Oh, sleep. Beautiful sleep. Elusive sleep. My old friend, sleep.
As I write this, Olly is in his crib, which is joined to our bed, slumbering away, and I’m lying in bed, waiting for him to stir so that I can attempt to soothe him back to sleep. It took 20 minutes to get him to sleep – 20 minutes of tossing and turning, pulling pacifiers out and replacing them, hair pulling, and vigorous back rubbing (my signature move), all with white noise playing in the background. He’ll sleep soundly for 30-36 minutes, and then he’ll start to wake up. If I’m lying next to him when this happens, though, he’ll drift back into sleep without difficulty, and then probably sleep for another 30-45 minutes. This allows him to get the proper rest that he needs to last through the rest of the day. If he doesn’t sleep longer than 30 minutes, his next nap will be difficult, and the effect will multiply throughout the day, to ultimately make bedtime a waking nightmare.
It will probably take me 6 or 7 naps to write this post. In fact, let’s track it. This should be fun! Right?
Now, I know – he’s a baby! I can’t expect him to fall asleep easily. Babies just don’t do that, right? Well… My brother did. He’d fall asleep in the middle of doing anything. I have photographic evidence.
Oh wait… That last one was from this year.
For the first few months of his life, Olly would only sleep on my chest. We tried the bassinet, but it never lasted long. The swing worked like a charm, but I was always so anxious when he was in there that I could never sleep, myself. So, my chest it was. It worked ok, as long as he fit there. We hadn’t planned on co-sleeping, but it appeared to have been thrust upon us. We told ourselves it wouldn’t last forever.
Eventually he stopped wanting to sleep on his tummy, and so my chest wasn’t cutting it anymore. We made the bassinet work for a while. He would sleep a few hours at a time, but hardly ever any long stretches. I can count on one hand the number of times he slept more than three hours at once – one night, he slept in the swing for four hours while my sister babysat (best babysitting gig ever!); another night, after a particularly long day of travelling, he slept for 6 hours; and one time after that, at about 3.5 months old, he slept for 7 hours and 45 minutes.
Fifteen minutes shy of 8 hours. Fifteen minutes shy of “the whole night”.
And then, the 4 month sleep regression hit, and all hell broke loose.
For far too long, he slept for 30-45 minutes at a time. No matter what I did, he would wake up every 30-45 minutes. He’d be crying, sometimes wet, sometimes hungry, sometimes just angry that he was awake when he clearly just wanted to be asleep. I was at my wit’s end because I was exhausted, and Alex was exhausted too.
(Nap #1 lasted 1hr and 33min. That’s as good as it gets! I abandoned writing and took a nap, as well. It was glorious.)
The four month sleep regression pushed us into survival mode. Up until now, we’d been pretty pleased with our disposition as new parents. Everyone had warned us that a new baby would bring out the worst in us, that we’d say things to each other we never thought we’d say, think things we never thought we’d think, and generally just be jerks. We hadn’t experienced this yet, and had been patting ourselves on the back for our maturity. But sleep deprivation – I mean TRUE sleep deprivation – changed everything. We fought, we made snarky comments to each other, we stopped doing little things to help the other person get through their day. I became pretty depressed, although I didn’t realize it right away.
We tried everything to get Oliver to sleep. The swing, the bouncer, the stroller, etc. Taking him for long walks worked quite well, but of course, it was the dead of winter and a long walk wasn’t always an option. I would put him in the carrier and walk circles around our tiny apartment (the apartment that, before baby, felt massive). We’d try a new strategy, and because it was new, it would work for a few days. But then he’d catch on to our plan, and begin to resist, so we were always forced to find a new method.
Motion became key. Generally, as long as we were moving, he was calm. Walking, swinging, bouncing, etc. But if we tried to sit down, he’d lose it. Even the rocking chair wasn’t good enough. Finally, I discovered the key position that would usually work without fail – I would hold him upright, his chest to mine, and bounce up and down.
It would take quite a while to get him to sleep this way, but it was literally the only thing that worked. There were nights that I’d have to do this for almost an hour before he finally succumbed. I would be so exhausted, almost falling over, and when I finally got him settled in bed, suddenly I’d be wide awake, and I would be awake for hours. It took me a while to realize that it was the rush of endorfins from doing the most intense workout I’d ever done that was causing my insomnia.
