I know, I know… attachment parenting is all the rage right now, and believe me, I thought it sounded great too. I went into this whole first time mom thing with the mentality that I should do whatever my baby needs and sacrifice whatever is necessary – and you know what, I actually still feel that way, but I made the leap to start and maintain a parent-led schedule for my son.
What convinced me?
Insanity. Pure insanity.
My son was an amazing sleeper right from the start. In fact, I had to wake him to feed him in the beginning because he wasn’t gaining weight fast enough. He slept in our room in a co-sleeper next to the bed. I’ll be honest, he slept with me a lot too because who on earth can prevent themselves from falling asleep while breastfeeding for half an hour in the middle of the night??
Then five months came along. Our perfect sleeper decided he would ONLY sleep if I was holding him and even then he would wake up and I would have to spend an hour or more trying to get him back to sleep – often a few times a night. After a few weeks of this I began to lose my mind. My husband was back at work and struggling with the late night wakings (despite my efforts to keep things quiet) and I just flat-out couldn’t function anymore.
Even with all the trouble we were having, I didn’t initially think to start a parent-led schedule. My first idea was to put him down a bit awake, as everyone everywhere tells you to. This theory must be a cruel joke. Every time I tried to put him down when he was drowsy he just cried until I picked him up. After each attempt it was about a million times harder to get him to sleep than it usually was.
Then we decided to put up a nifty little contraption that would block his view of us, thinking he might not cry when he woke up if he couldn’t see us. This helped a bit but ultimately it would only buy us a few minutes before he would get upset.
After various other methods of rocking him for more or less time, letting him fall asleep on me before putting him down, etc., we decided he needed to move to the nursery. This killed me. The thought of it just broke my heart. At this point he was just 6 months old. But something had to change. So, I read up on all the best ways to make the transition to sleeping on a parent-led schedule in his own room and made sure his nursery was absolutely perfect. Black out curtains, noise machine, empty and safe crib, the works. I also decided to carry out many of the strategies outlined in the popular book, On Becoming Babywise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep.
My husband had a few days in a row where he was going to have to work overnight, so we planned to start the process on these nights. While it made sense to avoid him losing sleep before work, it also left me to die inside by myself. Luckily, we were living with my parents at the time so I knew if I really needed company I could harass them.
Night one. I nursed my son and did his bedtime routine. I put him down in his crib and turned on the noise machine, said goodnight and walked out. He instantly screamed, and continued. Horrible sobs. My heart was breaking. I went in the room to check on him every so often and told him that mommy and daddy loved him, but didn’t pick him up. This was excruciating for me, pretending not to be upset, and it seemed to make him cry harder. By the time 5AM rolled around, I gave up. Night one = no sleep. Zero. None. Nada.
Then came night two. We decided that I should try to leave him for longer periods of time without me coming in to comfort him, since it honestly did not seem to help one bit. I did the bedtime routine, put him down, and after about 45 minutes of crying and one check in, he was asleep! I couldn’t believe it. He slept almost the entire night! With a couple wakings and a couple of check ins, I actually got some freaking sleep! And so did he!
I couldn’t believe it. What he needed was for me to leave for a while. That hurt a little, okay a lot, but it was true. Within a couple of weeks we had a routine down pat and the night wakings were gone! If he did wake up it would be for a few minutes and he would fall back asleep on his own. In the morning when I would come get him he was happy to see me, well rested, and ready to start the day. During this process I had also followed the same Babywise method for his naps, which he had already been taking in his nursery. Allowing him to learn how to fall back asleep on his own at night also made his naps longer.
Adopting a Complete Parent-Led Schedule
In doing all of this, I realized that my little baby was growing up and needed a bit of structure. I started enforcing a precise schedule for his feedings, naps and bedtimes. I noticed a huge improvement in his temperament. A once fussy baby was now happy, awake and playful. I got a bit of pushback from others on my strict regimen, as I wouldn’t let him nap anywhere other than his crib or change his schedule at all, but after seeing such an improvement, I finally felt like I knew what my baby needed and I didn’t want to ruin his day with a disruption.
As he has gotten older (going on one year) I have had to make some changes. He started fighting me on his third nap consistently so I changed his schedule to two naps. At a certain point I also reduced his breastfeeding sessions as well. Both times I decided on a new schedule that was appropriate to his age and took a few days to slowly make the transition. Additionally, I’ve become slightly more flexible in disrupting his routine for special occasions, but I always try to get back on track ASAP, preferably with no more than one day of disruptions at a time.
I can’t say that a parent-led schedule will work for everyone but for my son, and for many other babies out there, structure is huge. Structured scheduling removes the frustration of trying to tell mom when they are hungry or tired. My son feels comfort in knowing what is coming next. It also makes for one happy Momma, which of course makes baby happy too. I love that I go in to get my son every morning at the same time and he is happily babbling in his crib because he knows mommy will come get him when it’s time. And that he knows when it’s nap time and snuggles on me when I put him to bed.
The guaranteed alone time that my husband and I are have every night from 7:30pm until we go to bed has also been a game changer in getting our marital priorities back on track. Not to mention, having his naps on schedule allows me to keep up my fitness schedule. This is what has allowed me to Begin My Weight Loss Journey.
So, the Parent-Led schedule gets an A+ in my book. What do you think?