Our kids have never slept well. I have written about their poor sleep habits before, so some of you know what I’m talking about. I should clarify, actually: the twins sleep well, but CeCe and Adele don’t. CeCe is a separate issue, which I will talk about another day. Adele, however, has been the source of many conversations with friends over the last two years. After being asked countless times how she is sleeping, I have learned that I will never, ever ask a new mom (or even a well seasoned mom) how her baby is sleeping. No matter how you answer, you are setting yourself up for failure. All parents have opinions on the best methods concerning parenting, usually thinking that their way is the very best way, and things get heated quickly. This seems to be especially true when parents are discussing the sleep (or lack of it) of their offspring.
Almost exactly one year ago (one day shy actually!), I wrote about coping with a baby that doesn’t sleep. A year ago, at 14 months, Adele was still waking every hour to nurse most nights, sometimes stretching it to two hours, but that was a rare occasion worth celebrating. At 14 months, I had many nights where I felt frustrated to the point of considering night weaning, especially after several really bad nights in a row. But usually after several of those really bad nights, I would finally get a night where she slept for a 3 hour stretch, and I would feel like a new person. It’s weird how little sleep you can truly function on if need be. Whenever I felt ready to throw in the towel, I would get just the amount of rest I needed to keep going.
I know for some people, it doesn’t make any sense to “stick with it” when it comes to dealing with nighttime wakings. Most parents anticipate little more than the night when their child really begins to sleep through the night (sttn). Furthermore, most parents now days will go to any length to get said baby to sttn, including crying alone in a crib for hours on end. I’m not going to get into a debate with you about crying it out (at least I’ll try not to), because I was once one of those parents. I regret letting the twins cry it out more than almost anything in my parenting journey thus far, and would never consider it again, no matter how tired I became.
I really, truly, believe that there is a reason babies and toddlers still wake at night. I know that Adele doesn’t need the nutrition that she receives from nursing at night. I know that I could force her to sleep through the use of any number of sleep training methods, some gentle, some not so much. But I don’t want to, and don’t plan on doing so. I actually like the way we are doing things, and if I was having more babies, I would do it the same all over again. (Honest.)
While we live a lifestyle that could fit within the parameters of Attachment Parenting, I don’t do so because I identify with the movement. I do so because it’s what feels right for our family. And if I was going to be more specific in my identification of our parenting/family style, I would say we more closely resemble Natural Family Living. I firmly believe that the first 3 to 5 years are formative in determining how a child will live out his entire existence. For me, one of the biggest components to Natural Family Living is trust. When it comes right down to it, I have to choose to trust each day that this socially unacceptable way we have chosen to parent will be worth it in the long run. I have to trust that although I allow Adele unlimited access to nurse as she chooses, she will slowly decrease the amount of time she spends at the breast. I also trust that as she spends less time nursing, she will spend more time sleeping (at night, at least).
I will be the first to admit that that can be hard. Those days I mentioned earlier, where you are so tired you can feel the weariness in your bones, those are the days I doubt. I wonder if I’m making the right choices, if it will all be worth it. Even though I know deep down that this is what I want, I question it when I am soul weary and desperate for a good nights sleep. But after a bit of recharging in some form, I can usually regain my confidence that what I am doing is what is right for us. After all, that is what Natural Family Living (and Attachment Parenting) are all about, right?
So one year ago, I doubted. I wondered if in one year I would be in the same place, sleepless and filled with frequent worry. But thankfully, we have made progress. Adele only wakes once per night, on average, to nurse. Occasionally she wakes two times, but usually just once. I now don’t even notice when she wakes me up, falling back to sleep while she nurses almost instantly. If I feel tired the next day, it’s usually the result of being too busy or having too much on my mind, rather than dealing with a teething baby. I am so thankful that I have followed (and stuck with) my instincts in this area. I still cherish our breastfeeding relationship and love that I haven’t done anything to interfere with nature.