Dearest Daughter of Dastardly Sleep Deprivation (And Ultimate Cuteness),
Here we are at seven months of age and up to our ears in what is usually called “sleep regression” and which is typically attributed to a parent allowing their child to develop habits and sleep associations.
I know because a book tells me so, the internet tells me so, and many people tell me so as well.
But I know some other things, too.
I know that when you were first born I tried absolutely everything to get you to sleep. I tried all of the things that worked for your brothers, all the things that I’ve read about, and then I tried all of the variations of everything. And I found the things that helped you sleep. These things were so very different from the things that helped your brothers sleep. And they worked for a while and you slept well.
And now you have supposedly “regressed” or “become dependent” on these things.
I see it differently.
If these things came from me, they would be convenient for me or based on my preferences. They would be the same from child to child. And I would not have had to “try all the things” to find out what worked for you. These are not associations that I have created for you. These are associations that you have created as a part of how you are learning to sleep. These are a positive thing, and they will change over time. I do not need to break these associations for you suddenly. They are all a part of what is normal for you. This is what learning looks like. It is not regression to move through different stages of development and to move from what is uncontrollable to what we have control over. It is progress. It wasn’t that you were an awesome sleeper when you were younger. It was that you simply couldn’t help but fall asleep. There was nothing that needed to be learned. It simply happened. Now you are learning. And learning does not mean instant mastery.
When you were born I would hold you up so your feet touched the ground and you would reflexively “walk”. When I would put my finger into your hand you would reflexively grab at it without any control at all. Your neck muscles were weak and you could not hold your head up well without it bobbing around. Your tongue would push things out of your mouth, you would turn towards anything that brushed your cheek and you would open your mouth wide as though you expected there to be nipples everywhere for you to latch on to. And you would sleep. Deeply.
Now you consciously try to take steps. Or you try to jump up and down. Or you simply stand there while you hold onto things and bobble around on your feet learning about balance. Now you consciously grab things that you are interested in, you pinch them, you turn them around, you pass them from hand to hand or you push them away. Your neck muscles are strong except for when you are overwhelmed with sleep and bob your head against my shoulder like you are a newborn again looking for that comfortable position. Your tongue thrust reflex is gone and now you eagerly bite down on things and chew them instead of pushing them out of your mouth. And you no longer try to latch onto anything other than what you know will have milk for you.
Your sleep, too, has changed. “Regressed” is how some people describe it, but for me that’s like saying your walking skills have regressed as you are learning to stand rather than have a reflex that moves your feet up and down and that takes you nowhere Or that your strength is regressing now that your grasping reflex is gone. Or that your understanding of nursing has regressed now that you don’t constantly root for everything.
You are learning the things that you need in order to sleep well and deeply. You are learning the things you need in order to sleep comfortably. You are learning so much that sometimes you need more help to sleep.
Right now you lay napping on the bed two feet away from me. You are napping on top of a few blankets that are rather messily arranged and that cradle your body comfortably. You are zonked out. Your brother is jumping around and dancing to some music that is playing, and the lights are on. When something startles you you open your eyes, meet my gaze, smile at my smile and you fall back to sleep with that simple reassurance.
This is how I am teaching you about sleep. At night I respond to you when you need me. I snuggle you close and nurse you on demand. I pat your back and rub your head and I whisper to you in a soft and sleepy voice. During the day I let you sleep however you are comfortable sleeping and I hover nearby while I do the things that need to be done and while I play with your brothers, and when you startle awake I meet your eyes and smile and say “Shhh” and move over to stroke the hair from your forehead the way I do when we nurse. And you fall back to sleep knowing that you can safely sleep off those sleepies and that I am there.
I’m not teaching you bad habits. I’m teaching you that sleep is safe. When you are older and able to understand the permanent fixture that I am in your life, and when you are able to safely sleep in a comfortable way at night in whatever position your little body wants to be in.. When you are ready to leave behind that firm crib mattress that feels like a lightly padded brick.. When you can arrange your blankets and snuggle up to your pillow and whatever stuffed animal you like the best.. Then I will teach you about how lovely it is to nestle down safe in the darkness in your own warm room. And you’ll sleep just as your brothers sleep. Through the night, through the dark, until the sun rises and the house wakes up as each of us start our day.
I don’t know if I believe that “Crying it Out” is a Horrible Terrible Guaranteed to Horribly and Terribly Damage Infants for Life. I don’t know if I believe that I positively have to co-sleep with you until you run from our bed singing some sort of song about liberation and independence and excited to start college the next day.
This is simply the relationship that I choose to have with you, where I respect the pace at which you learn and I recognize all the stages you go through and all the hard work that you’re putting in to this whole “growing up” thing.
Why do I need to interrupt your learning to “train” you to do something that you’re learning all on your own as your body settles into itself?
I don’t. I won’t. I trust you enough to wait it out and let you set the pace you need.