Infant Sleep Strikes, Sisterhood, and Surrender

It’s been a long time since I have slept due to baby night wakings so I am not sure how coherent I will be.  But I wanted to reach out to all the families out there that might be going through something similar and offer empathy, sisterhood, and the promise of better days.

We, as a culture, seem to have this Hollywood-esque notion of baby sleep. The phrase “sleeping like a baby” immediately comes to mind.  And I know I am not the only person who has been asked, “Oh, is she a good baby? Is she sleeping through the night yet?”

We seem to have lost sight of the fact that infant and toddler sleep is meant to be light.  They’re meant to wake often at night for food and reassurance.  This is what kept them alive in more primitive times.  Of course, now we don’t have to worry about being eaten by sabre tooth cats, but that doesn’t change the fact that babies are hard-wired by their very biology to need to wake at night.  Learning to sleep through the night is a developmental milestone that all babies reach at different times.  Just like walking and talking, you cannot “train” a baby to sleep through the night before he or she is developmentally ready to do so.

That doesn’t change the fact that waking with a baby through the night can be exhausting.  Believe me, I know.  We are on day 5 of the current sleep strike.  Cricket is waking up every hour and staying up.  She is nurse, nurse, nursing.  Crawling around.  Exploring my face with her little fingers.  And just generally not sleeping.  Thank God we bed-share.  I can’t even imagine how hard it would be if I had to hike my butt down the hall to put her to sleep, stagger back to bed, only to have to hike down the hall again just as my eyes were closing.

She’s not waking to be mean or difficult or because she is a “bad” baby.  She is waking because she has a need, and for babies these needs are real and immediate.  Babies wake for all kinds of reasons:

  • Teething
  • Learning new skills
  • Because they miss us and love us
  • Hunger
  • Thirst
  • Growth spurts
  • Feeling sick
  • Baby is realizing that he or she is a separate person from Mama

Just to name a few.

And I’ve noticed with both girls and in talking to other parents that sleep definitely comes in cycles.  There are often ways to predict it.  There are several periods of wakefulness that we see pretty much across the board:

  • The 4 month sleep regression
  • The 6 month growth spurt
  • The 8 month sleep regression
  • The 15 month old period of nursing like a newborn

Cricket is right at 13 months.  We’re a little early for the 15 month period, but she is teething, growing, and coming down with a cold.  Plus, she misses me.  She is so busy playing in the mornings and evenings that she often doesn’t want to nurse or only wants to take the time for a little snack.  Note: This isn’t self-weaning. This is also really normal baby behavior and will pass with time.

Getting up every morning for work when I haven’t slept at night is hard.  Really hard.  I feel like hell right now and the horrible cold I caught isn’t helping.  This is so hard.  But I know it will pass.  I am here, waving my white flag.  I am surrendering to her needs.  She will only be a baby for a little while longer.  Every day with her is precious, every night waking is a chance to remind her that Mama will be here for her no matter what.

So if you’re like me, or if you find yourself in the future in a similar situation, I’m here with you, wide awake in solidarity and sisterhood.  Dig deep and find that white flag.  Surrender to it.  Don’t get caught in the moment.  Remember that the days are fleeting right now.  It will get easier and, as my dear friend Paris says, “Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean you suck at it.”

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6 thoughts on “Infant Sleep Strikes, Sisterhood, and Surrender

  1. I can empathize with you. My little one seems to need a lot of TLC overnight. It is something that we continue to deal with, long after most of my friends report routine “sleeping through the night.” But I just keep telling myself that when I’m ninety, this won’t seem like nearly such a big deal!

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  2. This was me last week! I was literally walking around with my eyes open but my body was asleep during the day.. LO is 10 months so I don’t know what the heck milestone it was (I think it was teething but we didn’t see any to show for all that). Thanks for this article.. it brings to heart and reminds me why do this 🙂

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  3. I’m totally with you on this one! Oscar is 14 months and has yet to have a night without waking at least once. And that’s okay. Sure, I’m exhausted, but he’s my baby. My friend’s two girls both slept through from really young, in fact her youngest now sleeps 12 hours at night and 3 hours in the day! She can’t get over how little Oscar sleeps. But it is totally normal for us (and is a vast improvement on his sleeping habits as a newborn with all our difficulties nursing!!) We co-sleep and often all Oscar needs is to move into the arms of either mummy or daddy and he settles down again. Unless he’s in pain (he’s cutting some molars at the moment), then of course he needs a bit more than that. I cannot imagine him sleeping in another room and having to drag myself out of bed several times a night. But what gets me is the amount of times people say, “oh you’re making a rod for your own back!” because I just don’t understand where people get this idea from that babies and children are supposed to be easy and convenient?! Why should they be forced into our routine before they are ready to fit into it themselves? We were the ones who chose to be parents, why shouldn’t we be the flexible ones? Having kids is hard, but they are only little for such a short amount of time. And for us, routine means “wake up, snuggle in bed, get up, have breakfast, play, cuddle some more etc etc” rather than the rigid “regime” that some people insist you should follow (i.e. get up at certain time, eat at certain time, be in bed by certain time).

    So, yeah, I’m sleep deprived and just about to start a new job (part-time only) so it’s all go in our house. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks for this post!!

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    1. You know, the thing about people who sleep train is this: They may truly believe that because their baby doesn’t wake at night because they have “trained” the baby to stay asleep. What they don’t realize is that the baby hasn’t been trained not to wake, the baby has been taught not to cry when she wakes.

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