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Sleep, or the lack thereof

 |  Parenting

(Warning: this might get long.)

When I was pregnant with Isabel, I frequently joked that I was owed a sleeper. After months of being woken hourly by Izz, thanks to a combination of constipation and god knows what else, I figure I was due a baby who could at least maintain a sleep period of more than one sleep cycle.

And so it came to be: Oliver was born, and right from the off seemed happy to go 3, 4, 5 hours at night. Honestly, 3 hours is a blessing in this house. Except there was a ‘problem’: he would not be nursed to sleep. This was my biggest #1 sleep tool with Isabel, so I had to relearn a whole chunk of parenting all over again.

Not a problem, or so I thought… because Oliver was happy to *shock* self-settle. You could put him down and he would fall asleep. By himself. You could have knocked me over with a feather! When this didn’t work, he was happy to be rocked in the crook of my knee and transferred to the sofa beside me. Bliss, a happy sleeping baby.

And then the 4 month sleep regression hit, and teething, and cold after cold. And after week on week of finding ways to settle the uncomfortable boy he seemed to forget how to self-settle. He would happily bridge the gap between sleep cycles, but when it came to going to sleep in the first place he would — does — everything he can to resist.

Except now that the sleep regression is long gone, the first teeth are through and he’s not suffering from a cold we’re left with an over-tired, constantly screaming baby. I am spending day after day trying to get him to sleep. On the plus side, he will often nurse to sleep now (yay). However, when I finally do get him to sleep, he is so over-tired that it actually wakes him up (yes, baby sleep is a mystery to me too) and so I then spend another half an hour or more trying to get him back to sleep but I can’t nurse him because he’s fed and isn’t hungry, and angrily rejects the breast. I end up rocking, pacing, jiggling and jogging to get the boy to resume napping, but unless you’ve run around recently with a 10kg sack of potatoes you might not appreciate how hard that is to maintain (he’s on the 91st percentile for weight).

The day before yesterday I decided to hell with everything that needed doing and I just watched him. It became clear quite quickly that I was missing his early sleep cues and so he was getting overtired before I was even trying to get him to sleep. Aha! I’m a genius I thought, and promptly declared to twitter that I’d fixed my baby. For the first time in months he had PROPER naps. I woke yesterday morning ready to do it all again.

But it’s never that easy, is it? Because he showed his sleepy cues and I offered him the breast but he’d fed already, so wasn’t interested. So I rocked him, but he arched his back and shouted protest, getting increasingly more pissed off. In the end I gave up, put him in one of our carriers on my back and mock-jogged back and forth in the hallway. After 30 mins he gave up protesting and went to sleep. But he was already over-tired and so we ended up back in the same cycle of short nap, waking over-tired, short nap, waking over-tired.

When Isabel had issues with sleep I just went with it. I’m not a believer in “you must force them to sleep for their own good / you must teach them to self settle otherwise they’ll never learn!” — Izz demonstrated that was total bollocks herself when she just randomly started sleeping through at about 18 months. However, I wasn’t trying to launch a website and make a living from home when Isabel was a baby so I was a little more flexible in that regard.

And so I try things. I’ve tried slinging him and walking round and round the block. I put him in his car seat and rock him, and it works maybe 1 time in 10. I try methods I’d have not touched with Izz, methods that I swore I’d never do; I’ve tried a dummy, not interested; I tried pushing him in the pushchair I bought for Izz when I was pregnant with Oliver (used all of twice) and he either outright refuses to sit in it, or sits in it but still will not sleep. I looked into commercial swings and bouncers but he’s such a porker he’s already way over the weight limits for them. When I get really desperate I put him in the car, that works, but I can’t afford the petrol to do this regularly.

I read Ask Moxie’s post on tension decreasers after numerous people linked me to it, and left him to cry for 7 minutes. Seven long minutes. He didn’t magically fall asleep after a whine, he got increasingly more hysterical until I went in and picked him up.

So now not only do I have to deal with the guilt of not being capable of getting my tired baby to sleep, but also guilt about leaving him to cry when NOT letting my babies cry is the core of my parenting ethos.

