After my son was born, the nice nurses in the maternity ward handed me a helpful "Get to Know Your Newborn" fact sheet. As a first-time mom, listening to my motherly intuition was new to me, so I was happy to read something that told me what to do, especially when it came to sleep. I liked that someone (besides me) had laid down the rules, like that I would need to wake my son every four hours to feed him. After reading that one sheet, I felt like I was ready to support my son's sleep habits. Unfortunately, my newborn didn't get the sleep habits memo.
My husband and I took our baby boy home . . . only to learn that my son had colic, which caused him to wail for prolonged periods of time. My pediatrician told me that there's no cure, so I was up all hours finding inventive ways to comfort my son. Walking, rocking, and Bon Jovi tunes all proved helpful, but his condition made it impossible for us to find a workable sleep schedule. Thankfully, after three months of "Livin' on a Prayer," my son's colic magically disappeared. I thought I'd finally get some sleep.
The dreaded sleep regression stage had taken over, and my little night owl couldn't make it through a 45-minute sleep cycle without crying. My motherly intuition and I tried for two months to discover a solid sleep schedule, but we were still missing the mark. I finally threw in the baby blanket and called a professional.
"Sleeping is not his strong suit . . . ," I admitted on the call with her. I could hear the sleep consultant on the other end of the phone taking notes on her computer. And I received only hard silence as I told her my now-6-month-old's sleep history. With every key stroke, my embarrassment grew. I'd hoped to hear some words of encouragement because she and I were now a team, but instead, her cold silence continued to make me feel deeply inadequate. My gut had proven itself useless when it came to helping my baby boy learn to self-soothe and sleep on his own. Then, she confirmed my worst fear: "It might be too late," she said curtly. "But here's what we do":
- After a day of a consistent schedule, put him down in his crib at bedtime and leave the room.
- Should he cry, I wait at least two minutes before going to reassure him.
- Do not touch him.
- Continue this technique of waiting to reassure and then increase the amount of time between visits.
- After reaching 10 minutes, move on to 15 minutes or until he falls asleep.
- Use a video monitor (if possible), and take notes each night.
So after my son's daily routine, I laid him down in his crib. I had the tiny video monitor on, so when the crying inevitably began, I immediately noticed his arm movements becoming unusually frantic. That's when I heard his cry come out muffled, a sound I'd never heard or seen before. But only 30 seconds had passed, and the sleep expert warned me that I'd want to go in before the two minutes were up when I heard my baby cry. "It will be hard," she said. Then she firmly told me to wait it out. Her gut had worked better for hundreds of mothers, and my directionless gut had clearly thwarted my baby's sleep. Whose should I trust?
When I entered the room, I noticed immediately that my son had thrown up, but in his panic, he'd forgotten to roll over or even turn his head. He lay there choking on his own vomit. I quickly scooped him up and cleared his airway, grateful I'd listened to my instincts and not the advice of the sleep expert. And at that moment, my gut strongly suggested that traditional sleep training might not be for us.
I'd hired a sleep expert because I'd assumed she had some magical words or a mystical plan that I'd been missing. Even though we still hadn't found a strict sleep schedule, I now began to feel a confidence that I'd been missing. My son and I would find what we needed, on our own. The only thing this professional helped me learn was to trust my own instincts. I'd been my own expert all along. As it turns out, I'm only a failure as a mom when I fail to listen to my motherly intuition.