Last week, my four year old was fighting some kind of bug. He wasn’t sleeping well at night, which meant that my husband and I weren’t sleeping well either. Somehow, after sleepless night #3, we reverted back to our zombie-like state that we lived in for the first year of parenthood. “How did we ever get through this?” we asked each other over our second cup of coffee. My husband and I were a true team during that first year, taking turns with our sleepless child. We were exhausted.
Weary Mamas (and Daddies), here are some things that you need to remember when parenting gets tough at nighttime – the baby isn’t sleeping and you have no idea how you are going to survive the night, let alone the next 18 years.
I don’t mean this in the sentimental ‘babies don’t keep’ poem or in the same way that the old ladies at the grocery store tell you. I mean this in the realistic way. Your baby will eventually sleep through the night, you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other until that blessed day comes. When we had our son, after 4 years of fertility procedures and injections, he didn’t sleep. Ever. My husband and I actually thought that we were doomed to live our lives in 2 hour sleep intervals for the rest of forever. While our son did take a bit longer than other babies that we knew to sleep consistently through the night, it happened. This won’t last forever, Mama. You will sleep again…just not tonight.
It can be disorienting in the middle of the night, and your brain might not be at the highest functioning level. If Baby is crying, remember to take one thing at a time, in a routine that fits you and your child’s needs. Ours was diaper change, nurse, swaddle, sleep. If there was crying after that, we made sure that the onesie was snapped right and not too tight, which can happen when Mama and Daddy are running on 30 minutes of sleep. Take one thing at a time as you try to meet the needs of your screaming child. But, with that said…
She might be dry, fed, swaddled like a boss, and still cry. If she is crying, there might not always be a reason. She might not be gassy, hungry, or wet. Instead, she might be a baby learning how to live outside of the womb. As a self-proclaimed control freak, this was the hardest for me to understand. If my son was crying, I wanted to know why so I could fix it. Once I accepted that sometimes he is just crying because he is a baby and that is what babies do, I felt better as I rocked and patted his back.
Doubt and feelings of failure creep in during the middle of the night. Nighttime with my child was one of the most vulnerable places for me. I reviewed everything I did during the day and bedtime routine, because I must have done something wrong if he wasn’t sleeping. You are a good mom. You are a good dad. You have a good baby. It’s just going to be a long night. Tell those feelings of self-doubt to suck it and rock that baby of yours.
I loved the thought that I was joining this elite group of women who have been raising babies since the beginning of time, walking the halls, singing songs, swaying in the living room, rocking in the chair. We are a mighty group, we Mamas. The middle of the night is when you can feel like you are earning your stripes, joining this group of sleep deprived women and men who have bounced their babies in the moonlight. Call your mom and tell her thank you.
You know what sucks? Trying to pull an all-nighter and thinking that you can power through the next day on your own. Sister, you can only do this so long before you have a complete meltdown or breakdown or throwdown. Text your bestie, your husband, or your neighbor and ask for someone to come over for a few hours tomorrow so you can retreat to your room and catch a few Zs or just sit by yourself. They will get the text in the morning and hold you to it, no matter what you say in the light of day.
Listen. I might have googled “when will my baby sleep through the night” on our 2nd night home from the hospital. It’s not something that I’m proud of, but we had no idea what we were doing and surely I was doing something wrong if my 5 day old wasn’t sleeping at night. Lord, that is embarrassing. You can do all the late night googling that you want to – searching for gassy baby symptoms, swaddling techniques, benefits of co-sleeping – but Google doesn’t know your baby and the moms on the mom chat boards don’t know your baby either.
You know that saying, ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’? Well, that isn’t always easy to do during the day. However, at nighttime, I think that ‘sleep where you can’ was the battle cry for our first 18 months. My little guy slept fine in his crib but sometimes wanted me close by. I slept in the rocking chair. I slept on the floor by his crib. I didn’t care, because I was sleeping and he was content and quiet. Sleep where you can, Mama.
Sometimes the sheer loneliness of being the only one up with a baby who wasn’t exactly the best conversationalist was the hardest part for me. I’m an introvert and recharge when I am alone, but when I was the only person awake at 3:30am in my house, it could feel very isolating. Here’s the thing, though – I wasn’t the only one up. My friend from church was rocking and nursing her baby at 3:30am too and we would text. Other friends of mine found Facebook threads that they could find other middle of the night mamas to chat with. Thank goodness for technology. I don’t know how the pilgrims did it.
Your little one isn’t keeping you up just to spite you. He loves you, a lot, and just wants to show that affection by wanting only you. For the entire night.
It’s easy to make major parenting decisions in the middle of the night when you are fed up and tired and running on empty. Before you decide that you are a cry-it-out family, or a co-sleeping family, or another type of family, wait a few days. Exhaustion doesn’t make for good decision making.
Once you have your parenting decisions, stick to them for as long as it makes sense for you, Baby, and your family. It’s easy to second guess your co-sleeping choice when you are so touched out and nursed out that you can’t stand it for one more second. Rest in the fact that you are making the best decision for your family. Tell your spouse that you need the reinforcement and reminder when you feel too exhausted to remember why you chose it in the first place.
If your baby will only sleep when you are holding her, don’t feel like you need to hold her and sing lullabies or impart major wisdom to her sleeping ears. Baby doesn’t know if you hold her while you binge watch the Kardashians or listen to the Serial podcast. She doesn’t care if you are journaling, folding laundry, or crying. She just wants to be close to you.
Weary Mama and Daddy, you are doing a good job. Your baby will sleep through the night eventually. What you are doing right now – the sleepless nights – is super hard. Millions of other parents who have made it to the other side are cheering you on. We feel you. But like us, you will make it through.