My Baby Hath Murdered Sleep

When “Sleeping Like a Baby” Isn’t a Good Thing
Originally published January 21, 2011

Michael and I moved into our condo outside Washington Square not long after I found out I was pregnant with Muffin and Squeaker. I was pleased to find that, despite living just a couple of blocks from Beacon Street within earshot of the T, I didn’t hear significant street noise. I was confident that the babies would be able to sleep without being bothered by the outside world. And then the babies came, and I learned just why there are so many books on the market about getting your baby to sleep.

See, I had one of each of the two stereotypical types of babies when it came to sleep: Muffin started sleeping through the night from about 8 PM until 6 AM at about four months. Squeaker, on the other hand, was a night owl, and once she finally got to sleep, she didn’t stay asleep for more than three hours at a stretch until she hit 14 months. There were times in that period that I wished for more traffic noise to act as white noise that might soothe her to sleep.

When the girls were not quite twelve months old, Muffin figured out how to climb out of her crib, and so we got her crib tent. Since she was consistently sleeping in her crib, we didn’t want any middle-of-the-night attempts at escape, and the crib tent gave us peace of mind. At that time, Squeaker was still sleeping in a pack-and-play in our room, as Michael and I did not want the non-sleeping Squeaker to wake Muffin. When a month later she started sleeping more consistently at night, we moved her back into her crib in the room she shares with Muffin. But we soon discovered that was not a good sleeping arrangement, because even if Squeaker could get herself to sleep, she’d toss one of her comfort objects (a stuffed monkey that I knit or a cloth diaper that has become known as “Mr. Napkin” or, as Michael calls it, “Ms. Napkin”) out of the pack-and-play and then wake up when she realized that the monkey or napkin was gone. She finally started sleeping through the night when we got her a crib tent as well — not to keep her in the crib, but to keep her “bed friends” in and prevent panicked middle-of-the-night waking.

The girls still do wake us at night. I have found that there are certain cries I have to get up for and certain ones I do not. The cry that says “I’m awake for some reason and checking out my environment but all is well” is one I wake up to but do not rush down the hall for. The cry of “I’m in pain and cannot resolve it” gets me out of bed, especially if it’s echoed by a cry of “Why did my sister wake me? I was having a good sleep!” And Muffin has taken to crying out in her sleep for two to five minutes but then falling quiet again. We monitor those cries but usually do not intervene.

When I was pregnant, people gave me a lot of (sometimes helpful, sometimes not) advice about sleep. “Sleep now, you won’t get a chance when the babies come” is an example of a not-helpful suggestion. “Sleep when the baby sleeps” is an example of a somewhat more helpful suggestion. Though “sleep while the baby sleeps” doesn’t always work when you have twins. If I slept when Muffin slept, I’d have been fine starting at four months. Sleeping while Squeaker slept, however, was an exercise in power napping. When Squeaker finally transitioned to the pack-and-play in our room, we would still regularly have her in the co-sleeper next to our bed if she woke in the middle of the night and could not get herself back to sleep. This was fine when she was still small. Once she was bigger — and had longer legs that would kick Michael or me as she strove to find her comfortable sleeping position — this became much less tenable.

As a linguist, I sometimes wonder why we say that a sound sleeper is sleeping “like a baby.” I think, to be more accurate, we should describe them as sleeping “like a toddler who has spent all day chasing and being chased by her sister around the playroom and has finally run out of energy.” But maybe that doesn’t flow so smoothly off the tongue.

This week’s column is written by Nomi S. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2011 by Brookline Patch.

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