Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Number of Times We Nurse

Dear Daughter,

Ramping up to your six month growth spurt, I don’t remember how many times we’ve nursed today. I don’t count. I have not counted in a long time, since sometime after your oldest brother was born. (Excluding the little checkboxes that kept me company at the hospital and that drove me nuts as I had to keep finding my phone to get the times when you started and stopped and started again.)

At every doctor’s visit I’m asked how many times you nurse. I say “on demand” and I’m asked for a number.  Do people really count those things? I remember that I nursed you for a half hour when we woke up because I set my alarm so that I can nurse you before I get your oldest brother up for school. I remember that I was nursing you on the floor of the laundry room while I loaded the washer. I know that I nursed you outside while I pushed your brother on the swing but I’m not sure if that counted because you got excited and bit me pretty quickly because you wanted to grab at a moth that flittered by to land on the morning glories overhead. I nursed you at lunch while you tried to grab all my food. I also nursed you a bunch of other times doing all the things that I do all day and every day.

I’m not sure what would happen if I started counting. Would I find it depressing and become concerned about my supply if I found that you nursed fifteen times per day? Would I become paranoid and make you nurse more if you inexplicably only nursed six times a day? Would I be worried if the numbers went up or down by a few times per day?

I go by the brown wetbag hanging upstairs. Each day your diapers fill this bag and make it heavy. Each day the moses basket with all your clean diapers empties itself as you work your way through the supply. Every two days I load the washing machine with your brother’s diapers and yours, and I wash them clean.

I don’t count the number of times I kiss you. I don’t count the number of times that I tell you that I love you. I don’t count the number of times that I tickle you, or sniff your head. But I understand that we are well bonded and that you are firmly attached to me as you recognize me when speak, soothe when I dance with you, and root around to find me when you wake in the dark of the night. Because you squeak only when I’m not there and do not launch instantly into wailing, and your squeaking calms as soon as you are in my arms before you start to nurse.

Numbers like that are for other things and fit poorly into breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is one of those things that is easiest if you simply do it the same way you breathe. Because it is necessary, it is normal, it is automatic, and because you live attached to me in these early days of your life.

Six to eight times would not be enough if I was refusing you when you asked. Fifteen times cannot be too much if it is what you need. We’re not coloring by the numbers, we’re living by your needs.

<3 Mama

I Refuse to Spoil You, Daughter.

Dear Daughter,

Five months and ten days from when you were born, you are perfect and unspoiled and everything that a baby should be. I do not wish to destroy that.

When you were born you were perfect. You knew little about the world that you were born into. You had curious little dark blue eyes and tiny hands with long graceful fingers that grabbed purposefully at the things that you wished to hold onto rather than grasping at everything that they touched. You are perfect, still.

I refuse to spoil you, daughter.

When you cry, I try and listen. Not only to the sound of your cries but to the way that you move your body in search of what it is that you need. I do not wish to spoil your understanding of your needs by assuming that I know when to meet them and when they can be ignored. I do not wish to spoil your understanding of your needs by insisting that you be pacified above your objections and your demands that I help you fix what is wrong. Later in life we will have talks about wants and needs and the world of today and how our bodies sometimes tell us things through instincts better adapted to times past than to today. Later in life we’ll talk about hormones and how they make us want things that are not healthy for us in the world that we live in now. We’ll talk about hunger in a world of abundant and unhealthy foods. We’ll talk about order and simplicity in a world of chaotic stimuli. But I will not teach you today that when you have a need it is something that you must deal with on your own before you have the ability to understand or cope. I will not teach you today that love comes at a scheduled time of convenience.

There are many things that I want for you, little one.

I want someday for you to find a man (or a woman) that you trust the way I struggle to be able to trust your father who has given me no cause to distrust him. I want you to recognize when someone loves you simply and permanently and without strings attached. To recognize that it is safe to speak freely of the things that you feel and to seek context for the things that make you happy, sad, angry, lonely, and deeply in love. I want you to be able to trust a person who is trustworthy, and to speak freely of your needs and wants and joys and feelings and hurts and angers without the fear of not being listened to, of chasing him away, of being manipulated by the things that you feel, or of being manipulative with simple descriptions of what you feel.  I never want you locked in a ball where you feel unable to speak the simplest of things for fear of being misunderstood and held accountable for something that someone else has chosen read into your words.

