Sleep desperation

When my first was born, I pined for sleep on a 24/7 basis. X didn’t sleep, EVER, unless someone was holding him. Classic first-time parenting mistake, but also personality-driven, as I learned after having my second.

Here’s how the first few weeks went: During the day, X would nurse and fall asleep, and someone would hold him. Or he would snooze in a carrier (we used the Boba wrap the most during those first few weeks). When we lay him down, he slept less than thirty minutes. After officially giving up, he slept in this carrier until I went back to work when he was 4 months old.

At night, we would swaddle him tight and lay him on his back. He would sleep anywhere from 20 minutes to maybe 3 hours (max). We were up a lot at night. 8-9 weeks in, my husband held him for 5 hours one night just so I could sleep. It was my first time sleeping for longer than 3 hours since his birth. I was a zombie. I also felt terrible complaining – I had undergone infertility treatment to get pregnant. I felt so fortunate to have this baby in my arms – how could I complain about something as measly as sleep?

Did I mention that he had colic? This made the first few weeks even more difficult. Every night, from approximately 3-4p on, he could only be soothed by being held in the carrier. We tried every “S” that existed, but nothing helped.

We had a Pack n Play, a co-sleeper, a bassinet. He wouldn’t sleep in any of them. We tried every swaddle imaginable (except this one, which was actually my fave after our second was born). We had a consultant (a post-partum doula of sorts) visit our home to observe our interactions with him. She recommended double-swaddling, which was of no help, His startle response was intense! We spoke to two sleep consultants, including a well-known author of an infant sleep tome, who charged a steep price to give his two cents, which were unfortunately not helpful.

Somewhere around 8-10 weeks, we were desperate. Since I didn’t sleep at night, I spent the time reading every sleep book under the sun (this was my favorite).  So one day, I placed him on his stomach during nap time (NOT a recommendation from the book). He was un-swaddled and I sat next to him the entire time. He slept for 2 hours! I was in shock. At night, we started placing him on his stomach to sleep. His sleep improved marginally – regular 3 hour stretches. For the first few weeks, we watched him the entire night. At first, we had family visiting so could easily take shifts. Once they left, this became much more difficult and we were not much better off! We used a movement sensor, which put our minds at ease, but in actuality, it would not have been very helpful in the event of SIDS given the lag between breathing cessation and alarming. E spent a ton of playtime doing tummy time, and first rolled over at 8 weeks, although not reliably until 3.5-4 months. Let me be clear: I do NOT recommend that infants sleep on their stomachs. Infants should sleep on their backs. Please follow the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for safe infant sleep. I was terribly anxious the entire time that we did it, often waking up in the middle of the night (he slept in our room, in the co-sleeper or Pack n Play, until he was 4 months old) to frantically check on him. And with our second son, we never once placed him on his stomach to sleep. However, during those first few months of the newborn haze, it seemed like the best of bad options. We didn’t trust ourselves to stay awake while holding him (we were exhausted!), we were afraid to have him in our bed, we couldn’t justify the cost of a night nurse, and we had to sleep!

It was a tough time. When he began to roll over consistently, we moved him into his own room. He continued to wake up every 3-4 hours. However, we were (for no good reason) adamantly opposed to sleep training (Cry It Out). Our friend joked that everyone was vehemently opposed to CIO until they just couldn’t take it anymore. She was right (in our case, at least)! We reached our breaking point around month 7, when X started to wake up every HOUR and NOTHING would soothe him to sleep. Via a friend’s recommendation, we connected with an excellent remote sleep consultant. She was willing to work with a variety of parent attitudes regarding sleep training, and presented us with many options. We ultimately chose a gradual CIO (e.g. Ferber method) plan, and this worked for us. After less than a (very tough) week, our little one was sleeping through the night. Legitimately through the night! We had a few hiccups along the way – early wake-ups (we weren’t very strict on waiting until a certain time to get him), travel glitches, regressions, etc. – but we were able to reset by returning to our original plan.

X’s last regression was at 18 months. Since then (knock on wood), he has been sleeping like a champ. Some days he will sleep in until 7:30am! It’s glorious (or would be if we didn’t have a second who is an earlier riser). And he is generally in bed around 7:30-8:00pm with no tears.

So if you’re currently in the trenches, just remember that those first few weeks to months (to years) can be really tough! There’s no right answer, but eventually you’ll start sleeping again!


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