Who Needs Sleep?

Who Needs Sleep

In my family of origin, I’m kiddo number four – with two older brothers, one older sister, and two younger sisters. My younger sister and I are only eighteen months apart. So, that means Mom got pregnant with her when I was only nine months old! This fact blows me away if I think about it too much.

My own kids are 2.5 years, 3.3 years, and 3.9 years apart – all by design. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be a mother of a newborn, and to also have a nine month old at the same time… But what I can tell you, is that this fact probably contributed quite a bit to me being fiercely independent from a very early age.

Don’t get me wrong – I have no issues with this. No angst or regrets about my birth order, at all. In fact, I’ve always maintained that as the fourth kiddo, I had the best placement in birth order: I wasn’t the oldest, I wasn’t the oldest girl, and I wasn’t the baby – perfect.

But despite having an independent streak that may or may not have begun with my sister’s birth, there was an interesting thing I did throughout my childhood which might question my reputation as someone who didn’t really need others that much. 

Most nights, after heading to bed on my own without issue, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and climb into my parent’s bed. At least three mornings a week, my parents would wake to find me nestled asleep in between them. And I did this until I was about 10 years old! I needed them – but on my own terms. And being able to snuggle up with them, even as they slept, made me feel safe, secure and able to explore my world with fierce abandon.

I’m interested in writing about this topic for a couple of reasons… To explore how children intuitively know what they need and how creative they can be in finding ways to meet those needs. And to reassure any parents out there struggling with kids and sleep (or, lack thereof) that eventually the vast majority of them figure out the whole sleeping through the night thing, and those precious hours of sleep you’ve lost will be yours again. I promise.

I’ve just finished a couple of classes where we discuss postpartum issues and then brainstorm solutions. Sleep is always a hot topic for these soon-to-be parents as they’ve heard how challenging this particular issue is and just how little sleep they’ll be getting once the baby arrives.

But I’m always amazed at how panicked they are at the prospect of having a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night from Day One. They seem terrified that this will translate to having a clingy, dependent child who will never sleep through the night – let alone graduate, leave the house, or get a job.

Now, I do tell all of my families that getting more sleep has to be priority number one – because everything else in the postpartum period will be much harder than it has to be if they’re seriously sleep deprived. (Need I remind you, sleep deprivation is an actual method of torture during times of war?) And while some temporary changes in sleep patterns are to be expected in the short-term, coming up with creative ways to get the necessary sleep that allows you to be a functioning human being is extremely important.

But some of their anticipatory frustration can be curbed with a simple suggestion. I encourage my families to take note of the size of their newborn’s closed fist – because it’s about the same size as their belly. This sometimes helps parents realize why their baby is waking through the night. They need to eat. And they need to eat often, as their belly fills and empties pretty quickly when it’s so tiny!

Thriving babies are those who wake throughout the night to get the nutrition they need to grow. As they grow bigger, their bellies grow and these babies will be able to sleep for longer and longer periods of time. But sleeping for an eight hour stretch might not happen consistently until the baby is at least six months old. (Some will be able to do this earlier, some won’t be able to do this until much later.)

This is NOT what expectant parents want to hear. And sometimes it’s not fun to be “the realistic expectations police.”

But I’d rather they enter into this new parenting gig with an understanding: the days of sleeping eight hours straight are over! At least temporarily. But eventually, your baby will figure it out. And that same baby, toddler, or child who insisted upon climbing into your bed in the middle of the night three times a week, might be the same adult who ends up living a very independent life thousands of miles away someday!

And this might explain why I’m so mellow about my little guy’s tendency to still climb into bed with us at the ripe, old age of eight. I’d say his record is pretty close to my own. Most mornings we wake up and… there he is! This morning was no exception. In fact, I took a look at the clock and saw that he was actually earlier than usual. He usually climbs in with us about 5 or 6 am. But this morning, it was just before 4 am, and I couldn’t get back to sleep.

So I had time to consider the issue of sleep and children… With each of our babies we did a little something different when it came to bedtime routines. We tailored the routine to each one of them because they’re unique individuals and seemed to need different things from us when it came time to go to sleep.

Let me be clear, I’m no sleep expert! And most of what we eventually adopted as our own routines would never be touted as great ideas in the books that seem to fly off the shelves when it comes to this issue. But what we did worked for us, for our family, and I can now claim to have three children ages 12, 15 and almost 18 who are really great sleepers (and they have been for years and years!)

But this last one? He’s our “fourth and final” we like to say. His birth order matches mine. And maybe, just maybe, that means he’ll continue his nightly visits several times a week – for the next couple of years.

