Ah, sleep. The Holy Grail for all new parents. I feel exhausted most days thanks to my work schedule and WZW’s schedule. My brain doesn’t function quite as well as it used to. I’ll forget things my husband and I talked about. I’ll lose my train of thought easily. One thing that’s really noticeable is that I have a much harder time recalling people’s names. Like a medical assistant that I’ve known for a while, but haven’t worked with lately- all of a sudden, they put her with me and I can’t think of her name right away.
But it amazes me how one adjusts. Thank goodness despite the above, I’m still with it when it comes to patient care. Some days are harder to drag myself through than others, but I don’t feel nearly as bad as I thought I would. In the pre-baby days, this amount of consistent sleep-deprivation would have killed me. But somehow I’ve adjusted and this is the new normal.
The other thing that amazes me is that I haven’t gotten sick (knock on wood). Maybe a little sniffle here and there, but nothing like the flu, where I can’t go to work. I haven’t looked into it, but I wonder if breastfeeding has a protective effect for mom as well as baby.
Like most parents, we would love for our little guy to sleep better at night. I haven’t had time to read lately, but when I was still on maternity leave, I quickly went through the Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old book. It’s a fast read, and someone had told me to take it with a grain of salt, but that it has some good general advice. I did find that reading it helped with general principles, but it’s too much to expect most 12 weekers to sleep that long, much less my 6 month-old.
My husband has been reading Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. He’s been giving me the verbal Cliff Notes, so all mentions of the contents of this book are based on that. Given our N of one, we thought are little guy was pretty normal. He’s not a super easy baby, but he’s not one of those “colicky” babies that just cries and cries for no reason. Usually. But according to the book, he’s on the fussier end of the spectrum. That was news to us.
WZW is fairly needy, and has always needed to be held to go to sleep. Until recently, soothing him to sleep without holding him was damn near impossible. And even now, at 6 months, it is still hard. We just recently started having him fall asleep without being held, but we still have to be there to help soothe him. Once in a while, he’s really upset for no apparent reason, so we still have to hold him to sleep.
Many parents understandably have a hard time with the Cry It Out method. It’s hard listening to your baby cry briefly, much less substantial amounts of time. But we weren’t opposed to it. The Healthy Sleep Habits book talked about it generally, as one option. Some friends had described it, and it seemed easy enough. First night, cries some and then goes to sleep. Second night, cries longer than goes to sleep. Third night, cries for what seems like an eternal amount of time (say, 45 minutes). Then the fourth night they sleep through the night. Sounds reasonable enough, if you can get past night 3. Granted if you travel, or there’s some other major change, you might have to go through the process again.
I feel like we gave it a good go for a couple weeks. Since he was still eating once at night, and plus I wanted to keep my breast milk supply going, we would let him cry if it was not yet time for him to eat. In our ideal world, he’d sleep till past midnight, then wake to feed him, then wake up after 5:30 am so I could feed him before heading to work. Well that never happened.
Despite what I think was a good effort at the Cry It Out (meaning we were being pretty consistent), on more than one occasion he ended up crying for an hour. At that point, I had to go to him. Turns out our little guy wasn’t one to give up easily. One definitely learns a lot about their baby’s temperament when trying to sleep train. I fear that his temperament may develop into a stubborn toddler.
So, back to the drawing board. In general, after my husband read more of the book, we started making more of an effort to get him down for his naps earlier, before he becomes overly tired. We started avoiding taking him out too much around our schedules, so we can maximize his sleep. And over time, his naps have been getting longer. Which is why I currently have the freedom to be sitting in front of my computer typing.
At exactly 5 months, he surprised us and slept 9.5 hours straight! But that didn’t last. Things are improving, but at night he still doesn’t sleep consistently.
What’s tough is the breastfeeding. It’s great when he sleeps long in general- makes us happy. But what kills me is that I never know if he’s gonna wake up soon, or if he’s gonna go long. I pump if it’s getting long, but I’ve also gotten burned with that. Once I pumped, then 30 minutes later he got up hungry. Since I’d just pumped, my husband had to give him some of my thawed breast milk. Sad part is, when I pump I get maybe 4 oz. He’ll drink 6 oz. If I were always with him and could breastfeed him all the time, it would be fine. But since I have to pump at work, his schedule and my pumping schedule don’t always match up. And so I play the game of, do I pump now or do I wait?
Ultimately, nothing is going to work consistently for every baby. We definitely have not found the magical solution. And part of it is patience and time. When you have two parents working long hours, we can only expend so much energy. We are lucky that he has always slept by himself at night, first in the Rock ‘n Play, and now on the bed. So even though he needs us to fall asleep, once he does, it doesn’t have to be with us. But still, there are times that you think he’s asleep, so you try to leave, and then he wakes up again. Doh!
It can be overwhelming with all of the different and often contradictory advice parents get. I saw this a while back- a frustrated mom who put together all the sleep “advice” into one contradictory and hilarious jumble:
Since this is technically a Paleo blog, I should mention what Mark Sisson has to say on the subject. He has previously written about co-sleeping with one’s infant. When done safely, he is a proponent of co-sleeping.
Interestingly, there was recently a lecture at work which also discussed the benefits of co-sleeping. It was in the context of how co-sleeping increases rates of breastfeeding. The lecturers said that when the American Academy of Pediatrics made the blanket statement discouraging all co-sleeping, it was based on shaky science, and that there is good evidence on the benefits of co-sleeping. When an infant death occurs, the autopsies are not consistent. For example, if they find that co-sleeping was present, they presume that contributed to the cause, and often no further evaluation is done. There are factors that contribute to an increased risk of SIDS, such as smoking and parental use of substances that affect their awareness.
In other words, the AAP was being overly cautious, and the evidence does not show that ALL parents should avoid co-sleeping. Mark Sisson mentions it as well, but essentially some of the main benefits are that moms tend to be more successful with breastfeeding, and that they tend to sleep better.
We decided in the beginning that since my husband tends to move around a lot in his sleep, that it would be ill-advised to put WZW between us in the bed. We didn’t want to risk him getting elbowed by my husband or something. He never slept flat in the bassinet or the Pack ‘n Play playard, so that’s how he ended up in the Rock ‘n Play rocker. Initially, we had him in the bedroom with us. But despite what they say about moms sleeping better when their infant is in the same room with them, I found that in those early days, WZW would often loudly groan for up to 30 minutes before he was fully awake and started crying. I called it his snooze button. Due to that, my sleep would be interrupted before I needed to attend to him. So we ended up putting him in the living room just outside our bedroom.
Now that he’s graduated to sleeping on his back, we’ve just been putting him on the bed. So the kid gets a king bed to himself most of the time, since we now sleep in the downstairs bedroom. It is convenient, though, that sometimes one of us can sleep on it next to him. One of these days, when he starts moving around more, I guess we’ll have to finally switch him to the crib. I keep looking at it, and wondering if we’ll ever use it.
After listening to the lecture at work, I feel like the speakers were such strong proponents of co-sleeping that they made me feel bad for not keeping WZW in the bed or room with me. But ultimately, each baby is different, and I still breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months as recommended. We felt like it was safer not sleeping with all 3 of us in bed, and since WZW had reflux, having him inclined a bit in the Rock ‘n Play was a benefit for that reason as well. Plus, until recently, if we tried to put him down onto a flat surface after he fell asleep, he’d wake right back up.
Ultimately, each family will have to decide what is best for them. And in many cases, the baby’s behavior helps dictate that. So long as the babies are safe, it’s all good.