sleep when baby sleeps

I wanted to share a bit about my son’s sleep journey, in hopes that it can perhaps educate any new parents who read this and also offer a perspective I think is lacking in many books/guides: in the words of my beloved Willie Nelson, phases and stages, circles and cycles.  Every baby is unique and every week, every month can be a new opportunity for growth and change–especially where sleep is concerned!

Felix naps on his crib mattress next to our bed.

When I was pregnant, I absolutely hated it when all-knowing mothers would roll their eyes and give me a particular look while saying “Get your sleep now, because once that baby comes…”

I remember telling a friend how I had handled sleeping on basically a piece of plywood for two years during my Peace Corps service.  I could manage!

And then Felix arrived.  For the first few weeks of his life, all he did was sleep.  He was born a week premature, which is just like when you’re trying to hide under the covers and ignore the alarm on a Monday morning.  He didn’t want to nurse, didn’t open his eyes, absolutely hated diaper changes.  We had to do crazy things to rouse him enough to eat–tickling, fanning, sometimes even wiping his body with a cool cloth.  He slept, but I was awash in extreme anxiety.  I had to watch him, had to make sure he was still breathing, still in the crib, still alive.

Tiny, swaddled guy. He slept anywhere.

By the time he was a few months old, he had outgrown his easy sleep.  He woke every few hours to nurse.  I was back at work, and suddenly hit with a major decision: should I sleep train my baby?  I had no idea this was even a thing.  Why would a baby need to be trained to sleep? The topic can quickly consume a tired mama–especially since everyone will ask you if your little one is sleeping through the night yet. (No, no, never, no.)

I always feel jealous of how cozy he seems!

I am not writing this to advocate for one approach over another, only you and your baby can tell if sleep training is the right choice.  Both of you (or all three of you if two parents are involved) need to be accounted for.  My heart couldn’t handle the extra emotions and tears that sleep training involves.  Would it have benefited Felix?  I can’t say, but I know that it just wasn’t right for me.

In not sleep training, we’ve had to slow down life entirely.  Felix has never slept through the night.  He wakes every few hours, needing to nurse or just feel our presence.  When he was learning to crawl, he would wake himself entirely by crawling in his sleep!  Developmental leaps were matched with long, exhausting nights.  I’d sit in Felix’s room for an hour in the middle of the night while he casually poked at a puzzle or rummaged through a toy box.  Eventually he’d crawl over and rest his head on my knee, ready to sleep again.

Napping on our bed.

He’s gone through so many phases, I finally have caught on to the fact that there will be no one final arrangement, no perfect solution.  He’s slept in a crib in his own room, a crib in our room, a cosleeper attached to our bed, next to me in bed, on his own mattress on the floor…

Right now we are finding a bit of success with Felix beginning the night in his own bed next to ours, with a wearable blanket.  Around 1 or 2, I bring him into our bed.

During all of these phases, I have rarely slept when the baby slept (except at night).  Yes, I’ve been tired.  I am tired.  I will be tired.  But in the quiet moments while he naps, I am free to have my own pursuits again.  If you’re an exhausted parent who sees a bit of their own journey in my writing, I hope you also take comfort.  Your child is not abnormal, not a problem to be fixed.  Of course, there are always issues to look out for.  I don’t need to provide a disclaimer, do I?  Some children just sleep differently.  And if your instincts are to stay close to your little one, to nurse on demand or let them cuddle with you all night, there’s nothing weird or wrong with you.  Likewise, if you feel like you are desperate and need your space, your sleep, your sense of self, follow that instinct!  

Don’t sleep when the baby sleeps.  Don’t ignore your desires.  Take each day as it comes, and slowly (very slowly!) you will find your rhythm.  And maybe lose it again…but it will come back.

Do you have a difficult sleeper?  What life choices have made a difference for you? 


One thought on “sleep when baby sleeps

  1. Thank you.
    I hate that if I mention I’m tired everyone always says “sleep when the baby sleeps.” My baby has gotten really good at sleeping in her bed at night, but I don’t go to bed right when she does because I want a little time with my husband and to myself. Then I sleep in her room instead of my own on a thin foam mattress which isn’t the most restful and she does wake up once or twice a night. Sometimes I do nap with her during the day but that’s just because she likes to nap on my chest and I like to nap with her, but this is the exception. Most of the time I am trying to hurriedly get other things done so I can give her my 100% when she’s awake again.
    I need another me. lol


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