(This last sentence just shot dread and fear into the hearts of all new parents who are still in the middle of having to wake and feed and diaper a newborn every couple of hours. So sorry, that was not my intention. But honestly, if this ends up being the case for us, I’m okay with it.)

This morning, when I couldn’t get back to sleep, instead of being frustrated and angry with my boy, I found myself looking at him in the early morning light… His eyes were doing that flickering thing that happens when you’re dreaming. I could smell the garlic on his breath from the pizza he’d had for dinner the night before and wondered how well he’d brushed his teeth before bed. I curled his little hand inside my own and kissed his sweet cheek – knowing all too well that his need to be this close to me could end at any moment.

The result? I’ll have yet another great sleeper, another wonderfully independent person exploring his own world with fierce abandon (and one who will go on to graduate, leave the house and get a job someday, I promise!)  

And, believe it or not – this will be so bittersweet.

How is the sleep/no sleep situation working for you? Is it straight up frustration or is it mixed with a little bit of wistfulness? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And if you need a little musical interlude to capture these nights of little to no sleep? Check out this song

Shhh… Baby’s Sleeping

Whisper

Those signs you receive at baby showers that are supposed to go on your front door asking people to knock softly and avoid ringing the doorbell so your baby will stay asleep are really interesting to me. Not that I don’t understand how badly it sucks when you finally get a baby to sleep to have them wake up sooner than you’d like. No, I get that. But those signs worry me that new parents might think the only way to keep their baby asleep is to tiptoe around the house in their socks and speak in a nearly inaudible whisper. That really limits what you can do as a new parent. It’s super impractical, in my opinion.

I remember images of our baby asleep in her bouncy seat. One particular time comes to mind: our friends came over with their toddler, and we ate brunch and talked in normal voices, and then the toddler had a tantrum about having a poop diaper, and then our dog went crazy and started barking – and our baby slept right through all of it. She didn’t even stir. But later, after everyone had gone home, and our dog was taking a nap, and my husband and I were reading quietly, a pen dropped off of the edge of the countertop – and our baby startled awake and began crying!

What? That doesn’t make any sense. Unless you take into account that newborns sleep patterns are different than ours and won’t look familiar until they’ve made it through that 4th trimester, about 12 weeks. For myself and my baby, I found that wearing her during the daytime hours for the first three months (and yes, it was almost constant!) allowed me to maintain normal activity during the day – with normal volume.

I listened to talk radio the whole day through. It was my constant companion aside from my first-born. I never thought to lower the volume of the radio just because she was sleeping, I wouldn’t be able to hear it! So our days were spent listening to the soundtrack of a rowdy dog plus NPR personalities keeping us up-to-date on the greater world around us. And she would wake and sleep at intervals that were pretty normal for a newborn – every couple of hours, as she needed to eat. Once we’d finished a breastfeeding session, we’d have a little face-to-face time, do a diaper-change, and she’d get another little snooze in before the whole cycle began again.

Babies can be very different one, from the next, and if you find that you have a baby that really requires a quiet house in order to sleep at all, then maybe these signs are for you. And I sincerely hope that they work and that you get some sleep while you’re baby is sleeping too.

But if you’re finding yourself feeling locked in your house because it’s nap-time, and you can’t have anyone over or listen to music or a podcast while you’re baby’s sleeping for fear of waking them up, then maybe see what happens if you strap them on and go about your day with normal volume.

You need to find the right balance for both of you. It’s important to take your baby’s needs into account, but I’d argue it’s just as important to take your own needs into account. You’ll be a much happier parent if you feel like you can maintain some form of normalcy in that newborn period.

For me, walking on tiptoe and speaking in whispers wasn’t going to cut it. Thankfully, my baby seemed just fine with daytime noises – she’d just tune them out when she really wanted to sleep hard, but if she was in a lighter state of sleep she’d more or less doze until she was ready for her next meal.

She always woke up to eat – no matter the volume of what was going on around her.

Did you have a sign that you put on your front door asking people not to knock or ring the doorbell? Did it make a difference in terms of how long you baby would sleep at a stretch?

Crash Out, Please!

Crash

I just spent the last several hours talking to four different groups of expectant parents about how important it was after the birth of their baby that they crash out when their baby does following birth. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s really, really vital to getting your new parenting off to the best start possible.

There’s an energy surge that occurs right after a baby is born that kind of buoys new parents up. But it’s really only happening so you can all gaze in wide-eyed wonder at each other for awhile. Then after that first feeding and any newborn procedures that they might receive, your baby (who is completely brilliant, I might add) will fall into a very solid sleep following their incredible journey into this world. I suggest you try and do the same.

