When Babyboy was around two months old, a well-meaning member of our church asked me, “Is he sleeping through the night?” I had to stammer out that, um, no, he is actually up about every 3 or 4 hours still. I shrugged it off. But that was only the first of a million well-intended queries on our baby’s sleep. And, it dawned on me, with good reason: how was I going to go to work if I was up several times a night with a screaming baby? It’s not like I can sit around and daydream at work. I need my brain. As an internist, it’s all I’ve got, really. As the 3-month mark approached, and with it, the end of my 3-month maternity leave, I stressed about sleep and the lack thereof and potential disasters in patient care.
Who knew that there was such depth to the topic of a baby’s sleep patterns? There’s numerous baby sleep specialists, books, whole philosophies built around baby sleep. I only became clued in to this when all those questions started, and also, I realized that I had to go back to work IN A WEEK. I pulled out the Baby Sleep Bible (AKA Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth) that my brother had got us as a shower gift (Thank you, Bro) and actually read it. Yes, the baby needs to sleep more. No, he has no set routine. Yes, we need to set up a routine. But it was still not clear to me how to do that. How do we get Babyboy to fall asleep according to the routine?
A side note here: I actually completed a combined internal medicine/ pediatrics residency, and I am board-certified in both. And I can’t recall at any point in my pediatrics training learning anything at all about baby sleep.
So I called up my friend with three kids younger than five and asked her. “You put them down in the crib at naptime and walk away,” she said. This really did not sit well with me. But I decided to give it a try, and followed the guidelines in the book, if baby is up at 6 am or so, then naps should be 9, 1, 4, and bedtime at 7 pm or so. As those “key” times approached, I watched Baby for signs of sleepiness, much more closely than I had before. As soon as I saw an eye rub, or a yawn, or some crankiness, off to the darkened nursery we went, for a warm milkie bottle with the Sleep Sheep set on “falling rain”. I was so blown away when, it basically worked. He seemed to have read the book. What it really was, more likely, is that 1. we hadn’t been noticing his sleepy signals, and 2. babies love routine.
Thank Goodness that when I went back to work, his main caregivers were my husband, who works weekends mostly; and my mother, who lives down the street. (BIG thankfulness for this arrangement!!!) Babyboy is super-well-cared-for in general, and his sleep patterns continued to be solid. I could smile and nod and honestly tell patients and colleagues who asked (and they did, everyday): “Yes, he sleeps through the night” and “He’s a really good sleeper”.
There were a bunch of setbacks: we traveled some, then the holidays, people visiting, et cetera. His great schedule was disrupted here and there. We had occasional nights where he would fall asleep exhausted in our arms, only to wake in a frenzy of panicked shrieks the second we put him down. Did we walk away and let him cry it out? Sure… for about five minutes, tops.
Like just now- it’s 2:30 p.m., much later than usual for his afternoon nap. He was sleepy over an hour ago. But as soon as I set him down, he cried, not the “I’m sleepy and will cry myself to sleep gently” cry, but the “Holy Moly I am REALLY upset and I will cry like this for an hour” cry. So I got him and walked with him, and he fell asleep on my shoulder, and I set him down in his crib, and he cried. Four times we did this—and finally, he fell asleep and stayed asleep. I tiptoed out of the room and sat down to catch up on some writing.
And that is a great feeling. End of story.