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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No, really. I’m sleep deprived.

It is amazing how completely different my two girls are.  Their personalities, their likes and dislikes, and their habits.

Right now those differences are most apparent in the realm of sleep.  The Grasshopper was such an easy sleeper.  She had her moments.  Like with all babies, sleep comes and goes.  In retrospect, it was predictably cyclical, though.

We (and if you’re a new parent take notes) expect to see sleep regressions around the time of growth spurts and milestones.  Four months and eight months are a very big deal.  Milestones and growth spurts all converge during those times and sleep takes a hit.  A big hit.

But it passes.  I remember with the Grasshopper wondering if I was doing something wrong.  I remember thinking, “Gosh, do I have to sleep train her?”  I wondered if she just wasn’t able to sleep because I never taught her to do those things that my coworkers were talking about.  I remember words like “self soothe,” “bad habits,” and others whirling around my brain.

Thank heavens for the Kellymom.com forums.  They stay absolutely on message and make it very clear that you can no more “train” a baby to sleep than you can “train” a baby to walk and talk.  Sleep, Kelly says, is a milestone that many kids don’t reach for several years.

From Kelly’s article Sleeping Through the Night:

Your baby will begin to comfort herself and to sleep for longer stretches at her own developmental pace. If your baby wants to nurse at night, it is because she DOES need this, whether it’s because she is hungry or because she wants to be close to mom. Sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone (like walking or toilet training) that your baby will reach when she is ready to. Trying to force baby to reach this before her time may result in other problems later on.

So I just plugged along through those mercifully short sleep regressions with the Grasshopper, and, just like Kelly promised, the constant waking passed.

Thank goodness I know that now.  Cricket is really giving me a run for my money.  Her 4 month sleep regression merged into a 6 month sleep regression and when we hit 8 months last week, all bets were off.  We are deep into the 8 month sleep regression with no end in sight.

Nursing to sleep. No longer the magic trick it used to be.

She’ll take an hour to nurse herself to sleep at night.  She wakes hourly to nurse.  This week we’ve added a new element to the mix.  She’ll nurse to sleep starting around 8:30 PM, but then when she’s finally asleep and letting go and I’m thinking I can drop off to sleep too, those little eyes pop open, and now YAY!  It’s happy baby fun time!  She crawls all around, practices pulling up on the side of the crib we have Macgyvered to our bed, climbs over me to try to get to the exciting looking alarm clock, chews on my shoulders, sticks her fingers up my nose and in my ears, and just generally has a cheerful and noisy time.

Happy Baby Fun Time! Standing rules!

This went on from 9:45 last night to 11.  Finally, she went to sleep.  And then woke up every hour afterwards to sit up and crawl in a circle and then nurse again.  At 5:30 AM, she decided it was time to greet the morning.  So up she got.

No point in going back to bed.  I had work to get ready for.  So up I got, too.

I fantasize about a 4 hour stretch of sleep.  I can’t remember what that’s like.

Thank goodness for the Grasshopper.  Thank goodness she taught me that this will pass and things will get easier.  Thank goodness for cosleeping!  Right now I can nurse her and then just roll over and fall back asleep.  Imagine if I had to get my tired self up, haul my carcass down the hall, try unsuccessfully multiple times to put her down in the crib without waking her, haul my carcass back down the hall to my bedroom, and then try to fall asleep?  Good lord!  That sounds like a nightmare!

I didn’t talk much about it when the Grasshopper went through her wakeful cycles.  I didn’t have the same kind of supportive community, and I wanted to avoid the inevitable, “Well, maybe it’s just time to let her cry. I let my kids cry and they turned out just fine.”

I’m more confident now, and I know from experience that this isn’t a forever thing.  So now, when people ask, I’m open about it.  I say, “We’re smack in the middle of the 8 month wakeful period.  It’s really hard, but I know it will pass, and I know that she needs me right now.”  Sometimes I follow with an, “I’m so glad we’re cosleeping.  It makes things so much easier for all of us.”

At any rate, I am seriously sleep deprived now.  I think I’m handling things pretty gracefully, but wow.  I’m tired.

Which is probably why this post is so disjointed.  Maybe tonight will be the night that she sleeps.

Sweet dreams are bound to come soon, right?

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