I Was Absolutely Obsessed With My Baby's Sleeping Habits
Hi my name is Lauren, and I’m a baby sleepaholic.
It all began shortly after he was born, when I started to notice that my beautiful boy was not sleeping nearly as much as it seemed other babies were his age, especially when compared to those perfect social media babies obnoxiously popping up all over my Instagram feed. And even when you go in search of answers, the first place most of us turn to is social media, which is probably the worst place for a tired mom to be perusing in those bleary, sleepy early morning hours while she rocks her baby back to sleep for the 188, 836th time. While there are lots of other sleep deprived parents out there looking for answers, in my experience most seem to be complaining about the kind of newborn sleep I could only dream about, let alone seek solutions to.
You know, back in the days when I actually slept and dreaming was a thing.
But I do commiserate with these parents: some newborns sleep terribly while others sleep “like a baby,” and my baby was definitely the former. And like so many others in my generation, my Googling-habit went hog wild searching for how to fix it.
The world wide web, while very useful if you’re looking for answers about things like how to build a shed or what direction the fan is supposed to turn in the summer (counterclockwise — you’re welcome) is a terrible place for mothers with non-sleeping newborns, where we drown in a sea of perfectly sleeping babies in our desperate search for answers to our prolonged sleep deprivation, only to come up empty handed. What’s more, for us poor souls there actually is no answer, unless you count the ever popular and equally useless “just lay your baby down drowsy, but awake!”
What’s even worse is that everywhere you look, there’s yet another mom, congratulating herself ever so brazenly on your Insta feed because her baby slept all night all by herself.
Meanwhile, you’re several months into a coffee-fueled obsession about baby sleep that not even the deepest tub of Rocky Road can cure.
My ridiculous obsession with my baby’s sleep began shortly after my ridiculous obsession with my baby’s eating was starting to resolve itself, which was somewhere around the one month old mark. Truthfully he’d always been a terrible sleeper, but in those early days I held a glimmer of hope that once we nailed down his crappy feeding issues and he started gaining a whole mess of weight, the crappy sleeping issues would simply…go away.
Spoiler alert: they did not.
Now that my boy has some impressive thunder thighs, there’s absolutely no reason for him not to be sleeping longer stretches. But, at four months old, his record stretch of sleep has been five hours. Now, don’t get excited: I said “record.” This glorious stretch of sleep happened a whopping two times and were literally months ago. I actually suspected foul play, it was just too good to be true.
Most naps are still precisely 32 minutes long, and our nights are punctuated with 1 to (very occasionally) three-hour-long stretches of relatively fitful sleep. On average, he gets 10 or 11 hours of sleep a day, total, and that’s actually an improvement on his previous 8 hour crankathons.
You might say those are awfully specific numbers for someone to know so offhandedly about something as simple as baby sleep. Three words: Sleep Tracking Apps.
True to form, at about the time I noticed no real improvement in my son’s sleep despite being so roly poly, I started to obsessively track his every waking (and sleeping) moment.
It’s never really stopped: I have an addiction.
This was my first stumble down the rabbit hole that is newborn sleep. Honestly, I genuinely couldn’t tell you any part of his sleeping or eating habits without whipping out my phone and checking out my tracking app. I would even request updates from my husband via text if I went to the grocery store or doctor’s office, just so that I could track every literal waking and sleeping moment. Fun fact: lots of these apps actually let you incorporate a partner account, so they can update it as well, thereby feeding your obsession! Much to my own husband’s chagrin, naturally.
Thanks to the wonders of the internet and mobile apps, I am nothing if not informed. But what to DO with all that knowledge?
Naturally, when one doesn’t know the answer to a problem, one Googles.
By the time my son was two months old and I’d seen precisely zero changes in his sleep despite him eating like a champ, I started to get a wee bit desperate. I knew from my many, many hours scouring the internet as well as the few books that I’d read at the time that swaddling=sleep, and found this to be true with my own experience with my first born, so I continued this practice, hoping that if I just found the RIGHT swaddle, all would be well.
But my first born didn’t endlessly suck on her fingers and fight the swaddle like my newborn had been. While my first child snoozed happily all wrapped in her cocoon, my little Houdini wiggled his hands up to his face, occasionally popping out an arm, often smacking himself in the face in the process. This happened night after night, through even the tightest swaddles. Sometimes, he would wake himself right up, other times this hand-sucking would soothe him back to sleep. There was no consistency to it at all: sometimes he slept like a log, and other times he seemed to flop around fitfully.
I therefore found myself in an endless cycle of questioning the sleep inducing properties and necessities of the swaddle: should I stop? Should I wait?
