Sleep Over The Holidays
The Importance Of Maintaining Your Child’s Schedule
If you’re thinking about starting sleep training but you’ve got to take a trip in a few weeks, my suggestion is to put that off until you get back. (Although if you’re looking for an excuse to cancel your trip, not wanting to throw your baby’s sleep schedule out of whack is a pretty good one. Just sayin’!) If you’ve already started, don’t worry. Taking a trip typically won’t help your little one sleep better, but if you can maintain some semblance of normalcy throughout, you and baby should be ready to get back to business as soon as you get home.
If you’re driving to your destination, a clever trick is to schedule your driving time over baby’s naps. Car naps aren’t ideal, but compared to no naps at all, they’re the lesser of two evils by a mile. So if at all possible, get on the road right around the time that baby would normally be taking their first nap. If you’re really committed, you might even look for some parks, tourist attractions or other outdoor activities that are on your route where you can stop when baby gets up. It’s a great chance to get out into the sunshine and fresh air, which will make the next nap that much easier.
If you’re flying, well, my heart goes out to you. It’s no secret that planes and babies just don’t seem to like each other. So I suggest (and this is the only time you’ll hear me say this) that you do whatever gets you through the flight with a minimum amount of fuss. Hand out snacks, let them play with your phone, and otherwise let them do anything they want to do. The truth is, if they don’t want to sleep on the plane, they’re simply not going to. Don’t try to force it, which will only end up frustrating you both. (And, most likely, the passengers around you.)
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You arrived! And hopefully you’ve managed to maintain some sanity. Now, I’m sorry to say, comes the hard part. Because in the car or on the plane, everybody is on your side, right? Keeping baby quiet and relaxed and asleep, is exactly what everyone is rooting for. But now that you’re at Grandma and Grandpa’s place, it’s the opposite. Everyone wants baby awake so they can see them, play with them, take a thousand pictures, and get them ridiculously overstimulated. It’s exceptionally difficult to tell all these loving folks that you’re putting an end to the fun because baby needs to get to sleep.
So if you need permission to be the bad guy, I’m giving it to you right here and now. Don’t negotiate. Don’t make exceptions. Don’t feel bad about it. Firmly explain to anyone who’s giving you the “I’ll just sneak in to take a quick peek” rationale that your baby is in the middle of sleep training and you’re not taking any chances of them waking up. Let them know when baby will be getting up and tell them to hang around, come back, or catch you the next time. Better yet, tell people in advance when to expect some baby awake time based on her schedule.
I know it sounds harsh. But the alternative is an almost immediate backslide right to day one. Baby misses a nap and gets all fired up because of many new faces and tons of activity. Then overtiredness kicks in and cortisol production goes up. The next nap is ruined, which results in more overtiredness and derails nighttime sleep. Before you know it, you’re headed home and it seems like baby did nothing but cry the entire trip. I’m not even exaggerating. It happens that quickly.
Now that’s done! You steeled your nerves and let everyone know that you are not budging on baby’s schedule. She took her naps at the right times, and now it’s time for bed. The only catch is, with all of the company staying at the house, there’s only one room for you and baby. No problem, right? Bed sharing for a few nights isn’t the end of the world, after all. I wish I could say it’s that easy for you, but again, you want to make this as little of a deviation from the normal routine as possible. Unfortunately, babies can develop a real affinity for co-sleeping in as little as one night.
This may sound a little unorthodox. However, if you’re sharing a room, what I suggest is simple… Make it into two rooms. I’m not suggesting you need to bust out the lumber and drywall. But I do suggest hanging a blanket, setting up a dressing screen, or (yes, I’m going to go ahead and say it) put baby in the closet. It’s not crazy. A decent sized closet is a great place for baby to sleep. It’s dark. It’s quiet. She won’t be distracted by being able to see you or by people accidentally walking in the room.
While we’re on the subject of “no exceptions,” that rule extends to all other sleep props. You might be tempted to slip baby a pacifier or rock her to sleep if she’s disturbing the rest of the house. But baby is going to latch on to that really, really quickly, and chances are you’ll be waking up every hour or two, rocking her back to sleep or putting her pacifier back in, which is going to end up disturbing everyone worse than a half hour of crying at 7:00 at night.
Defend The Sleep
Now, on a serious note… I find the biggest reason that parents give in on these points is, quite simply, because they’re embarrassed. There’s a house full of eyes, and they’re all focused on the new baby, and by association, the new parent. The feeling that everyone is making judgments about how you’re parenting is nearly overwhelming in large gatherings. At those moments, remember what’s really important – your baby, your family, and their health and well-being.
There may be a few people who feel a bit jaded because you put baby to bed right when they got in the door, and your mother might tell you that putting your baby in the closet for the night is ridiculous. Remember, you’re doing this for a very noble cause. Perhaps the most noble cause there is! So stand tall and remind yourself that you are a superhero, defending sleep for those who are too small to defend it for themselves. If you want to wear a cape and don a cool superhero name, you go right ahead. Like any superhero, you may be misunderstood by the masses. Ignore them. You’re on a mission.
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