Our nights started to become less a desperate struggle and more of a routine. I’d bounce him to sleep, eventually get him in the bassinet without having him wake up, and maybe get 20 minutes to myself. I tried to spend this time with Alex, but I usually ended up washing bottles. Then Olly would wake up, and I’d try to get him settled again. Alex would come to bed around this time, and fall asleep shortly after his head hit the pillow. Olly would sleep for 1-2 hours at a time, and I would breastfeed him throughout the night. I didn’t have much milk, not enough to breastfeed full time, so I would bottle feed during the day and breastfeed at night, because it was just easier.
This led to a slow progression back into co-sleeping. He would wake, hungry, and I’d be exhausted, so instead of getting up to breastfeed, I’d pull him into bed and we’d both eventually fall asleep. By December, he was in our bed full time – I’d given up on the bassinet. Alex wasn’t too happy about this arrangement but I didn’t give him any other options. I was still in survival mode.
Over the holidays, we spent a lot of time with family, and of course, everybody’s favourite question to ask was, “How’s he sleeping?” We’d explain our nightly process and calculate roughly how many hours of sleep we were getting, and they would frown at us and say, “Oh, that’s not good.”
My mom suggested that he might be hungry, and that was why he was waking up so often. I said he couldn’t possibly be hungry because I was breastfeeding him all night.
I decided that after the holidays were over, when we were done with travelling and settled back in at home, we’d start sleep training. Not “Cry-it-out” – I already knew I didn’t have the balls for that – but I would start putting Olly down in his crib in the Nursery for naps and at bedtime. And I’d start a bedtime routine – bath, stories, bottle – that sort of thing. He was still waking up fairly often to feed, so I set up an air mattress in the Nursery so that I could sleep in there the first few nights. I don’t know why I thought that would work.
I actually don’t remember the next couple of weeks very well. Day 1 of sleep training was an absolute disaster. His first nap in the crib was horrible. He cried and screamed and I became so desperate that I actually tried letting him cry it out, but I lasted exactly three minutes (that felt like 15) before I started to feel like I was going to vomit. I started to think that he would never sleep again, or at least not for longer than 30 minutes at a time. I desperately started looking for books on baby sleep, hoping that one of them would have the key, the magic solution. Because, everybody else’s baby slept fine, right? Mine was different. Mine was hopeless.
I started asking friends that were also parents. Actually, friends started reaching out to me on Facebook, because I guess my desperation was obvious. I heard from so many people with so many different situations.
“Our five-year-old still sleeps in our bed.”
“We co-sleep with our three-year-old and 9-month-old and it’s great!”
“I wish I hadn’t sleep-trained my son.”
“Sleep-training my son was the best decision we’ve ever made!”
“My son would wake up hungry every two hours, regardless, for his first year of life.”
It was good to hear from people who had experienced something similar to what I was going through, but I still didn’t have any answers. I came to the conclusion that sleep-training, or transitioning Olly from our bed to his crib, just wasn’t going to work at this point in time. I explained everything to Alex, and he grudgingly went along with my plan to continue letting Olly sleep in our bed for the sake of my sanity.
My mom suggested, again, that Olly might be waking up hungry. I really didn’t think that was the case, but I had made an appointment with our doctor to discuss Olly’s sleep, and so I promised I would ask her what she thought about it.
I’ve said this already, but here we go again – Mom, I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you. Our doctor said hunger was the most likely culprit. So we switched to bottle feeding at night, and Olly started sleeping for much longer stretches. Still not anything longer than four hours, but that was enough for me to get some decent rest and pull me out of the fog of survival mode.
Then, one of Alex’s cousins shared what they had done for their daughters before they purchased a King bed and fully committed to co-sleeping – removed one side of the crib rail and placed the crib right next to their bed. I had seen this on Pintetest, but looking at our bedroom, I didn’t think it would work (tiny apartment, remember). But I started to think outside of the box. I did some measuring (bad measuring, which Alex had to re-do later on) and determined that we could fit our bed and the crib side by side, if we rearranged the furniture. It was an undertaking that Alex wasn’t too excited about, but the promise of having more space in the bed, and not having an infant in between us every night, won him over.
So, two weeks ago (has it really only been two weeks!?) we did just that.
(Nap #2 lasted 1hr and 22min. This kid – proving me wrong, every day.)
Teething has thrown a tiny wrench into things, but that’s temporary. We will obviously have rough nights, still, but hopefully just here and there. Although, I won’t be surprised if, the moment I post this, he decides to change it up. Babies – once you think you’ve figured them out, they change the game and you have to start over.
What sleep strategies have worked for you?
(Nap #3 – 31 minutes and counting. He could wake up any minute now, or he might sleeper for another hour. I’m hoping for another hour because I am SLEEPY!