Right around three months post-partum, things were going good. I had a rhythm to my days. I had the right balance of outings and sweet time spent at home with baby. I felt in synchronicity with my baby. I felt rested (well, rested for a new mom). I felt like I could do this forever.
In Mommy Group, when people talked about sleep problems, napping, or putting baby on a schedule, I just naively tuned it out. I felt like we didn’t need a schedule. I was so “in tune” with my baby that I just followed his lead and when he started to get tired I put him down for a nap. And by “put him down,” I mean literally all I had to do was PUT HIM DOWN and he would sleep. Sigh. Oh, the beautiful naiveté. Also, I bristled against schedules because, well, it’s a schedule. I wanted to be spontaneous and free and able to go out and socialize. My baby was so adaptable that he would “nap wherever” and then wake up happy and refreshed. Oh and the whole idea of the Four Month Sleep Regression? Pish Posh. I was sure that wouldn’t happen to us. Seriously. I have no idea why I thought this, but I thought it was just some made up thing that people said to label their ongoing sleep difficulties.
Wow. That all makes me sound like a bitch, doesn’t it? Let me stop and clarify. I didn’t judge other people. In fact, I told everyone that you need to do “what works for you” in order to feel sane and happy. It just so happened that I thought “what worked” for us was to be flexible and relaxed and in tune with the moment. I thought if I just responded to what my baby needed, that we would be happy and I would never get stuck in “oh, we can’t go right now, because he naps from 11:02-12:35.”
Also, Sleep Training. I thought this was overrated as well. I mean, as a psychologist, I understand that the behavioral principles of gradual exposure and extinction work, but I also thought if you just used common sense and perseverance, you wouldn’t need to be so regimented about it. Are you seeing any themes here? First, clear avoidance of any type of structure or regimented schedule. Second, an exorbitant dose of big-headed ignorance.
So…what happened? Four Months. Yes, it appeared whether I believed in it or not. Literally, the weekend that Owen turned four months we moved to a new city and through off our routine. Owen also began teething. AND he learned to roll over both ways (a new fun skill to try out all night long in his crib). Ohhh and we thought it would be a good time to start having him sleep at night in his big crib (still in our room). So all of these things added up and….guess what? Four Month Sleep Regression.
And now here I am. One month later and still not sleeping. And by not sleeping I mean seriously. Not Sleeping. Naps have turned into 30 minute affairs and nighttime is on Newborn Schedule of waking every 1-3 hours. I am exhausted. Exhausted, emotional and bitchy. Oh, and vulnerable. Vulnerable enough to let doubt pierce my earlier blissful confidence. When a friend of mine, a 2nd time mom, started lecturing me about exactly how many naps Owen should have per day and how long he should sleep and what time he should go to bed, I listened. Listened when a month ago I would have smiled, nodded, and brushed it off as I kept going with what felt right for me. This time, I listened, then fell into a spiral of self-doubt and desperation and “What am I doing wrong???” It’s amazing how a little bit of lost sleep will shatter your confidence/cockiness.
So. I’ve been thinking. Thinking and reading. I’ve been approaching this from both an intuitive, emotional perspective as well as the analytical research side of me who just happens to be a child psychologist. In other words, I’ve spent some time getting “in tune” with myself and with Owen. I’ve also spent some time with my textbooks and journal articles.
Here is what I’ve come up with.
Now, these are just my Thoughts for This Week. They are subject to change at any time when Owen catapults into a new developmental stage and completely rocks my reality again. Also, I may be a child psychologist, but I am not an expert in infant mental health, and I am not talking in the capacity of a psychologist right now, just a mom who is tired. But, here goes…
Being a new mom is hard. Especially a first time mom. Put sleep deprivation in the mix and it’s harder than hard. According to psychological researching, behavioral methods (sleep training), do work, but only when used effectively and not with any consistent efficacy prior to six months. And so, we are left fumbling in the dark (literally and metaphorically). What parents want is a method for dealing with this new reality. Which is why people will may hundreds to Sleep Trainers to put their life back in order.