I want you to always understand how much I love you and how hard I work to understand what it is you are feeling and what it is that you need, so that you will clearly hear the warning bells clanging if you ever meet someone who takes the shortcut of convenient assumption. I want you to understand that I will not pass judgement on your reasons for the needs that you have, even if I try to help you understand where those needs fit into the life that you have and the obligations and responsibilities that you have to your family and to your life. I want the chance to work with you at helping you make yourself understood clearly through the upset of another without sending you off to your room to try and struggle to formulate the words for your feelings before you have the insight to do so.

There is too much talk about spoiling children and too little talk about preserving the qualities that they are born with. I believe strongly that they are one and the same. I can spoil you by ignoring the things that need to be paid attention to just as easily as I can spoil you by burying you in toys and candy. And I can spoil you more easily by denying you trust and love when you need it than I ever could by being there for you when you need those things.

I can spoil you more easily by making you wonder when I will be there for you willingly and when I will not. By teaching you to work harder to gain my attention for the things that you want deeply or judging you for the expression of want and disappointment rather than simply understanding your hurt and holding you through you tears until you do as your older brother does now at two. “All done crying. Alexander feel better now, mommy. Let’s go play.” Something that I want your oldest brother to understand in us even as he learns distrust elsewhere. Something that I want all three of you to understand even as you move out into the world into the lives of those who have had their trust spoiled and who seek to spoil the trust of everyone else by constantly suspecting their expressions of feeling as attempts at manipulation.

I refuse to teach you that needing to be held is manipulative, and that having the need to cry in someone’s arms is a weakness. I refuse to allow you to go through childhood believing something that someday will earn you an abusive relationship rather than the ability to curl up in the arms of someone who loves you deeply. I refuse to spoil that thing that will someday give you comfort and closeness. I will not teach you that it is okay to curl away from comforting arms in the darkness when you could be held close by someone who will never hold that need against you. I refuse to send you away to cry alone so that I will not need to deal with the strongness of your emotions.

I will not spoil you like that, daughter. I refuse to spoil you.

<3 Mama

Sleep and Wake Again

Dear Daughter,

Mellow, sweet daughter of mine who hardly ever cries, you are the calmest of all our children. From everything I have heard, you should be easy to train to sleep as you are not quick to cry and you are easy to soothe. You ask for little more than to be near, to be guarded, to be held close and warm. You are not colicky, you are not quick to temper, and you spend time happily in your bouncer seat watching me garden in the day or watching your brothers play. In theory it could be a quick few nights of letting you cry and then we could all sleep through the night.

Your mellowness should make it tempting. Each of your brothers was so assertive that I understood that Crying It Out would be fruitless. With you I suspect that it would be quick and “painless” to make you give up on being held.

I do not wish to squander your patience and grace on such things. Instead I will save it, as all parents need the patience of their children sometimes.

You are a tiny creature whose heart flutters along and whose chest rises and falls often in sync with mine. Powerless to seek warmth when cold or to kick your way out of a swaddle if you sweat at night. You cannot yet roll easily to find a comfortable position, and gas and burps easily wake you and make you squirm with discomfort.

I do not believe these night wakings are without meaning or without need or that they are a simple preference of yours when you vocalize them more than you vocalize your desire for a diaper change or your desire to nurse during the day, or your objections to your brothers being a little too rough in their displays of affection.

I do not believe that even if your only wish is “mama hold me” that it is something that needs to be denied.

Of course I’ll hold you, little girl. Just as I held you for nine months before you were born, I’ll hold you for as long as you need to be held and for whatever the reason.

There’s a saying “I’d walk through fire for you”. I would, you know, if I ever had to. And in the meantime I’ll walk through sleeplessness with you. I’ll dance with you in the dark of the night. I’ll rock with you in a quiet empty room as the sun starts to rise. I’ll snuggle down next to you when you’re restless, and I’ll pick you up every time you cry.

I can wait until you’re ready to sleep through the night, just as I waited for your brothers. I’ll parent you with love rather than parenting you in whatever way I can get away with. I can wait with you as I waited with them.

I’ll wait it out so that you can sleep when you’re ready, not simply when you give up.

