On Saturday evening I sat in a Premier Inn family size room at 7pm. In the dark. No TV. White noise playing on the iPad. “Are we going mad or do all parents do this?” I asked my partner? He just shrugged and said “well how else are we supposed to get him to sleep?” Ah the eternal question. The question that has plagued us for the last seven months. Well, actually, the last four months as he seemed to be doing OK (for a baby) for the first few months, before hitting what I now understand was a “sleep regression”. Really? I mean he was already waking every 3-4 hours in the night for a feed, could it really regress much more than that? Oh yes it could people. Yes it could.
When you become a new parent there is one question that you will be asked more than any other. “How is baby sleeping?” Now this question comes in many forms, it could be that the enquirer says simply “you look knackered” and expects you to expand upon this. “Are you getting much rest?” and “Are they a sleeper?” are also up there. The most ridiculous (and more common in the older generations) way of asking this question has to be “are they a good baby?” By ‘good’ they mean ‘good at sleeping’. My answer is usually “yeah he’s really good” and when they ask if he sleeps I simply say “oh no he doesn’t sleep but he’s good as gold during the day”. Because he generally is. He’s happy and content and curious about the world. He’s not a whinge bag (unless he’s teething) and he usually copes with his lack of sleep remarkably well. Sometimes I respond with “no he’s a very bad baby, bad baby, naughty boy” just to see their reaction. He is not a ‘bad’ baby. I don’t think there is such a thing. He just won’t fucking sleep is the problem.
Anyway, our little man went from a text book waking every four hours at night to feed at 12 weeks (even had a couple of five hour stretches in there before that, which is considered ‘sleeping through’ at that age) to waking every couple of hours. What the fuck is going on now? Teething? At three months, probably a bit early. Ear infection? But he seems fine during the day. Separation anxiety? Again probably a bit early. Wind? He’s always had bloody wind and woken himself up trumping like a steam train, so that was nothing new. Hmmm. Probably a growth spurt we thought (everything is a bloody growth spurt for the first few months). Give it a week and see how we go.
A week goes by and no improvement. Cue frantic googling. It must be the four month sleep regression come early I proclaimed. Everything online says if it’s not over in a month you may need to ‘sleep train’. Oh FFS I can’t be arsed with that. What sort of hell is that? I already have no patience and now I’m supposed to listen to him cry for god knows how long until he falls asleep? Please god no. Let’s stick it out for the month and see how we go. Meanwhile I continue feeding him to sleep at bed time and naps. Even though that is the ‘wrong’ thing to do. Because now he is fighting naps like a demon, crying and screaming because he doesn’t want to sleep. But if he doesn’t sleep he will be overtired and won’t sleep at night. And boob is the only thing that works. So I don’t listen to the ‘experts’. Fuck them.
I find myself becoming less and less patient and more and more angry with this tiny human who clearly just doesn’t know what the fuck is going on but is so interested to find out that he would deprive himself (and me) of sleep for hours on end. There is a reason that sleep deprivation is a form of torture. It’s really fucking hard being woken up every 1-2 hours all night long. And then woken for the day at 5am. And then repeating this night after night after night with no reprieve. Yes, my partner did help out but I still could not sleep through the hellish crying and whinging. And also by this point I had now lost the ability to ‘sleep through the night’ myself and my body was trained into waking every couple of hours. Dammit! “But he’s so cute and peaceful when he’s asleep just look at him” we would say. And then he would move and we would freeze to the spot. Sssh, shut the hell up, do not move a muscle or it’s over, oh for fucks sake. Start again.
