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How Do I Stop Feeling Guilty About My Sleepless Baby?

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Sleep, baby, sleep.

Penrose is 4 months old. She babbles, laughs, grabs her feet, rolls over, bangs on her xylophone, and does not want to go to sleep.

I should have known that I was setting myself up to fail when, weeks one through 12, when people asked, “And does she sleep?” I would respond, “She sleeps!” She did, two, three, four, even six hours at a stretch. But suddenly, at 12 weeks, she stopped. When I put her in her crib after nursing her at night she would suddenly tense up and start hollering. Even if she slept on me, at 2 in the morning she would start scootching around, crying, and almost always spit up right into my nursing bra. Co-sleeping in the trundle bed in her room, the safest spot in the house, works. Driving her around works–she’s slept through the night, a whole 11 hours straight, twice now following “snooze cruises.” And once, mysteriously, we set her down in her crib at my parents’ house and she peacefully drifted off and stayed asleep for 11 hours. It’s worked a few times to sing her to sleep, massage her to sleep, play the piano or guitar until she goes to sleep.

More often than not, though–way more often–evenings get tense around bedtime. And our goal, like most parents’, is sleep without “sleep props,” and without crying, for several hours at a stretch.

I read “The No-Cry Sleep Solution” and I read “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” I’ve been plumbing the depths of the internet. And the more I read, the guiltier I feel.

I feel guilty for nursing her to sleep (sleep prop). I feel guilty for co-sleeping occasionally (danger of death, plus sleep prop). I felt guilty for letting her cry the other night for a full hour (simultaneous guilt over teaching her not to trust me, soaring cortisol levels, muscle tension, etc.) and also for not letting her cry longer so she learns how to self-soothe. I feel guilty for keeping her up too late. And the week I put her to bed at 7 every night (tried, anyway; she very reliably fell asleep for 20 minutes and woke up screaming) I felt guilty for the daylight she was missing. I feel a little bit guilty about the fact that I told my husband to take her on a snooze cruise this evening rather than co-sleep again, except that he’ll probably use the time to take some night sky photographs so it’s all good. (Oh, and sleep prop.)

I feel guilty because every sleep book and website talks about how, without proper sleep, my child will likely grow up to be obese, depressed, and do poorly on the SATs. The fact that I was largely a non-sleeping baby who went to Brown and has an average BMI isn’t as convincing at 3 in the morning as it is writing it now.

I have faith that we’ll hit on the magic formula, hopefully soon. I’m personally torn between sleep training (with crying) and setting up our room for safe co-sleeping. Except if we co-sleep at some point we’ll have to UN-co-sleep which sounds like a whole other mishegas. And if I let her cry she might learn that the world is a cold, dark place; life is nasty, brutish, and short; and a whole host of other pessimistic aphorisms.

I’m open to advice and reassurance. There are seven billion people in the world, all of whom were babies at some point, and most of whom probably gave their parents a hard time about going to sleep. But there are enough scenarios around–the co-sleeping 10-year-old, the 18-month-old who still wakes up to nurse–that seem less than ideal. I want to put in the work now to have good outcomes later. The question is, which is the right work to put in? And how do I quell that creeping guilt?


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