Physical Exhaustion is nearly universal among mothers, especially for moms with littles and large families! Every health expert and their dog is yelling, “Get more sleep!” But every mom I know, is saying “HOW???” What do you do when that sweet baby turns into a monster WHO JUST WON’T SLEEP!? I have advice that can help! Let’s talk about a couple different options, baby scheduling and co-sleep.
My 15 biological children have been born over a span of 24 years. (I’m only a little crazy, you can read my story here.) I have been pregnant a total of 135 months and have breastfed for approximately 225 months. Obviously some of that was simultaneous. My point is, I KNOW THE STRUGGLE! I know what it is to be nursing, pregnant, nauseous, and still getting up at night with littles who had a bad dream or a tummy ache.
The Great Sleep Frustration
How many of you mamas can relate to the following scenario?
- Baby goes down for the night. You think.
- You get ready for bed, and lay your head down for 2 seconds, and… he wakes up!
- You get up, nurse him back to sleep, and lie down again.
- Just as you drop off to sleep, he starts crying.
- Up again.
- Put baby back to sleep.
- As soon as his little bottom touches the crib, he’s awake again.
- Back to sleep.
- Awake again.
- Repeat 47 times.
Morning comes, and you are more tired than ever. Your day goes horribly, and so does your whole family’s day as a result! If a mom has a total of one or two kids in her lifetime, she may be able to “grin and bear it” and wait this season out. But for moms of larger families, it may not be a short season, it may be many years!
There are two solutions that I have found which worked for me at differing stages of my mom journey.
When I was pregnant with my second child, I read a book called On Becoming Baby Wise, that dealt with baby scheduling and training babies to sleep through the night. That helped me quite a bit for a season. It can be very useful, especially for moms who have only little children at home and no other hands to help during the day.
The main premises of Baby Wise are keeping baby on a scheduled nurse, wake time, sleep time cycle, and training baby to fall asleep on her own when placed in her bed.
The scheduling part involves nursing baby, on a schedule that you set, approximately every 3 hours (or bottle feeding every 4 hours) throughout the day. An example of a feeding schedule might be:
- 6 a.m.
- 9 a.m.
- 12 p.m.
- 3 p.m.
- 6 p.m.
- 9 p.m.
- 11 p.m. (Or some night time feeding, not followed by a wake time.)
When baby wakes, baby nurses, then has a wake/play time, and then takes a nap before the next feeding cycle. A fussy baby, who has already been fed and changed, is usually a baby who needs a nap. For naptimes, baby is placed in her crib awake and she falls asleep on her own. Baby usually adapts to this quickly and learns to fall asleep.
Tips for helping baby fall asleep on her own:
- Swaddle baby and place on her side, or place on her tummy.
- A pacifier can be helpful at first, if your baby will take one. (Some of my babies liked them, some did not.)
- You may comfort baby by rubbing or patting his back and speaking soothing words. But do not pick them up.
- Having a fan running in the room for white noise and air circulation can be helpful.
- Make sure baby is safe and warm or cool enough, and then walk out and shut the door. (The first time I used this method, I would place my baby down for a nap, and go vacuum my living room so I couldn’t hear her cry. By the time I turned off the vacuum, she would be asleep. That was much easier on my nerves, Ha!)
For several years, this cycle and sleep training worked well for me. With a couple exceptions… First, I found that my milk supply would begin to dry up if I did not nurse my baby at least one time during the night. (Some women get along fine with this, however.) For me, the goal was not necessarily baby sleeping through the night, but instead, baby sleeping well with one good nursing time.
When all my children were young, the sleep training was a great benefit. It was extremely liberating to lay a fussy baby down and walk away, knowing that in 5 minutes she would be asleep! Most of my babies were able to be trained to do this, but not all.
My tenth baby would NOT fall asleep on her own. Let me say that again. I trained SEVERAL babies to fall asleep when placed in their cribs, but number 10 would NOT!! That poor baby would cry and cry in her crib and never fall asleep.
This particular baby also had terrible reflux. (She spit up so much, I usually changed both of our clothes a few times a day.) When I would give up, and take her out of the crib she would throw up. I believe the reflux was burning her while lying down. The only way she would sleep was upright with her head on my shoulder or upright in the swing. The first two months of her life were extremely hard. I felt like all I did was nurse, burp, clean her up and nurse some more. She cried many hours a day. If you are facing a difficult season in your journey, read 8 Steps to Self Care for Overwhelmed Moms.
