Friday, October 21, 2011

Baby Led What?

I guess you can consider this a bit of a follow up on my Sleep Thing posts. I've had to come to a realization about what my son's needs are and it has meant a lot of thinking on what mothering is about for me.

I am exhausted. Chase is not a good sleeper and he nurses most of the night so I have not had a good night's sleep in a year. Since he was six months old I've been on and off scrambling to gently guide him towards less nursing and more sleeping at night. A few weeks ago I was pretty much having a mental breakdown about the whole thing. My husband has been sleeping in the guest room for a couple months while I've been trying to find an arrangement for Chase that respects both his need for night time parenting and nursing and my need for sleep. In order to find some guidance I picked up a book I thought I never would pick up: Dr. Sears's Attachment Parenting Book. I'm not done yet but it has really helped me to better understand the inner battle I'm having with the sleep issue in my house.

I enjoy sleeping with Chase, he is a snuggly, delicious little boy and he loves to sleep close to me. It's a beautiful thing. I also love that he has access to me when the need strikes him at night. I think he is more secure because he knows he can count on me to be there for him whenever he needs me. I've often said that for a baby, their wants are the same as their needs. Chase has reached an age now where the two are beginning to differentiate. So, he WANTS to eat the crayon, but he certainly doesn't need to. For some families Chase's desire to sleep in my bed at night (he adamantely refuses to sleep in his crib any more than thirty or fourty minutes) is a want, a habit, and not a need. I beg to differ. I believe that he needs to sleep with me. As he crosses more milestones, grows and learns with every passing day, he needs the reassurance that in this great big, exciting, sometimes frightening world, his mama will always be there for him. He needs to feel safe, and he needs me to help him feel that way at night when he is most vulnerable.

So I tested the waters with limiting night nursing and moving him to his own space to sleep, but he did not respond well. I had to read his signals. This is following his lead. Baby Led sleep is as important (to me) as baby led breastfeeding. I feel like he needs me to follow his cues, he wasn't responding positively to gentle sleep guidance, so...we will wait and try again later. I think I can handle this.

What I call the "Baby-Led Lifestyle" is not easy. Parenting in general is not easy, and I'm not saying that my kids rule the roost, but on meaningful issues like sleep maturity, nursing, food, and independance, I think it is important for my boys to have their cues recognized and respected. This probably would be referred to as "Attachment Parenting" by a lot of people, but I'm sorry, I really don't like that term because it then gives the impression that if you are not parenting within those parameters, you are not attached to your children. Baby-Led gives more of an impression of give and take. I see an opportunity for growth, I follow his lead. We go too far beyond what he is ready for, we back off a bit. I can encourage his growth and development in a positive way by watching how he responds and following his lead.

I will admit to being exhausted. I will admit to wishing I had the balls to have him Cry-It-Out on particularly difficult nights. Come the light of day, however (and a few cups of coffee) I know that I"m doing the right thing by my boys. Is Aiden allowed to sleep with us every night? Will I give him unlimited sippy cups as he works through his usual delay tactics? No. But if he wakes feeling unsafe or unwell in the night and needs to sleep next to mom or dad, he can do that. This is a great big world he is trying to learn his place in, and he needs to know we are there for him when it gets a little frightening. This gives him the strength and confidence to move forward and grow more within it.

I also remind myself that being a mom is not meant to be easy. It's not a small or simple task to be trusted with the growth and development of people, and yes, as a mom, I frequently have to put my kids' needs before my own. As parents, once we stop trying to fit our children into our existing lives and recognize that our children ARE our lives and start working other things (including ourselves) around their needs, our perspective changes. YES, the child's need is more important than my needs, they are are still growing and maturing, we are their guideposts in this crazy world, and they need us more than we need pretty much anything. We can be more compassionate about their needs, following their cues instead of trying to teach them to make our lives more convenient. Being a mom isn't about convenience to me. Do I love anything that makes my life easier? Heck yes, but not at the expense of my children's emotional and physical development. Sign me up for bouncy seats so I can get a shower when my little baby is fussy, an exersaucer to safely contain my baby while I finish making a meal, and even a little TV if I need my toddler distracted long enough that I can finish up something I'm doing. But overall, it's more important to meet their needs than anything else is going on.

My house is a mess a lot. I'm ok with this too, because a spotless home is the sign of a neglected child.

I am by NO MEANS a perfect parent, not even close. Maureen Campion, a therapist and Attachment Parent in Minnesota, posted a wonderful perspective on a post once that has stuck with me for the last year or so: if we are good enough and do our best 80% of the time, the other 20% doesn't matter so much. So yea, sometimes I want to drop both boys off on a curb somewhere, and sometimes I just want to lock myself in a closet for some peace and quiet...but overall I am striving to follow my boys' leads where it matters most for their emotional development. Sometimes I fail, but that's OK, because more often than not, I am meeting their needs when they arise and I am following their lead as best as I know how and am able to.

I think I will copyright the term "Baby Led Parenting." It makes sense doesn't it? According to The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding if we allow babies and young children to lead the way on eating...nurse and eat when they are hungry, however much or little they choose, we are fostering the development of healthy eating habits later in life. The book refers to a study that found that children who were fed on schedules, a set amount were more likely to eat everything on their plate at age 3...regardless of how much their was...because they were taught to eat what they were given regardless of hunger. Dr. Sears and many other child development experts talk about the importance of night-time parenting to a child's social and emotional development, largely stating that following your baby/child's cues on sleep will help to foster healthier sleep habits as the child grows.

So there you have it, that's my sleep update. Chase has been waking up A LOT in the last week and I'm very tired, but I'm keeping his needs in perspective. He is teething, coming down with a cold, and coming up on more milestones. They are only little once, and I only have one chance to get this "right" for them. I can do this.


  1. Great post! Finding our way as parents is no small task. Thanks for the encouragement!

  2. Oh thank you for posting this - just when I was at my wits end, your blog gave me hope. My 3 month old co-sleeps and breastfeeds all night. I thought I was doing something wrong because he has been waking up every hour on the hour. I'm exhausted!!!! But I am doing the best I can to meet his needs. Thanks :)

  3. Shelley, you should really check out our post on clusterfeeding too -

  4. So I am a good mom!! ;)
    great post!