Help! My Baby Won’t Sleep!

baby crying

I recently came from an almost three month time period where my baby girl did not sleep — at all. I’m talking, weeks on end of maybe getting 4 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. It was a nightmare — only I was awake.

Night after night I would think, “Surely, she’ll sleep tonight. She’s got to be exhausted. How can she not sleep?” And night after night, she would spend one, sometimes two hours, crying and throwing herself around in my arms before she would finally fall asleep — for a mere 45 minutes at the most. The process would repeat all over again every one to two hours for the rest of the night.

To make matters worse, she wasn’t sleeping during the day either. As much as I wanted nighttime sleeping, I got to a point where I thought I would even take some daytime sleeping, just so I could get some sleep. But it seemed the worse her night was, the less she’d nap during the day.

I was crying along with her, unable to carry on an intelligent conversation with my husband, and was shocked to see just how dark my eyes were in a picture of me during that time. I came to dread each night because it was only a time of exhausted fall-asleep-only-to-be-awoken-within-a-short-time cycle. I knew it was going to consist of hours of rocking a baby that screamed in her crib, but for some reason refused to snuggle and let me comfort her when I held her.

What was going on? This was the baby that was sleeping through the night at eight weeks. The baby that rarely got gas and was cheerful and bright eyed every day –- up until now. I just couldn’t figure out what was going on.

As a parent who practices Attachment Parenting (AP), crying it out wasn’t an option. But one night, based on so many people’s advice, I thought I’d give it a try. I lasted an hour. In our tiny apartment there was no way I couldn’t hear the hysterical sobs (not to mention the neighbors upstairs hearing them) and to me it just made the entire situation a thousand times worse. By the time I went in to get her, she was so hysterical it took almost three hours to calm her down to get her to sleep for an hour. As for myself, I still feel emotionally raw over the entire incident five months later. It was heartbreaking.

It seems in those three months I could honestly say I tried everything: crying it out, going in every five minutes and soothing her and then laying her down again, wearing her down in a Moby wrap, co-sleeping, massage, singing, walking, walking, and more walking… nothing worked. I was a basket case and so was she.

Because I followed an AP-style approach to my parenting I was afraid I was going into the “other” camp if I began to try to create a schedule for my baby girl and me. However, I was at my wit’s end and needed to try something.

The good thing about my style of parenting is that it encourages the parents to go with their gut, and my gut was telling me we needed a schedule. A flexible schedule, to be sure, not one that stated what time my child could eat or not eat, but at least some sort of a daily routine, followed by a bedtime routine.

The reason I felt this way is because my career has led me to read up on things like sleep cycles and natural body rhythms, and I knew that such things are crucial to functioning in a healthy manner on a daily basis. If I need sleep cycles and natural body rhythms as an adult, I reasoned, doesn’t my baby need them too? And is she able to help herself find them as an infant?

So, following my gut, I began doing the following things:

I began to get my daughter and myself up at the same time every morning. No matter how much we had been up the night before, I purposefully made sure that our get-up time every morning was the same. Once we woke up, we followed the same routine: cuddling, nursing, diaper change, play time, and then some cereal.

I didn’t follow this to a T, of course. If she was finally sleeping, I’d let her sleep a bit, but I tried to stay within an hour of the same time every day. If she wanted to play instead of nurse right away, I let her. That’s what I mean by flexible routine. It was a “routine” that varied some mornings, but it still had a consistency to it.

Between our getting-up time and her morning nap, I made sure I paid a lot of attention to her. As a work-at-home-mom, my gut was telling me I hadn’t been getting down on the floor with her enough during the day, and that was part of the problem. It wasn’t enough to smile down at her from my laptop; I needed to be down on the floor playing with her face to face. It made it hard to get work done (still does!) but within a week I noticed a big difference in her contentment level. She was starting to let me cuddle her when she was upset instead of pushing away from me.

Mid-morning came my hardest test. In spite of the laundry that needed to be done, the articles that needed to be written, the blog friends I wanted to “chat” with, the pilates work-out I hadn’t gotten done in two weeks, I began to lay down with my daughter at naptime. It killed me to do this, because for me, naptimes were a time to get stuff done. But again, my gut told me to do it, so I did.

Our bed wasn’t working. She just kept trying to crawl right off of it. So I made a bed on the floor. I have a super energetic baby that is rarely still and I can’t say that she would lay with me and cuddle during these times, but we did establish another mid-morning routine. The shades were pulled, my voice was lowered, and we did quiet things like sing and read books.

After mid-morning nap was more play time. By this time, she was ok playing by herself as I got some computer work done. Then, it was lunchtime.

After lunch, we continued with our flexible routine as much as appointments and things like grocery shopping allowed us to. Right after lunch became our time to go get fresh air, even on rainy days. If we could only stand in the car port for a few minutes because it was pouring, we tried to do at least that. On nicer days, I would put her in the Moby and we would take walks together.

The afternoon routine then followed our morning all over again, including me making sure I spent quality one-on-one time with her and laying down with her at nap time.

I began eating supper with my daughter at 5:30 or 6:00 every night, whether my husband was able to be home at that time or not. Previously we had been waiting until 7 or 8 at night to eat supper, but I felt like I had really been sabotaging our sleep process by doing this.

After supper was a bath — every night. After bath, the overhead light of the bedroom was turned off and a dresser lamp turned on instead. Then it was time for quiet activity, like reading books.

Because my husband works late, and because my daughter didn’t seem to need sleep anyways, I had been letting her stay up until he got home so they could see each other. This changed. I made a point of putting her in bed between 7:00 and 8:00 every night. Regularly. Routinely. Most nights it meant sitting by the crib with her, holding her hand. Other nights it meant turning out the lights and rocking her in the rocking chair. Whatever it was, I just made sure it was the same time every night, with the same blanket and the same “bear-bear”.

At the time of this article, I’ve been doing this flexible routine for almost two months now, and I am happy to report, Baby Girl is sleeping! Which means I am sleeping!

On average, a morning nap of about two hours takes place each day. In the afternoons it’s another two-hour nap. She is usually sound asleep by 8:30 each night, sometimes later, most times sooner. She still wakes up one time a night to nurse, but she accomplishes this within a matter of fifteen minutes and then we’re all sleeping soundly again. At 4:30 or 5:00 she usually wakes up and wants to nurse, but then falls back to sleep until 8:00. Some nights, she sleeps right through both her usual wake up times — though I don’t and I’m usually checking her frantically to make sure she’s alive.

I’m a first time mother and I am not an expert on getting babies to sleep, by any means. But I think I may have hit on something: Babies need routine. They need predictability. And they need a lot of love during the day — on-the-floor, in-their-face love.

I still practice AP parenting. I still watch for my baby’s cues and respond to them, wear her in a sling, don’t let her cry it out (ever!), and nurse on demand. But I did add a routine to all of the cue-response parenting, and for us that seems to have been the magic formula we needed for sleeping through the night. Blissful, glorious sleep! There is nothing like it!

* The “other” camp being Baby Wise. This is not to criticize mother’s who have chosen this style of parenting! For me personally, it just was not a style that clicked with me or that I ever wanted to try out.

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