<3 Mama

My Message to Nicola Kraus

Dear Ms. Kraus,

It would seem from your “detachment parenting” rant that you know little about what attachment parenting involves, and that you are surrounded by people who are similarly confused by the topic.

I feel inclined to address some of the points that you made in your “Message to Dr. Sears”.

First, I am a parent of a child over 9 months of age. I have three children, actually. A 5 1/2 year old, a 2 1/2 year old and a 5 month old. I am an attachment parent. For the most part. I’d probably categorize myself more in the “gentle parenting” category.

I’m not entirely sure what types of “attachment parents” you have seen, but I would recommend that they seek out communities of Attachment Parents, as their experience sounds rather painful and abnormal and they might need some help with some parts of the attachment parenting thing because it sounds like their parenting methods may have crossed over into “indulgent” parenting or “fearful” parenting. (Or what is also possible is that you are so confident in your own method of parenting that you are seeing things through a certain perspective.)

At nine months children go through separation anxiety. This is age appropriate. And if the child is holding onto the bars of the crib screaming their head off, then they are not being parented in an attachment parenting style. Because children that are being parented in an attachment parenting style are asleep peacefully after having been nursed or rocked or snuggled to sleep. Nine month old AP children are not the ones screaming in public, they are the ones perched belly to belly with their parents, or perched high on their caregiver’s back. They hide their faces against mom or dad when they don’t want to interact with a stranger, or they peek out over their carrier and grin gummy little grins when they do. They enjoy supported independence and are seldom screechy. In fact, I love nine month olds and one year olds. They’re sweet, social and starting to discover their independence.

Parents declaring failure at nine months are parents who possibly do not understand the span of Attachment Parenting. It’s not a nine month investment. It takes time. Just like it takes you time to change from 23 years old to 30 years old. You can’t accelerate it. And if you are inconsistent in how you respond to your child then the child is going to respond with insecurity and clinginess.

My children have so far moved to their own bed in their own room at two and a half. Without tears. My oldest started being able to fall asleep on his own after the bedtime routine at three and a half. I anticipate that his younger brother will learn to do so at around the same time. I am happy with this. My five month old, I expect, will learn to consistently sleep through the night in her own bed in our room at some point when all of her teeth have come in, and at random points before then as well.

We wait it out, we don’t cry it out. We share our bed but it is not the only bed, and much of the time it is our bed alone as our children sleep elsewhere. Our middle child eagerly glomped on the chance to move to the bottom bunk in what is now “The Boys Room”, and loves his big boy bed at two and a half. He has never cried alone to sleep, and when he’s a bit older we’ll go through the same process that we went through with his big brother where he learns how to relax. How to stay in bed. How to close his eyes. How to fall asleep without us in the room nearby him. Sure, we could force the issue and press him into all of these things earlier. Why? This timeline works for him. (He sleeps through the night, by the way. Unless he is sick or teething. And he has for quite some time. And our five year old only needs nighttime parenting if he has a nightmare or is ill.)

My relationship with the father of my children is more impacted by the presence of laptops and smartphones and overtime at work, and televisions than it is by attachment parenting. A strong warm responsive man who can’t stand to hear his children cry and who dances with them in the dark of the night is one of the most attractive things for me. One of the least attractive things is someone who places their own needs above those of an infant, and who would choose to tear their child’s family apart rather than cope with short term situations. His commitment to being there for our children is one of the things that makes me committed to being there for him. While I cannot speak for him, I would hope that he feels similarly. If not, then I chose the wrong person to have a family with, and he’s holding back on the communication thing. Right now we want more sleep and we want more time with each other, but not at the expense of the three small creatures that depend on us.

I’m also confused by that friend of yours who says that no one has ever loved her the way her son loves her. My kids don’t love me like that. They take me for granted, quite honestly. They love each other like no one else. They cling to me when they need to, and they push me away when they need to. I enjoy seeing them love everyone else in their lives. I’m not parenting them to have them love me more than anyone else ever has. I’m parenting them to set them free. I’m parenting them to have many people in their lives that they love and look for. I’m parenting them to value family and closeness and trust and I am raising them to understand the things that they can do for themselves.

