Sleep deprivation is a part of parenthood with a new baby. We all know that. Those of us with other children have experienced it firsthand. Everyone loves to tell expecting first-time parents their war stories about days and weeks on end with only 2-3 hours of sleep per night — the rocking, the nursing, the waking, the oh-my-god-how-will-I-function exhaustion.
Yes, we all know it. We all expect it. But we all have a limit. I have reached mine.
Baby J was not a terrible sleeper as a newborn and young infant. In fact, I have often joked these last few months that I slept so poorly during my pregnancy that I slept more with a newborn in the house. And that was actually true.
But over the last couple of weeks, I can tell that Baby J has hit a new developmental milestone — his sleep is maturing. That doesn’t mean that he’s sleeping more or better or “sleeping through the night.” No, that means that the sleep aids that used to put him into a deep sleep that would last 3-4 hours at a time (i.e. nursing and rocking) no longer work.
For the last 2-3 months, I could nurse Baby J into a nice, deep sleep, quietly transition him to his crib and leave the room confident in the fact that he would be sound asleep for 3-4, sometimes even 5 hours or longer. When he woke at night, I would nurse him and have him back sleeping soundly in his crib in 15-20 minutes. But no more.
Baby J’s sleep patterns are now more like adult sleep patterns and now when I nurse him to sleep and try to put him down in his crib, he wakes up. When I rock him to sleep and try to put him down, he wakes up. And he wakes up ticked off that he’s no longer nursing or being rocked. For the last week, I have been up with him on average 2 hours or more during the night. Two nights ago, I was up with him for 4 hours going through the painful pattern of nursing, rocking, putting him down, waking, nursing again, rocking again, putting him down again, waking again, etc.
This is not good or restful for him or me. He gets overtired and doesn’t nap well during the day. I am so exhausted I sometimes want to cry when I’m up with him for hours on end in the middle of the night. I can’t focus at work. My patience wears thin with Little Man and Lil Sis easier (though I think I still do a good job of being patient with them). And the sleep deprivation is even starting to affect my milk supply at this stage that is critical to my breastfeeding success.
After yet another night with a baby who is (1) no longer sick, and (2) no longer showing signs of a growth spurt in progress, and who still woke multiple times during the night and no longer fell asleep and slept soundly with his usual sleep aids, I’m pretty sure the time has come.
Baby J has to learn to sleep on his own.
Don’t misunderstand me — I’m not going to leave him alone in a room to “cry-it-out” for hours. But I am going to start some sleep training with him. I will likely use the same method that I used with both Little Man and Lil Sis with great success. Each was just past the 4-month mark, and I had them sleeping 10 hours straight (with NO night wakings) in just 3 nights. And they still sleep like champs.
Baby J is just about 4 months old now, and I can tell he is developing or has developed the mature sleep patterns that come right around 17 weeks (the age that he will hit on Monday). He can consistently get his thumb in his mouth for sucking, and his former “sleep aids” do more harm than good now. He is ready to learn how to put himself to sleep and back to sleep.
I’m not shooting for the moon here. I know that babies may need to eat at night for several more months. Instead, my goal is for Baby J to learn how to soothe himself to sleep and reduce his night feedings back to the one that he was at just 2 weeks ago. My hope is that when he wakes up for his night feeding, I don’t have to spend 2-3 hours nursing and rocking him through his light sleeping period in the early morning hours. That leads only to disturbed sleep for him and no sleep for me. Neither is a good situation.
So wish me luck! Hopefully by this time next week, I can join you all in the Land of Nod.