“Are you getting any sleep?”
“Oh, I hope your baby is a good sleeper!”
“Is he sleeping through the night yet?”
These are the kinds of endless questions you get when you have a new baby. It seems like everyone equates a baby’s “goodness” with her ability to sleep through the night, allowing his/her parents to get some sleep, too. Well, my friends, I’m here to tell you that most babies don’t sleep well. Babies aren’t SUPPOSED to sleep for long, uninterrupted periods. They’re actually designed to sleep lightly and feed frequently to better their chances of survival. But for some reason, our society is obsessed with teaching or training babies to sleep like adults.
Our Sam is three months old today. And for three months, I have been waking up all throughout the night to take care of him. To feed him, soothe him, change his diaper if he needs it. Jeremy helps too, of course, but since he doesn’t have the proper equipment for breastfeeding, I am the primary nighttime parent. Co-sleeping with your baby definitely helps maximize how much sleep both parents and baby get throughout the night, and minimizes crying. (And if you don’t feel comfortable sharing a bed with your baby, you can always put the crib or bassinet next to your bed. Better than running down the hall in the middle of the night to feed a crying child!) But even with Sam in our bedroom, we still have to wake up with him, to feed him and soothe him, every two hours or so, throughout the night. Some nights we all get a nice four-hour stretch of uninterrupted sleep. Some nights, like last night, Sam needs help every hour.
So, when I spell it all out like that, some would say that our Sam is not a very good sleeper. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I hate to break it to you, but Sam is a great sleeper. He sleeps like a baby! His goodness shouldn’t be based on how long he can sleep without needing little help from Mom or Dad. Babies need their parents 24/7. Just because it’s nighttime, doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. I consider my nighttime parenting duties some of the most important duties that I’ve taken on as a parent. Helping my baby sleep may not make me giddy with joy, but it is a responsibility I am proud to take on.
Well, you guys, a lot of people don’t think about their baby’s night waking the way that I do. They see night waking as a burden; something that must be fixed. A lot of parents believe you can train your baby to become a better sleeper. And while this may be true, the main method parents use to “train” their babies to sleep is something I fundamentally do not believe in.
I’m talking about Cry It Out.
Cry-it-out is a technique in which you “teach” your baby to fall asleep on their own, without your support. The belief is that babies aren’t born learning how to get themselves back to sleep, so when they wake up, if you continue to rock them, nurse them, or do whatever it is that you do to get your child to go back to sleep, that they will never learn how to sleep on their own, you will never get any sleep as a parent, and that in 18 years, you will be forced to go with your child to college to rock them back to sleep every time they wake up in the middle of the night. (Well, I never saw any parents rocking their 18-year-olds to sleep in my dormitory in college!)
So here’s how cry-it-out works. Your baby wakes up. He cries for you. And you… don’t go to him. You just leave him to wail, scream, and eventually, out of exhaustion, give up and pass out. Eventually your baby figures out that when he cries, no one comes, so he just gives up. No more crying, everybody sleeps. The end.
That doesn’t sound like parenting to me. That sounds like neglect! Babies can’t talk yet, so when they cry, they are trying to TELL YOU SOMETHING. They are asking for help! Sure, they may be asking for something that’s not convenient for you, like for you to wake up and hold them, but you’re the parent. Just because it’s 1 o’clock in the morning doesn’t mean you’re off the job.
Our blog is about living cruelty free, and to me, that means more than just giving up animal products. It means being thoughtful about every decision you make. It means trying to cause as little harm to every being alive. That means not letting my child cry himself endlessly to sleep. I made this person. He didn’t ask to be born. It’s my job, not his, to take care of him. Sure, there will come a day when he has responsibilities. Eventually, in the not-too-far-off-future, there will be expectations and responsibilities placed on this little person that sleeps next to me at night. But for now, his only responsibility is to tell me when he needs help.
There will come a day when he asks me for help, and instead of picking him up and brining him to my breast, I will take his hand and we solve the problem together. Those days are coming sooner than I know, and when they are here, these sleepless nights will seem like a fond, foggy memory.
I love you, Samuel Bird. I hope there is never a day in your life when you think that if you ask me for help, that I won’t be there for you.