Remember a few months ago when I said that hopefully Zachary would sleep better once his teeth came in? That was six teeth ago. And yet I’m still seeing his now-tooth-filled grin at least two or three times most nights. Some nights are worse, and a few (a very, very few) have been better, but my ten-month-old has settled comfortably into a sleep pattern that’s worse than when he first came home from the hospital.
I had to laugh when I saw that the book Go the F— to Sleep by Adam Mansbach has been on the Nonfiction Top 10 list for the past three months. While I wouldn’t endorse the language for my blog or say it out loud to my baby, well, let’s just say that thoughts along those lines have gone through my head in the past few months, and I guess it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my frustrations. You’d think that by my fourth kid I’d have things figured out, but this boy of mine is an individual, and isn’t following in the footsteps of any of his siblings.
Two of my kids (Gracie and Jack) were binkie kids, and Jack will probably take his to college with him. Max is still a thumb sucker at 4 1/2, but just when he’s trying to fall asleep, and so far it doesn’t seem to be affecting his teeth, so the doctor said not to be too concerned just yet. Then there’s Zachary. He gave up his binkie this summer in the midst of cutting a mouthful of teeth, and hasn’t gone back. He has no interest in his thumb, so what does he use to soothe himself back to sleep? Mommy. The human pacifier. Not like I have anything better to do in the middle of the night, like, you know, sleep?
We’ve spent the past month trying different ways to help him get back to sleep. When the older boys got their new bunk beds, Gracie spent almost a week sleeping in their room instead of her own as we tried to let her little roommate cry it out. While I’m not opposed to letting babies cry a little (it worked for my other kids!), it’s just not working with Zachary. I keep thinking: Okay, a few more minutes. Maybe a few more than that. Just two or three more. But he just keeps screaming. And after 45+ minutes of that, neither he or I can take it anymore. I’ve had some people tell me that they had to let their kids cry all night long, for a few nights, and it worked for them, but it’s not working for us. First, I hate to see him that upset, and second, (probably more importantly) it wakes up everyone else in the house. It’s hard enough to get four kids to go to sleep each evening. Having them wake up in the middle of the night when we’re already dealing with one fussy kid just isn’t a feasible option for us.
I’ve read books and checked on Web sites and found so many suggestions, but not many that seem like they’d work for us. One was to develop a predictable bedtime routine that involves a lavender bath, soothing music, dark lighting, and perhaps some baby massage. That all sounds lovely, but bedtime is already a big enough production for us. The rest of the kids don’t get a bath each and every night, but they’d want to if they heard the tub running. It would be great if we could manage that every night, but it’s more important to me that they get to bed at a reasonable time with the dirt just wiped off than it is to get them squeaky clean each night but in bed at least a half-hour later. Yet another trade-off of having four this close in age. Anyway, if we gave Zach a bath each night, he’d either have brothers jumping in to play boats with him if we did it before the big kids go to bed (not “quiet and relaxing!”), or if we did it after the older ones were tucked in, they’d hear the water running and get out of bed to check things out. Also not an option.
Another suggestion was to just let him co-sleep, but that doesn’t fix the sleep issue for my husband and me, as neither of us sleeps well when there’s a kid in the bed. The ideal situation would be to find a way for all of us to sleep through the night.
So after all the research, suggestions, and pulling out all the tricks that I could think of, I came across this quote on a web site, and it’s helped me settle on a method for how to go forward: “It’s only a problem if it’s a problem.” Meaning, it’s not really hurting the baby to get up and nurse a few times a night, so if it’s OK with me and it’s OK with him, I’m not going to ruin him by doing it. So, seeing that my options are: let him scream and wake up the whole household; concoct some kind of elaborate bedtime ritual that’s impossible for us to keep up; let him sleep with us and be awake all night anyway; or let him sleep till he cries, feed him for 5 to 10 minutes and have both of us back in bed and asleep 15 minutes later. At this point, the last choice seems to be the path of least resistance.
So that’s where we are right now, and it’s probably where we’ll be for a while. I can’t say that I’m particularly thrilled by the plan, but it is what it is. We’ll probably start the weaning process close to his first birthday, and I think that as he switches over to milk in cups, he’ll be less dependant on me and will sleep better through the night. We developed bad sleep habits when I let him nurse through his teething pain, but there’s part of me that thinks it’s not necessarily “bad” to comfort my baby at night and spend that time with him. Maybe it’s the part of me that’s a little sentimental about thinking that it’s probably my last baby, the last time I’ll have to nurse him at night, especially with weaning right around the corner. While I might grumble a little (or a lot) getting myself out of bed for the fourth time on one of his bad nights, once I have him in my arms and see that toothy grin peering up at me through the darkness, it’s not a problem. It’s not perfect, but that’s our solution for now and really, it only needs to work for us.