Our Baby Class

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

8 Things to Do When Your Baby Won't Sleep

Let me start off and say: this is not a sleep training post.

There are a lot of places to debate sleep training methods, from cry-it-out to gentle sleep training strategies.

This post is for the parents of babies who just won't sleep.

Dear Sleepless Parent,
You have bounced, swayed, sung, hummed, patted, and cuddled.  You have tried blackout curtains, white noise machines, infant massage, quiet bathtimes, and bedtime routines.  Maybe you've tried bed sharing, and yes, even letting baby cry it out. You've tried drowsy but awake and nursing to sleep.  You've cried out in desperation and walked away in tears to calm down, your baby screaming.  And you've gone back over and over again, to pick up that baby and soothe them, all the while wondering how you will function the next day.

I kept thinking he would fall asleep, but he immediately
popped up giggling
You see pictures of babies who have fallen asleep in strange positions, and wish your baby fell asleep that easily.  You cringe when people ask you if your baby is a "good" baby, which means a baby that sleeps through the night.

Maybe, once in a great while, you get a really good night. And you hope to yourself that it will repeat. Maybe it does, once or twice, and then things go back to your normal.

Your child won't go to bed. Or your child has extended wakings in the middle of the night. Or frequent wakings.  Whatever the problem, you are not alone.  Judging from the overnight activity on parenting Facebook groups, there are a lot of sleepless parents out there.  I'm probably up with you too.

Get yourself a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage, and get ready for some survival tips.

1. Adjust your expectations.  One of my favorite quotations of all time is "Comparison is the thief of joy."  All children are different.  The more I compare my two sleepers, the more frustrated I get with the non-sleeper.  When my husband and I realized that we had just about exhausted our options for changing HIS behavior, we realized we needed to change OUR behavior if we were going to get through this stage.

2. Understand infant and child sleep patterns.  Your wakeful child may be outside the averages, but knowing that the mystical achievement of a good night's sleep is more elusive than we are led to believe.

3. If possible, get support.  Make support a priority.  My husband and I share the night shift, since it's not always all about nursing for my son.  We've also discussed hiring a mother's helper to come during the week (even if it's just so you can grab a quick nap!).  Postpartum doulas are fantastic, if they work for your budget.  Find a friend to swap with.  The advice "sleep while the baby sleeps" is fantastic, but not always feasible, especially if you have other children or have to work. If you can get a good night's sleep even once a week, you might be surprised how much it recharges you after days and days of exhaustion.

4. Caffeinate.  Although anecdotal evidence indicates that some babies have sensitivities to caffeine in breastmilk, there is no scientific evidence.  If you've cut out caffeine and still have a sleepless baby, go for the coffee or tea.  It won't hurt baby, and it might help you.

5. Go to bed early.  It's tough, because if baby did go to bed, this might be your only adult time.  But a 1am wakeup is much easier if you went to bed at 9pm than if you closed your eyes at 11pm.

6.  If you have a baby with extended night waking, and you've tried the whole "keep the atmosphere dark, quiet, and calming" thing and baby STILL wants to play, take the pressure off yourself.  Have a safe space for baby to play, lay down on the floor, and doze.  After a little while, try again to put the baby back to bed.  It gives you a chance to destress, which in turn can help baby relax.  Notice the floor bed in the photo above.  Baby's room is completely baby proof, and if he gets playful, he can play with some toys while we take turns resting.

7.  Put on your own oxygen mask first.  Self-care is important for ALL parents, not just the extra-sleep-deprived ones, but it is especially important.  Figure out what self-care looks like for you, and make it a priority.

8. Ignore the nay-sayers and the people who don't understand.  I say this kindly, having been one of those people who don't understand.  If someone says "just do XYZ and baby will sleep," they may not have walked in your shoes.  If someone says "embrace that time with your baby in the middle of the night," they might not know that your baby is screaming and it's really hard to enjoy that time when it happens every single night.

Another Sleepy Mom.

(Note: Sometimes, medical conditions can contribute to sleeplessness. If you are concerned about your child's sleep habits, contact a care provider or sleep specialist).

And when they do fall asleep, document it with photographic evidence!

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