Sleep & Nap Issues: Will My Baby Ever Sleep Through The Night?

Oh, what Susanna would give... Susanna from I Find Myself a Mother wrote in with some poignant questions about her 7-month-old son, and his persistent LACK OF SLEEP. She read my article on The ABC's of Baby's Sleep, which resulted in an interesting back-and-forth with a reader on her site proposing, instead, the Attachment Parenting approach with her son. It didn't work for Susanna, and she was upset and confused about whether she was doing the right thing by her son, after attempting the "Cry It Out" (CIO) method. She wrote:

OH! NO! What have I done? We only did Scream It Out that one terrible night (usually it is Fuss It Out; and a few times of Cry It Out); but Did I scar my baby? We have friends and family that did various versions of CIO (the moronic –in my humble opinion–Babywise, the classic Ferber, and contemporary Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child) and they are thoughtful, enlightened, kind, rested people in good marriages with well-adjusted beautiful kids! Are they wrong? And all those books say that CIO will not hurt your baby, and that it will help in the long run because the baby won’t be sleep-deprived, and more able to engage with life! But by crying, do they mean screaming in terror for two hours??

Susanna's baby was born at 27 weeks' gestation, so he was quite premature. But she and her partner are exhausted, and fear they've scarred their baby for life. Here's my response to her:

Susanna -- your little guy is still so very young -- especially because of his super-preemie status -- that you can't really expect much from him yet, in terms of sleep. I know that developmentally you say he's on track in other areas, but that doesn't mean he's caught up in EVERY area. So you're still dealing with a very young baby, in terms of sleep expectations.

I have a major beef with so many of the "baby sleep" books, because they set us up to believe that an infant's inherent sleep patterns can truly be majorly altered by the external environment -- US. And that if the baby isn't sleeping like x, y and z by a certain age...well, that's our failure in parenting. THESE BOOKS ARE LARGELY BASED ON THE CLINICAL EXPERIENCE OF SLEEP-DYSFUNCTION SPECIALISTS, who mainly see very disturbed children and families...people with severe problems. Then their findings are extended into the "normal" population, in error. The other "faction" in the baby sleep department is the AP group, who don't take into account the needs of babies who have differing sensory needs (or parents who have a need for some sleep). ;}....just IMHO.

I really want you to get away from the notion that there is ONE RIGHT WAY to be doing this, lest you screw him up permanently. Rather, have a long-term vision of what your ultimate sleep goals are for him, and then take mini-steps in that general direction, WHEN YOU CAN. If backsliding occurs, so be it. Try to be as "zen" as possible about all of this. It will work itself out, and it will be a surprise to everyone involved how, and when it does. You cannot control much of this situation, beyond providing him with the "Good Enough" environment that you already are.

So that means all you can do is COPE, for the time being. I hope he's getting a bottle? So that someone else can feed him, and you get a break? Sit down with your partner and make a plan; a schedule. Who will take which nights. The other person is "off" on certain nights, and gets to sleep (with earplugs on!!), go out, whatever. Or perhaps one of you might take him the first 2-3 hour shift of the evening, and then switch. Whatever works for you both. And it also includes calling in extra help, even if it's paid help, even if that means just once a month, so the two of you can get out and just be together, without him, to recharge your batteries. He'll be just fine. And yes, it is my observation that preemies tend to be a bit hypersensitive to stimuli and have more difficulty with regulation. It's all about neurological development. "Regulation" is a very complicated, advanced process, and one that requires lots of time for higher-level systems to mature. So again, it's about providing that "Good Enough" environment so that his own miraculous internal development can take place at it's own pace. It is fascinating to watch over time. You might even look back at video of him (if you have it) from just a few weeks ago, and you'll see how much his movement and other developmental milestones have progressed, just naturally. The same will happen for sleep.

Keep giving him the message that nighttime is for sleep, but until he really gets that, all you can do is hang out with him as you are, at night. Don't keep looking at the clock, saying "Man, it's 10:30 pm already. He should be asleep! What are we doing wrong!" Just take a deep breath, get some extra support, trade off, and know that this to shall pass. (easy for me to say, i know, but i have been there, with all 3 kids.....!)

I hope Susanna will keep us posted. Does anyone else have suggestions for her? And don't forget to read this post on another baby's sleep (or lack thereof).