future?
Once you have some perspective about your baby’s current sleep issues, it is important to be realistic in determining your goals and to be honest in assessing the situation's effect on your life. Some people can handle two night wakings easily, while others find that the effect of even one night waking is just too much to handle. The key is to evaluate whether your baby’s sleep schedule is a problem in your eyes, or just in those of the people around you.
Begin today by contemplating these questions:
• Am I content with the way things are, or am I becoming resentful, angry or frustrated?
• Is my baby’s nighttime routine negatively affecting my marriage, my job or my relationships with my other children?
• Is my baby happy, healthy and seemingly well rested?
• Am I happy, healthy and well rested?
• What is a reasonable expectation for my baby at his/her age?
• What naptime and bedtime situation would I consider “acceptable”?
• What naptime and bedtime situation would I consider “pure bliss”?
• Why do I want to change my baby’s sleep patterns? Is it truly what’s best for me and my baby, or am I doing this to meet someone else’s expectations?
• Am I willing to be patient and make a gradual, gentle change for my baby if that means no crying?
Once you answer these questions, you will have a better understanding of not only what is happening with regard to your baby’s sleep, but what approach you will feel most comfortable using to help your baby sleep better.
In addition to my two-year-old son Coleton, I have three older children, and they have afforded me the perspective I lacked the first time around. My children have taught me how very quickly babyhood passes. I struggle now to remember the difficulties of those first couple years, so fleeting are they.
And I am proud that I didn’t cave in to the pressures of others around us to do what they felt was right; instead I followed my heart as I gently nurtured all of my babies. That time is long gone for us, but those memories remain. And now, all four of them sleep through the night. And so do I.
Excerpted from The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night by Elizabeth Pantley.
Parenting educator Elizabeth Pantley is the author of numerous parenting books, including the widely cited The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night. Buy her books at Powells.com. She is a regular radio show guest and is quoted frequently on the web and in national family and women’s publications. Elizabeth lives in Washington state with her husband, their four children and her mother. Visit her at www.pantley.com/elizabeth.