Less is More: Baby Sleep

I’ve been avoiding writing anything about this for the past few weeks, in fear of mocking the baby sleep gods with my own hubris and being struck down with a plague of wakeful nights. But I’m going to risk it.

My. Baby. SLEEPS! He sleeps during the day, and he sleeps almost through the night. He started needing only one feed each night (meaning after went to bed) at about 3 weeks old. By six weeks he was consistently giving me 6-7 hour stretches of nighttime sleep when he went to bed at around 8 or 9pm. Today, he’s two months old, and last night he slept for a fabulous 9h 22m straight (thanks, tracking app!)

My first kiddo did not do this. The existence of a four-month sleep “regression” shocked me as I read about it in my Baby Center email. What did they mean, going back to night wakings??? We’d never left that party. By the time he was over a year old, little Arlo still woke up crying for bottles sometimes, and we went through long ‘stages’ where John would somehow end up sleeping with him in the basement guest bed halfway through most nights.

So I’m sure you can understand my elation at the good fortune I’ve had with Mr. Remi. Sometimes I’m sure it’s nothing but a stroke of luck, and I’m just riding the train out, waiting for that other shoe to drop. But sometimes, sometimes, I think I know why he sleeps better than my first – and I think it’s… my doing. I know, I know – I’m waiting for the lightning bolt from the angry gods above for even thinking such blasphemy, let alone writing it down. But here it is:

I. Do. Less.

Really, this is about it. I respond less when Remi cries. I hold him less often than I held Arlo. I let him cry for longer before picking him up or entering the room where he’s been sleeping. I assume less that he won’t be able to put himself back to sleep, and trust him to try first, even if it means some whining, squawking, and crying. I worry less about something being wrong with him. I assume less that I know when he’s going to need to eat, and actually wait for him to tell me.

French babies are famous for their ‘early’ sleeping-through-the-night habits, and the internet abounds with articles about how “The Pause,” the observation practice that’s quite taken for granted in French parenting culture, makes this happen. I read about this Pause before my first kid, but thought that the French parents were a little extreme; they expressed waiting five, ten, or even fifteen minutes usually before going to their fussing baby! That must be too long, I thought – this babe is so tiny, so helpless, it’s cruel to make him wait. I kept thinking this until I came within a hair of losing my sanity at six months and decided to Ferberize him.

So this time, I committed to the Pause. And I learned two things:

The Pause isn’t about just waiting, or letting my kid cry. It’s about observation. It’s about being with him in spirit, via his monitor, and learning about the process he goes through when he’s waking, falling asleep, or putting himself back down between sleep cycles. With Arlo, I simply steeled my nerves and let him cry a little, but at a louder, or more insistent cry, I figured that meant he needed me and scooped him up, offered him a feed. But with Remi, I wait and observe, and in turn, I feel like I understand his ‘language’ a lot more. I know the difference between a hungry cry, a fed-up cry, a tired cry, a disoriented cry. I know the certain way he squirms and squawks when he’s almost back to sleep but having difficulty getting over the edge – he will get there, though, if I just let him have another minute or two. I have to pay attention to all this every time he cries, and keep paying attention even once I think I’ve ‘got it’ because he’s changing all the time. So in some ways it’s not really less at all, I suppose.

Those French parents weren’t being cruel in their length of waiting. To me, ten minutes seemed like an eternity to wait while a baby sounded unhappy. But the more I read about it, the more I realized they make conditions on their practice of pausing, explaining that of course if your babies are “really” crying, you pick them up. The thing is, I couldn’t know the first time around if Arlo was “really” crying because I wasn’t paying enough attention to understand, or giving him enough time to show me, the different kinds of cries he could have. I always go with a base of 10 minutes now, because usually, Remi puts himself back to sleep around 8 or 9 minutes. I can’t help but think if I’d just had a baseline of 10 minutes for Arlo, instead of 3 or 5, which was all I could emotionally handle at the time, how much easier things could have been!

Of course, every baby is different, and every parent is going to be their own best judge of when their baby is “really” crying vs. when they’re just working through something or otherwise communicating. But what I know to be true is that when I do less jumping to ‘fix’ every squawk or whine, I sleep more. And on that note, I hear Remi starting to coo, so I’m going to go and listen.

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