So this is for the mums who have a baby who does not fit the sleep mould.
The ones with babies who takes them to a level of sleep deprivation few will ever know.
Sleep deprivation that has no light at the end of the tunnel.
Sleep deprivation that doesn’t simply end after the newborn phase, wonder week, teething or sickness.
To those mothering highly sensitive, super cuddly, super needy, darling little people.
To those mothers who have doubted themselves and their baby and felt like failures as they watch sleep come so easily to those around them with a few tricks and bits of ‘training’
This is for you, if you’ve thought of running away to sleep a full night in a hotel.
This for you if you sobbed your heart out as your little dear lays gazing up at you at 3am.
You know this is for you if you agree that only 3 wake ups is a ‘good’ night.
This is also for the fathers, the grandparents, the aunts, uncles, friends and acquaintances who want to understand the battle your loved one is going through as she mothers this little blessing who is no doubt precious beyond words whilst wearing her down to her very core.
First of all, don’t think for one second I am trying to make this situation you are in seem easy. I know firsthand the physical, mental and emotional strain you feel right now. Sleep deprivation fucking hurts. It really fucking hurts. It saps you of your energy, you can’t think clearly and you lose motivation very quickly as your world swiftly shrinks down to one singleminded desire … SLEEP! For many of us, these sensational high needs babies don’t even feel the need to get any sleep from the day they are born. While many babies sleep off their birth experience, ours are wide awake, often easily terrified, fussy little buggers and you’ll know doubt have had a midwife or early days visitor comment, ‘ooh, he’s very awake for a newborn.’ No such thing as time for mum to sleep and recover from the birth … Nope, especially not if the mum is a first time mother who is no doubt trying her darnedest to do everything ‘right’ and will be trying to put said baby down once asleep to avoid cosleeping.
It is exhausting and overwhelming.
Also, don’t think I am any stranger to extreme night waking. I remember when I was going through it, I felt so alone. I didn’t know anyone else who’s baby woke every 20-40mins all night every night for a few months straight from 6 months. I’d read gentle parenting books or blogs in the early months and think, ‘that’s all freaking well and good if you have nice easygoing kid but how can I keep up that kind of comfort with my crazily, intense baby?’ I was sure they couldn’t mean it was for me as good as it sounded.
But in the end, these gentle methods were actually EXACTLY what was needed for both my baby and myself. We needed a way to tune into each other. I needed to stop trying to control what was uncontrollable and start working WITH the baby I had instead of the baby the books decided he should be. These methods did not make him sleep more or better. There was no magical cure and there was no magical change that suddenly saw him turn into a sleeper. I remained sleep deprived. Extremely sleep deprived. He marginally improved towards the end of my second pregnancy and again a bit more after the new baby was born. By then, sleep deprivation was my norm. But I was and am okay.
So here’s my tips for trying to not only survive the ultimate sleep thief in your life but also to live, love and feel good about yourself and your baby.
TIP 1- change your mindset
- This will be the ultimate mind game. You can choose to change your focus. This took me a good 6 months to realise but I actually felt less tired when I stopped thinking about how tired I should be. The pain does lessen as your body adjusts to less and broken sleep but often our mind still registers, ‘oh, I only got about 3.5 accumulated hours of sleep last night, I am EXAHUSTED!’ Yes, that is bugger all sleep but I bet your bottom dollar if you are a regular at this kind of stuff, you’ll still kick goals the next day if you just get on up and get on with it. Make a plan for the morning to get your grumpy, tired arse moving and get on with it.
- Stop calculating how much sleep you had, how long you were awake, predicting the next wake up. None of it matters and none of it helps your frame of mind.
- If it was a particularly bullshit night, give yourself the chance to cry, vent to someone, make a seriously yummy cuppa, have a little pity party and THEN get on with it!
TIP 2- Perspective
- You are not alone. You are not the first and won’t be the last mother to go through this. You haven’t done anything wrong. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with your baby (of course you will have no doubt ruled out any health concerns). You are not failing, in fact, you are doing brilliantly, your baby IS just as hard as you imagine and there are easier babies getting around and that’s why it looks easy for others.
