I find myself writing this at nearly half past one in the morning. My baby won’t sleep. Well, actually, she just fell asleep but it felt like it would not happen for hours and when it did it was at an ungodly hour of the night. This is tiring but it is not my first rodeo and I know now at baby number five a lot more than I did at baby number one and while I cannot go back in time I think writing some of what I wish I had known then might hopefully be of help for some other parent desperate to understand or catch some sleep.
First of all while this might seem of very little use to you right now, the words “This too shall pass” or “This will not last forever” definitely do apply here. It is one of life’s dark irony that you do not always see how precious some moments are until they have passed but trust me when I say I wish I could go back to the me of nine years ago, hold her hand and tell her to stop and just be in the moment. Becoming a parent is a huge shock to the system and a big learning curve, the biggest one is that you need to accept your baby is a person with a mind and interests very much of their own, no matter how tired you are, they are constantly growing and deeply needing to reach new milestones or lay the ground towards reaching new milestones. Their very survival depends on this and their little brain is growing exponentially. One thing that helps the brain grow like no other in babies is love, they get love from being close to their parent, each snuggle, hug, kiss, long stare, raspberry blow, kiss on their toes, lullabies, whispers in their ears or the feel of your face as it brushes their hair when you take in all that yummy baby scent, all these moments, your baby craves and in each of these moments your baby’s brain grows millions of new cells, etching bridges and laying pathways that make your baby better prepared for the next step. But at two am in the morning, it is hard to keep perspective of that when you can feel your own brain cells dying of sleep depravation and your baby is staring at you with the very eager eyes of someone who looks like they’ve had a good night sleep though you know that it is most definitely NOT the case or you would have had a good night sleep too.
Now, there is no magic recipe here but I know you probably are self blaming on some lever or scared that this is the new normal. As far as I know from experience, there is always a reason for sleep disturbances in babies, if your little one is in good health, you are satisfied they are not unwell, it is a good thing. Your baby is probably building towards a new milestone and this gets their brains and body going, I have found my babies trying to stand in their sleep, making words in their sleep, doing all sorts of weird things when they were gearing up towards rolling over, crawling, walking, talking and it was exhausting because this could turn the best sleeper into a fully awake little night owl. You are not doing anything wrong but there are things you can do to help your baby towards reaching the new milestones and going back to sleeping at night again.
Naps. This might sounds counter logical and I cannot count how many times I have heard the silly advice of cutting naps in babies so they would sleep better at night. It is a terrible terrible terrible idea. Babies do not work that way. Their body and brain are growing and they do that best when asleep. Babies who nap well do actually sleep better. So set your alarm, wake up in the morning, get your baby and give them that tummy time, eye contact, footsie rubs etc, play and be active, tire them and put them down for a nap. If there is any resistance rock them gently, put them in a pram if you are tired or in a sling but try to get them down for a nap, then play again and then a second nap. Seriously, get them to nap. I know there is housework but I assume you too are desperate and sacrificing a couple of days might save your sanity. So naps. If you are exhausted and need to nap too, great, otherwise do what you need to do ( I personally have a list of priorities such as laundry, cooking and dishes and I do all I can whenever I can catch a moment, if baby is little and sleeping then then, if baby is crawling on the floor around me while I transfer a load from washing machine to dryer then then), it might also be catching on a book, eating a proper meal in silence, watching a show, getting a shower or applying make up, writing an essay or finalising some work or anything that you feel like. Breathe. Be.
Your baby will sleep better at night from napping. It might still not be happening though and more is needed. Identify sources of stress. My youngest gets edgy around company, she will skip a nap when people are here, she is both curious but also wary of people disturbing her routine, it is not a bad thing in itself because company can be good, my older kids love a play date and I enjoy catching up with a mom friend over a cup of coffee or tea. This being said the price will be that my tiny not so tiny little princess will probably struggle with bedtime. That is something I need to factor in with visits and so I tend to do extra clean ups beforehand, run an extra batch of laundry and most importantly plan nothing if I can help it for the following day, this way I can enjoy the visit and give myself some grace after a difficult night. There is nothing wrong with a pyjama day and naps to catch back on sleep.
Team work makes the dream work. This one might be difficult but if you have a trusted partner who can help rocking baby to sleep then it is fine to ask them to . If you do not, I salute you, mix things up, put baby in the pram and go for a walk, this might help them find sleep, give them a nicely warm bath, dry them, put them in nice crispy clean clothes ( you know how great it feels to slip in clean bedsheets after a hot bath? Your baby loves that feeling too), then snuggle baby to sleep. You can do this, you can find ideas, trust your instincts, do what feels right. Your baby is part you and certain things that click for you do click for them too.
Breastfeed to sleep in you are breastfeeding. Throw away all you heard against breastfeeding a baby to sleep, no breastfed baby will give you better sleep than the ones you have left to pass out milk drunk on the breast. Enjoy holding them for their whole nap afterwards as well if you want to (or are too tired to contemplate risking putting them down), the feeling of their warm heavy little body against your chest is actually soothing for your heart and body, it helps your baby synchronise back to you and will help them sleep better at bedtime because they will know you are near if needed. Do what you feel is right for you and your little one, you are their mom and this is your one and only time with them this little so you may as well enjoy it and do it your way, if you are both happy by the end of it, it is right.
It is now half past two am. I am getting quite tired and this might have ceased to make sense but the bottom line is, sometimes your baby won’t fall asleep, they may never have been a great sleeper, they may have been an amazing sleeper until three days ago, but it does happen. Your little one is human and sometimes they have ideas of their own and sadly sleep is not part of their plan for the coming few hours but since they are not yet independent they need you near to interact with. and while it is tiring, there is not much you can do but it is not a “wrong” situation. Make yourself comfortable, let them crawl on the rug, dance with them, try to interact to the best of your energy and go back to nursing, rocking them gently, dimming the lights etc and attempting to sleep as many time as needed but do not self blame or blame your little one, it is normal and does happen to everyone, maybe even your friend Laura from baby music who says her little one has been sleeping through the night since four weeks old, who knows? Some moms embellish it, some do have great sleepers, some are suffering worse, it does not matter in this moment because they are not you and only you have your baby and only the two (or three or four etc for fellow moms/parents of multiples) of you will figure it out.
Sometimes babies do not sleep through the night but one day they will. I send you all my love and magic wishes as you get through another hour, you are not alone.