Following all the sleep rules

My little 4 hours old baby sleeping in his crib as soon as we brought him home. All I wanted to do was hold him close but told myself he needed to be safe in his crib.

Baby sleep rules are simple:

Put your baby to sleep Alone, on their Backs, and in their Crib

You should room-share (but not bed-share) for at least a year. Have the crib close to your bed but not too close so you don’t risk pillows or blankets falling on your baby. Also, sleep train your baby at 6 months so they learn to self-soothe. Which you should probably do in a separate room so as not to confuse them. 

You should exclusively breastfeed for 6 months. But also take time for yourself and involve your partner. So you should probably introduce a bottle (of breastmilk of course) but not before breastfeeding is established. 

You should continue to breastfeed on demand until your baby is at least 2 years old. But you should night wean at 6 months. And don’t do it in public because no one wants to see your nipples. And definitely don’t nurse to sleep because that’s just creating bad habits.

Ideally give them a pacifier to reduce the risk of SIDS but not too early because they’ll have nipple confusion. And be sure to take it away before they get too attached.

Simple right? 

Turns out, not so much. At least not for me.

Let me back-up a bit. There are many little kids who dream about growing up to be doctors, firefighters, president, etc. I was the little girl that dreamed of being a mom, the older cousin who spent every family party playing with her baby cousins. I was always the teacher during games of ‘school’ and loved playing with dolls.

Unsurprisingly, I became an Early Childhood Educator. And I yearned for years to become a mom. My husband and I both wanted children from the moment we started dating but due to school, work, and various reasons we waited almost 10 years before welcoming our son. 

I tell you all this so you understand why I was determined to do it all perfectly. After all this was my destiny! I was not only going to be a mom, I was going to be a great mom. And of course that meant following every single guideline to a T.

They tell you parenthood is exhausting. But you don’t really get it until you’re in it.

I quickly realized in the first week or so of parenting that following all the sleep rules was not sustainable. I was lucky enough to have a mostly seamless breastfeeding journey and my son nursed around the clock. During the day I could pass him off to dad in between feeds to take a rest. Or have someone hold him while I napped. But at nighttime I was on my own.

I was somehow supposed to feed every 1-2 hours all night, WITHOUT falling asleep with him, putting him down in his bassinet (where he just woke up again) and trying to sleep in the short breaks in between. I fell asleep on the couch several times with him on my chest which I now understand to be extremely dangerous (yes more dangerous that bedsharing but more on that later).

Somehow we pushed through that phase and began putting our son to sleep in his crib a couple feet from my bed. I would wake up at night, sit up in bed to nurse him, and put him back. Oh by the way, he also had reflux so often I also had to clean him up and his sheets in the middle of the night.

One day, he must’ve been about 2 months old, my husband walked into our bedroom while I was sleeping. He said ‘where’s the baby?’ at which point I sleepily looked around and instinctively pulled the duvet down… he was sleeping completely covered by our duvet. I had no recollection of ever bringing him into our bed. 

The second incident happened a couple of weeks later. I woke up in the early hours of the morning to a loud ‘thunk’. I had fallen asleep breastfeeding and my baby had fallen out of my arms and was now crying on the floor. He was fine by the way, but I still remember that sound.

I felt like the worst mom in the world. Yet these accidents are common, I know that now. And they are completely avoidable.

At this point I knew we needed a change. Clearly browsing through social media wasn’t enough to keep me awake during feeds, bedsharing was not an option, so the only solution that seemed sensible at the time was to move our son to his own room. Our logic was that I was more likely to stay awake if I had to get up to go to him. Spoiler alert: I didn’t. I also told myself he slept better without our noise. That is possibly true but it is also possible I missed some of his cues from the monitor.

Regardless, it was virtually impossible to follow all the ‘ sleep rules’. I found myself drained by it. Not that I would admit it to anyone of course. I clung to the ‘Wonder Weeks’ app to try to make sense of why my son had fussy periods. My husband would roll his eyes everytime I talked about leaps and I would pompously tell him that it was helping me to understand the ‘science’. But it wasn’t. It just made me cling to more unrealistic expectations. And I obsessively tracked his sleep and feeds, telling myself that if I kept track I would be able to find a pattern and ‘figure it all out’. Not sure what I was supposed to figure out but I was determined to do it.

Then there was social media. I was active on a few Facebook mommy groups for babies of the same age. One of them became very hard core against bedsharing and went a little overboard on the ‘safe sleep’ guidelines. I once got called out for sharing a picture of my son sleeping on my sister’s bed while we visited her even though I stated I stayed with him the whole time. The argument was that babies should never sleep on an adult bed. This is when I started to realize that common sense wasn’t often used in these discussions.

One thing I knew from the beginning was that I did not want to sleep train. I just knew this wasn’t for us. And more and more it seemed that the safe sleep guidelines were only possible if you did sleep train your baby. 

Luckily I found my people.

My first introduction was through Valerie at Talkin Sleep. I finally found someone who understood! I had known deep inside that there must be a middle ground but it was so exciting to finally meet someone who got it. There was no fear mongering, just facts and support. 

When I read the curriculum for the Baby Led Sleep course I was hooked. I already knew I wanted to work with families and help new parents. I had found through my journey that new parents need a LOT more support than is already available.  But when I found this approach that was gentle, sensible, researched-based, and holistic I knew it was perfect for me.

Now my 1 year old sleeps in a floor bed, where we safely bedshare part of the night. We have a great thing going where he nurses to sleep but sleeps independently for about 8-9 hours at night. Yes, it is possible. 

What I wish I knew then? I wish I knew it was okay to bedshare when done safely. It would’ve saved me a lot of sleep and anxiety. 

I wish I knew it was NORMAL for babies to wake during the night. That sleep is not linear. That none of it lasts forever.

I wish I held my baby more and worried less.

So I am on a mission to spread the message. Parenthood is hard enough, we do not need to add the pressure of having a baby that sleeps through the night, alone, without soothing. We do not need to leave our babies to cry alone in order to get rest. There is another way.

Trying to make sense of all the rules and how they fit in your lifestyle? Book a free 15 minute call with me to see how I can support you to meet your sleep goals. And be sure to follow me on Instagram for lots of great conversations with other like-minded parents.

Please visit La Leche League International’s website for details on safe bedsharing. And check out Professor James McKenna’s book ‘Safe Sleep’ for research on the benefits of bedsharing and breastsleeping.