Why?

Because your baby has been inside of you for months and while you are up and about, it’s like they’ve been hanging out in a little hammock all day long. They’re in a perpetual state of drowsiness until you stop – or lie down to go to sleep. You already know what I’m talking about. When you’re busy throughout the day you might not notice too much movement from your baby, but when you’ve settled down for a good night’s sleep? That’s when they start dancing, or playing soccer, or whatever it is they’re doing inside of you that keeps you awake for hours on end.

This doesn’t change just because they’ve been born – your baby’s idea of day and night will be mixed up for awhile, and you’ll do so much better if you try and match them and sleep more during the day. Because you know you’ll be sleeping less during the night. And no amount of whining, or wishing it to be different will change this fact. It’s just how things are with your baby at the beginning. But especially in the first 48 hours.

I’m not sure if this is true just because it’s all so new, or because you’re away from home, or if it’s because your baby is experiencing hunger for the first time and needs your body to start producing the good stuff, but it’s hard. So I implore you to follow your baby’s lead and crash out when they do.

Try very hard to resist the temptation to stay awake watching them dream, counting each individual eyelash, marveling at their impossibly small – but fully formed – nails. And, please, please, please – don’t invite your family and friends to come and visit for those first few days. (Weeks, perhaps?) Everyone “forgets” that babies sleep during the day and are awake at night. They will be all too ready to hold your darling angel fast asleep in their arms during the day, but watch how quickly they will turn over your crying baby as evening comes on and they begin to awaken. The learning curve for new parenting is incredibly steep, but it can be unnecessarily steep when you’re trying to learn without any sleep.

I know I’m not the first person to say it, and I’m sure I won’t be the last but: When your baby crashes out so should you!

Did you sleep at all in those first couple of days? Do you remember what it felt like if you tried to sleep more during the day initially? Was this helpful for you?

A Body at Rest…

Rest

This work of ushering new, little people into the human race is hard, stinky, messy work a lot of the time. And all of it is made so much harder by the fact that these new, little people have no clue how to sleep during the hours that old, big people are used to keeping.

It’s kind of a cruel joke, really. You’re thrown into the hardest job you’ll ever have, with on-the-job training only, no paid salary, work hours that are 24/7 (for at least the next 18 years), and for the initial probationary period, you’ll have to perform all of the tasks of new parenting on very little sleep. I think this might actually be the entry in the dictionary next to the phrase: recipe for disaster.

But in this post, I’m not going to stress the need for more sleep. I’ve already talked about that here.  I’d rather stress the need for you to just try and rest. Why? Because I’m a white-noise addicted, non-napping, light sleeper – so hearing the phrase, “sleep when your baby sleeps” caused me a ton of anxiety during the postpartum period. I knew that I was supposed to make sleep a priority, I just didn’t know how that would work for someone like me. Maybe you and I are the same, and all of this talk about sleep-deprivation is starting to scare you. My hope is that by taking this discussion down a notch and encouraging you only to consider resting, not sleeping, that your anxiety will lessen a bit.

So what does rest look like?

Sitting down several times a day to practice deep, slow breathing in and out through your nose to a slow count of “In 1,2,3,4 and Out 1,2,3,4.” Rest could be feet propped up, a magazine in your lap with a glass of water and some yummy food nearby. Rest means enjoying the drowsy feeling you get during a breastfeeding session with your baby right after the milk has letdown and your brain and body get flooded with oxytocin. Rest is handing your baby off to someone you trust so you can take a shower that’s a little bit longer than usual. Rest can happen with the baby snuggled into her bassinet, or in a carrier snuggled against your chest.

I’m not a scholar of physics by any stretch, but I think Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion has application here. It states: “a body at rest will stay at rest until an external force acts upon it and a body in motion will remain in motion at a constant velocity until acted on by an external force.”

What external force can you apply to your body (and mind) when it gets stuck in constant motion? A conscious decision to slow down, take a break and rest. You’ll need to learn how to take rests in short little bursts and enjoy them whenever and wherever you can because the list of external forces that will interrupt your resting body (and mind) is very, very long for new parents.

It might be hard to come up with extra hours of needed sleep following your baby’s birth. To be honest, it might not be until the end of that 4th Trimester before your baby is sleeping for stretches – longer than a handful at a time – during the hours that you also like to sleep. But if you allow yourself to rest for 15 minutes at a time throughout the day, these can really start to add up and help restore you.

Have you given much thought to how you can get more rest in those first few weeks and months? Do you feel less pressure if you think about getting more rest, as opposed to more sleep? What other ideas do you have for getting more rest?