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4 Bad Habits That Won't Break Baby's Sleep

If you have a new baby or young children, chances are you’re thinking a lot about sleep. “Is she sleeping through the night yet?” your Aunt Judy keeps asking you, oblivious to the purple crescents beneath your eyes.

My son was a terrible sleeper. As a newborn, his days and nights were reversed. Even later, as we all settled into a loose routine, he woke up every few hours at night. For over a year.

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Desperate for sleep, we tried nearly everything. We tried no-cry methods and plenty-o-crying methods. We tried an osteopath, a sleep specialist and an elimination diet. We gave him colic drops and melatonin (at the suggestion of a pediatric sleep specialist) and a stuffed lamb that pulsed with a steady, battery-powered heartbeat. We even spent $200 on a baby hammock, thinking the gentle motion and slightly elevated, womb-like contraption might net us all some rest.

If desperation and exhaustion weren’t enough, I spent a lot of effort worrying that I was contributing to my son’s sleep issues by nursing him to sleep, allowing him to nap in the swing and enabling other “bad habits.” As an anxious, brand new parent, I often felt I was one tiny step away from ruining my baby. Perhaps I was setting him up for a lifetime of poor sleeping!

While there was no magic bullet that cured our son’s frequent night waking (a combination of sleep training and time helped the most), I really wish I hadn’t fretted so much about some of the ways we did get sleep:

1. Nursing to sleep

It’s true that babies might become dependent on nursing to fall asleep. When you decide you’re ready to nightwean or otherwise break the nurse/sleep cycle, you can expect some protests from your baby or toddler. Eventually—I promise—he will sleep without your milk. So for right now, if it’s 2 a.m. and your baby will peacefully nurse herself into a milky coma, enabling you a few more hours of sweet, sweet sleep? Go for it.

Kids are resilient, and not every single less-than-optimal choice we make has permanent repercussions.

2. Co-sleeping

Similar to nursing to sleep, co-sleeping can be a handy tool for the exhausted parent. I hadn’t planned to co-sleep but found it the only way to string a few consecutive hours of sleep together. So make peace with it. Like breaking the nursing to sleep cycle, when you’re ready to reclaim your bed—and you will know when you are ready—you might endure a handful of difficult nights. But it will happen. I promise your child will not still sleep with you when she’s 40.

3. The swing

When my son was a newborn, I often put him in his magical, musical swing for naps. When he’d startle awake, the soothing motion (and perhaps the adorable lamb ears) often rocked him right back to slumberland.

One night when the sleep deprivation threatened to crack any remaining sanity, I brought my son downstairs, nursed him and slid him into his swing. He slept for five hours in a row and in the morning, I felt as if fresh blood thrummed through my veins.

But I also felt as if I’d somehow cheated. I envisioned him as a surly teenager, unable to sleep without a soothing side-to-side movement. In hindsight, I wish I’d worried less and used the miracle swing more often. He is 6 now and falls asleep in his non-rocking bed every night.

4. Car naps

When I was pregnant with my daughter, the only way for me to force my toddler son into sleep was to drive. I cranked the heat up, put some quiet music on and occasionally (OK usually) carb-loaded him with french fries. Then I’d drive until I could spy his slumped head in the rearview mirror, signaling that he’d succumbed to the salt and warmth. From then, I had an eight to nine minute window to screech home and attempt to transfer him to his bed.

About a third of the time, he’d wake up and we’d both wail for several minutes. But the glittering lure of a possible nap was worth it. Though it's poor sleep hygiene, not environmentally friendly and expensive, I have no regrets about the dozens of car naps. They granted us both some much needed peace in the toddler years.

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My son now goes to bed easily at night and we don’t see him again until morning. Despite my worst fears, he no longer requires suckling or co-sleeping or constant motion to rest. Yes, there were some difficult nights of sleep training and night-weaning between those early, blurry days and now. But kids are resilient, and not every single less-than-optimal choice we make has permanent repercussions. So take it easy, Mamas and Dadas. Sometimes, you do what works now and deal with the rest—so to speak— later.

Image via Twenty20/instamatija

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