In the days before I took the glorious and terrible plunge into motherhood, I heard all kinds of truisms about parenting, and many of them I believed. My mother was very fond of saying “kids need consistency” and she was more or less my parenting role model, so I took her advice to heart. I figured that meant that whatever choices I made for my kid, I should more or less stick to them. So my wife and I were free to choose from a variety of parenting options — breast or bottle, crib or co-sleeping — but once we got on one track, the best thing we could do was stay the course. That sounded wise and intuitive in general to me, but especially when it came to the challenges of baby sleep. Whatever we decided to do as far as bedtime was concerned, we wouldn’t be able to change it. But in the end, we ended up being much less consistent than I imagined. In fact, we’ve changed sleep methods multiple times, and the kid? He’s alright.
When my wife and I first brought our adorable and perfect baby home, he slept in a moses basket next to our bed at night, and he napped in the bed with me (and I was committed to taking lots of naps). We figured we’d move him to the crib once he outgrew the basket, and then we’d work hard to keep things the same. He grew fast, and the crib transition went off without a hitch, so we were thrilled. I knew two things for certain: I didn’t want to bed share at night, and I was adamantly against all forms of sleep training. I knew there might be rough spots ahead, but I couldn’t imagine that I’d ever want to switch things up.
Then, my son turned 4 months old, and he just totally stopped sleeping. This is how I stayed up all night with a fussy baby furiously googling phrases like “four months won’t sleep” and eventually learned that there is a thing called the four-month sleep regression and it is terrible. It’s also how the wife and I ended up throwing up our arms and just keeping him in our bed all night. I was worried about upsetting his patterns and routines, but eventually I was more tired than I was worried. The only way he seemed to sleep at all was if he fell asleep breastfeeding and then was not disturbed in any way whatsoever after that… so I breastfed him in a side-lying position and then just rolled the hell over.
I thought our lack of consistency would somehow damage him, but lived experience demonstrated something very different. When we changed things up based on his needs, he actually thrived.
It was total and utter bliss.
Well, that is, it was total and utter bliss until it suddenly wasn’t. I’m a pretty light sleeper, so over time the shock that I felt about suddenly being able to get some sleep again faded and gave way to “squirmy baby is in my bed, help!” Even so, I felt fairly committed to sticking with it. It seemed cruel to switch it up on him again, and after a couple of months, we were certain that he couldn’t even remember sleeping in that crib. It hadn’t been in the plan, but I thought maybe all of our hippie co-sleeping friends were right, and bed sharing really was the best way to get us all to bed. Then, almost as quickly as bed sharing had become a necessary survival tactic for our family, it stopped working altogether.
So there the three of us were, in our king-sized bed, getting no sleep at all, completely covered in baby vomit.
We woke up one morning around the time our son was 8 or 9 months old, and suddenly we just had a mobile baby on our hands, and in our bed. He would spend the whole night trying to climb my wife and I, do somersaults, roll around — do anything at all except sleep. And then he'd wail and wail and wail because he was exhausted but hadn’t slept… and then he'd want to try to breastfeed to get cozy again. But he was taking in so much milk at night that he was actually overfull, and then when he started somersaulting again, he'd puke all over us. So there the three of us were, in our king-sized bed, getting no sleep at all, completely covered in baby vomit. When things didn’t appear to be getting any better, we realized we had to do something. That something ended up being moving him back to the crib, and the only way to accomplish that was with sleep training.
We chose the gentlest sleep training method we could find, because I was horrified by the idea of cry it out. But he cried anyways, and we felt like horrible monster parents, and we had to keep reminding each other that the alternative to not sleeping because of sleep training was not sleeping because we were all covered in puke. And guess what? After a week, he was sleeping in his crib like a champ.
We’ve also changed his bedtime a handful of times, from 7:30 p.m. to (gasp) 10 p.m., to him finally independently deciding that he only goes to bed at 8:30, thank you very much. In the first year of his life, he went through more bedtime change-ups than I could have ever imagined, and yet he more or less handled each transition gracefully and admirably. I thought our lack of consistency would somehow damage him, but lived experience demonstrated something very different. When we changed things up based on his needs, he actually thrived.
The lesson here is that consistency is only as good as whatever you’re being consistent about. If something is consistently good for you, your kid(s), and your family, it’s definitely worth keeping around! But look, kids are people with needs, and just like everyone, sometimes those needs change. In fact, since they’re in the business of growing up, I’d argue their needs change more than adults. Why would I sacrifice getting my kid’s needs met (or mine, for that matter) on the altar of consistency?
On paper, having the same bedtime, the same place to sleep, and the same routine, forever and ever, seemed like a solid plan. But in real life, my kid turned out to be a rapidly growing baby (I know, who would have guessed, huh?) with needs that changed at the drop of a hat. Getting his needs met, as well as mine, turned out to be less about sticking to my guns, and more about being able to recognize when the situation had changed. I thought my kid needed a consistent routine that would never ever change, but really what he needed was a mom who was paying attention and willing to grow with him.