- People may simply not get what you are going through because everyone has their own version of a ‘good night’ and a ‘bad night’. When we went through our worst patch of waking every 20-40 mins, I would have given ANYTHING for a 2 hour stretch of sleep! ANYTHING! And then I’d have a friend complaining of their shocking night which involved baby waking 3 times, 2 of which were between 4 and 6am (meaning there was at least one bloody good long stretch in there). It all depends on your perspective. This isn’t a competition so I do try to understand when others complain about a night of sleep I can literally only dream of but more than anything, I try to turn this into a positive… From our perspective, we can fully appreciate when our babies DO genuinely have a better night. It might not be the best but better is all we truly sleep deprived folk need for a little reboot here and there. We appreciate it far more than those who have never been where we are.
TIP 3- Try stuff and investigate different avenues
- Investigate health concerns – paediatrician, lactation consultant, chiropractor, osteopath, naturopath, dietician … We consulted all of them. Every possible health concern was ruled out. It’s a strange feeling you get as each possible ‘cause’ of your child’s wakefulness is ruled out. On one hand, it is an extraordinary relief to know your wee one hasn’t been battling any sort of pain or discomfort preventing their sound sleep but on the other hand, if it were ‘something’ then you might have found a fix and sleep sweet sleep may have beckoned. Cue mummy guilt for not feeling 100% grateful at that moment for your beautifully healthy little sleep thief. It’s a lingering thought and fully understandable in the circumstances. Your human, brush off the guilt.
- I could never have reached acceptance if I hadn’t have tried everything I wanted to try first. The only regret here was that I did unfortunately try a few things that went against my motherly instinct and caused my baby trauma and I can’t take it back (sleep school being the top of my list). Is it safe? Is it respectful? Does it feel right? If the answer is yes, go for it. If it doesn’t work, it simply wasn’t what your baby needed. You didn’t fail and they aren’t being difficult. It was an idea that didn’t work. Move on
TIP 4- Acceptance
- It may seem negative but simply accepting that your baby IS going to wake at 20,40,60 mins (whatever their current stint of choice is) and EXPECTING them to wake versus hoping they may magically sleep for longer actually helped me a lot! While I was in the ‘maybe tonight is the magical night where he sleeps longer.’ I lived with continual feelings of disappointment and frustration as night after night it didn’t happen. Accepting the waking helped.
- Accepting that there was NOTHING I could do to stop my baby waking helped me refocus my energy on what I could control- getting myself the best quality sleep I could, when I could. Quality over quantity. For me, this meant- eating dinner early with bub so I didn’t have to eat into the sleep time to cook or eat, showering as soon as bub was down to help me wind down and to guarantee I had a shower each day, bedsharing once Bub woke after I went to bed, putting him on the boob- screw night time resettling, and laying and resting or occasionally napping while Bub catnapped during the day. Did this bode well for my night time social life? No. Did I get much time to talk with my husband? Not unless we went for a walk to get Bub to sleep which became a fabulous way to ensure we talked away from the TV. At the end of the day, this was a season and for this season, this is what I needed to do. I still socialised during the day and enjoyed my adult time then. The nights, well they were for sleeping any chance I could.
TIP 5- Keep on communicating with your partner
- Living long term with sleep deprivation can be a serious strain on your relationship and we were no exception. Tempers were often short as well as patience with so much of our energy put into looking after baby and just trying to make the most of the day that it was easy to get into bad patterns of not really talking and not bothering to connect. Thing is, I couldn’t have gotten through all of this without my husband. At times, he felt completely useless and sometimes he was simply spent but I knew he was there for me, my biggest support and the love of my life. The single biggest thing that kept us going was to keep our lines of communication open. Even if it was the briefest of interactions, we tried to make sure the other knew we still loved them and at the end of this all, we’d get some more time for us. We also started walking in the evening after babe’s bath. This got me out of a darkened room settling the baby and it got him off the couch. We got to talk. I finally knew what was going on in his world again. He knew when I was nearing the end of my tether or if I was coasting long well.
