The Bad Sleep Habits We Taught Our Newborn

334808_2242411812124_180247475_oWhen my son was born I was a nervous wreck. I had many years of experience working with babies but they always started with me after 6 months. I had no idea newborns cried so much. I was lost. So I searched the internet. I found so many opinion articles and blog posts telling me how it was NOT okay for a baby to cry as much as my son was; how it was damaging his brain. I even had a woman leading an infant group tell me that babies experienced pain when they cry. Nonsense! These things are the worst things you can tell a new mom, especially one prone to anxiety. What I needed to hear during this time was that some babies just cry a lot (my son now talks constantly) and that my anxiety was making it worse. I needed to hear that babies fuss in their sleep. I needed to hear about purple crying.

So in an (often failed) attempt to have a silent and peaceful newborn as I imagined should be, we made a lot of mistakes.

I nursed him to sleep and then let him stay latched on for hours. Often holding in pee or literally starving myself as I sat there unable to move lest I wake him.

My husband bounced him on the ball so that he would stay asleep. This meant an hour or so of just movement to keep him in a state of half sleep. 

We followed the 5 S’s, also known as The Happiest Baby on the Block.

Even when he was asleep and made fuss sounds I would get nervous and nurse him. I was literally waking my child every 45-minutes to an hour to nurse him when all he needed was sleep. 

Why were these bad habits? Because my son got used to this way of sleeping, which was not his way, but our anxiety-filled minds solution to a problem that was possibly never there. Every single time he fussed we didn’t listen; we just jumped in and tried to solve the problem based on what outside sources were saying.  At 4 months, when things were really bad and we were all frustrated, we changed. I had a good talk with my pediatrician about purple crying and I found Janet Lansbury’s post on why I could calm down about the crying. So we slowed down. When he cried, I paused and listened to him. I calmed down enough to pay attention to what he was really saying to me. We had to face the fact that we had gotten him used to certain habits that did not actually allow him to get proper sleep. We realized that what he needed to get his sleep was to fall asleep on his own, in his own quiet and dark space. Not because someone told us that this is what babies need, but because we payed attention to him and followed our intuition. We went through a 3-day process where we explained the changes to him and supported him as he struggles through these. After a few days he had recovered from sleep deprivation and finally became a happy baby.

This was a hard process for me because at that time I was surrounded by parenting advice that said the only way to be a gentle and compassionate parent was to sleep with your baby and wear them and hold them all the time. This was terrible advice because it just didn’t fit our temperaments. My son is now 2 and very independent. He likes to do everything on his own and will often go into his room to play quietly by himself. We do have lots of quality time together, but it’s crystal clear now that he just wants his own space from time to time. Even when he is sick we try to sleep with him and he pushes us away. I mean, I prefer to have my own space when I sleep and also love time to myself to decompress so it would make sense that my son is like this as well.

We have another baby on the way and I plan on doing things differently. It’s not that I plan on NOT doing any or all of these techniques to help my new baby. Maybe they will work for this next child or maybe they won’t. The change I will make will be a mental one; this time it won’t be a parenting method that I listen to.  I will allow myself to calm down about the crying, pause and actually listen to what my new baby has to say.


10 thoughts on “The Bad Sleep Habits We Taught Our Newborn

  1. Oh my, we have such a similar story with our boy. Once he started sleeping alone at 9months we were all on the track to recovery but still it has been along tow years. At 2.5 I just realized I could tell him a story and kiss him goodnight and leave the room, he would actually roll over and fall asleep himself…..My husband and I had been spending a good hour between us in bed, telling stories, nursing, laying there quietly to get him to fall asleep just a month ago….and I am positive 6 months ago, he would have screamed and cried if we tried this move on him then (cause we did try and have throughout his life to leave him to fall asleep on his own)…..Oh the learning, oh the efforts, it makes me tired just thinking about it!! But each child REALLY is different and each family needs to just keep working to find harmony. Good for you for finding your own way and may the next baby be a sleeper!!!

  2. You have no idea how much I needed to read this. I experienced the same feelings of guilt, surrounded by conflicting opinions, but most impacted by the atrachment parenting ethos. I had to teach my son to sleep at 4 months. And I have had such feelings of guilt about it, 2 years on. It is wonderful to read your post and begin to let go of some of those feelings. He won’t sleep in our bed and pushes us away and I always thought that was because I, selfishly, insisted he sleep independently, but perhaps its because of what he is: a fiercely independent little boy, who is capable of what can only be described as spectacular displays of self-will. I have a 5 month old little one now too, who, for different reasons, I will also have to teach to sleep. Reading this makes me feel better about moving forward with this, with awareness and instinct, and treating all the other clamouring, judging opinions as white noise :-)

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  5. These things are ONLY bad habits if they are for you. ONLY. There are plenty of babies that have been parented this way and they are still fiercely independent young people who have their own space when they want it. Yes it is okay for some babies to cry and to respond to that, but I don’t believe you need to “teach” a child to sleep or self settle. It takes 2 years for a child’s sleep to mature and their sleep progress will fluctuate over that time according to their needs.

    • Yes Kim, I mentioned that “We have another baby on the way and I plan on doing things differently. It’s not that I plan on NOT doing any or all of these techniques to help my new baby. Maybe they will work for this next child or maybe they won’t. The change I will make will be a mental one; this time it won’t be a parenting method that I listen to. I will allow myself to calm down about the crying, pause and actually listen to what my new baby has to say.”

      This is about not listening to my baby and responding out of fear of the crying.

    • Two years is a long time to bounce a baby to sleep on a yoga ball or deal with constant crying and intense amounts of sleep deprivation. “Wearing down” a baby to sleep is easy when the baby is 8 pounds, but not as much when the baby is 18 pounds. Also lots of other things happen to babies during those two years. They start learning to self-regulate (if you let them) they learn to anticipate things (if their world is predictable) they learn patience (if you allow them a chance to wait).

      You don’t have to “teach” a child to self-settle, no. But you do have to give them the space and freedom to do it, or they won’t have any practice at it. Of course every child is different, and some children come out of the womb as calm as yogis, and they don’t easily get their feathers ruffled in general. And some babies come out of the womb touchy and sensitive and vocal about how insane things are in the world. And everything in between.

      The babies who are struggling with the world need love and comfort yes, but they also need some space and time and opportunity to adjust to the world. I’m not talking about leaving a baby to cry alone for hours, but picking them up at the first whimper before you’ve even given them a chance to tell you what they are whimpering about? That to me can be as oppressive as ignoring them and walking away.

  6. I was so you. Exactly you. Bouncing our son on a yoga ball and everything. Though we didn’t always know that usually when he was crying he was just overtired and needed to rest. I am grateful that I found Regarding Baby and other blogs when our son was around 6 weeks old – I was feeling so horrible that he was crying so much and all the time (though he slept relatively well at night… that at least was a mercy.)

    Thankfully I found another way to handle things. But I am violently angry with Attachment Parenting and Dr. Sears. They are SO wrong, and their parenting philosophies really leaves mothers hanging out to dry.

    • Yes, I am grateful for and I was fortunate to find them when my son was 4 months old, so after that point things became calm and I began to ENJOY being a mom.

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