When Your Baby Teaches You What Google Cannot
Although I’m averse to identifying as a specific type of parent, as I think there is nuance that makes categorizing individual parenting into one specific style impossible, an outsider would likely label me as one following the principles commonly known as attachment parenting.
Naturally, I’m a researcher. Probably to a fault. If there is something I’m curious about, I can dive down the internet rabbit hole and stay down there until something in my real life is pressing for my attention. Luckily (or maybe not luckily) for me, I didn’t have a lot that was pressing for my attention during my pregnancy. This meant I could research the hell out of what life was going to look like as I went from an adult without children to a parent.
Because this was my first child, and I didn’t have much exposure to babies prior to becoming a parent, I really knew nothing when it came to caring for them. I hadn’t been a nanny or had close friends whose babies I spent any substantial time around; I just didn’t have any worthy experience in the baby department.
When I began listening to parenting podcasts and joining online parenting communities and following parenting media outlets, I realized there were a lot of decisions coming my way. I found out very quickly how hot of topics breastfeeding and vaccines and sleep training were. I realized that what one person claimed to be an unthinkable parenting choice seemed the only logical option to another. I realized that everyone had an opinion, and that opinions were incredibly divisive and contradictory.
To someone who liked research and concrete answers, this was frustrating. How was I supposed to decide if my baby was supposed to follow wake-times, when half of the Internet was telling me that if he stays awake for more than precisely ninety minutes the earth will combust, and the other half was telling me that every baby is different and to follow their cues when it came to guiding their nap patterns?
It seemed as if with every topic that came up, I researched to the depths of the internet, only to surface with the answer of “I don’t know.” There wasn’t much I felt super strongly about in terms of parenting this way or that way. I figured I would try go with the flow—meet the baby when he’s born, and let him show me what he needs.
There was one area, though, that I eventually came to a clear conclusion on: sleep training.
After much debate, I had decided that I wasn’t going to do it. My hat is off to anyone who does—I don’t have judgment or scrutiny toward the concept, I just knew that I didn’t have what it takes to power through what could potentially be hours of crying.
During the first six months of my little guy’s life, he was rocked to sleep by me or my husband. If he started to act sleepy, and didn’t naturally fall asleep for a nap wherever he was at the time, I would take him to his room and rock him to sleep. This sometimes meant walking around the house in a specific walking style that gave him what resembles a bumpy ride, which he seemed to really like to fall asleep to.
This process to put him to sleep was sometimes quick; but sometimes it wasn’t. If he was agitated or overly stimulated, I could spend an hour on this routine. Sure, my limbs felt like they were going to stop functioning, but I wasn’t going to stop until the little bean was asleep.
There was one evening that I took him to bed and couldn’t find his binky. He was already in his sleep suit in his dark room, ready for bed, and I didn’t want to take him out of his sleeping environment to haul him around while I looked for his binky to put him to sleep. I’ll just lay him in bed for a few minutes while I look for his binky, I thought.
He cried when I laid him in his crib. I wasn’t watching the clock, but I would have guessed it took between five and ten minutes for me to find his binky, and by the time I had returned to his room, he was asleep.
It was a revelation for me, because while he did cry himself to sleep, I realized he had always cried himself to sleep; it was just usually in my arms.
My son doesn’t cry often. I feel very fortunate that his cries are usually saved for one circumstance, and that is when he’s tired. The thing I hadn’t taken note of, was that my rocking him to sleep didn’t stop the crying; he would cry and scream and thrash around as he was falling asleep in my arms. I had been so focused on calming him and helping him fall asleep that I had never thought twice about him crying almost every time he fell asleep. That was, until I left him alone for a few minutes, heard his crying, and then witnessed him fall asleep more quickly than he usually did during my exhausting rocking sessions.
This experience led me to try something new. I thought I would try letting him put himself to sleep, even if that meant leaving him to cry.
I had some limits I had set for myself regarding how long I would let him cry for and when I would intervene if the cries hit above a certain octave, or if his behavior became more agitated than usual.
What happened over the following days, for naps and bedtime, was that I would put him in his crib and he usually cried for 10-15 minutes, and then he fell asleep.
He was falling asleep faster and crying less when I wasn’t rocking him to sleep. In fact, the times that he did cry for longer than I was comfortable with and I stepped in to try to help him get to sleep, it was as if my presence stimulated him, which made him more agitated, his cries louder, and his ability to fall asleep much further away.
Now, my intention in sharing this experience has nothing to do with sleep training. I don’t care if you’re for or against sleep training. I don’t even think I am for or against sleep training. I just see it as another choice parents are faced with, and we all make the decision that feels right for us and our families at the time.
I was listening to the internet when I made the decision to rock my baby to sleep and to never leave him while he cried. That was a decision I made due to the knowledge I had gained from the research I had done.
What I learned was that the internet doesn’t know my baby. I needed to listen to my baby—to watch my baby. He was different than all other babies, just as every baby is unique and has their own set of needs. I followed my parent intuition when my son was showing me what he needed. This is not something the internet could have taught me.
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