I’m a home base, not a cage or a tether or a slingshot. I’m not a clingy parent. I follow along behind my older two as they discover the world for themselves. I interject on safety issues, help them learn to settle disputes without needing my input, and I teach them about independence and self reliance through play and through trusting them to troubleshoot their own issues without my swooping in to save them from problems that they solve remarkably well together while I watch and smile from the other side of the room where they left me.

It occurs to me that you may have confused some other parenting style for “Attachment Parenting”, or that you may be seeing parents adopt portions of attachment parenting out of exhaustion and giving in rather than out of an understanding for the reasons behind AP. You may be seeing narcissistic parents that hope to train a child to love them in some perfect sort of way.

Because if you have seen Attachment Parenting in action you would not see exhausted unhappy miserable parents that hate each other and that are at the full mercy of their children. There is a difference between a gardener that battles dandelions and the gardener that is cultivating them for their leaves. In one situation the gardener is struggling and miserable, and in the other situation the fluffy yellow field is a sign of their success. Do not confuse the parent laying on the couch with an infant sprawled dangerously atop their belly for an attachment parent. Do not confuse Attachment Parenting with the person with the screaming six month old in a baby bjorn at the grocery store while her four year old tries to eat all of the candy at the check out counter.

Let me make a suggestion for you. Why don’t you let other parents seek out the style of parenting that works for them rather than choosing to launch a war against a parenting style that you don’t seem to fully understand? Suggest that they seek out others that have made similar choices and that have found more joy in them than they seem to. Suggest that they learn from people that are following the same path that they are following, rather than calling out at everyone to make a U-Turn and then fork right for the One True Good Parenting Style Not Destined for Doom and Divorce and Other Dastardly Things.

I could choose to dub your “detachment parenting” style as “abandonment parenting”, as I do not personally choose to use it and consider it a bit of a waste of my personal time to try to deeply understand and relate to a parenting style that is quite alien to me and that I quite simply will not be adopting because it doesn’t make sense to me and because I am happy with how my children are growing.

Instead I choose to look at you and your child and see the smiles and the hugs and the closeness and the awesome Halloween costumes you plan on making some day.

Don’t stare so hard at the bags under my eyes that come from my five month old daughter’s spotty sleep. Instead see how I smile as I bury my nose in her hair as she naps peacefully in a wrap against my chest. I have chosen the parenting style that makes my heart sing.

Be happy for me, as I am happy for you.

<3 Sarah

(This is in response to the Huffington Post article by Nicola Kraus titled “My Message to Dr. Sears“)

My Parenting Oppresses Me

Dear Daughter,

My parenting methods apparently oppress me and render me a servant much to the undoing of all the decades of feminism. You see, I cannot possibly choose to breastfeed you, to hold you, to use cloth diapers instead of disposables. I cannot choose to carry you instead of adopt you, I cannot choose to birth you without pain medications. I cannot choose you over myself. Because to make a choice to do these things is to be oppressed.

I will now raise my eyebrow a little bit, and make a very skeptical face.

You are five months old and the world is a crazy place where one faction of women is attempting to recover the ability of women to choose to breastfeed after decades of sabotaged efforts. Another faction of women really doesn’t want to breastfeed and wants to be free to make their own choice. Annoyingly enough both sides seem to think that the other side is horribly oppressed by some sort of whackadoo notion that makes them choose.. *gasp* something different from what they personally would choose.

Let me summarize my feelings: I am not oppressed by my choices which are freely made. I am oppressed by those who attempt to decide what my choices and role in society should be.

There’s a movement in feminism that suggests that “natural parenting” is sexism dressed up as something else. That says that breastfeeding, elimination communication, responsive parenting, home cooked meals, stay at home mothering, and many other things are designed to destroy feminism and you can’t be a feminist and be all of those things or make the choice to put your children first.

If you are breastfeeding because someone told you that you have to because otherwise you are not a woman… Yes, that is an incredibly anti-feminist notion. But if you’re going back to work and giving up breastfeeding and using formula instead because someone told you that you have to because otherwise you are oppressed, wasting your potential and not a feminist… That is a ridiculously anti-feminist notion as well.

Feminism is about freedom of choices, and about choosing what is important to you rather than having your choices be dictated by someone else.

