Let sleeping babes lie, right?
I am a firm believer in letting babies sleep whenever they want. After all, we as adults get tired or hungry at different times each day, so why shouldn’t babies? I understand that this may not work for every family, but it’s what I feel works best for ours. But on this particular occasion, I picked up my newborn son from his swing after finally breaking free of his latch, knowing full well he would most likely wake up.
When I was pregnant with my firstborn, I remember reading an article about studies done on infants who cry themselves to sleep. The activity in the infants’ brains showed that when the babies fell asleep, it wasn’t because they had self-soothed. The brain activity suggested that they still felt anxious upon falling asleep. Researchers interpreted this as the babies deciding that no one was going to come for them, so they gave up.
This made sense as I thought back to nights during my childhood and teenage years when I would cry myself to sleep. I didn’t feel better. I was just too tired to keep crying, so I went to sleep. I gave up. It also made sense when I thought back to what cave moms must have done. If you’ve read my About page, you know I like to channel my inner cave mom when in doubt. I don’t think it would have been safe to have cave babies screaming out at all hours of the day and night with potential predators nearby. There’s a reason we moms feel bad when we hear our baby crying. Our instincts are telling us to get to our babies before the saber tooth tiger does. (If my timeline is wrong on this, forgive me. Insert predatory animal here.)
It became my mission to respond to Abel’s every cry. There was definitely room for self-care on my part or self-soothing on his. He could cry for a couple minutes while I was occupied or while we were gently sleep training, but the goal was to get to him before he stopped crying. Before he gave up. As of today at 23 months old, I have not failed once in this mission.
On this particular day, Theodore, 10 weeks old, was All. About. Boob. I fed him yet again (or was it a continuation of the previous feeding…) before putting him in his swing while I went upstairs to put Abel down for his nap and use the bathroom. Theodore cried as I escorted my slowly-moving toddler up the stairs, and I accepted that it was one of those times when I couldn’t tend to them both at once.
Theodore was still crying as I finished up in the bathroom, but by the time I made it back downstairs, he had stopped. He was sleeping in his swing, arms relaxed to either side, sleepy newborn smile on his face. At first, I felt bad that he had cried himself to sleep. Then I gave myself grace that I have to be a different mom to my second baby than I was to my first. (Now the whole birth order theory is starting to come together.) I was relieved. I began to run through my options of everything I could do without having a child physically attached to me. I could write. I could eat. I could eat, then write. Okay, it wasn’t a long list. Still, I felt liberated.
Then I remembered my pact with Abel and decided Theodore deserved that same treatment. It wasn’t too late. I could redeem this for both of us. So I picked up my peacefully sleeping baby, knowing he would probably wake up. And he did. And I was glad.So I picked up my peacefully sleeping baby, knowing he would probably wake up. And he did. And I was glad. #gentleparenting Click To Tweet
He punched and kicked and squirmed and rooted for milk. At that moment, I knew instantly that despite his sleepy smiles, he had indeed fallen asleep distressed. I got us comfortable in my rocking chair and nursed him until he fell asleep safely in his mother’s arms.
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