I’m not sure what the point of this post is. I am not seeking an answer from you guys (unless you have one — you’re welcome to make suggestions). I guess I just need an outlet. I have a sneaking feeling the only thing that’s going to solve our little ‘problem’ is time. I’m just not sure how to manage the working and the crying while he sorts himself out.

I guess I should just be grateful that he’s not waking hourly at night.

Jem Turner +44(0)7521056376

19 comments so far

  1. Chantelle said:

    You’re okay. Just keep doing your best, because there’s really nothing else that you can do. You let your son cry for 7 minutes and even though doing so may be against your parenting ethos, it was only 7 minutes and he’s fine. If anything won’t help, it’s your feeling guilty about that. Let it go–you’re still a good parent. You were just giving another method a shot.

  2. Chloe said:

    Oh, this sounds so much like Arlo as a baby. He did the waking himself up too – the most I used to get out of him was a 20 min nap. Eventually I decided to try and give him some routine to his ‘naps’ in the hope that it might help him fall into a more structured sleep pattern. I walked with him in the buggy four times a day, for the first couple of weeks he’d scream for about 45 mins before giving in to sleep (although there were a few occasions when it just didn’t work at all, then I guess he got used to this structured approach and would fall asleep in 5 mins. I had to keep moving, if I stopped he would wake, so I was getting a whole lot of walking time out of my days!

    Obviously this is not feasible with a toddler around and the fact that you have work to do at home. And in all honesty it didn’t really solve our issue as I still had to work to get him to feel comfortable napping in his cot so I could get things done (this didn’t happen until around 8 months). I think you are right, time is the answer. I feel your pain!

    • Jem said:

      Thanks Chloe. I do think he’d benefit from a structure to his naps as he’s very routine led but I’m not entirely sure where to start. In theory he still wants 3 naps a day, going to sleep roughly 2 hours after waking, but I also know that it’s likely any day now he’ll drop to 2 naps. I just need to figure something out and go with it (and hope I can make it work around Izz/work stuff!)

  3. Han said:

    I have nothing baby related to offer except that I hear whiskey and chloroform work wonders…

    Information I can be sure of is that you are gonna be one fit lady soon :)

  4. mumblies said:

    As I am sure you know already some babies sleep and some just don’t. You said that popping him in the car helps getting him off to sleep so maybe try this: put him in the buggy and broom him back and forth over a large fold in the rug/carpet. I had similar problems with Ian when he was a baby and discovered that although simply back and forth in a buggy didn’t work but by simulating road lumps and bumps with the fold in the carpet actually worked and finally I got to eat through the day and even catch some well earned nap time myself – it may sound daft but hopefully it might work for you too.

  5. Stephanie said:

    You are one tough mommy! I will leave an e-hug for you! *hugs*

    All babies are different, so what works for Isabel might not work for Oliver. The seven minutes you let him cry must have seemed like forever! I don’t understand why parents let their babies cry like that (it’s different when they’re older and know better), and even more confusing is that it works sometimes.

  6. Marjo said:

    When I tried the crying thing with my son I used the 5-10-15 minutes method. You go in every 5, then 10, then 15 minutes so they at least know you are still there and they don’t fall asleep because they think you don’t respond.
    However it didn’t work.
    What did help was sitting next to his cot, holding his hand. It provided him the comfort of mummy being there. There was also a period where he relied on a stuffed animal with a music box inside.

    Big hug because I’ve been there. It’s hard and I didn’t work from home.

  7. Melissa said:

    Don’t beat yourself up over it. When you’re taking care of two plus trying to work from home, you can’t be the perfect mother 100% of the time. Now I don’t work from home, but taking care of 3 little ones, I know I can’t be a perfect mother, nor do I want to be. Sometimes that means the oldest two will have to cry if I’m busy with the baby. Other times that means the baby has to cry for a few minutes so I can finish doing whatever with the oldest two. Sometimes it also means they all have to cry if they all decide to wake up when I’m in the middle of a shower. That’s just the nature of the beast when you have more than one kid and other obligations on top of that.