And most importantly, how would either decision affect his already terrible sleep??
Most of what I’d read recommended using the swaddle for as long as possible, so I did.
Boy, did I ever.
I not only kept him swaddled, I tried every darn tootin’ swaddle on the market. From traditional swaddling blankets to sleep sacks to sleep pods to velcro swaddles to arms up swaddles to transition swaddles: you name it, I tried it.
I’m going to share a little secret with you. Ready?
There is no swaddling product on the market that will fix your baby’s sleeping issues.
Read that again! And again and again and again and save yourselves (and your bank accounts) from spending the ridiculous amount of money I spent trying to fix this problem with an overpriced piece of fabric. None of them made a lick of difference.
Some babies are just sensitive. My boy liked to shimmy his hands up to his mouth while swaddled to suck on his hands. Preventing him from doing so kept him awake. Allowing him to do so kept him awake. In fact, trying to do anything but prevent him from smacking himself in the face due to the moro reflex kept him awake.
So we just swaddled him in the best way we could and waited it out. I used the same old sleep sack that I used for my daughter and it was fine, considering the hopeless situation we were in, and you bet your butt I stopped swaddling him as soon as I could.
(In case you were wondering, yes, I had hoped that having his hands free would help his sleep, just a little, and no, it did not help.)
Since my baby’s sleeping issues were still a big problem in our lives, swaddled or not, I went in search of solutions once more.
After more obsessive Googling, I stumbled down yet another rabbit hole: sleep consultants.
First, I have to proclaim that while I felt like I spent way more money on this than was necessary (ditto the swaddles,) I did find some useful information. Or at least, I received some assurance that I was already doing all the right things.
Doing all the right things, however, didn’t seem to be making any difference when it came to our sleep issues, even though they seemed to work wonders for some moms who, again, were all over my Insta feed with their fresh faced, well dressed babies. Buncha jerks.
As a second time Mommy, I probably didn’t need to spend a dime on these gimmicks. I know many of the tricks and tips for getting a baby to sleep. I know how to make a safe, sleep inducing environment for a baby. But since it wasn’t working, I reached out for help. That’s the sane thing to do, right?
The trouble is, I spent the money, watched the videos, consulted with the consultants, and did all the things that were recommended, all the things that they PROMISED would help, and did anything change?
Nope. And…why not??
It’s the same answer you’ll get on your first Google hit. And it sucks.
You have to teach your baby to fall asleep on his own. This whole “drowsy but awake” sorcery that so many of us fail to achieve with our babies was really the final straw for me and about the time my baby sleep obsession began to fade, because what could I do? My kiddo had some serious stamina, and I wasn’t interested in sleep training a four-month-old baby — not yet, anyway — and he simply would not fall asleep without his mommy.
I will save you some time here: I don’t care what the experts say. You can encourage your baby to fall asleep on his own all you want, but it is ultimately up to HIM to actually do so. If he wakes up at 3 AM and you’re what he wants, you can bet your hide that he’ll be crying for you. And you know what? You should go. Every time.
You’re his Mommy. That’s what he needs. This realization was oddly freeing in that I was giving my baby what he needed, and in time, we’d work through this sleep thing together. And you know what? His sleep slowly started to improve.
As a second time mom, and as a crazy person who has spent the last several, bleary-eyed months trying to find answers to my baby’s sleeping issues in a coffee-fueled haze, I’ve learned a thing or two:
Some babies sleep well from birth and are delightful newborns and infants.
Some babies just suck at life for the first several months. (It’s okay, they get better.)
Don’t lose heart: these days are numbered, they really are. It’s so hard to see that when you’re in the thick of it, and take it from me, I know that it seems like you’ll never get a break.
But when you stop to think about it, you do get tiny breaks here and there. In order to keep my sanity, I’ve worked out several things that you CAN actually get done in those daily 27 minute bursts of crappy sleep:
Vacuum a third of your house.
Shower. Air dry your hair, though. Make (and consume) scrambled eggs if you skip the mixing-in-the-bowl part first and don’t worry too much about shells in the mix. A little salt goes a long way. Switch over laundry (or rewash the laundry you forgot to put in the dryer during the last crappy nap.) Cry. Consume chocolate.
So you see, there’s hope! This will pass. We’ve been having babies for a bajillion years — they all figure it out eventually. I doubt that when I’m in my whatevers and my babies are all grown up into functioning adults that I’ll miss all the New Girl reruns I was too tired to watch because I’d just spent an hour rocking my baby to sleep. Nope: I’ll be achingly missing those squishy baby snuggles — and so will you.
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