Monday, February 21, 2011

Babies sleep all the time, don't they?

*unladylike snort*

This is what I thought when I was pregnant with my first child, and I can't tell you the speed with which this notion was cruelly ripped from me when I brought him home from the hospital. I remember when I was still in the hospital, and although I had the baby brought to me whenever he needed to nurse at night, and he was with me for the majority of the day, he was still in the nursery for brief periods of time. What was he doing while he was there?

Well, sleeping of course. At least, that's what I *thought*.

We brought him home, and there commenced the longest year of my life. I remember the first week home so vividly. I cried *every day*. I mean, multiple times a day, *every day*. My mom was 20 years old when she had her first child; I was nearly 31. I couldn't help but think that something was seriously wrong with me that not only did I have absolutely no idea what to do, but I fell apart at the emotional seams trying to enact ANY sort of solution. I remember getting depressed as nightfall came, knowing that the rest of the world was heading toward a solid night of sleep, while I was in for the unknown. At least two, likely more, night wakings, with no idea of when the baby would even fall asleep for me to get a hear start on some rest. I had no clue what sleep deprivation really meant going into having a newborn. Certainly, all of us have lost sleep on a given night or two. But every night multiple months up to a year or more? Lord have mercy. That's tough stuff.

I will grant that some babies do come home from the hospital as good sleepers (by our adult definition). I am already beseeching God that the child in my womb is one of these miraculous babies, believe me. And you will hear stories from people who say that they trained their infants to sleep through the night by 2-3 months. Sometimes, these are formula-fed babies. Formula takes longer to digest than breast milk, so consequently, these babies do sleep in longer stretches sooner. But I breastfeed, so this doesn't help me. :)

This time, I went into preparation/attack mode right away. I was determined to find out more about infant sleep, and if there were gentle ways that I encourage the new baby to sleep longer, sooner for the sake of my own sanity. I'm not a good mommy when I'm an exhausted zombie, it's just a simple fact. Thus, I've learned the following based on my past experience and reading:

Newborns simply need to eat frequently. Their stomachs are just so tiny, and they will need to nurse every 2-2.5 hours. Now if my newborn doesn't wake to nurse in the middle of the night, I'm certainly not going to wake them. :) I will sing praises to the heavens each and every morning that this occurs. But chances are, they will wake, so I will nurse them. And they certainly do need to nurse frequently throughout the day. This is hard, but I understand it now. This won't last forever. (All new expectant mothers remember this phrase: SIDELYING POSITION NURSING. Ask your lactation consultant about it. It will save your bacon with your newborn). By 3 months, they will start going longer stretches between eating.

I'm currently reading The No-Cry Sleep Solution, and I'm getting a lot out of it. What I've learned is that all of us, adults and cute newborn alike, have sleep cycles. You wake up in the middle of the night, right? Usually, we're able to soothe ourselves back to sleep. :) You roll over, fluff your pillow, and are back to sleep shortly. Infants, on the other hand, have this same sort of sleep cycle, but they have shorter, much more frequent cycles. It's an inate survival thing. Thus, they wake more than we do in the middle of the night, and in contrast to us, they usually can't get themselves back to sleep on their own. The book I'm reading provided a very helpful example. What if we went to sleep in our bed, and woke up at 3 am in the middle of the kitchen floor? You'd be startled, right? And would wake up fully, confused and disoriented. This is what it's like for babies. They usually fall asleep nursing or otherwise being held, and wake up in this dark other sleeping place (crib, bassinette, what have you). They don't want to roll over and suck their thumb back to sleep. They cry, because they're frightened and confused. Oftentimes, they're also famished. They want Mommy.

I'm now at the part of the book that discusses things that you can do with babies to try and make their sleep space a non-scary place, and encourage them to recognize it as they're falling asleep, so they won't be scared when they wake up there later. This all varies by the baby's age, since you really should never sleep train a tiny newborn. They really do need to eat that frequently (remember, SIDELYING NURSING. You will be able to both doze *and* feed the baby at the same time. It's a win-win). Once the baby gets a bit older, you can try to get them to fall asleep "drowsy but awake" so that they become familiar with their sleeping arrangement and can learn to soothe themselves if they wake but are not hungry.

I had The No-Cry Sleep Solution on my Amazon wish list and received it for my birthday. I'm going through it pretty methodically. I also have the Sleep Lady's book checked out from the library, and while I didn't read it cover to cover, what I did read was also helpful. Does anybody else have other "gentle" sleep suggestions for infants? I really don't like letting babies cry for any extended length of time. I'm not juding, it's just not for me. :)

Oh, I also saw The Happiest Baby on the Block DVD and thought it was smashing. Swaddle? Wherefore art though, sweet swaddle? When Henry was a baby, I had no idea even how to begin conconcting that little blanket coccoon. I mean, watching how the babies reacted to simply being wrapped tightly in a blanket while someone rocks them and makes gentle shushing noises in their ear was extraordinary. They're used to being in a cramped, loud, moving environment in the womb, and it soothes them to have us reenact that for them. This video in and of itself gave me so much more confidence heading into May. 91 days to go!

I really do have hope that this time, it will be easier. The baby may not sleep through the night sooner, but at least I know why this is happening, and I have active, proven strategies for trying to stretch out their sleep a bit so that I can get more rest. I'm also a lot calmer this go round. :)

A calmer Catholic Librarian = more coherent and understandable blog posts. So you see? This benefits all of us. :)


  1. Hehe, although I know babies wake up a lot and eat a lot, I'm sure I'll get tired and frustrated too!
    I added the book to my list of books to get from the library :)

  2. Thumbs up on the Happiest Baby on the Block DVD. Check out the special features. We used the background noise a lot.

    Swaddling is awesome and side-laying while nursing is also what we did. We also had a womb bear and would rock him a lot.

    Although the suggestions are awesome the first two weeks are the most difficult because they sleep during the day and we're used to sleeping at night. I almost wanted to reverse my day/night sleeping so that I wouldn't have to contend with the switch, but it wasn't that bad after a couple of weeks.

  3. That's a good book! Her others are good too. I just finished The No-Cry Naptime Solution, and it told me one thing the other didn't -- that the newborn phase is the easiest to start good habits. Though they wake up easily then, they also fall asleep easily, so it's good to try laying a newborn down half awake sometimes so they can fall asleep in their crib.

    I didn't do much for sleep training when the baby was tiny, because he was an amazing sleeper ... but now he's much worse, and when he's sick (as he has been the past five days) it's just awful. Once his nose clears up, I'm getting down to work on his sleep again. At ten months, I'd like to see him sleeping a bit better. The technique of laying him down after progressively less nursing and rocking seemed to be working pretty well. I lie down and nurse him, then unlatch once he's relaxed and just lie next to him for a bit, and finally creep away. That's helping him sleep for longer periods, which is the one thing I'm really wanting right now.


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