I just had an epiphany. One I wish I had had 4 years ago, before my first daughter was born.
This all started months ago, when I recognized how out-of-control meal-time was in our household. Our two and three year-olds were dictating where, what and when they ate and I knew it was our fault. A friend recommended the book “French Kids Eat Everything” by Karen LeBillon and it changed our lives for the better. Reading that book led me to another book: “Bringing up Bebe” by Pamela Druckerman but by the time I picked it up from the library, our third daughter, Emma Jane was soon to arrive and I honestly didn’t have the energy to read another parenting book. I read dozens before the births of our first two daughters and came to the conclusion that we just needed to use our instincts with Baby # 3. So Druckerman’s book collected dust on my nightstand for 10 weeks. I continued to renew it, in case I decided to pick it up one day, and that day was today. Oh, how I wish I had read this book before Baby # 3.
One of the most common questions the parent of a newborn is asked is, “How are you/the baby sleeping?” This is an insulting question. Everybody knows newborns don’t sleep and as a result, neither do the parents. At least, I thought that was true until I read just one chapter of Druckerman’s book.
Druckerman is an American who births her baby in France and quickly realizes the French have a very different way of parenting. True to impulsive form, I skipped right to the chapter about sleep, as I bounced my 6 week-old in my arms, in an attempt to get her tired little body to nap. By the end of the chapter, I put Emma in her crib to fall asleep on her own- and she did.
As Druckerman explains, the majority of French babies are “doing their nights” or as we call it “sleeping through the night”, around their second month. A baby who has not slept through the night by six months is rare and Druckerman found out why. Although she asked multiple Parisian neighbors and friends what exactly they were doing, none of them could particularly articulate how they were managing it. It wasn’t until she discovered a French pediatrician, Michel Cohen, on a trip to New York City that she learned of “the pause”. Cohen explains that ” . . . when your baby is born, just don’t jump on your kid at night. Give your baby a chance to self-soothe, don’t automatically respond, even from birth.” Druckerman goes on to distinguish the difference between “the pause” and “crying-it-out”. The pause is just a few minutes when the parent is observing their baby. She explains that, ” . . . young babies make a lot of movements and noise while they’re sleeping.” When well-intending parents rush in at the first sign of a waking, they sometimes inadvertently wake the sleeping baby, who may have just been in-between one of their two-hour sleep cycles. In time, the baby comes to require the parent soothing or feeding them in order to fall asleep- it is a learned response. When parents instead pause and give the infant a chance to fall back asleep, the baby quickly learns how to connect their sleep cycles and will have an easier time falling asleep after subsequent wakings. If the baby’s cry is persistent, the French check to make sure the baby isn’t hungry or in need a fresh diaper, etc. The key is to take a few moments to determine what the need is before rushing to their aid. If it is a natural sleep cycle, you are doing your child a favor by allowing her to fall back asleep on her own. She eventually won’t wake and you both will be sleeping longer.
All this time, I thought I was being a good parent by rushing to Emma’s aid at first peep, when in reality, I wasn’t trusting my baby’s body. Instead, I have been intervening and teaching her to depend on me in order to fall back sleep.
Good thing every day is a fresh start and my Emma is still only 6 weeks old. Now if I could just apply this technique to my 2 year old . . .