I heard the warning signs loud and clear — from relatives, friends, books and the internet alike — and I ignored them.
"Don't hold your baby all the time after they're 3 months old," the advice books said. "By the time your baby reaches 6 months, he should be able to 'put himself to sleep,'" friends and family told my wife and I. We were warned that if we didn’t follow this sage advice, we’d end up with a baby who didn’t know how to self-soothe and who wouldn’t sleep through the night on his own. Of course we wanted our son to be well-adjusted — to love affection but also enjoy playing on his own. And we certainly wanted him to sleep well and long each night in his crib on his own.
But like I said, we ignored all that advice. And now have a baby who is the worst sleeper in the world.
My baby always wanted to be held, which was all well and good because when babies are tiny — not yet 3 months old — you’re supposed to respond to their cries by doing just that. But when my son turned 4 months and kept demanding to be held, we acquiesced. “Oh, we’ll start putting him down on his own more when he’s closer to 6 months,” we said after reading development books that said babies still don’t know where Mom ends and Baby begins until 6 months. It felt cruel to do anything else.
Then, 6 months came around. He still wanted to be held — all the time. He needed to be rocked and soothed to fall asleep for naps and at night. He would wake up immediately if you tried to put him down to sleep before he'd been unconscious for a good, long while in your arms. And even then, it was a crapshoot.
We read that at 6 months, babies start to develop separation anxiety. Our baby was crying when we left him in his crib because he now knew we had left him there all alone; he felt abandoned! We couldn’t possibly just leave him there to cry! So we’d go in, pick him up and rock him back to sleep. He would wake up again as soon as we put him down in the crib — or else he’d sleep for an hour or two, sometimes less, and then holler for attention again.
Now, every night, we bring our now 9-month-old baby into bed. Sometimes, he sleeps for big chunks of time; sometimes, he wakes up wanting to cuddle or eat or play in the middle in the night. It’s still pretty exhausting, but we’re leaning into his personality and needs rather than trying to fight them. And we may or may not abandon this current theory/practice and decide we do in fact need to torture him — er, sleep train him — for several nights in order for us all to get the rest we need.
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People think my wife and I are spoiling our son by holding him so much or by not sleep training. But I like to think of it more as giving our baby what he needs right now. Sure, if he ends up 13 years old and still needing a bottle and a cuddle to fall asleep, I may rethink this whole thing. For the time being, though, I will try not to beat myself up for doing what I hope is ultimately following and responding to the cues of the most important person in my life.
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