“I’m never going to sleep again.”
This was a constant thought in my mind during the first 5 weeks of my son’s life. While it was far from the truth, it was a very real thought and feeling that I carried with me until I implemented some important changes.
Shortly before I was diagnosed with extreme post partum anxiety, I remember calculating how much sleep I’d had over the course of 3 days. It amounted to 9 hours of sleep in a 72 hour period. I was averaging 3 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. Obviously that wasn’t healthy and part of the problem was the out of control anxiety I was experiencing. Around 8 weeks pp I saw my doctor where
I was subsequently diagnosed and treated for extreme post partum anxiety. But I also had the realization that I needed to be proactive in minimizing what triggered my anxiety. Part of the problem was the complete lack of schedule in my son’s life. I recently posted about sleep training here. While I covered the basics of what I’ve learned in the process, I wanted to share a little more in-depth about the things that have really helped my husband and I get our son (and ourselves!) on a schedule.
Co-sleeping in the bed didn’t work for us and my son was sleeping in a bassinet by a week old. By 2 weeks of age we had moved him into his own room, in his bassinet. At this point we had implemented a very basic bedtime routine of swaddle, bottle, and rock to sleep. Once we had a decent nighttime routine down, I tackled the daytime. Here’s a few things that helped us along the way with sleep, schedules and routines.
- Swaddle, swaddle, swaddle. Now hear me out-my son was so over the swaddle by 2 months. One day it was just like that-he was done. But up until that point the swaddle was a lifesaver for sleep. I was wrapping him in receiving blankets the first week and it was failing miserably. He could break out of the blankets. Babies are strong, don’t underestimate them. My sister-in-law saved our lives by buying us the Ergo Cocoon. I loved it so much, we got another. There are arm holes that snap shut so baby’s arms can be snug and tight against them-emulating the closeness of the womb. My son’s sleep improved drastically with the swaddle. Thank you Aunt Katie!
- White Noise. I’ve never understood the thought process of putting a baby to sleep in silence and then tiptoeing around the house as to avoid waking baby. I’ve slept with white noise my entire life. Some people will say that it’s not healthy to become dependent on it but white noise promotes great sleep in our home so I’m not listening to those people. We lucked out with an old clock/sound machine my husband had from his childhood, haha! It’s LOUD and it works great but Marpac makes some great ones. “That ambient sound a baby hears in the womb – mainly blood running through your blood vessels and the movement of your stomach and intestines – actually reaches the level of about 90 decibels (about the level of background noise in an apartment next to an elevated train).” (share.care.com)
- Swing away! (the movie Signs, anyone?) My son lived in this swing which we bought used, for the first 3 months of his life with the thing at full speed, until I started implementing sleep training. I recommend borrowing a swing or buying used in the case that your baby doesn’t take to the swing. I remember one person telling me that I’d regret using the swing and it would be difficult to break him of falling asleep in it. My son napped in that swing every day for 3 months. Towards the 3rd month, the swing went in his room next to his pack n play (which we used after the bassinet and before the crib.) Each week I decreased the speed of the swing until he was able to fall asleep in it (for naps), motionless. The swing was also a lifesaver when he would wake up in his pack n play at 3AM, unable to fall back asleep. We could get 3-4 more hours out of him in the swing. Do whatever you have to, to survive these days. No one’s 16-year-old is still sleeping in a swing, seriously.
- Dream Feed. What is this sorcery you ask? Dream feeding is the act of feeding your baby, later in the night (but not too late) usually before you go to bed. It’s called a dream feed because baby is usually in a deep sleep and will not wake for this feed. It can help to fill baby’s tummy and get a longer stretch of sleep. Dream feeding didn’t really work for my son until 3 months age. It will vary with each baby and when he was in a growth spurt, he needed more calories. We still dream feed him now and it works beautifully! This feed will be the very last feed you drop, when baby is ready to be weaned of all night feedings. Pam at Wee Bee Dreaming talks about the appropriate number of night feeding babies require for each age. Check it out here.
- Transition. Remember that everything takes time with babies. They are learning everything for the first time and if you’re a first time parent-you are too! We didn’t own a crib until my son was 4 months old. He slept SO much better once he was in his crib. I do think the transition from bassinet to pack n play, to crib helped him gradually adjust to the amount of sleeping space. The womb is so tight and small. It takes time for babies to adjust to a huge crib.
- Schedule. As soon as you can, start a simple schedule with your little baby! Even a basic, flexible schedule can bring some peace and order to your life. Rachel, A Mother Far From Home has some great schedules for babies, appropriate for each month of age. Remember, nothing is set in stone and every day may vary but having a rough routine can really help with peace of mind. A typical day for my almost 7 month old son looks something like this (roughly):
4AM-Feed, back to sleep
6:30/7:30AM-Wake up, chill with cartoons, bottle, floor time
8:30/9AM to 10:30AM-Nap 1
10:30-12:30-Bottle, floor time, play in bouncer, go for walk in stroller
2pm-4pm-bottle, play time, go for walk, go to park, run errands
4pm-5pm-cat nap (he sometimes skips this nap which means an earlier bedtime)
6/7pm-bath, bottle, rock in rocking chair, bedtime!
One of the most important things to remember is to have grace and patience for yourself (and the rest of your family) as you adjust to a new baby. Some days will be amazing and many will be the most difficult you’ve ever faced.
Being a parent will stretch you to your limit. While becoming a mom has brought out strength in me that I never knew I had, it’s also brought out some ugliness. During the thick of my son’s sleep training, I discovered that I had an intense anger issue. When my son was going on 8 hours of NOT sleeping (during the day) or taking 20 minute cat naps and waking up screaming, I would boil inside. I was so frustrated with him and myself. There were many days where I had to put him in his swing or crib and take a breather, while he cried. I’ve carried a tremendous amount of guilt for the anger I’ve felt, the things I’ve thought and the extreme emotions I’ve experienced in this process. I’ve had to process through that guilt and learn to let it go.
I gathered a support system, mainly my sister and mom who would talk me through those difficult days. As I’ve connected with more moms, I’ve found that struggling with anger is very common. If you’re a mom whose yelled at your baby or child out of frustration, you aren’t alone and you aren’t a horrible person. You are a good mama, who loves her baby and is human. If you are struggling with these emotions, gather support. If you ever find yourself so angry that you feel like you might harm your baby or child, put him down in a safe place, step outside for a few minutes, take some deep breaths, or call someone to talk to. Then go back inside, scoop up that sweet baby and whisper, “I’m sorry and I love you!”Never hesitate to seek professional counseling or therapy if you feel that is the direction you need to take.
Mama, you are doing great. One.Day.At.A.Time.
I hope some of these things were helpful for someone out there! I’m not expert and I only know what has worked for my family. I wish you great success in sleep, schedules and being a parent. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below =)
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