Is it anti-feminist for a woman to sacrifice her lucrative career to go to a disease ridden part of Africa and help build wells and teach communities how to sanitize their water? She is putting others ahead of herself and her career. Clearly she is oppressed and the whole notion of putting anyone else ahead of yourself is so anti-feminist.

And teachers? They are anti-feminist as well. Making the choice to teach school in impoverished districts rather than holding out for the highest bidding private school or choosing a better career. The idea of wanting to help other people is so anti-feminist. Clearly they are oppressed.

If you choose to be a mother, if you choose to breastfeed, if you choose to co-sleep, if you choose to WIO instead of CIO.. I will support your choices. If you choose to never have children, if you choose to formula feed, if you choose to use CIO instead of WIO, I will support your choices.

This is your life. The idea that it belongs to anyone else is ridiculous. The idea that anyone gets to choose your place in life is what is “anti-feminist”, not whatever form of life you choose to craft for yourself.

Breastfeeding isn’t anti-feminist unless you DO NOT WANT TO DO IT.

Stay at home parenting is not anti-feminist unless you DO NOT WANT TO DO IT.

Elimination communication is not anti-feminist unless you DO NOT WANT TO DO IT.

And if you do not want to do it, don’t do it. The idea that you need to trample all over the choices made freely by another woman and call her “oppressed” because her choices are different than yours.. That is what kills feminism. Not choices that are made freely by other women.

The thing that kills feminism is the idea that you have to do something that you really don’t want to do.

For some, that thing is breastfeeding and natural parenting. For me, it would be using bottles and parenting in a way different from the way that I choose.  I parent you the way that I do because I love the choices that I make. They feel right. They feel good. They make my heart happy.

Sadly, the feminists screaming that natural parenting is anti-feminist don’t realize something simple: Their attempting to do something that they really did not want to do and then feeling guilty about it means that they are not quite as confident in their feminism as they might wish to be. They still feel as though they have to live by the choices of someone else and then if they discover those choices are not for them.. Instead of seeing that “this was not for me”, they feel that they were once again oppressed and it is clearly the fault of the choice. Even as other women make that very same choice freely.

As a woman you must remember this: The choices you make freely are always compatible with feminism. Because you are a female and they are your choices not the choices of a “man” and certainly not the choices of some other woman who is a ‘better’ feminist than you.

Feminism is about owning choices. Own yours. And please remember to always let everyone else own their choices as well.

<3 Mama

The Day I Stopped Running

Dear Daughter,

There was a day in elementary school that I simply stopped running during gym class and walked instead. It was the day that I became aware that I was not the fastest runner, and the day that no one sat me down to explain to me that the reason for running isn’t to be the first person across the finish line. Or the second. Or the third.

There’s this odd social consensus that if we can’t do things easily, it’s a good idea to just stop. When we don’t stop we’re subject to mocking by the bullies that simply never grow up. They’re there to mock us at every stage of our life and every stage of our existence for how slow we are, how funny we look if we dance, or how badly we sing.

They’re there to tell us in the hospital that we “can’t” breastfeed. Or if they don’t tell us that, we sometimes tell ourselves this.

It’s supposed to be natural.

I can’t coordinate getting my baby to the breast.

The latch looks good but it HURTS.

I failed again.

Failure takes a lot of time, little girl. When you stop running because everyone passed you.. You haven’t failed, you have made a choice to stop trying. And when you “fail” to breastfeed before you have even left the hospital, you haven’t “failed”. You have made a choice to stop trying. A choice that has been made because you don’t fully understand the options available, or because you’re like me and one day you chose to stop running because it felt too terrible to be so far behind everyone else.

I’m hoping to raise you to the understanding that when you’re behind you keep running even if you are that last person. You choose your pace, you feel your feet hit the ground, and you focus on breathing. Not because you will be the best. Not because you will pass others. But because you need to learn how to do each thing and how to stretch your limits and understand where your true limits are rather than where you compare to others that very first time that you have tried.

Don’t judge others that have stopped running, because we all stop running sometimes. And do not judge yourself if this is an area in which you choose to stop. Instead try and recognize when it is that you’ve “stopped” and when it is that you’ve “failed”, because it helps you make different choices in your future when you have the chance again.

