One of the major points of contention in discussions of different baby rearing methods is whether babies can be trained, and at what age they can officially ‘learn’ new skills. You see many mothers claiming there’s no way their child is able to learn anything when they are only a few weeks old, often accompanied by unhelpful comments like ‘my child is not a puppy’. Some baby experts also claim it’s not possible for babies to learn anything until they are a few months old. But I have one case study that proves this otherwise and unfortunately this training is not a good thing. I have trained my baby to go to sleep in the day with the help of motion; either in the pram or in the car. And over the last two days, I’ve proved that Lottie is so used to going to sleep this way when the sun is up that she is not able to sleep in her cot during daytime sleeps. Hours of crying, both protesting and proper emotional crying has resulted. It’s really scary how quickly this has happened and how hard this habit is going to be to break.
From the start of Lottie’s life, I was keen for her to get used to sleeping in the pram or the car so that I could be mobile with her. I didn’t want a baby who could only sleep in her cot, in her nursery, making me a prisoner in my own home. So off we went to visit friends and family, to go out for coffee, to go shopping, to drive to the beach and to take advantage of a sunny day and walk to the park. It all seemed to be going so well! Lottie slept well during the day, for at least 90 minutes to sometimes 3 or even 4 hours. And at night she seemed content to be in her cot, and usually after a bit of protesting-self-settling, would go to bed happily after our night-time routine of bath, feed and bed. But now looking back over the last three weeks that we’ve been home from hospital, I’ve realised that for pretty much every morning sleep at least, Lottie was put to sleep in her pram or car seat because I either went out, or pushed her around the living room in her pram. Why was I pushing her around inside you might ask? Because that was a good way to get her to sleep! I just didn’t realise that this sleep training method of parent intervention instead of self-settling her in a cot would become a habit so quickly! I’ve trained Lottie to need motion to go to sleep during the day. If this doesn’t prove that a very small baby can be trained, I don’t know what does. Because she definitely wasn’t born with this sleep habit. There’s not a latent gene in my family tree that makes Lottie a sleep-only-with-motion-in-the-daytime baby. It’s not a peculiar part of her unique personality. It’s something I’ve done to my child and now I have to work out how to undo it! It’s really scary.
With this realisation has come the empathy to understand how many mothers end up making a rod for their own back very early on when it comes to getting their babies to sleep, and why they find it so hard to break these early habits. For instance, during the first few weeks of regular feeding through the night, it’s easy to see how co-sleeping can accidently become the method of last resort to get the baby to sleep. And to allow the parents some sleep. But then it’s very quickly a habit and I assume a very difficult one to break! Because baby then is trained to sleep only in parents’ bed and you have a crutch that you can’t do without.
Over the last two days, after realising that I had this sleep problem (note; it’s my sleep problem, not Lottie’s, as she is the innocent victim in this situation), I’ve also come to understand how hard this habit is to break. Yesterday morning Lottie protested on and off in her cot for four hours, and was clearly beside herself with exhaustion. As per the sleep training method of self-settling, I would sooth her each time her protesting escalated to crying, assuming eventually she would sleep. Yet she wouldn’t. Once she’s been awake this long she is due another feed, so the whole feed, play, sleep routine is completely out the window. This morning I’ve had three hours of similar behaviour, and ended up putting her in the pram to get her to sleep as I know she won’t self-settle when she’s overtired. As soon as the pram motion started, she fell straight to sleep. I thought I could stop pushing to write this post, but alas I’ve had to come back to it three times as she keeps stirring when the pram motion stops. I’m learning to type with one hand. See how you can train yourself quickly to adapt to your environment? This is ridiculous.
While I was pushing Lottie around my living room and kitchen this afternoon, begging her to go to sleep, there were a mixture of very strange thoughts going through my sleep-deprived, desperate mind. ‘Would it be so bad if I had to push her to sleep in the pram every day?’, to which my mind would reply ‘yes! Look at yourself! You’re making two minute noodles for lunch with one hand and you’re busting to the toilet but you’re not willing to stop pushing the pram for one second in case Lottie wakes up! This is madness’. I also had a flash-forward to when Lottie goes to child care which will likely be around 9 months of age, with me explaining to the childcare people that she needs to be pushed in a pram to sleep and them looking at me like I’m a lunatic. Yes, it’s only week 5 at the moment, but if I gave in and didn’t break this routine, she would be 9 months old before I know it and I would have massive pram pushing biceps and a complete inability to do anything with my day until I had spent at least half an hour getting her to sleep every few hours! No thank you!
I’ve made this problem and now I need to commit to fixing it. I will keep you updated about how this turns out.