Monday, August 24, 2009

sleep and the transientness of babyhood

I don’t know if there is a subject more prevalent in a new parent’s conversations, thoughts and desires than sleep. There are many books regarding getting enough, how to get your baby to get it and how important it is to be a functioning parent. Although I had heard that babies sleep whenever and wherever they need to in the beginning, my Sweet Pea was not one of those babies. She was apparently very sensitive and seeking comfort by nursing all the time and only fell asleep while nursing and when I tried to set her down she woke up and began screaming as though she was starving, even though she had just been nursing for no less than 45 minutes approximately 10 minutes ago.

Needless to say, after 7 weeks of sleeping in 5-10 minute intervals and maybe if I was lucky (and laid real still) 30-45 minute stretches at night sleeping where else, on the breast…she was TIRED and cranky (and I didn’t even remember what it felt like to actually sleep) I had checked out all the books my library had on sleep and ‘difficult’ babies and after reading [skimming to the parts about sleep] all of them, I didn’t feel any more prepared to get my precious girl to sleep. She was in fact so tired that she was what all the books described as ‘overtired’ and so sensitive that unless she was nursing she was crying. One book changed our lives, ‘Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child’ by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. Although Dr. Weissbluth advocated the ‘cry-it-out’ method (he actually offers other options too) which at this point I was totally opposed to, I felt that at 7 weeks she was still too young to just be left to cry all alone, the mere thought of it broke my heart, I kept reading and learning. The thing that I found most important was all his research in sleep and sleep disturbances; he really breaks the anatomy of sleep down and the neurological importance of sleep in all its facets. I had learned (like I didn’t already know) that sleep was not only necessary for a healthy baby’s attitude but was very important for that brain of theirs which is growing at the speed of light!

So, you’re thinking, this seems like something someone with the education and background in child development that I have should have already figured out. In a way I guess I did and that is probably why I was so worried about getting that little girl some quality shut eye. So, when at 8 weeks we hit a wall and even despite my desire to not listen to my precious baby cry, she had reached a point of exhaustion (and probably frustration too) where nothing would soothe her. My trusty breast that had provided comfort for all that ailed her up until now was letting me down, she didn’t want it, she didn’t want anything, she was TIRED and needed sleep. I tried everything that I had read, swaddling, rocking, shhhing, white noise, EVERYTHING, nothing worked! It was at this point that I realized that all the things I was trying in order to comfort her were only causing more distress…all I had left to do was walk away with tears in my eyes as I heard her cry her exhausted cry. Then, the most amazing thing happened, after about 20 minutes of crying she stopped…she had actually fallen asleep! That was a pivotal evening for all of us, it was the night we realized that sleep was actually possible. I am not saying it was easy; I spent the rest of my maternity leave (approx. 4 more weeks) continuing to help her sleep first at night and then during the day in some structured way, there was a big part of me that wanted to chuck it all and just hold her for those last fleeting weeks (and some days I did just that), but for the sake of my own sanity as well as the development of her growing brain, I continued on.

By the end of week 11 and my maternity leave, I had successfully gotten her to sleep in her bassinet for 5-8 hour stretches at night and sometimes up to an hour for naps. DH took over when I went back to work and there were many times the topic of who got the easier baby to care for came up. He finally had a baby that didn’t mind him holding her and feeding her and one that was actually becoming rested and much more pleasant…even darn right happy. A lot of people might think like he does, that he got the good end of the deal, but in reality I’m glad that I was the one to see her through those early weeks of unrest. As I watch her grow at an alarming rate, I cherish those early weeks where all she wanted was to be held and close to me.

She still sleeps, really well actually and it is a rare occasion that I need to get up to tend to her before 6 or 7am (there have even been moments where I had to wake her up to nurse her before leaving for work), so those early months when I had to go to her 1 or 2 times in the night, gave me some quiet moments with her that I will never have again. When I heard the usual comments of “you’re still nursing” or “you’re still going to her in the night,” I thought (and did not always say) that these moments are fleeting, it does not last forever (no matter how it feels at the time), why do people try and rush through this brief, early period? I think most people are so hung up on resuming their old lives before children where they could sleep whenever (and for as long as) they wanted that they miss out on irreplaceable moments. I also believe that if more people would look at these moments for what they are, momentary, they might be able to appreciate the preciousness of them instead of resenting them. Losing sleep holding a baby new to this world looking for comfort is something I will take over losing sleep hoping a teenager looking for their place in this world, finds their way home unharmed. Appreciate every moment.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I had to remove my first comment, I left out a word and it sounded so strange! Anyway, I am so glad you both are getting sleep, especially your sweet little girl. Sometimes doing the right thing is the hardest, when it seems it should be the easiest. You are a great mom, and I am so proud of you!