When your oldest brother was born and I was trying to breastfeed.. I was failing. Over and over and over and over again I was failing. That’s when I started to run again. That’s when I looked around at the photographs of all the moms that were breastfeeding their babies and I looked down at your brother and realized that I was that clumsy creature running  behind everyone else.. And it quite simply did not matter to me anymore.

I put in the effort. I yelped in pain when he latched on. I slathered everything with lanolin and ground my teeth through the pain. I bled. I cracked. I blistered.

I didn’t have to go through any of that, I realize now. I could have sought out the support necessary to understand all the things that you can do to fix those things. I could have insisted on seeing the lactation consultant after I was told to “just give him formula if you’re worried”.

I could also have stopped running. But I didn’t. And I hope you won’t, either.

Because it’s not where everyone else is on that track that matters. It’s the ground under your own two feet. It’s your own record that matters. It’s your own successes, no matter how small. It’s your own definition of “success” and “failure”.

Don’t stop running, little girl. Not until you know what your true limits are. Because when you stop without having truly tried, you always wonder. When you give it your all, you earn the peace of mind in knowing that you have truly tried. It’s not about being a better woman than someone else. It’s not about a competition.

It’s about not giving up just because you’re a bit behind.

<3 Mama

Applying Attachment Parenting to Discussions with Adults

Dear AP Community,

I have to admit that sometimes when I see other Attachment Parents in the forums or on Facebook, the thought that pops into my head is “You wouldn’t talk to your three year old that way, why in the WORLD are you speaking to another adult like that?”

I think that it’s time we all start asking ourselves this question.

There is a difference between speaking about how we feel studies apply to our lives and our children and how studies influence our behavior, and crying out “child abuse”.

I could say this:

“Letting your child cry it out is neglect and child abuse and has shown to be harmful.”

Or I could say this:

“Cry It Out feels too much like neglect for me and I feel that it harms my relationship with my child. When she cries she’s trying to communicate a need to me, and I’m fine with holding her if that is what she needs. I’ve used Wait It Out with my older two children very successfully and it is a gentle joyful tear-free method that speaks to my heart and that works with our instincts instead of against them.”

In one way I’m trying to use shame on another parent, and in one way I’m talking about my experiences in a non-threatening way that more accurately represents what I think and feel. “This is how I do things”. “This is what works for me”. “This is an option that exists out there that contains a lot of pleasant happy joyful feelings”. This is my example. If you find my experience compelling, I’m happy to talk about it, but there is diversity for a reason. Clearly you are not me. Clearly there is diversity in the genetic pool. Clearly your children are not my children. I am no more inside of your head than I am inside of the heads of my children. It’s ludicrous to pass judgement based on what I see.

A non AP parent is not “giving their kids a hard time”, they’re having a hard time. Attack doesn’t help them see more clearly any more than punitive parenting helps a child see more clearly.

If another parent’s heart hurts too, if another parent is struggling with the feeling that they are not parenting in a way that works, then they are looking for the things that do work and they will find meaning in your loving words. If another parent has already found their toolkit and have found peace and joy in their way of parenting.. Don’t step on their parenting any more than you would step on your child’s successes when their methods diverge from your own.

It’s hard sometimes to not use the firm statements and the judgmental words. We know the sting of these all too well as we are constantly being told that we “spoil” our children, that homeschooled kids “lack socialization”, that if we don’t use CIO our children will “never sleep” and “be miserable”. If we don’t vaccinate we’re attacked for that, if we vaccinate we’re attacked for that. If we sneeze on a Tuesday there’s someone there to tell us YOU ARE WRONG AND YOUR CHILDREN WILL SUFFER.

We, as everyone, absorb examples. But part of parenting the way we do is choosing the positive examples.

Bring a bit more of your attachment-parenting style into your conversations. Listen carefully, speak gently and with joy.

-Sarah

Changes and Comics and Things

Hi all,

Just mentioning some changes I’ve made to the site recently.

1- Nurshable now has a facebook page. http://www.facebook.com/Nurshable feel free to stop in, post interesting links to the page, chat with others who parent in similar ways, seek support, etc.

2- Nurshable is on twitter. https://twitter.com/Nurshable feel free to follow there.

