The baby chronicles #20: Sleep is for the weak

I like: Daddy’s glasses, waking up at 4am, boobs, being naked
Mummy is learning: How much caffeine one human can consume, not to be a hero

When I was pregnant people constantly told me to sleep as much as I possibly could because I would soon not be sleeping very much at all. In fact both my mother and my mother-in-law suggested that might never sleep again. I never scoffed at this suggestion. I believed that I would be giving up my sleep. I had no doubt that lie-ins were a thing of the past and that I was likely to have to get up and tend to Little O multiple times a night. What I didn’t really understand was how it was going to affect me.

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I’ve never been a really big sleeper. I’m naturally an early riser and I have rarely enjoyed lying in bed for hours. I’ve also never slept very heavily or through the night without waking at all. I think initially this was something that stood me in good stead. For the first few months of Little O’s life, while I was tired I never felt horrible and I was happy getting up a couple of times in the night and earlyish in the morning, often leaving Mr O to sleep as long as he wanted. It would have been nice to have a full night of sleep but most times Little O was only waking up a couple of times a night and sleeping until 7 or 8 so things were very much bearable.

Things have changed.

Firstly I think sleep deprivation is a cumulative thing. The longer it goes on for the more wearing it becomes. Secondly Little O appears to have fallen foul to something known as the four month “sleep regression”. At about four months babies go through a developmental phase where they start to sleep more like adults and go through shorter sleep cycles. We all do this as adults but mostly we don’t fully surface between sleep cycles and if we do then we are able to put ourselves back to sleep without help. It takes babies time to learn to do this so what happens is that they tend to surface completely after every cycle… which can mean hourly… and most of them can’t put themselves back to sleep so someone has to get up and soothe them back to sleep several times a night. Thirdly Little O has been knocked for six by daylight savings time and seems to think 4am is morning.

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OftenΒ Little O manages to do a big stretch of sleep when he first goes to bed for 3 or 4 hours but after that he is liable to wake up every hour from about 10.30pm until he wakes up as bright as a button between 4am and 5am. As he generally will only settle with me and usually with the requirement of a boob, this means I sleep very little. Very, very little.

The effects are pretty intense. My eyes burn all the time. I have a low level headache that always hangs around at the back of my head. I forget things. I’m irritable. I feel tearful for no apparent reason. Small things push me over the edge very easily. I have little motivation to do much more than what is absolutely necessary.

When it comes to improving the situation the most commonly touted suggestion is to practice controlled crying with Little O where we “train” him to sleep by leaving him to cry for set periods until he eventually gives up calling for us and sleeps. While this method appears to have high success rates, my instincts and my research into what it does to babies’ cortisol levels (which I won’t bore you with, you have Google), make me feel uncomfortable with this method. And so I will be continuing to get up when Little O cries and I will be continuing to drink a lot of coffee and wait it out because it seems that it’s rare that the regression lasts longer than six weeks.

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What I will not be continuing to do is listen to my default setting, which is to refuse help. Mr O is pretty good and being able to return to sleep once he has been awake for a while. He also mostly works in the evenings or after 10am. This means if he gets up in the wee hours with Little O and plays with him until he next needs a feed, he’s almost always able to return to bed for a couple of hours and sleep at a later stage – something he is happy to do. If he does this then I also get a couple of hours of uninterrupted sleep, which is just about enough to enable me to survive through the day. There are no medals for doing everything yourself as a mum or being a walking zombie. I might not like admitting I can’t cope on my own but the truth is I can’t. I decided to have a baby with a partner for a reason. Letting him help me doesn’t make me a bad mother, it makes me one that isn’t in tears by 4pm.

It’s a very good thing evolution has made sure human babies are very cute, otherwise many of them would Β be left under railway bridges and the human race would be at serious risk of extinction. Little O is extra lucky because he is quite obviously the cutest baby in the world.

