Wondering when will your baby sleep through the night and what you can do to make life more enjoyable in the meanwhile? I hope my personal story will answer these questions.
I had absolutely zero knowledge on anything baby-related prior to giving birth to my Ilay. I remember telling my dear husband that no matter what happens, we will never ever let him sleep in our bed because if we will, he will sleep with us forever. I also remember myself telling him that we will need to be strong through sleep training, preparing him to three terrible nights after which we will all sleep like babies. If this isn’t enough, I also told him that I already know that I will be the bad cop and that he will enjoy all the benefits of being the good cop. This is how society managed to get to me, too; I knew nothing about babies, but I knew these three things.
Forgetting What You “Know”
We came back home from the hospital on the third day of Ilay’s life, accompanied by my mother and mother in law. The elevator in that building was too small to contain us all, so the three of us went up first. We placed Ilay, still sleeping in his safety seat, in the middle of the living room, gazing at this miracle that just came into our world. Honestly, we had no idea what do do. Should we let him sleep in that seat? Should we take him out and into bed? Should we have a coffee before we make these decisions? You know what, not knowing was just fine for us. Until my mother went through the door.
As a Russian pediatrician, and a mother, she knew exactly what had to be done. And she started sharing this knowledge, on the spot. He must be changed and put to bed. Is it 15:00 now? He must eat. You must start with a solid routine right away; I’ll take care of the shower. He must shower. He must be woken up now for food and a bath. He must you must he must you must… I was getting a headache while my precious little baby was still sleeping, completely oblivious of the train running over his mother.
I then asked my mother to relax, or to leave. As you can imagine, it didn’t go very well, and she did end up leaving. Why am I telling you this story? Because the most important thing about becoming a mother (or a father) is to forget everything you think you’ve known before bringing the little miracle home. Because you don’t know. Anything. And the truth is, that facts are very restricting; the less we know, the more comfortable we are, with ourselves and with our loved ones (big and small) because we give ourselves the opportunity to learn, while those who know it all – cannot learn.
Sleeping Through the Fourth Trimester
Surely, introducing Ilay to milk, and digestion, and gas, wasn’t too pleasant for Ilay, or for his parents, but we learned the the most challenging hours were between 17:00 and 19:00 and we made sure to always be together during these hours, to make it as easy as possible on all of us. When I’d fail, my husband would be there for me, and when he’d fail – I’ll be there for him. Everything done together is easier than doing it on your own. Get all the support you can have.
Without these two hours, during the fourth trimester – Ilay truly slept like a baby. We did end up with a routine that worked for us (wake up, change, feed, change, look at the world, go back to sleep and repeat every three hours) and everything was really great. At three months old he even slept through the night! I held and rocked him for every nap and every sleep, and it worked miracles for the both of us. He slept, and so did I.
And then, it happened.
The Four Months Sleep Regression
Within a single day, my happy, cheerful, and predictable (!) baby became an inconsolable green eyed monster who, like a tornado, took everyone down with him. When I picked him up, he wanted to be put down; when I put him down, he wanted to be picked up. When he was supposed to be hungry, he didn’t want to eat and when he was supposed to be “playing”, he wanted nothing but food. And the nights, oh the nights… 2am was declared as the best time to be awake at! Ad then 4am! And nothing we did seemed to work. We just couldn’t put him back to sleep.
To make it even worse, we had planned a trip to Belgium. This was, by far, the hardest week in my life. Taking a baby out of his known and normal environment, when he is going through a major major developed, is the worst idea in the world. I won’t even tell you about it. But here’s the biggest tip: Do not, and I repeat – do not plan any trips for when your little ones are 4-5, 89, and 11-13 months old.
When we came back home, thanks to Ilay keeping me awake for endless days and my brain turning into a formless mould, I managed to learn and follow my tip from the previous paragraph – forget everything I know. Well, forgetting was easy. I didn’t even remember my name!
So that night, when I couldn’t possibly take it any longer, I broke all my past promises (to me, my husband, and even my extended family), and put him in my bed, next to me. He fell asleep in a moment. I was so amazed I couldn’t sleep. True story.
How Co-Sleeping Saved My Sanity
Since that day, Ilay slept wonderfully in his parents’ warm embrace. Everyone (and I mean, everyone) scolded us for our decision. They told us co-sleeping isn’t natural. They told us Ilay would never learn to self-sooth and will be dependent forever. They said he will sleep with us until he is 10 years old. They probably said many other things, too, but – I couldn’t care less. I was happy, my baby was happy, and even my husband was happy. We were sleeping! We were able to actually open our eyes and see the miracle Ilay was becoming. And the dreaded future everyone promised us? Who cares? It isn’t the present, and the present is what I worry about.