3- We now have comics. My partner Alex likes to draw and has started turning a lot of the funny things that happen into cartoons and has given me permission to put them up here. http://nurshable.com/comical/ If you like comics and want to see some of the funnier sides of attachment parenting from our house get made into comics.. Comment. Encourage him. Otherwise he’ll get distracted and leave it at the one.

4- Changed the navigation at the top to simplify it a bit.

That’s about it. :)

Carry on!

<3 Sarah

The “Wait it Out” Toolkit

After a recent letter to K. where I mentioned that “Cry it Out” simply does not fit in my toolkit, I was asked what IS my toolkit. I will be updating this constantly as my toolkit is always changing.

EXPECTATIONS

Much of the desperation of “my child will not sleep!” comes from expectations. So the first tool in my toolkit is clearly understanding my own expectations. I do not expect a child to sleep until they have finished cutting their two year molars. They are going through rapid emotional and physical development. First they need to eat constantly and are at a high risk for SIDS where deeper sleep can be dangerous to them. Then they are cutting their teeth and figuring out how to incorporate solids into their lives. They are becoming more mobile. They are shuffling their sleep patterns around as they eliminate naps and sleep in different ways. The first two years I expect a LOT of periods of sleep regression and my goal is to make sure that my child is well rested and to observe them.

Many kids will sleep well far earlier than two years. Some will not sleep well until after two years. This does not mean “I will suffer through two years of absolutely no sleep whatsoever”. It means that sleep will be interrupted to various degrees, and I accept that and expect to have to come up with ways to deal.

UNDERSTANDING REGRESSION

Understanding why my baby is suddenly waking up after periods of sleep is critical for me. I understand that my baby will wake up often during growth spurts, that she will wake up often when she starts to cut teeth and that depending on how she cuts teeth it may be a “two weeks on, two weeks off” thing like it has been for my older two.. Or it may be constant if her teeth alternate. Understanding that she will become more needy at night just before she gets sick is another thing. Regression usually shows its cause within a week. If it lasts for longer than a week without showing its cause, then I take it as a sign that something needs to be adapted within our routine. Understanding the reasons why sleep regression will happen is my second tool.

OBSERVATION

The third tool in my toolkit is observation. I’m big on babywearing because it lets me observe what things wake my child up and what things do not wake my child up. Babywearing taught me that when my daughter hears a loud familiar noise that she has frequently heard while safely held, she will no longer startle or wake up when she hears the noise. I noticed this because when she would startle in the wrap when I ground coffee she would quickly settle without crying. Then she eventually stopped startling when she heard that particular sound. Now if she is napping in the other room and she hears that sound she will sometimes startle slightly but will fall back to sleep.

Observation taught me that if she is in a position that makes her startle reflex less of a physical movement, she is less likely to wake up from it or find it upsetting. For her, this is either with her arms contained in a swaddle, on her belly (which is not safe for sleep), or on her back with her hands up near her face. If her arms are down by  her side or on her chest the startle will wake her up. This varies by child, as my middle child was very different. (I lacked a toolkit with my first for the newborn phase.)

Observation has taught me that I can tell when I can safely transfer her from my arms to a new sleeping surface. When she is ready her breathing will be slow and steady and when I unlatch her her mouth will stay slightly open or quiver as she sleep-nurses. Her body will be limp and when I stand up she won’t squirm or arch her back. If I put my thumb into her hand she won’t grasp it and her arm will be limp. If I move her before this point she usually wakes up within 10 minutes.

Observation has taught me that if I first ease her onto the bed next to me in the same position that she will be in her own bed and then let her lay like that for 5-10 minutes before I move her, she is less likely to wake up quickly from disorientation.

Observation has taught me that when I put her down on a new surface, if I lower her slowly with her arms crossed over her belly and then keep my hand on top of her arms for a few moments before gently moving her so that her hands are up over her shoulders next to her face.. She’s less likely to wake up or startle.

I don’t have “a technique”. I try many different things and I watch how she reacts and try to understand what it is that wakes her up.

Observation tells me that she sleeps best when there is noise and light, as if she is most comfortable when there is someone on watch. Observation tells me that she might do well with a nightlight and a white noise machine. Although I’m not sure if I want to use these things or wait a while longer to see if that need passes.