But who is right? The old me who believed in intuitively following baby’s lead and flexibly adapting each day? The burnt out me who is considering regimenting everything from naps to diaper changes if it will just make him SLEEP?
Because I’ve decided it’s not about what you do, it’s about why you do it. In order to get through this, you need to be able to have some sense of control and belief that you are, to some degree, in charge of what is happening to your life. Now, don’t get me wrong…I also believe you need a healthy acceptance that your life is not your own during this time and that nothing is permanent during this first year (years?). But, for your own mental health and sanity, I think you need to find something that gives you the sense (whether real or imagined) that you have a bit of control. If that means putting your baby on a schedule, then by all means do so. If that means, wearing your baby around for every single nap…go for it. If that means co-sleeping with baby perma-attached to your boob, ok! As long as what you are doing is healthy for you and baby…sounds great!
In other words, I don’t think there is a one, Correct Way to approach this, but I think we each need to find our Own Way. Otherwise, you end up like me, knocked off my pedestal, lost, and doubting every decision I’m making. As long as you have a plan and feel you are doing your best to be the Parent, rather than feeling like the baby is running the world and you’re simply Forest Gump’s Feather, then you’re doing good. Right?? Oh, who knows.
I also think that your method should come from being thoughtful and aware. When I’m just blindly trying to react to each thing that comes up without planning or preparing or consciously responding, I tend to feel more lost. When I don’t know why I’m doing something, it tends to be less effective and I feel more desperate. What I mean is, if the baby is crying and my plan is, say, to bounce him to sleep on the ball, but then his cries get louder and I give up…I feel lost. If I were to step back, think, and remember “Oh right, he always cries a bit louder before he falls asleep, so I’m going to stick with this a few minutes and see if he quiets down,” then I’d probably have more success. Also, on a grander scale, I think we need to know why we make big decisions such as, whether to follow a set schedule or whether to use a Sleep Training method. If your answer is – because it makes me feel better or because it works for my baby or because it makes sense based on my research, then good for you. My problem was, I was just starting to let other people tell me what to do without checking in with what I thought.
Anyhow, that’s all I’ve come up with so far. My little pearls of wisdom that, if you read between the lines, don’t really tell you anything at all. Also, my philosophical ramblings haven’t gotten me anywhere in the real world. We’re still not sleeping at night. Philosophy and analysis are no match for teeth piercing through gums.
What I can say is, I’ve changed my attitude a bit. I’ve started paying more attention to Owen’s needs again. And when I did, I realized he’s no longer on a newborn schedule, even though I was half-heartedly trying to stick to it. He doesn’t need to nap every 90 minutes, but rather every 2 hours or so. As a result, he’s napping better. Which helps my sanity because I get some time to myself to rest or get things done. But, at the same time, I’m trying to keep enough of my old self to know that this too will change depending on the day and as he grows older. In the meantime, I’m just trying to pay attention, be rationale, and not get swept up in the current of exhaustion so I once again begin to doubt myself and become an ineffective mess.
Update - I wrote this post a month ago and then didn’t post it. I suppose because it seemed silly to post an entire post about sleep in which I admit I really don’t believe there is An Answer to the Problem. But, maybe it will help others to read it, so here goes…I’m posting. And, you may wonder…have we made any progress? No, not really. Owen is transitioning from 3 naps to 2 and he’s going down much easier for naps because I’m watching to see when he’s tired and ready. So that’s nice. Nighttimes? We’re getting 3-4 hour stretches now. I still haven’t sleep trained or anything close. It’s just so much easier to feed him (takes about 7 minutes and then he’s back to sleep!). But I may have to try something soon. Six Months is this week and it feels like a big milestone and might be time to start fighting the battle. Props to Sunny at Cease and Decyst for winning hers!
Oh, and just because....here's a few pics....:)