Sleep deprivation and all the helpful advice that goes with it
My friend is sleep deprived. I recently noticed a post on her wall about how she is overwhelmed with baby sleep advice. Helpfully, one of her acquaintances then commented with her own tips: about how she feeds her baby, changes it’s nappy and then gets a minimum of 6 hours sleep. The useful reply ended with how the baby is happy, healthy, with fantastic weight gain and how the mother is not exhausted. “Good, good”, was my friend’s written response. I know what the response in her head was. I imagine even the most frazzled of mothers would think to feed their baby and change the nappy. Wow, imagine if that was the simple key to getting 6 hours sleep. There would be no problem. The fact is, every baby is different and often the first few months are spent understanding who they are, before you can even begin to come up with a solution that works for you all to get those valuable, beautiful zzz’s. Even then, it might not work. I know this is not what some of you want to hear. But I hope it takes the pressure off, pressure built from other people’s apparent wisdom. Most people who write these sleep advice books and posts are basing their ‘miracle cure’ around their own baby: who could have a completely different genetic build up, in a different town, country, culture and a totally contrasting lifestyle to your own.
I remember that despair: my baby wouldn’t sleep or settle between feeds. I couldn’t satisfy her or get anything done; it was a frustrating and miserable time. “It will pass”, said one person. They were right: it did, after a few months. But this sympathetic comment didn’t help at the time: I didn’t want to be in this moment, it was a nightmare. Such a thought just made me wish away my present for the future.
Another tip: “why don’t you put the baby in a sling and get on with things round the house.” I tried this. Babies love slings don’t they? Not mine. She hated it. Now aged 2 she gets “too hot” at the slightest layer, even a thin fairy tutu, or her fluffy slippers on a cold morning.
I understand. I can’t wear a polo neck: not only is it a vulgar piece of clothing (in my opinion), it makes me feel claustrophobic. As a little one, I disliked being in elevators or falling asleep in the dark (ok, I still do). I am sure I would have hated slings: had they been fashionable in the ’80s and if my mum had put me in one, she would have quickly realised it was like strapping a feral animal to her chest.
Hippy mum vs Strict mum
Also there’s the two extremes: co-sleeping and controlled crying. Co-sleeping for us, was just co-crying and controlled crying was just…oh…crying. “I just used to put mine on one side of the house and leave him to cry”, confided one mother. Fine, a) if you can bear the noise and the emotion; and b) if you live in a mansion. However most new parents don’t live in very much space. Capacity in our bedroom right now is just a bit tight: with the new baby’s crib ready next to our bed, and then the toddler’s bed about 2 metres apart…won’t that be jolly good fun?! Like in the Waltons; I’m sure we will all be merrily calling “good night” to each other before drifting away in harmony until the morning.
There’s always retail therapy: and with so many promising gadgets on the market, it’s more than tempting for tired parents to invest in these wonder goods. In my desperation to increase sleep this time, I have purchased a Cocoona baby nest that is supposed to make baby feel secure in foetus position; and a Baby Shusher to reflect the sounds of the womb. Short of pushing her back up there every night, I don’t think there’s much more I can do to replicate my insides!
Change of scenery?
Such close proximity will be similar to our “family-(honey)moon”. After our wedding, my partner and I decided to take a road trip to France in a 1950’s camper van. With our 9 month old baby – haha. It created priceless memories and we are so glad we did it, but it was hilarious that we visioned tucking baby in every night whilst we sipped cool wine under the Provence sunset.
There was advice when the van keys were handed to us: “oh you’ll have a great time. When ours were tiny, they slept in the hammock, loved it in there.” Baby wouldn’t sleep in the hammock or in our bed. Even if we got into bed with her at 8 o clock (“night night darling, happy honeymoon…”) she was far too excited to go to sleep, slapping us round the face and opening the curtains by our head. The best way we found was – and here I contradict myself, because nine months later she was happy in it – putting her in a baby carrier and walking around the campsite for about four hours a night. This usually did the trick, until about 4am where the same would have to be repeated again.
And yes, we had changed her nappy and given her a feed, thanks very much.
Give away your child!
So when I text my friend that day, I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t say “it will pass”, because although true, it doesn’t help. I couldn’t say “try a sling”, because she has probably tried that and if it hasn’t worked, it’s more frustrating. Controlled crying, co-sleeping? She has read all those books. And I would certainly never tell her what I did and how successful it was (err, if I could only think of an example…). So, I eventually wrote “can you palm him off on someone else whilst you catch up with sleep?”, then to make it easier for her: “I will take him for the day.” I meant it and I hope she knows it. And possibly returns the favour to me in a few weeks time…
Sleep deprivation and baby sleep battles. There’s no quick fix solution. Reach out to your friends and family: they will help you stay strong. And they might even let you have some sleep.