- Also keep communicating if your parenting styles don’t seem to match up. We all come from different backgrounds with different temperaments at play. Listen to each other and share your reasons for wanting to try or not try certain parenting choices with your kids. We have to work at this constantly. It’s not always easy to agree but at least by talking openly we know where we are both coming from.
TIP 6- Venting
- Oh yes, venting is essential. A good cry in the shower, to your partner, your mum or a friend can be all that you need to get going again. I would never ever do Cry It Out with my babies but sometimes for me, this is exactly what I need (although a cuddle and a bit of understanding from someone else helps too).
- Big part of this tip though is to pick your target or else you are bound to get inundated with bad advice or made to feel as though it is what you have been doing that is the reason you have a wakeful baby. From very early on, put your feelers out and find those you can trust to support, encourage and listen to you. They are your venting buddies. For the rest, I suggest if your baby’s sleep comes up, change the topic after saying he/ she is sleeping like a baby 😉. If no one in your real life can offer a safe space to vent, look for like minded groups online for support.
TIP 7-Bed sharing
- Bedsharing actually changed my whole mothering experience. After 6 months of getting up multiple times a night for ridiculous amounts of time I was so bone tired I’d often have to call to my husband to lift the baby to the cot because my arms simply wouldn’t lift, simply carrying my baby to the spare bed, popping out a boob and settling back while he did his thing with very little else needed from me, I was sooooo much more rested. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t always comfortable and some nights he was still awfully hard to settle but I could stay drowsy. I didn’t need to wake right up. I just went through the motions.
- Bedsharing for us isn’t always pretty. Some nights, my husband and I cop feet to the head and get pushed to the very edge or a toddler lying on our chest. It is not always peaceful but for us it is by far the best option for meeting our needs and our motto, ‘whatever gets the most people in our house the most sleep tonight’ (Sweet Sleep, La Leche League)
- A King sized mattress on the floor is great for space and peace of mind knowing that no one can fall and hurt themselves
- And of course please, investigate safe bedsharing arrangements if you intend to start. The Safe Sleep 7 is a great place to begin.
- Do not let sleep rule your life during the day everyday.
- Get out at least once a day for yours and your baby’s sake. It will make a huge difference to your frame of mind.
TIP 9- Appreciate the tiny human you’ve created
- By far and away the top tip. Your perfectly imperfect little person is here to be loved fully and their rapidly developing brain thrives under the tender, loving care of someone who ‘gets’ them just as they are. Sleep is not who they are. It is one thing in their life but they have so much more value and uniqueness that deserves to be in the spotlight as opposed to some thing they find so hard.
- Empathise with your baby about their sleep. It’s not a nice feeling for anyone at any age to find the sleep they need to be so difficult to get and sustain. They honestly would sleep easier if they could. This is where they are at and they need their mum and dad to meet them at their point of need instead of berating them for something they simply cannot do.
- There will be days and sometimes even weeks when despite all your best efforts to keep your head positive and in the game you will be simply done. This is totally normal and understandable. It’s important to recognise when you are hitting the wall and organise a way to get some relief. Whether you just need the chance to shower alone for 15 mins to regroup or if you need to fly your mum in to take on some of your load for the week for a proper break, get the help you need to get back on deck.
- If you feel like you are not coping more often than not, then please speak to your GP. Post Natal Depression is very common regardless of your sleep deprived state, add it into the mix and it can be very hard to keep it at bay. Seeking help is so important because you matter. You deserve to enjoy your baby and your time as a mother. You deserve your happiness.
So with these tips in mind, I’m hoping you can see that this incredibly long, strenuous marathon you are on can be a once in a lifetime character building, relationship building, friendship bonding experience. You CAN survive this whether or not your baby starts sleeping longer. Stop waiting for the day and start living today by finding acceptance, appreciation, love and a whole load of venting to get you through.
You can do this mama. You really can. Stay strong x
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