    As you know, I’ve dealt with sleep problems with all of my kids. Andrew was colicky and cried anyway so I had no problem letting him cry himself to sleep sometimes. Sometimes that was all that worked. Robert, on the other hand, did pretty well with sleeping at night, but he hates to take naps. William was difficult as a baby, but now he naps from 9am straight through lunch. Right now, I’m still trying to get Andrew to figure out that naps are a necessity. If it was up to him and Robert, they would just go to bed at 5pm, not napping all day. Of course that’s a problem then when they want to be up at or before 4am!

    Babies…why do they fight sleep? If only I had as many opportunities to nap as my kids do! They don’t know how good they have it!

  8. Hev said:

    Sounds like you are doing everything needed to try & get him to sleep. I wonder if he is frustrated at not being able to “self-settle” anymore. I know babies are not adults, but he may be the independent type & is getting frustrated are needing you to put him to sleep. I know that you don’t let them scream, but maybe instead of holding him while trying to get him to sleep maybe put him done & just touch him, joggle him a bit? I don’t know Jem, you know I have no little one that requires naps. Though, the idea of a structured nap or quiet time may work. But I imagine you have tried that already. I.E. Chloe’s comment & I like what Marjo did with hers. But again, this is just a suggestion.
    Much hugs & strength to you, Hev

  9. Ashley said:

    Your Oliver sounds a lot like my daughter. I was tandem nursing and had oversupply, so she never learned how to nurse for comfort, and had a horrible time with getting herself to sleep after her sleep regression, teething, illness, ect. I couldn’t stand to hear her cry, but what ultimately worked with her was something called crying in arms. I was right there with her, holding her if she wanted, but I wasn’t actively trying to get her to sleep because whatever I would try would just get her more worked up. I justified it to myself by thinking that she could cry with me right there for fifteen to twenty minutes and sleep all night, or she could cry off and on (mostly on) all night and the whole family would be exhausted. It really, really sucked but I think she just needed to relearn how to fall asleep on her own. Now, many months later, she likes to snuggle to sleep and she’ll make cooing sounds and babble until she drifts off. Of course once every couple of weeks she’ll wake up in the middle of the night and be wide awake for hours, so I or my husband doze on the sofa while she plays until she decides she’s ready to go back to bed, but other than that naps and bedtime are a cinch if I can keep my older son from interfering.

    Best of luck to you and Oliver. Hopefully you will figure out how to help him soon!

    • Jem said:

      Thanks for sharing Ashley.

      I’ve tried just holding him in the hope he’ll eventually just sleep but he can resist for hours, and my sanity can’t take crying that long.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’ve no issues with his night waking (I am happy to do a couple of night feeds if nothing else because it keeps my periods at bay ;)) I just wish he’d sleep in the bloody day :(

  10. mumblies said:

    Another quick thought… have you tried playing music to him? I remember when Iz was little she loved that Shania Twain song and we played that over and over ’til she dropped off to sleep. Maybe there might be a song/track that Ollie likes or finds so incredibly boring that he drops off to sleep? When you were tiny I had a Bedtime bear from Thomy that was sound activated and played Brahm’s lullaby and lit up then it gradually got softer and quieter and the lit dimmed bit by bit and eventually turned itself off. It always worked a treat for you.

  11. Stephanie said:

    Oh dear. My little sister was always shit as self-settling. She would fight and fight until she quite literally passed out. Poor Ollie, I know it is just as frustrating for him as it is you. I hope you find something that works. With any luck, he will just pick up the habit off dropping off soon. Until then, you will get through it. And you’re not a bad mum for letting him cry for seven minutes. He still loves you dearly.

  12. Jessica said:

    My oldest son who is now 15 wouldn’t sleep. As of the last time he lived with me the less sleep he got the more he thrived. However when he was a baby he did what you where talking about because he had colic. The colic was caused from his severe acid reflux (oh the stories I could tell about that). I would have to give him a dose of colic meds & tylenol. I only added the tylenol after I realized his belly still hurt even though his colic was gone. Just as he was learning to sleep all night at the age of 7 his mind went & decided he needed AHDH so bad he couldn’t pay attention enough to pee in the toilet… that was no fun to clean.

    I hope it gets all sorted out. Trying to help him sleep no matter what it is doesn’t make you a bad mom. He will be happier if he sleeps too. :D

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