Independence is Chosen. Not Forced, Nor Taught
Since the day he was born, Ilay could only fall asleep while warmly held in my embrace, rocked to comfort. That was my only strategy for his sleep, and I never looked for an alternative because it worked. Surely, it was less and less comfortable as grew bigger and heavier, but I was determined to give him everything he needs, as long as he needs it. Well, when Ilay was six months old, and it was time for a nap, I picked him up and into our regular position and he started arching his back and crying. I tried the left side, I tried the right side, I tried chest to chest and nothing worked. As he was getting more tired, his frustration was over the roof. This clearly wasn’t working today, and so I gave up. I put him down in our bed and told him “I have no idea how to help you today”, and then he fell asleep. Without carrying, walking, or bouncing. Just like that.
From the very first day of his life, all Ilay’s needs were met. He never had to ask more than once, and on the better occasions – he didn’t even have to ask once. He knew he is safe, he knew he is secure, and he knew that he is loved and accepted. As is, with all the struggles and hardships. He knew he is never alone, never unsupported. He was able to let go of his first dependency; he chose to let go of his first dependency.
He made a decision. He was six months old.
Imagine how proud we were of our little guy, and how happy we were to share this news with all the skeptics.
Another Year, Another Bedroom
Even though Ilay would sleep in our room, he always had his own room, where we would play, read and just chill during the day. All his clothes were there, his toys, his books. Although I knew that he loves sleeping with us, I also internally knew that he just hates the crib. And honestly – I understood him. No one would like to be confined after tasting the sweet taste of freedom. For his first birthday we bought him a real bed, 200*90 centimeters, with an under-bed and storage. Surely, everyone told us we were crazy; this is too much of a bed for such a little guy, he’s not ready yet, and besides – you’ll see that he’ll sleep with you until he’s ten years old, they said. Well, we felt that a toddler bed that would have to be replaced in another year or two is a waste of money, and we knew our son; we were happy with our decision!
When the bed arrived – Ilay was ecstatic! He climbed up and down and was really busy deciding which toys go where as he had two huge drawers to fill up! But, he didn’t want to sleep in it. Every day, before nap time, I would ask him where he wanted to sleep, in mommy’s room or in your room. He kept on choosing our room. Until the day a new decision was made. Without fighting or fussing about it, I asked and he pointed towards his bed. That’s it. That simple. I lay down next to him (this is another reason why we wanted a big bed), and he fell asleep. As of that day he didn’t nap in our room again.
This is how it looks when mature people make mature decisions. After having enough time to contemplate, to get used to the new idea, to love the new idea and to truly choose it. From within.
Is Ilay a mature person at 14 months of age? Yes. He is as mature as he can be and he deserves for his choices to be respected.
No More Co-Sleeping for You, Mommy!
Around that time, co-sleeping was becoming less and less comfortable. Although there’s no greater joy than waking up to his beautiful smile, as he was growing bigger and bigger, our bed seemed smaller and smaller and I remember camping out on the living room couch more than once, letting the boys have their own space. Each night we asked Ilay if he wants to go to sleep in his room, or in our room. Each night he pointed towards our room. Until the night he didn’t. And we lay next to him, and he fell asleep. In his own room, in his own bed. Following his own decision.
Think I was happy? I cried like a baby. Our bed felt empty and for the first time we started talking about having another baby. Swear to god 🙂
That night, he came into our room at 3AM and ask to sleep with us. We were so happy to have him back, you can’t imagine. But, within a few weeks, he stopped doing that, too. He was confident Mom and Dad are still there and he didn’t feel the need to repeatedly check it. This is how he moved completely out of our bed when he was 15 months old.
Did he sleep through the night? No, he didn’t. Did it always take ten minutes to put him to sleep? No, it didn’t. Most nights were rather easy (after all, a year and a half is long enough to get used to waking up every three hours!), other nights were even tougher. But we were always there, meeting his needs, answering his calls.
Night Sleep in Thailand
For Ilay’s second birthday, we took him to Thailand. Well, we didn’t really take him to Thailand, it was more like taking ourselves back to Thailand, but this time with a toddler 🙂 There’s a whole post about it here. And so, one day short from two years old, when in Thailand, Ilay started sleeping through the night. Just like that. We suddenly work up, naturally, it was 6AM and Ilay was still sleeping. We had coffee. And another cup. He woke up with a huge grin at 7:30 and never looked back!
Does he always sleep through the night? No. Does he still wake up calling for us? Yes, from time to time. Does it take as long? No, it doesn’t.
Is there hope? Yes, there is. Your baby will sleep through the night.
You are the Only One Calling the Shots, Mama
If you managed to read through these 2000 words on my personal journey to independent motherhood, and Ilay’s journey to his own life, you deserve the following summary, to understand why I took all this time telling you this story, and why you actually read through it.
Our motherly instincts tell us everything we need to know about our babies, and how to raise them. While society will forever knock on our doors, telling us everything we do is wrong – we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to our children; we must stay tuned to our inner voice. This is the only way to teach our children that they have their inner voice, too, and that their voices deserve to be heard, and respected.
Only through meeting our children’s needs, can we teach them what needs they have, and how they can communicate to be better heard. Only through respecting can we be respected. Only through independent thought we can teach independent thinking.
Tweak your perception, use the lemons to make lemonade!
And now tell me in the comments below, how does your little one sleep?
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