As someone who suffered serious postpartum depression, brought on or made worse by a frequent waking baby, I'm very sympathetic to mothers who decide to let their babies cry-it-out. The sleep deprivation was so extreme for me that it became a question of having to be hospitalized or getting some sleep. I think nearly everyone would agree which option would be better for baby, let alone mother.
Since becoming a mom—who has opinions on these these things before then?—I have done everything I could to find a gentle way through newborn sleep patterns, nighttime nursing, sleep regressions and every other incarnation of baby-hood that requires nighttime parenting. But when I’m sobbing on my kitchen floor out of sheer exhaustion, it’s no longer a “No Cry Sleep Solution.”
BUT, and this is a big one, I think something is being left out of this discussion: Where's daddy?
We live in a super-mommy society, and some of this we bring on ourselves--I know I do. But why--apart from a single parent situation- is it a question of cry-it-out so mommy can sleep at night or the mother being up all night with baby?
We need to wake up our husbands! So why don’t we?
Like many instances of gender inequality, we think our answers are particular to us, to our husbands. Why does mom stay at home when dad goes to work? Well, he just happens to make more money. Why doesn’t he clean up the kitchen without being asked? He just doesn’t care as much about those things as I do. Why doesn’t he do the grocery shopping? He doesn’t do it the way I want it done. Odd how many women have uttered those exact sentences. Must just be coincidence.
So, here are my particulars: My husband had just been through a so-called minor surgery when our second baby was going through his worst sleep phase (waking six times a night!). I was trying to be a loving wife take and care of my husband by letting him sleep. After two weeks, I was in pieces.
By the time our son was seven months old and had been waking up every two hours for almost three months, I was so weak from exhaustion that I worried I couldn’t keep my baby, and his three year old sister, safe. He was a heavy baby, the same weight at six months as his sister was at a year, and I could no longer pick him up without fear of dropping him. That’s pretty tired.
My husband is wonderful, as feminist as any good man, and, of course, he stepped up when I crashed. His takeover of our nighttime parenting duties was sudden and complete. I took my daughter and headed to the basement to sleep through the night. I cried, took some pills, swallowed my mommy guilt and closed my eyes. After just a few days, my husband was asking how I could have done this for months when he felt awful already. I don’t know how, but I know I shouldn’t have. I should have woken him up sooner.
Why do so many moms feel like our husbands can't handle it? We're all shortchanged when we underestimate our partners.
Stay-at-home moms may be the biggest offender of not expecting their husbands to help at night. Just because a mom is at home with the baby does not mean that the baby’s daddy gets a free pass. He does not need his sleep anymore than you do. We seem to think that he needs be fresh and alert when he heads off to work in the morning, as if we don’t need reserves to get through our day. Ask any woman who has both been at-home with kids and worked outside the home--which job is it easier to sleepwalk through?
Once the baby has passed the real infant stage, which most people agree is somewhere after 6 months, and doesn't need to eat at night, breastfeeding moms need to hand over the keys to the baby's room.
And there's an additional benefit to letting mamas sleep--even beyond a happier wife and mother. Many babies will stop waking as much if dad takes mom's place as nighttime parent. It's like they wake up and say, "Oh, you again. Never mind. See you in the morning." My son went from being up six times a night to “only” three in a week, just because my husband handled it. My daughter went from waking twice a night to sleeping through, just because it wasn’t me.
Not that the transition will be easy, but there is no easy way out. Cry-it-out doesn’t always work quickly and sometimes must be repeated several times. The first year is so hard and not sleeping is a big part of it. Of course, dad waking up at night doesn't solve everything. But it can lead to a refreshing shift in household dynamics.
None of the many different “sleep experts” will tell you this, but there is only one real tried-and-true way to get your offspring to sleep alone through the night… and it works every time: the baby gets older. It will happen. It’s just a matter of figuring out how everyone, including mom, can make it through to the other side.