18 Comments

  1. There must be good reason why the military uses sleep deprivation as a torture, as you have discovered, Abbi.
    I hope this period of adjustment doesn’t last too long. Modern mums have lots of help and information, but you must never forget that you have to stay healthy too.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. I’m hoping that it’s just a phase and that he will grow out of it. I am fortunate that with Mr O’s working hours and me still being on maternity leave that I can sneak in enough sleep to keep myself upright at least.

  2. I’ve never given birth to a baby or been an actual mother before (apart from being the mother of two beautiful cats), but I couldn’t agree with you more about controlled crying. At work, we have a bit to do with the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health, and they’ve written an interesting position paper on it (have a look if you like: https://aaimhi.sslsvc.com/key-issues/position-statements-and-guidelines/AAIMHI-Position-paper-1-Controlled-crying.pdf). Amongst other things, controlled crying is thought to promote learned helplessness which in short isn’t great for child psychological development. If it feels right for you to engage naturally and empathically with the gorgeous Little O when he needs you, then that’s what’s best.

    Sorry for the mini rant! Child development is my favourite thing. And I’ll be damned if Little O isn’t the cutest thing I’ve seen this side of the internet today. And as always, thank you for your honesty in these posts.

    1. Sleep, like feeding is a really emotive and divisive issue for parents because it is so fundamental to both a child’s well-being and that of the parents. I believe that everyone needs to do what feels right to them and what enables their family to function. I try to be guided by instinct as much as I can be because I feel like I have instincts for a reason. It helps when the research backs it up.

  3. Hang in there, Abbi! I did my best to implement a schedule where at 9pm, lights out and time to sleep. Baths before and warm milk usually did the trick. Then there were two naps in the day to look forward to, down to one nap by 2 years old. I could never stand to let my babies cry. I remember trips in the car seat would put my cranky son to sleep when nothing else did, and walks in the stroller would put them out. AS a last resort, baths always calmed a crying baby. Oh, those were the days. Glad they are gone! It will all be a dream, past tense soon. My best wishes, Cindy

    1. We do bath and then lullabies and boob in the dark with the aim of having him asleep by about 7, which has yet to fail after about 5 weeks (I am sure it will at some stage) and he still does 4 decent naps a day and if he fights his naps in the day I can always get him off to sleep by taking him for a walk in his pushchair. I think those things do help because it would be so much harder if I had a war to put him to bed at night. I am looking forward to this phase passing and him sleeping just a little later in the morning!

      1. I’m looking forward to your posts when you conquer Mommy Guilt when you return to work. That’s a hard one, but you are strong.

        1. I am quite scared of that. I’m just over half way through my maternity leave now and although I do miss my job it’s going to be weird only seeing him for 2 or 3 hours a day. My only comfort is that he’ll be with his dad and his grandmother rather than daycare. Not that daycare is bad but he’ll be so little that I’d rather he had one on one attention.

  4. Oh, that sounds horrible. Hang in there!

  5. Lack of sleep is so hard, I’m still finding that with my girls, though they aren’t up every night all night anymore. Sleep when they sleep can be hard to do but I did it when I absolutely needed the sleep.

    1. I find sleeping in the day really hard because it makes me so groggy but I have started going to bed around 8pm and that really helps me to get a couple of hours before the waking up happens. I am sure there will be a time when all us moms of small children look back at this time and think, how did we do it?

  6. It will get better eventually.

  7. This too shall pass, although not quickly enough I suspect. I’ve been very lucky that we are now past those sleepless nights, and I definitely feel for you! I too do not feel comfortalbe with the cry-it-out method, so we comforted our little lady whenever she needed and now she’s sleeping like a log all night. I love your posts. And Little O is absolutely adorable. Keep up the good work, mama.

  8. Hey Abbi, I hope that the phase passes soon. I have suffered from insomnia off and on for years and I know how ill sleep deprivation can make you feel. I agree that he is the cutest baby though! πŸ™‚

    1. So far it’s still going strong. I can hear colours.

      1. That is pretty cool though πŸ™‚

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