Observation tells me that she sweats if she is too warm and then wakes up because her sheets are wet.

Observation tells me that she likes to be warm. But not too warm.

Observation tells me that she likes to have her legs uncovered, her upper body covered in a long sleeved onesie. Observation tells me that she MIGHT like having socks on. Which I will try tonight.

Observation taught me that when it’s warm in the room she sleeps best with her upper body swaddled in the 100% cotton gauze wrap that I wear her in during the day (with the end tucked under at the bottom. Inescapable and won’t ride up over her face). If it’s cooler then she sleeps awesome in a woombie or swaddled inside of a blanket and then wrapped in the wrap.

SOOTHING TECHNIQUES

The more ways that a baby learns to soothe, the easier the baby will adopt new soothing methods.

My daughter soothes with motion, sound, touch and nursing. She has specific patterns that she goes through where she will make certain sounds if she is going to settle back to sleep by herself vs if she will escalate and need comfort. I can tell within 30 seconds if she needs to be picked up. Allowing her to escalate to full on crying will make it take much longer to settle her.

When I pick her up if she’s rooting I nurse her immediately. If she’s squirming I try pushing her legs up to her chest first to see if she’s fighting off gas. If that doesn’t work I pick her up and bounce with her held up against my chest and use her particular pattern of “Shh” ing. (rapid, loud, near her cheek pointed in the direction of her nose. A very different pattern from the one preferred by her older brother which was a slower more varied Shh with a softer hiss above his ear.)

My children have universally preferred to be held upright. My middle child liked to be held with his head nestled against my collarbone. My daughter likes her head to be above my shoulder- first pressed against my face and then as she falls asleep she likes to put her head on my shoulder.  When she fusses in her wrap I actually have to lift her up so that her face is up against mine.

DAYTIME CROSSTRAINING

Cross training makes us stronger. “Daytime crosstraining” helps my kids learn to sleep by the things that they do when they are wide awake and in a good mood. I put my daughter down in all the different places that she will sleep. Move her around a lot for naps, respond to her immediately when she cries or stirs, respond with a smile rather than concern, talk to her while she’s separate from me, carry her when she needs to be carried, and use naptime to observe her sleep patterns and when she sleeps better/worse, what makes her startle, etc.

COPING TECHNIQUES

Coping techniques is a big one. What helps you cope will depend on you.

I drink coffee and make use of the 500mg/day allowance. I find that shots of espresso are more effective than cups of coffee as they are more concentrated and actually contain less caffeine than a cup of coffee and so I can have more of them. Keep in mind that caffeine as a coping strategy can backfire miserably if you have a child that reacts poorly. If you suspect that your caffeine intake is causing sleep issues, go off of caffeine for a couple of weeks and evaluate.

I take B vitamins first thing in the morning. I take Jarrow’s B-Right brand.

I drink a lot of water, when I’m dehydrated I feel tired and am prone to headaches.

Certain foods make me very tired, and if I eat large meals I become very tired. Instead I graze across the day and eat a lot of nuts, dried fruits, fruit, etc. When I follow my cravings for healthy foods I have more energy.

I have a wonderful partner who will let me sleep in on weekends. Except for when he needs to sleep in on weekends. We sort of touch base and see who is the most sleepy and try to balance the load. (*I did WIO with my first without this partner and it was less joyful. A supportive involved partner is critical no matter how you parent.)

I co-sleep when necessary, and do not co-sleep when necessary. We have a crib in our room. Sometimes she sleeps with us. Sometimes she sleeps in the crib. I know all of the ways to make co-sleeping safer and never fall asleep with her in an unsafe situation.

WHAT’S IN YOUR TOOLKIT?

What’s in your toolkit? I’d love to hear what other parents are finding successful or what they’ve tried that hasn’t worked, or even their discovery process.

Please remember that each parent has their own toolkit. Things that fit into mine may not fit well into yours. Or yours may contain things that I have not even thought of or that wouldn’t fit well into mine. I’d love to hear what fills your toolkit, let’s keep the comments section civil though and remember that we all love our babies and are trying our best. Talk about YOUR experiences without stepping on anyone else’s parenting. If questions are asked, feel free to answer. But try to answer in a gentle way- speak like an AP parent, not like you are debating. :)