Baby sleep experts love to tell parents how they’re getting it wrong. Sure, putting baby down in a dark room drowsy, but not fully asleep — heavens no — sounds ideal, but what if your baby needs you nearby? Listen carefully, because here is the big secret: What you do in the early months of your baby’s life will not destroy her ability to fall asleep on her own down the line.
My first daughter had the joyful combination of colic and reflux. I read as many books, blogs and parenting websites as I could get my bloodshot eyeballs on, but none of the sleep advice worked. The more I read, the more afraid I became. Every expert seemed hell-bent on chastising any choice I made as a potential train wreck down the line.
I swaddled too long. I used a swing for naps until she pushed the weight limit. She literally — and I do not use that term hyperbolically — never spent a single night in her crib. She slept on me or beside me — always using safe co-sleeping practices — at all times. She was fed on demand overnight until she was at least 1 year old. We finally transitioned away from co-sleeping to a floor bed around age 2, but we still sat beside her until she was sound asleep. When I was pregnant with my second and desperate for her to nap, we dozed in my bed. She sucked her thumb until she was 4.
A million baby sleep experts shake their shushing heads softly in my general direction.
Experts had me believing my unwillingness to let her cry it out — we tried, she only became more agitated — meant I was denying her the ability to learn to fall asleep on her own. That she would never learn. Because I guess parents swaddling their college-age children is a thing?
So… did we ruin her? Of course we didn’t. By age 3, we achieved the tucked-in drowsy and alone ideal. She is now 8 years old and falls asleep with only the typical hurdles you might expect from a child her age — namely staying up too late chatting with her room-sharing little sister.
You aren’t doing anything at this point that you can’t undo later
Read that line over and over again if you have to — you aren’t doing anything at this point that you can’t undo later. And that’s what the parenting experts don’t seem to see. Why are they telling you to fix things today simply because they might be hard habits to break later on? Of course they might, but they are definitely difficult to break right now, so why borrow trouble? Wait until they are a bit older and possess a sliver of reason.
Of course, if something your baby needs to sleep does not work for you or seems unsafe, go ahead and nip that junk in the bud post haste. But if all are happy and some amount of sleep is happening? Here is your permission, from one mama who has managed not to ruin three entire humans’ abilities to sleep: Keep doing what works until it doesn’t, and tell the experts to take a hike.