motherhood

Dear Mom Whose Baby Won’t Sleep

You are not alone.

I’m sure you’ve heard that before, and maybe you even believed it once. But then all your mom friends started sending you excited early morning text messages that their baby has slept through the night and yours hasn’t, yours seems like she never will, and you haven’t slept more than 2 hours in a row a night and you’re exhausted and you just don’t know what to do.

But believe me: you are not alone. I’m there too.

At the moment, my baby is upstairs in her room, screaming her head off while her father tries to convince her to fall asleep. At 15 months old, Eden has never slept more than 2 hours.

We are exhausted.

This is what happens on an average night: she falls asleep at 6:30, generally fairly easily, usually nursed to sleep, but she’ll go down with a bottle and a cuddle from Mark as an alternative. By 9:30, she’s awake again, but now she’s looking for something specific: me. If Mark dares show his face at her bedside, her anger ramps up and she flails and screams and lashes out like she’s being tortured. And so, eventually, I’ll give in and give her what she wants – a breast and mommy cuddles – and the cycle repeats itself, approximately every two hours, often with a playtime around 3, or an early wake-up around 5.

Isabel was 17 months before she slept through the night. It lasted two weeks and her sleep patterns have been up and down since. These days, at 3.5, they’re down – she hasn’t slept through the night in months.

But, as bad as Isabel was, Eden is worse. So many assured me that sleep with the second would be better; after all, I know more about infant sleep, about how to encourage healthy sleep habits, about helping our baby fall and stay asleep. But Eden is so different from Isabel. I wasn’t prepared for how difficult she would be in the sleep department. Not only has Eden never slept through the night, she refused to sleep while not in contact with me for a good six months. She never slept in her crib. Early on, we swapped out the beautiful Jenny Lind crib that I painted mint green out of her room in favour of a floor bed, allowing us to snuggle and me to side-nurse until she slept.

Eden has zero healthy sleep habits.

I’m not writing this to make you feel sorry for me – I’m doing a decent enough job of that myself. But, I’ll take some encouragement, and, if you’re in the same place, perhaps I can encourage you. The sleep thing is hard. So, so hard.

It doesn’t help that, in a minefield of sensitive topics, baby sleep is one of the most sensitive of all. First time moms especially face a myriad of voices telling them how their baby should be sleeping. There are the voices who say that babies should be sleeping through the night by six months and if they’re not, it’s time to sleep train, it’s time to let them fuss and cry so they can learn how to self-soothe and find dreamland on their own. And there are the equally loud voices insisting that babies aren’t meant to sleep through the night, not now, and there’s nothing to be done to help them sleep besides consistent routines and, in fact, allowing your baby to cry on her own in her room is harmful to baby and a mother’s bond.

When Isabel was a baby, these voices pulled at me. I got a little worked up over what I believed and what I believed for other parents. This time around, I haven’t heard those voices nearly as much; rather, I’ve been focusing on learning to listen to my own. I know how long I can stand to listen to my baby cry (not long) and I know when I’ve run out of energy to give her (my reserves run deep).

And herein lies my advice, the only advice I have to give you: trust yourself. You know yourself; you know your baby. If you need to set her in her crib, close the door, and let her cry for a while for your own mental health, do it. You will be a better mother for it. If you can’t stand to hear her cry, and the way she looks at you during a midnight wake-up breaks your heart and nursing or cuddling or giving her whatever she’s asking for is what you need for your own mental health, do it. You will be a better mother for it.

And one day, whether your baby cries to sleep, or drifts off using you as a pacifier, she will sleep through the night. It may be years away, but you will sleep again.

I promise.

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2 thoughts on “Dear Mom Whose Baby Won’t Sleep

  1. Ahhhhhh Jeanette! Eden does have healthy sleep habits they just aren’t what current society has lead us to believe is healthy.

    1. Thanks Meagan. I know this is true in theory, but it doesn’t always help in practice, you know? But it does encourage me for the long haul. I hope you and baby K are still struggling through with some sanity intact!

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