One thing that did help was staying away from dairy. Ice cream seemed to make it worse, and I love ice cream. Sigh… Thankfully, at age 2 months it began to get a little better. By 5 months it was much better. (I have since heard that chiropractic treatment can help tremendously, although I myself have no experience with it. I seriously think I would have tried it with her!)
Important lessons learned from that experience…
- Just because an “expert” says you should do x, y, and z doesn’t make it gospel.
- What works for one kid, doesn’t always work for the next!
- Any method, any book, any blog post is simply a tool. A means to an end. Take from it what is beneficial to you and chuck the rest! Don’t let it rule over you like a tyrant!
Sleep Positions for Baby
I do NOT place my babies on their backs to sleep. First, because if they spit up they can aspirate and choke. (So scary!) Secondly, my babies just don’t stay asleep like that. Their arms and legs flail as if they are falling, and they do not feel secure. It seems to me to be a very unnatural sleep position for a baby. I place tiny babies on their sides. Once my babies can lift and turn their heads and shift positions, suffocation is no longer a concern and I place them on their tummies. They sleep so much better that way! As a mom, you probably have better instincts than you think! You make your own choices about sleep for your baby, based on what you observe and what works for you.
The Next Season
As time passed, something else changed for me. My older kids were becoming busier. Our schedule began to include more and more running around town for sports, music lessons, homeschool activities, etc. Putting baby in her bed for every nap became impossible! I needed my babies to take a nap wherever we happened to be!
As my older kids became awesome help for me (read about that here), my hands became less tied with other things. This gave me the luxury of sitting down to rock a fussy baby, or even taking a nap with my baby if I wanted to! My nursing schedule became more and more relaxed as well.
I learned some very useful things from Baby Wise, and it’s definitely worth reading! Some techniques I still use, and other ideas, although useful for a season, began to fade into the past for me.
Sleeping With Baby
I am sure that you, like me, are aware of the whole co-sleep controversy. For years, I struggled with the idea that it is frowned upon by some medical professionals, (not all.) I don’t anymore. Sadly, SIDS can happen anywhere. (I personally believe that co-sleep deaths are usually caused by extenuating circumstances. Circumstances may include parents under the influence of sleep medications or other legal drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol, and babies experiencing adverse reactions to vaccinations.)
For me and my babies, I believe it is safe. With that being said, during the first few weeks after birth, I nurse the baby at night while sitting in my recliner with a nursing pillow. That way, I can fall asleep reclining, and the baby’s teeny tiny body is lifted up a little higher. Once I know baby can easily move his head and neck, and shift his body position, I no longer worry about co-sleep being unsafe.
By bedtime, I’m just done. Many nights, there is no energy left in me for the struggle. There is no patience for the process. The baby is done by this time too. And all he wants is to nurse and fall asleep cuddled next to mom’s warm body. After all, he has spent the first nine months of his existence surrounded by my body, hearing and feeling the rhythm of my heartbeat and my breathing.
Nothing feels more natural to me than lying down with baby to nurse. My head hits the pillow and the nursing hormones kick in, as baby nurses and we both fall asleep. It is the perfect, relaxing end to a busy day.
There is no anxiety about “How long until baby wakes up?” No wondering if he is still breathing, I can hear him. No wondering if he is too hot or too cold, because he is right here, I can feel him. No 47 times out of bed. We go to sleep and stay asleep for several hours. When baby wakes, we switch sides and re-latch, and go back to sleep.
I still keep a bassinet or a napper next to my bed that I use for nights when the stars seem to align and archangels sing my little one to sleep early. Or just nights when I really need my space.
In any case, I NEED my sleep. If I don’t get enough sleep for too many nights in a row, I lose my ability to use my inside voice when things go wrong. And by that I mean, I am quite likely to throw a fit that measures 6.7 on the Richter Scale. Everybody is better off when this Mama retains her “joy in Jesus!”
If co-sleeping is not for you, that’s great! Do what works for you. I am in no way trying to convince you that you should co-sleep. I’m only interested in letting you know that you are not alone you if that is what you want to do!
Of course, sometimes sleepless nights are unavoidable. There will always be those nights when baby is teething, going through a growth spurt, or just not feeling well. During those times, I remind myself that this is temporary! Someday this baby will grow up, and middle of the night cuddles will be a distant memory. This is a part of my job as a mom, and I will do my best to cherish it, and at the very least, survive with my sanity intact! In any case, the fewer sleepless nights, the better!
If you aren’t getting any sleep, please know that you have my sympathy and my prayers! This is hard, I know! But this too shall pass. You were made for this, and you can do it!
If you have some great tips, please share in the comments! Hugs, mama!
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