A month goes by and still no change. I read a couple of books on gentle sleep coaching. They make me feel better about myself. Sometimes babies just don’t sleep. It is normal for them to want to be with their mummies and feed through the night. Many families bed share with babies and it is Western culture that is driving us to want babies in their own room, sleeping in 12 hour shifts because it fits in with our lives. A lot of this makes sense to me. Babies don’t know any better, they only know they want to be with the comfort of mummy. So we bed shared and fed through the night for a bit. I did get more sleep this way, as I didn’t need to keep getting up. But my baby is now waking more and more. I had a dream that I was choking only to wake up to him kicking me in the throat (he had rotated in his sleep). I was sleeping right on the edge of the bed with my pillow rolled up to give baby ample space and with no duvet past my waist in case he went under it. I was waking up with incredible back and arm ache. Surely this is no way to sleep either? Where are we going wrong here??
Eventually I stopped breastfeeding (not just because of sleep, I had planned to stop at 6 months anyway), which did seem to make some difference. He started sleeping in 7/8 hour stretches. BUT then he would be wide awake and ready to party at 3am! He wasn’t crying, so he didn’t need us, but I was awake knowing that he was chatting to himself, rolling around and chewing on his feet etc. Cue google again. Oh he’s having ‘split nights’, his sleep drive and circadian rhythm have clearly separated and now he needs to wait a while before he is sleepy again. There is an answer for everything online. So we try later bedtime/fewer naps/shorter naps etc. This either has no effect or results in more wake ups because he is ‘overtired’. People say “oh he’ll sleep when he’s tired enough”. Errr no he fucking won’t actually. We’ve tried that. He just gets more and more hyper until you try and get him to sleep and then he has a complete sodding meltdown, which is traumatic for all of us.
So, what to do? Well I do all of the things that make me an apparently utterly bonkers parent. I hold him for naps (when I’m at home). This could be a good two hours of baby holding and playing crossword games on my phone (or writing about my lack of sleep as I am doing now). I used to drive him around in the car to get him to sleep for an hour or so (he would wake up if I stopped so I would keep going, avoiding anywhere with traffic lights at all costs). He has recently decided he no longer likes the car to sleep. On long journeys (with two of us) I have to stroke his head and/or hold a muslin over his eyes to get him to nod off. I go walking with the pram for hours on end. I sit in dark rooms on a rocking chair for what feels like an eternity. I go mad listening to white noise. I rock him until my arms feel as though they are going to give way. I play him classical music to relax before bed. I dim the lights an hour before bed. I give him a relaxing bath. I change my mind as that is too stimulating before bedtime so I stop the bath. I change my mind again because he is fucking filthy so he is having a bloody bath before bed. I massage him. I read him the same story every night before bed as a sleep cue. I do all of this for months on end and he still won’t sleep a 12 hour stint!
What am I doing wrong??? I have concluded that actually I am not doing anything wrong. He is just a terrible bloody sleeper. And yes I probably should ‘sleep train’ him somehow. But I just don’t have the energy. I can’t even handle him crying in my partner’s arms so I just don’t see how I would manage leaving him to cry himself to sleep. Plus he’s a stubborn little bugger like his mum, so we could be in for a long battle if we went down that route! Maybe he will be a terrible sleeper forever. And yes he does still end up in our bed every night. But sod it, he won’t be doing it when he’s a teenager so it’s not going to last forever (well I bloody hope not). For now I’m just going to have to get on with it and be a knackered, walking zombie with giant eye bags. Because I’m too tired to really think about it or make any sort of change. So there. He’ll get there eventually. (Won’t he? Or should I sleep train? This is my constant inner monologue every waking hour of the day. I yo yo all the time). Truth is, I have no answers and will probably change my mind multiple times every day about what I should do. Ultimately I just go with whatever is the easiest option to get him to sleep. I think each parent just has to do what feels right for them, go with your gut and whatever you decide is right for your baby and your family. And don’t let anyone make you feel bad for whatever you do decide to do or not do. Lack of sleep is bloody hard work and we all deal with it differently. If it’s working, keep doing it. If it’s not working try something else, if that doesn’t work, try something else again. Or just bury your head in the sand like me and cross your fingers. Whatever. Do whatever YOU want to do. Just don’t spend a fortune on gadgets to get the baby to sleep. Ewan the pissing dream sheep is a complete load of BOLLOCKS!