Dear Cee: About those tantrums and tears

 

Dear Cee,

We have had a lot of change in our lives lately. You have started day care, and I have started going to this strange place we call “work.” (I always wonder what you picture when I say I’m going there. I think you’d really like climbing the stairs in the 300-person lecture hall where I go to tell stories to sleepy college kids. You’ll have to check it out sometime.)

We had these nearly two years of spending almost every minute of every day together, living in our quiet, predictable rhythms. As an infant, you clung to me and had little interest in being close to other people, even Daddy at times. Our early attempts at leaving you with a babysitter were traumatic for everyone. You would cry and cry, refusing a bottle. I would sit at my desk, unable to concentrate on my work, and instead checking my phone for text messages from the babysitter. You let me know that you needed me. I accepted this and stayed close.

I was nervous about this change, but you love going to day care. You jump right in to play, often only pausing for a quick hug goodbye with me. And when I return to pick you up, you greet me with a grin and a hug, but then you go back to playing and it is often a struggle to tear you away. You embrace your new caregiver as if you have known her all your life.

I am so relieved to see that you are comfortable with this change. But it is also bittersweet for me, I admit. It is a LOT of letting go. In fact, you may have noticed that I have been hugging you an awful lot lately when we are together. That’s the only way I can ease myself into the reality of your growing up.

But also? It is magical to watch you become your own person.

You walk confidently and run joyously. You disagree passionately. Sometimes you are agreeable, but you’re passionate about that, too. You demand band-aids, piggy-back rides, and one more bedtime story. You try new words, first listening, and then testing them out. You pause, you reflect, you nod with understanding. You protest holding my hand as we cross the street. You pretend play – serving me dinner of plastic veggies and grinning as I nibble at them and complement your cooking.

And you still need me. Continue reading

6 Little Secrets of a Sleeping Baby

So, here we are, six posts and two months after my declaration that I would get to the bottom of this little issue of infant sleep. It shouldn’t have surprised me that it has taken me this long to begin to understand this topic. After all, it is a field with decades of research and thousands of published papers. If I was only interested in finding support for one side of the issue, I could have dug up a few papers in an hour or two and whipped something out, but I needed a more complete understanding – for myself, if for nobody else. My experience was quite beautifully summed up by a reader’s comment on my last post:

“…wide reviews of research (rather than simply focusing on the work of one or even a few researchers or studies) tend to show that dogmatism on many parenting issues is rarely justified.” ~Becky

I couldn’t have said it better myself. My conclusion: do what works for your family.

I want to wrap up this project by sharing some of the major lessons on infant sleep that I learned along the way, both from the science and in reflecting on my own experiences.

These first 3 are things we can do from the very start:

1.    Know that crying is normal. It is how we respond that matters.

When I was pregnant with BabyC, I knew that for the first few months of her life, she would wake often during the night, but I envisioned sweet nights with her – a dim light, a comfortable rocking chair, nursing her until she faded back to sleep. And in my imagination, these scenes of maternal bliss were always quiet. So I was not prepared for the nights during those early weeks when BabyC would wake at 2 AM and I would do everything I knew to do – nurse her, burp her, change her, hold her, rock her, try nursing again – and she would only cry. There were nights when she would wail, eyes squeezed shut, for hours, while I tried everything to soothe her. Looking back, I realize that in my mind, I believed that my success as a mother was tied to my ability to stop my baby’s cries, as quickly as possible. If she cried, I felt that I was failing. Continue reading

Helping Babies Cope With Stress and Learn to Sleep

We’ve all seen the warnings that sleep training causes so much stress to a baby that cortisol floods the brain, killing neurons and altering development.

Even without these alarming stories, most parents considering sleep training naturally worry about how stressful it is to a baby. None of us like to hear our babies cry. It makes us feel stressed, and the baby probably feels the same way. But how stressful is it? And is it damaging to a baby’s brain?

Despite decades of research on sleep training, most studies have focused on outcomes related to sleep and daytime behavior, but few have examined babies’ stress responses to this change. Those that warn that letting babies cry is damaging to their brains cite studies of babies that were subjected to chronic neglect or abuse or raised in orphanages and lacking strong attachment figures. These are examples of chronic, toxic stress. They are deeply saddening to me, but I’m not convinced that they tell me, or any other loving parent, much about the effects of sleep training my little girl.

This has left me digging through reams of research, trying to put sleep training in perspective among other sources of infant stress. A good place to start is the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) recently released report entitled The Lifelong Effects of Early Childhood Adversity and Toxic Stress [1] and an accompanying policy statement. The AAP report gives us a framework for looking at stress that I think is very useful. It defines 3 types of stress responses in children: Continue reading