stop offering false hope to parents of babies who don't sleep

Maybe we need to stop offering false hope to parents of babies who don’t sleep.

For the first 4 months of my daughter’s life if someone asked me ‘how is she in the nights?’, I would answer ‘brilliant…for now’.

See, at the beginning she would sleep for a good 5 hour stretch every night.  But I just knew it wouldn’t last.  I knew that something would come along and it would all go to pot.   And that something turned out to be the 4 month sleep regression.

It was crazy, in the space of about a week she went from sleeping these lovely long stretches at night to waking up every 2-3 hours (at best).  On our worst nights she woke up pretty much every hour.  And each time she woke, she fed.

This carried on until she was about a year old and I finally managed to cut out her night feeds.  She still rarely sleeps all through the night, but the days of 2-hourly wake ups are behind us.

Those 8 months were some of the longest, hardest months I’ve ever had.

There were days where I was so tired I felt dizzy.

I constantly craved caffeine and sugar.

A lot of exhausted tears were shed.

And one thing that really didn’t help?  False hope!

offer false hope parents babies don't sleep (1)

When you tell people that your baby is waking a lot in the night, they’ll more often than not offer you some advice.  And the internet is full of suggestions and miracle cures.

And you get your hopes up.  You start to believe that your baby will sleep better if you just do this one thing.

The thing is, some of the advice will work for some babies, but not for others.  Sometimes you can try everything under the sun and still get nowhere, because your baby just isn’t a ‘sleeper’.

And sometimes, the advice being handed out isn’t even right.

One big thing that we hear a lot is that your baby will start to sleep for longer stretches if you switch them to formula, or start feeding them solid foods.

And I remember reading this and being told this and really getting my hopes up that Nerys would sleep better once she got to 6 months and was starting to eat solids.

But, it made absolutely no difference to us.  I would give her a bowl of cereal before taking her up for her bath, in the hope that it would fill her tummy and get her to sleep for longer.  But it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference.

So I was really quite relieved to read this research from Dr. Amy Brown at Swansea University that found that switching to formula or giving solid foods had no effect on how many times babies wake in the night.

The study involved asking over 700 mothers with babies aged 6-12 months how often their baby woke up each night, and whether or not they fed them each time.

Dr Brown found that “there was no difference in the number of times babies woke up dependent on whether they were breast or formula fed, how many feeds they had in the day or how many solid meals they ate.”

So, basically, no matter what you feed your baby if they’re going to wake in the night, they’re going to wake in the night.

And I think there’s some comfort in that.

I mean, it’s not what you want to read at 3am when you’re desperate for an answer (and some sleep), but there is some comfort in knowing that it’s just the way it is.

You can easily drive yourself crazy by worrying about what you’ve done wrong to make your baby a ‘bad sleeper’ and putting together plans of attack to solve the problem based on bits of advice you’ve read.  But maybe it isn’t a problem that needs to be fixed.  Maybe it’s just the way it is.  Just the way your baby is.

I know that my approach in the end was to try my best to just accept the sleepless nights.  To steer into the skid.

It’s not a miracle cure or a perfect solution to your sleep problems, but here’s what helped get me through it:

  • Accepting the situation and keeping in mind that, one day, it would improve.

 

  • Coffee.  Lots of coffee.  And sweet things.  My body was craving sugar and energy, and while I’m sure there are healthier ways to get what I needed I was too tired to do more than grab a handful of skittles.

 

  • Having other people to talk to who were going through the same thing.  This is huge.  A good friend of mine was dealing with the same thing as me at the same time, and seeing her every morning on the school run and comparing stories from the previous night (and knowing I wasn’t in it alone) really helped get me through.

 

  • Taking naps.  Whenever and wherever I could, I would shut my eyes.  And at the weekend I would head back to bed for a good few hours and let my husband have quality time with the kids so I could catch up on some sleep.

 

  • Netflix.  When Nerys woke up for a feed in the night I would grab the ipad and prop it up in bed next to me and at least be entertained while she fed (and fed and fed).  I got through all of Prison Break, Orange is the new black and Charmed (along with few other shows) in those 8 months of endless night-feeds.

So those are my thoughts on the whole thing, and my advice for getting through it.

I’d love to know what other people think about this.  If you had/have a baby who wakes a lot in the night, have you found any advice useful, or did it just give you false hope?

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