“Gena, you have to get your life back.”
We were at my son’s pediatrician’s office and I had just told our doctor how I held my baby all day—literally all day, and all night. Many times we were either napping in the sun shining in from his bedroom window to get rid of his jaundice, or there was a family member visiting who wanted to snuggle with him but, the majority of the day and all night long, I was the one holding Lenny while he slept.
Nothing beats snuggles from a sleeping, milk-drunk newborn but, man, did it get exhausting. It was easier to keep it up during the day when sleep felt like more of a nap, but it got so difficult at night when I longed to simply stretch out next to my husband and sleep next to each other like we used to. For the sake of convenience, we were both camped out downstairs in our living room—him on the floor on an air mattress which we endlessly inflated every night and deflated every morning, me and Lenny on the couch. Getting sleep that way was almost impossible; combine a baby that woke every two to three hours to feed with having to sit up while sleeping. I had read too many horror stories of the dangers of co-sleeping with a baby on a couch and, while I had a vice-like Momma Grip on my baby, I was terrified I would relax just a little bit and become one of those horror stories too. So, even when I did fall asleep, I did not sleep very soundly. That sleeping arrangement was not ideal for anyone in our household, and yet we were too exhausted to come up with an alternative when Lenny wouldn’t sleep in the pack ‘n play, his bassinet or his swing. Holding him and getting small amounts of sleep here and there was our solution.
Then, we had a visit with the pediatrician to check Lenny’s jaundice and weight gain. I talked at length with our pediatrician about our sleeping habits, and the fact that I was going to be abruptly returning to work within the month for a new job. Something needed to change if I was hoping to be a semi-functioning adult out in the working world again. “Gena, you have to get your life back.” She empathized with me and recommended a book that provided a method of sleep training. As soon as we got home, I downloaded the book to my Kindle and devoured the whole thing as my son slept—as I held him, of course. I hung onto every word of that book—its method for sleep training meshed well with my style of parenting, and it was something I felt we could accomplish. That night, we would start sleep training our six-week-old.
I nursed my son to sleep for what I was hoping would be the last time around 10:00. For the first time since we brought my son home, we were in his nursery instead of downstairs in the living room, and I was determined to stay the night there if I had to. Once he was asleep, I set him down in his crib. He stayed asleep for probably five minutes before waking up, likely wondering where he was and why he wasn’t in my arms. Following the book’s advice, I picked him up, rocked and bounced him just enough to calm him down but not put him back to sleep and, once quiet, I placed him back in his crib. He hated it. He cried. And I let him cry for a few minutes, knowing he’d be okay for a short time. Prior to that night, we would have run right over to him and picked him up as soon as he cried. But I was determined to make the sleep training work. After a few minutes of crying, I picked him up, rocked him again until he was calm but not asleep, and set him back down again. Each time I set him down he would cry, but it was obvious he was tiring himself out in the process. Four hours later, he fell asleep. I slept in the glider in his nursery that night so that I could easily comfort him when he woke up. He did wake up a few times that night, but he did well once he was asleep. And, even though I was attempting to sleep in a chair once again, I was much more relaxed knowing that Lenny was safer in his crib and I was able to get more comfortable without a baby asleep in my arms.
The next night I was prepared for another four-hour marathon bedtime routine. But, miraculously, Lenny slept through the night! He did so well on his own in his crib, and it was the first night in a month and a half I was able to sleep next to my husband. We sorely needed to reconnect like that, and it was our first sense of normalcy since our son was born and turned our worlds upside down. It was a great night for all of us.
We were very lucky that, with the exception of a handful of nights, Lenny continued to sleep through the night until the day he turned 3 months old. It was then we experienced a growth spurt, and since we’ve had nights of being sick, teething, and simply wanting to be held by Mom. However, for the most part, these days I am getting up only once a night for an overnight feeding. We are lucky that Lenny is an excellent sleeper.
I’ve often wondered if we were crazy to sleep-train a six week old baby. Newborns are supposed to wake up during the night—to nurse, to cry, to have their diapers changed, to simply be awake. My focus was more on the initial putting-to-bed, and trying to get him to sleep independently in his crib without constantly being held. For us, sleep training such a young baby was necessary, with me returning to work and, quite honestly, for the safety of our baby. I think co-sleeping is fine if it’s done right, and we certainly weren’t doing it right as we slept on the couch. We’re not perfect—I still nurse to sleep which “they” will tell you is not ideal, and I’ve had my fair share of nights where all my baby wants is to be held while he sleeps and I browse Pinterest. However, after sleep training my newborn, we are all better off with our new sleeping arrangements.
As my son falls asleep each night, I whisper to him “You let me know when you need something—I am never far away.” And it’s true—I’m never far. I just happen to be in my own bed, while he is asleep in his.