Help, my baby is sleep torturing me

·Contributor
·5-min read

“I tucked my kids in last night and said, ‘See you in the morning!’ and then we laughed and laughed. Saw them 16 more times before sunrise,” goes a tweet that perfectly describes my sleep journey with my baby. She’s nine-months-old and still cries for me six times a night. 

When this first started happening at the four-month regression, they said it was because her dummy was falling out and she needed my help to put it back in. The solution, they said, was to either take the dummy away altogether, or wait it out for another four months until she’s able to put it back in on her own.

Mother holding her baby taking a selfie
By day my baby is an angel - curious, adventurous and always smiling - but as soon as the sun goes down she turns into a totally different creature. Photo: Supplied

Annoyingly, my husband and I ended up doing both (and so much more) and we’re still not getting more than three hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. 

We started by introducing a longer winddown routine, changing her diet, tinkering with her awake windows, taking the dummy away (and eventually giving it back three tortuous weeks later), doing a solid month of pick up put down settling, and trying just about every type of white noise known to man. But five months, two private sleep coaches, a four night stay at Tresillian and countless GP visits later, we’ve officially given up. 

Our baby isn’t a great sleeper, and that’s ok. (Or at least that’s what we’re telling ourselves, sleep deprivation does strange things to you.)

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A couple of weeks after we started working with our first sleep coach, she gently told me that we should stop thinking of our baby’s sleep as a ‘problem’ that needs to be ‘fixed’, but rather that we should focus on making sure we were ok and well supported through this period of night wakings. 

baby crying in her cot
She’s mistaken her cot for some sort of torture chamber. Photo: Supplied

I took that to mean she thought we were beyond help - or at least beyond the kind of help she was able to give - and started madly investigating other possible solutions. I realise now, after having tried just about every other possible solution, that she was correct. 

“All babies are different,” pediatrician-to-the-stars and the mastermind behind the robotic SNOO bassinet, Dr Harvey Karp, kindly told me as I complained about our lack of progress, “nothing works 100% for every baby”. 

“Of course your baby wants to be with you every minute of the day and night, it’s very reasonable, except that it’s not very reasonable for you. You have to get your sleep so you can be a good mum during the day, and not everyone can pass the baby along to family members for help, especially during COVID.”

Dr Karp is a big believer in the traditional ‘village’ and created a bassinet that rocks and shushes babies all night long to help fill the gap many new parents face now that we don’t necessarily have “grandmas, aunts, sisters and your next door neighbour’s eldest daughter” on hand to help with the new baby.

“The most important thing for parents is that they have to meet their own needs first,” he said.

“It’s like the oxygen mask that you have to put on yourself first, you need to make sure you’re not falling apart or under terrible stress which can happen when you’re sleep deprived.”

“You have to be honest with yourself and play the cards you’re dealt and make sure you’re not running yourself into the ground.”

Baby playing with toys on the floor
The moment we gave up trying to fix her sleep things got a lot better, not from the perspective of fewer wakes unfortunately, but accepting our fate has definitely improved the situation. Photo: Supplied

Once our baby got to the age where she could confidently put her dummy back in her own mouth (which was pretty much when we realised all hope was lost) we stopped fighting it and made peace with the fact that our parenting journey will involve a lot of nighttime parenting, and I have to say, things have actually gotten a lot easier. 

Instead of searching desperately for solutions, we’re now focusing on getting enough rest to function and decided to start cosleeping with our baby for part of the night - following all the best practice guidelines, of course.

She still starts each night in her cot in her room, but after four or so wakes and resettles, we move her into our bed, or rather our mattress which we’ve moved onto the floor and stripped of pillows and doonas to reduce potential hazards. It’s not our ideal solution, and not a decision supported by NSW Health practitioners, but we’ve got our sanity back and are so grateful for that.

We won’t be reaching that new parents’ holy grail of ‘sleeping through the night’ any time soon, but that’s ok, having eight consecutive hours of sleep is overrated anyway.

If you’ve also been blessed with a poor sleeper, here are a few things we’ve personally found helpful:

  • Being honest about the situation and asking for and accepting help is a game changer; when things were really tough, I asked a couple of people to come over first thing in the morning to care for my baby so I could stay in bed, it made the world of difference.

  • Definitely talk to other parents of problem sleepers; we found a lot of comfort in the fact we weren’t the only ones the experts couldn’t ‘fix’.

  • Focus on what you can control; I’ve stopped counting the number of times my baby wakes and looking at the clock through the night, knowing how little she’s been sleeping doesn’t make me feel any better about it.

Words by Bianca Soldani

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