The real, actual Natalie texted me this weekend– not pics of her kid, as I would have appreciated, not to ask how I’m doing as a person, but to demand “Do a sleep blog next.” Apparently her baby is a pretty good sleeper, she’s just “curious about your experience.” And I didn’t even pay her to say that! So here we go. Baby sleep: a touchy subject for anyone going through the absolute hell of sleepless nights.
People tell you babies don’t sleep well (but shouldn’t they be really great at it because they need so much of it??) It’s one of those things pre-motherhood that I conceptually had knowledge of, but truly had no idea about until living through it. I’d had a few nights of little sleep in college, we’d be fine- right? IT WASN’T FINE.
Day one, my kid didn’t sleep. We even asked one of the nurses, “He should nap at some point, right?” She said on their first day of life, things are kind of exciting out of the womb so it wasn’t that unusual. Him not napping on the second day should have been a red flag. Him not sleeping for the next four months was truly hell. My brand became Exhausted Mom Who Complains About How Exhausted She Is on Instagram. It wasn’t cute. But when you’re going through it, when you’re falling asleep during middle of the night feedings and don’t feel safe operating a vehicle during the day because you’ve had so little sleep, you don’t care about cute.
“It’ll get better.” It’s what we heard from everyone. When? HOW?! How do I make it better tonight?? We tried all kinds of swaddles, we tried rocking, we tried him in a bassinet, we tried him in a cradle, we bought online sleep courses, and he slept way more nights on his Boppy than the “don’t let your baby sleep on this” tag on the Boppy Lounger would allow. Just never a great night of sleep. He’d be up every 2-3 hours to eat, long after everyone including his pediatrician said he should be able to make it much longer than that. After eating, he wouldn’t exactly conk immediately back out. Plus he had bad reflux, so we were instructed to hold him upright for 20 minutes after eating.
The longest stretch we once got was four hours, then it didn’t happen again. On the worst night, he was up crying about every 45 minutes (so never really sleeping) and I lost. my. shit. I entered our guest room, where my husband was attempting to get some sleep before work, sobbing so hard he thought something really horrible had happened to the baby. Headaches from lack of sleep were my constant companion. He wasn’t clocking a ton of daytime nap hours, so I truly was concerned that this kid was missing out on very important sleep.
I spent so much time awake at night with him thinking there’s no way in the world we could ever have another child because I didn’t want to experience this again. When you haven’t slept, everything else goes to shit. Lack of sleep absolutely contributed to my postpartum anxiety. My husband and I would do shifts between our room with the baby and the guest room, and I stewed in resentments towards him at 4 a.m. that he was in there getting good sleep because he had a job to report to in the mornings.
There’s not really glamorous advice for this period of your life, other than to ask for help and prioritize getting sleep when you can. If you have relatives or a neighbor who can watch the baby so you can attempt a nap during the day, don’t feel bad making the ask. It will make you proud and sad how you’re able to adapt and function on so much less than you ever thought possible.
Things did change for us at four months we when decided to try the Ferber Method. There’s many kinds of sleep training, and there’s many vocal opponents of it online, but it’s what worked for us. Our kid took to it so much more quickly than we’d imagined, and it completely changed our lives. As my husband said about a week in, “If there was a Ferber Foundation, I’d give them all of my money.” (If someone from the real or imaginary Ferber Foundation is reading this– that was a joke. You cannot have our money.)
We transitioned him to a Merlin Magic Sleep Suit at about three months, and while it wasn’t the panacea everyone promised it would be, it did help him create a sleep association with being put in it before sleep. He now sleeps in a sleep sack at nights and clocks about 11 hours at night with 3-4 naps during the day. It was absolute hell to get here, but like so many other things with parenting, the only way out is through. It’s not like we could give him back to the hospital because we’d created a sleep-hating demon (a cute one, at least) so we just did what we had to do. If you’re currently where we were and know me IRL, I’m not joking when I say you can shoot me a text and I will come hold your baby while you sleep. If you’ve got a guest bedroom, I can even do some night hours if they’re drinking out of a bottle (though that might cost you a six-pack of beer as payment.)