When I was a first time mom, I was excited to breastfeed even though we had some issues. When it came to sleep, I was thrilled that every time my baby woke a little, all I had to do was nurse back to sleep and voilà, off he would go to sleep every time. It was so beautiful and peaceful to watch every smile while he was asleep and I would wonder what he was dreaming about. Fast forward 6 or 7 months later and his naps depended 100% on me. He napped in my arms, often latched on my breast. In part I told myself I had no other plans than being with him, but also knew that there had to be another way.
I kept asking anywhere I thought I could ask and I would often be advised to let him “cry it out”. I would go to attachment parenting (AP) forums and ask how I could transition my baby to his crib. Some of the most popular responses I would get were “Can you baby-wear or bed-share?” or “He will only be little for a short time,” so I felt I had to choose one or the other. He was up 3-4 times at night and if I left his side, he would wake up so I gave in and started bed-sharing. This worked great for some time until toddler-hood when the nursing only increased and I ended up feeling so exhausted and resentful, finding it hard to remain present during the day. We did change things at 19 months and surprisingly, it didn’t go as bad as I would have thought. I wish I had handled things with more patience when he woke up from time to time during those following weeks needing reassurance. I am thankful that my husband helped with this part.
When I became pregnant the second time, I had found Janet’s blog. It still took me some time to grasp the approach to sleep and even though I got some things and was ready to put them into practice this time, I was determined to not bed-share on the long term. So I only did it for 1 week with my second when he was about a week old and he slept longer stretches. He wouldn’t settle on his co-sleeper, so I decided to give it just that much time to revisit and try again, just for me to gain some energy.
I don’t know if all babies who are “good sleepers” are born that way, but I wanted to do my best to support my baby in learning to settle in that new place. I tried as much as possible to make it cozy for him and it was so tempting to swaddle but kept telling myself that he didn’t know about that need so I didn’t have to. When he fed, I made the effort to keep myself awake so that he didn’t end up nursing beyond the actual feeding so he started sleeping better and better. Sometimes he would be awake for a while (and content) and being next to him helped me have the reassurance that he was safe, fed and changed and I resisted nursing him again to make him sleep. All this payed off, at 3 months, he was sleeping through the night. Everything was going great!
As he grew, he was falling asleep on his own more often but sometimes not. I still thought it was not so bad and ended up imposing my own ideas instead of paying attention to what my baby was already doing well. But as a newborn, when he stayed awake, I did place him in the crib and he went to sleep. Thanks to RIE, I knew it was perfectly acceptable for my baby to spend time alone in the crib without me feeling guilty.
Although we had a good start, we went through a move and at some point, I didn’t observe enough and got into the habit of nursing to sleep, which caused him a few months later to wake up more than once at night or protest upon being placed in his crib for naps. Thanks to RIE and Lisa Sunbury, I was able to make changes and support him.
These are the important factors that helped us:
To myself, if I had continued nursing every time he could not settle, I would both be robbing him from the struggle and using my body as a way to comfort him, something he is capable of doing. With my presence at first because we were going through a change and then little by little providing him with the needed space to fall asleep on his own. His individuality, knowing that he was struggling with our new rhythm. Sometimes he needed more reassurance than others because he was at the moment (and still is) going through so much developmentally.
That I had made mistakes and did my best from the beginning. That it was not going to be an overnight process, actually longer than I expected. That sometimes it got better and sometimes worse.
In myself, in the process, in my baby as a capable whole being.
For signs of tiredness on time and during feedings to determine whether he was really hungry or overtired. While I comforted him while he cried, sometimes he needed me there, sometimes my presence made the process even longer.
To his cries. At first I stood by his side, we were both going through a change, a loss but when I left the room to give him the space and opportunity to try on his own, I listened to discern if his cry was one of struggle or suffering.
“Go slowly, and with great patience.” – Magda Gerber
Wait…Getting to this part wasn’t easy but when I noticed things improved so much. We had done really hard work and at times my intervening and helping too much, were REALLY getting in the way.
“My attitude has always been: Wait, Wait, Wait.” – Magda Gerber
That is how RIE helped me. The fact that I could see him as a whole capable being and unique individual gave me the confidence to talk to him about the process and get to know each other better. It was nothing about scheduling in a particular way, but it was all about allowing him to do it on his own, to master a new skill, to find his own rhythm, to learn to listen to his body. RIE is all about respect for the whole family and I love that so much. I also made some small adjustments on his older brother’s bedtime, including making it half an hour earlier. It took a couple of days to adjust and it turns out he sleeps even longer with this small change!