Sleep Matters

To Montessori or not to Montessori?

I never really thought about the pedagogy of raising babies until I googled “floor beds”. By that time, Atticus was 14 months and I was trying to explore sleeping arrangements for him. Ainsley was arriving in September and we didn’t want to buy another crib but there were so many considerations floating around.

When it comes to sleep, we’re quite fortunate that Atticus became a great sleeper after his 4-month regression. Quite by accident I discovered, in the wee hours of the morning after pacing his room for an hour rocking and patting him, that he hated it. The instant I put him in his crib out of frustration and sheer exhaustion he stopped fussing on his own and slept. What a revelation!  As it turns out, in the world of tension releaser vs increaser babies (yes, there is such a theory), Atticus was the former. Tension increaser babies require parents’ help to be soothed and calmed down. If left alone, tension increaser babies’ cries only get worse with time whereas tension releaser babies need to be left alone to de-escalate.

We decided then that maybe Atticus could be sleep trained so we adopted the Cry-It-Out method and prayed to God he wouldn’t cry. He did. Boy, that was difficult for us as first time parents especially when we could not use the Pick-Up-Put-Down approach. Atticus was a tension-releaser baby. If we went in to soothe him he would only start to cry again, and each time that happened, the clock would have to be re-set.  So we huddled over the monitor, steeled our hearts and resolved that we would only let him cry alone for 30 minutes max. The first night, he cried for 20 minutes before he fell asleep; the second night it took him 10 minutes. By the third night, he knew it was bedtime and went down without a whimper. Since then and until recently, he has taken two 1.5 hour naps a day and slept through the night from 6pm to 7am without having to be rocked, patted or nursed to sleep. Believe you me, I was (and still am ever) so grateful that this is one area of parenting that has the least drama (on most days, anyway) that I do my best to avoid any disruption to Atticus’s sleep environment – anything to prevent the collapse of the blissful routine created around his slumber.

I didn’t have a choice though with Ainsley on the way. Change – no, changes – had to be made. The clock was ticking. My internet research told me I had to transition Atticus at least 3 months before the arrival of the new baby to avoid him having negative associations with the changes about to happen to his life. 3 months… ? It was already July for goodness sake.

I was 7 months pregnant then and really needed those famed nesting instincts to kick in. Ainsley was going to get the baby room so we had to clear out the study and move him in. (From the very day we brought Atticus home, we didn’t co-room, co-sleep or co-anything and we were adamant about preserving that with him and doing the same with Ainsley.) And where was Atticus going to sleep without a crib? Most children only transition to beds around 3 to 5 years old; besides, he was too young to climb into a bed by himself. A mattress on the floor then it would have to be. Is that a thing? Was it safe? Everyone I know uses a crib for babies.

I googled and you know what? There is a whole school of thought behind using the floor bed, all wrapped up in what is known as the Montessori method. Briefly, the method focuses on the development of children toward independence at their own pace and interests. One of the ways this is done is by a carefully prepared environment to facilitate freedom of movement. This is where the floor bed comes in (and I was a year late in the game because apparently Montessori babies start young and sleep on a floor mattress from as early as 2 months). With a floor bed, the entire room (baby-proofed) is accessible to the child and movement begets brain development. It also empowers the child and promotes independence. The child has the power and control within the room to decide what to do – stay on the bed? Get up and read a book? The child decides when to go to the bed, lie down and perhaps fall asleep, if tired. It seemed to me a lot of cognitive development, self-regulation and self-esteem are involved with just a floor bed and I was hooked to the idea. But would Atticus stay in bed? What if he hurts himself? Would his great sleep habits be disrupted? How are we going to monitor his movements when our baby cam doesn’t rotate?

Pregnancy hormones made my fears worse and if I had allowed it, I would have started to spiral. Instead, I took a week’s leave from work and busied myself with setting up the Montessori nursery for Atticus and making it child safe. For his reading corner, I found a kids’ book rack on Amazon which was easy enough for baby hands to navigate and placed it beside an Ikea arm chair sans its legs so he could climb on easily. Kids being kids, in case he fell (and he has so many times since, clambering all over the place), I ordered Soft Tiles to lay on the floor. I had some left over pieces, which I used to pad the walls alongside the DIY headboards I made around his mattress.

We also needed a baby cam that could have a 360° view of the room and  be viewed on both our mobile phones and the monitor. The closest thing we could find in Singapore is the Motorola Hubble MPB854 Connect. (It’s not the greatest but a review of this product really warrants a post of its own.) We set it up, held our breath when bed time came and omg this Montessori thing really works – Atticus walked around in the dark for a bit and simply laid down on the mattress to sleep. He’s done so ever since.

Naps on the other hand didn’t go so smoothly. It took a bit longer because he would rather read his books but no matter what he always fell asleep eventually, even if it was in his chair. Only very occasionally did he choose not to nap at all. I thought this was fine. After all, as I had read on so many sleep sites, all a mother can do is create the right environment for the child to rest/sleep. You can’t force the sleep part right? Except this became a problem when Atticus hit 20 months. I don’t know if toddler sleep regression was to blame but Atticus stopped napping in his room. Instead, he powered through the afternoon even if he was clearly tired. He’d read all his books, turn the room upside down and 2 hours later, rattle the door to be let out. Then he’d be out like a light by 7pm. While we did enjoy the early nights to ourselves again and joked that this was Montessori at work, the system was breaking down. Without his one nap (which used to be 2 to 3 hours long), by late afternoon, anything could trigger a meltdown. Overtired, Atticus couldn’t regulate his feelings. Parenting him became stressful and meal times were a hit or miss like, what happened to our wonderful sweet boy?

We persevered for about another month, partly to see if the  toddler sleep regression (if it was) would end and partly because I stubbornly refused to throw in the towel with our Montessori approach. Going back to the crib was taking a step backward in parenting, wasn’t it?

I finally caved when I realised my pride was hurting my child. In the middle of the night as I scoured the internet for advice on how to get 5 month old babies to take long naps, I came across another mom blogger whose wisdom was simple: Sleep is not a luxury for our babies, it is a necessity and it is our duty to get them to sleep no matter what it takes.

That weekend, I pulled out our Lotus Travel Crib (which we hadn’t used since Atticus was 5 months old for our trip to Perth) and set it up in Atticus’s room with his favourite book. He flipped through the pages for about 20 minutes and fell asleep for the next 2 hours. Now we alternate between the travel crib for naps and the floor bed for nights and we’ve gotten our sweet boy back.

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I love how the Montessori method gave Atticus independence and showed us early on to respect him as an individual with a will of his own. Nevertheless, I have to admit that it was time for change. Our boy needed his sleep and that’s what matters. Whether it’s Montessori or some other method, I’ll try anything and keep on adapting because that’s what moms do.

If you’re like us looking for a flexible sleep solution, a travel crib really is great to have. It’s useful for traveling, naturally, but it also saves you the hassle of having a large feature like a crib permanently set up. It’s easy to collapse or put up and can be stored away whenever the sleep issue resolves itself. Plus it’s large enough to last quite a while into the toddler years.

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