F is for Fatigue: How to Survive on Interrupted Sleep
But in all of the parenting and breastfeeding support forums and groups that I am a part of, the number one subject of concerns is based around sleep. Mom is tired; baby is waking frequently; baby won’t fall asleep on his/her own; baby won’t sleep alone; and the list goes on.
I’m not going to tell you how to get your baby to sleep. I subscribe to the “wait it out” philosophy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: all babies sleep…. eventually.
“But you don’t know my baby! She’s 8/14/18 months old and still waking every two hours. I can’t survive like this!”
Yes, you can. And you will. Generations of mothers have done it before you and generations of mothers will survive it after you.
Let me tell you about an adorable little boy who people said had “sleep problems”:
He nursed every 1-2 hours, round the clock. He only ever slept if he was in someone’s arms. Even during the night. He awoke as soon as he was laid down. He never slept more than a two hour stretch, or went more than two hours between needing breastmilk (from the source or expressed), until he was 18 months old. He “finally” went to sleep without nursing down when he was about 2.5 years old. At that point he learned to nap on his own during the day, though he still needed to be in someone’s arms at night. He was about 3.5 years old when he was “finally” able to sleep on his own but he still woke 2-3 times per night, every night. So he slept in a bed right next to his Daddy to make it easier to settle him back down quickly. At around age 4 he started to go to bed consistently at about 8pm, instead of his usual 10-11pm. He still woke 1-2 times per night. At 4.5 years old he asked if he could have his own room. And he started going to bed at 7:30 every night and slept a full 12 hours, with no night wakings. He has never had any of the regular nighttime fears (dark, monsters, being alone etc) and bedtime is never a struggle. He has never cried himself to sleep and has never been sleep trained.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: all babies sleep…. eventually.
Once you accept the fact that your baby/toddler/preschooler is normal and his/her night waking are completely normal, how do you survive on interrupted sleep?
Here’s what I’ve learned about how to survive on interrupted sleep:
I took every single nap with my oldest until he was 6 months and then I went down to about two naps per day, a 9-10pm bedtime, and sleeping/dozing/nursing as long as I could in the morning. It meant I scheduled my days around my naps for a long time (he would nap anywhere, as long as he was in my arms) but it was what I needed to do to stay health and sanity.
With my second, napping was a bit different. I found I adjusted to the lack of sleep much quicker, which helped. My oldest napped once per day until his brother was just over a year. So after that I would put the baby down and turn on a show for my oldest. He would sit with my while I dozed on the couch. Confession here: I also started drinking coffee more regularly when my oldest quit napping. I still went to bed as early as I could and slept as late as I could.
Now I have no nappers and am pregnant. First trimester fatigue just about did me in! I would send the boys to play and just doze on the couch, or I would turn a show on and give them a snack while I napped. I was never really big on TV for my kids but Netflix has probably saved my health by allowing me a bit of midday quiet! About half the time I can also make a fort out of the bunk bed or under the kitchen table and I set the kids in there with a couple books and they will sit until the timer goes off. Or, when Mama “forgets” to set the timer, they will sometimes enjoy their fort and quiet time for over an hour! If you’re interested in more specific details, here’s great article on how to get establish a quiet time.
I also make the choice to stay home a lot more than many moms I know. I choose not to get overly involved in everything so that I can take care of my health and get my kids used to a regular quiet time (which I’m guessing will be really handy when the baby comes).
Focus on Health
Also vitamin b complex and iron are my good friends (this is not medical advice, look into supplements yourself if you think your body may be lacking). And, again, a regular bed time is critical. Crystal from Money Saving Mom has “make sleep a priority” as her number one tip in her 15 Ways to Have More Energy series. I completely agree.
Take heart, Mama. You can and will survive this. Believe it or not, your body is designed to adjust to this interrupted sleep pattern. While you are in this season of your life, turn around the clock, let go of unrealistic expectations (of yourself and your child), and decide to accept the fact that you have been called to this role and that you are fully equipped to make it through.
If you are a mom who has made it through the years of interrupted sleep, leave some words of encouragement for those mothers who are “in the trenches,” so to speak.
If you are an exhausted mother, I’m starting into season/child number 3 any day now (hopefully!) and will be right there in the trenches with you! Are you willing to turn around the clock and ignore the calendar to make the commitment to meet your child’s needs until they are outgrown?