Anna and I thought it might be interesting and helpful to spend a week talking about how our families do sleep. We have very different philosophies, and we think it’s good to show that there are multiple ways to raise happy, healthy kiddos! This is a very timely topic for me, because the kids and I just spent all weekend in a hotel, breaking every single one of our sleep rules…
At our house, we have a huge emphasis on training our children to fall asleep on their own and to sleep well overnight and during the day. All six of us are happier and stay healthier when we are well-rested, and we seem to rest best in our own beds. Sleeping together and napping on the go, as we did this weekend, is torture for us. I don’t follow any parenting philosophy exactly, as I received most of my advice from our first pediatrician, but I’m generally in line with much of The Baby Whisperer, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, and Ferber. From infancy, we raise our kids on the eat-play-sleep routine. I nurse my babies when they wake up, not when they are tired and falling asleep. Once they have full tummies, my kiddos are generally pretty happy until naptime (at 6 months, this is about a two or two and a half hour stretch). I put them down for their naps while still awake from infancy, so they’ve all learned to go to sleep without me. We definitely have a predictable routine from about 4 months on.
Naptime is pretty sacred at our house. I’ve been staying home after lunch for almost seven years now, so I’m just used to planning my day around being home for naps in the 1-3 window. (I try to teach the kids to take morning naps on the go so that I can do Bible study and go to church, but with varying levels of success.) When we’re home, the kids know that after lunch, it’s nap time (so if I want S to go down early, I feed her lunch at 11:30; if later, she eats at 12 or 12:30). When we’re out, I know that I can’t push past 1 or I will have cranky kids and temper tantrums. I am matter-of-fact about naptime. No long, prolonged process. Brush teeth, collect loveys, turn on CD of choice, into bed. S fought it some last year when she first moved into her big girl bed, but after a couple weeks of being firm, she embraced it again.
One principle I have found incredibly helpful with bedtimes is that “sleep begets sleep.” The earlier my kids go to bed, the later they sleep in the morning. The babies generally go down 6:30-7. The big kids’ bedtime is at 7:30, though we allow them to read in bed until lights out at 8:30. They are not allowed to leave their room until 7 am.
My first, beloved pediatrician told me that children are physiologically able to sleep through the night at 12-14 lbs. Our kids have grown at different rates, so this has happened at different ages. I don’t believe that every child should sleep through the night by X age. But for all four, we got an 8 hour night around 12 lbs and 12 hours by 14 lbs. I’ve had success doing a dream feed (go in and rouse them just enough to nurse when I’m going to bed at 10ish, then put right back to sleep) with 3 out of the 4. When we are down to one night waking in those early months, I try to pay attention to the timing and how hungry the baby is. With all of my kids, there gets to be a point where the baby is just waking up at the same time every morning (with J, it was always around 3 am by 4 months), no matter how recently she has been fed or how long she has been sleeping. At that point, if they’ve eaten well all day, we let them cry it out. We check to make sure they are not poopy, sick, etc, and let them cry themselves back to sleep. With T, it took 2 hours the first night and 15 minutes the next night, then he slept through. With E, it was negligible. With the little girls, it has never been longer than an hour, and never more than 2 or 3 nights. When things get out of whack and they start waking again (whether from travel, teething, or sickness), we make sure everything is back to normal before we let them cry it out the next night. It takes one night, and they’re back to sleeping through. This may seem cruel to some who hate to hear their kids cry. For our family, it means much less total crying and much more sound sleep. And now when someone is crying in the middle of the night, we know that it’s something serious—they wet the bed or had a bad dream or have the flu or are teething.
I also must mention that all four of my kids are tummy sleepers. I know, Back to Sleep saved lives, etc, etc. None of my kids have been big on the swaddle, so they’ve all moved past that by 2 months or so. At that point, they sleep much sounder on their tummies and roll onto them to sleep as soon as they are able. This is much more common in my experience than you’d read in books and magazines. We have had 7 different pediatricians in our cross-country adventures, and I’ve told all of them that the kids prefer tummy sleeping. All have been okay with it because we have none of the other risk factors for SIDS—nonsmoking house, firm mattress with no blankets, no asthma, they are able to lift their heads by that point, etc. I am not telling you to turn your baby onto his tummy to sleep without talking to your doctor. But it works well for us.
Lastly, while my husband and I love the way our children are trained to sleep (and want to poke our eyes out when we have to do things differently), this our family’s preference, not a moral issue. If my philosophy sounds horrible to you, take heart! Anna will have different advice on Wednesday! Feel free to ask either of us questions here in the comments or via email (our name @everythingtosomeone.com). Basically, I’d advise new moms to embrace the style that works best for their family, not to compare themselves to friends who are doing things differently, and to be gracious when this topic (or any other controversial parenting decision) comes up!