Our Journey Toward Sleeping Through the Night
By Jenn Director Knudsen
I no longer awake with a start when my baby girl cries out at 2 a.m. Now, my first thought is, “Please go back to sleep,” instead of, “What’s wrong?”
Though I have a hard time falling back to sleep once I’m up, I have an even harder time rousing once in a deep slumber. So when Alyssa is up and hungry or just in need of the comfort of nursing to return to baby dreamland, my first thought is “Aw heck,” followed by “Why me?” Once I resolve to claw my way out of bed, grope for my glasses, bathrobe and glass of water and shuffle down the hall to her bedroom, the upset begins to dissipate. At this moment, all I want is to give my daughter the comfort she’s crying out for.
“Letting her ‘cry it out’ meant we lay awake in bed, feeling guilty as sin.”
Peeking over the edge of her crib and watching her calm down once she makes eye contact is very powerful. Picking her up and having her burrow her body against my chest empties my mind of all frustration and my body of all tension.
And since I don’t turn on a light at 2 a.m. to read—an activity I do while nursing Alyssa during the day—I either lean my head back in mock snoozing, or I gaze down at her as she eats and begins physically relaxing, preparing herself for another few hours (I hope) of sleep.
Alyssa is heading toward 6 months of age and has slept through the night eight times. But who’s counting?
I am a stay-at-home mom and so don’t need to be in tip-top shape at the office; I can spare a little sleep deprivation. Yet at this point my husband and I agree it’s time both of us got more sleep, and we believe Alyssa would benefit, too, from less interrupted nighttime sleep.
So my husband and I are trying to wean her from the middle-of-the night feedings. The Ferber method of comforting Alyssa at prescribed intervals failed; each time David went into her room to pat her on the head or belly, she only escalated her crying, whipping herself into a nearly hyperventilating frenzy.
And letting her “cry it out” meant we lay awake in bed, feeling guilty as sin, while Alyssa reminded us of her presence, sometimes for two hours at a time, ceasing to wail only to inhale.
After nearly two weeks of gritting our teeth each night while listening to the baby unsuccessfully cry it out, I finally called our doctor. He looked in her ears, checked her lungs and swiped a finger along her gums to check for incoming teeth.
“She’s perfectly healthy,” he said. “Time for *rice cereal.”
We trust our pediatrician implicitly, but I wasn’t prepared to offer Alyssa solids until her 6-month birthday; I thought I could provide her with all the nutrients she needed until that date. I suppose I took it a little personally when he suggested that “real” food—an outside source of sustenance—might provide our daughter’s tummy with a little something extra to gnaw on to help her and her parents get more sleep.
I bought the box of iron-fortified rice cereal, boiled her navy blue plastic bowl and blue-and-lime striped spoon for the requisite 10 minutes and made sure I had enough refrigerated breastmilk with which to dilute Alyssa’s first foray into carbohydrates.
Show time came on the first day of the New Year; we’d resolved to sleep through the night, so why shouldn’t she?
Alyssa suckled at the spoon and swallowed perhaps a tablespoon of the cereal. And she slept through the night. Next night, same thing. Dave and I are wary of saying the rice cereal is the root cause of a much-welcomed trend, but we’re not going to argue with getting hours of extra shuteye each night.
Yet as my body slowly adjusts to nursing Alyssa one less time each day, a teeny part of me mourns. Yes, I was exhausted breastfeeding my daughter at 2 a.m., night after night, only to do so again, perhaps two, three or four hours later. But every time I rallied to feed her in the dark and chill of night by the dull glow of her nightlight, I felt blessed to be doing so. At no other time of day or night had nursing been as intimate, calm and relaxing as it was when the rest of the world—it seemed—was asleep.
So, do I miss holding Alyssa close, snuggling with her under a hand-made quilt every morning at 2 a.m.? Yes. But would I like her to revert to needing me in the middle of the night to return to sleep? No way. I’ll always reflect with happiness on memories of black-of-night nursing sessions, while enjoying the novelty of feeling wide awake and alert during the day.
*Several controlled, research studies have shown that the addition of rice cereal to a baby’s diet does not consistently produce all-night sleepers. Remember, adding solids before Baby is ready can have adverse effects on Baby’s health.