October 26, 2009

Reader Question: Sleep Issues 2

C.A. writes:
Would you help a devoted reader and write about some baby stuff (which I know you love)?? I just had my first baby on August 21st. She was 5 weeks early so we spent 11 days in special care in the hospital, but now she is home, gaining weight fast, is strong, and doing well. I know everyone tells you having a newborn is hard and you don't sleep, but dude. Nothing prepared me. Can you talk about your tips for dealing with the constant feedings and the no sleep? She won't sleep in her cosleeper next to us, she wants to be held or near us, and we're terrified of killing her in bed in our sleep. She's not even a fussy baby and still we don't sleep. It's so bad I can't imagine doing this again, and we definitely want(ed) more kids.

How did you do it? How in GOD'S NAME did you do it with older kids to care for, too? Did you just never sleep? Did you sleep in shifts? And what about the breastfeeding? How did you work it all out, especially nights? And when oh when does it get better?

OMG, I SO sympathize. There is NOTHING like Newborn Night Craziness to send a person screaming into the sea. Or backyard, whatever. Here's a post I wrote about it when I was going through it with Henry: Newborn Sleep Survival Plan. And here's the post I wrote when someone else asked me about it: Sleep Issues. The second title looks more dull but is more worth reading because I didn't write it while suffering newborn sleep deprivation myself, and because it involves ninjas.

And here are some BASIC TIPS in quick-reading format, because my guess is that you have about 15 seconds before the baby needs you:

1. I promise it will get better. I PROMISE. (Note: I am not authorized to make this promise.) This is temporary and will pass like a storm, leaving you blinking in the sunlight and thinking "What the HOLY F just happened here??" Even if your baby is one of those kids who has never! ending! sleep! issues!, the postpartum time is the only time when your body is so beat-up and exhausted and when your mind is so circuit-blown by the new baby and its existence and its birth.

2. It works out okay with other kids, too. I don't remember HOW, but here I am, so it must have worked out. I think it's that by the time you have a second baby, the little squaller you're looking at now will be so familiar to you, and also she may be TALKING, and also I'll say again the part about her being FAMILIAR to you by then. Because I think that's what makes the difference: right now you're caring for a tiny stranger, but you'll only have one tiny stranger at a time.

3. For sleep, my philosophy is Do Whatever Is Necessary. In my own experience, I didn't find that any of the first-couple-months stuff created lasting issues. At the TIME I'd be thinking "Oh no, he can't sleep in his car seat---then he'll ALWAYS want to sleep in his car seat!" but that did not come to pass. Generally in the "nursing every 2 hours" stage I sleep in a recliner with the baby on me (I fall asleep nursing, so that's the pose) and a nightlight nearby so I can see well enough to nurse if the baby wakes. Or I put the baby in a bouncy seat or in a swing or in the carseat or ANYWHERE THE BABY WILL SLEEP. But of course this philosophy works only if there ARE places the baby will sleep, or if a "whatever is necessary" EXISTS to do. Otherwise---well, see #1.

4. One of my sleep mottos is "Every little bit helps." This helps me with the INTENSE FRUSTRATION of jussssst getting sleepy and then the baby wakes up. I think firmly to myself: "That five minutes was still worth it." Or if I'm thinking, "I shouldn't go back to bed---the baby will wake up in half an hour," I do it anyway: every little bit of sleep helps. I also doze while nursing.

5. It helped me a lot to play The Sims during my pregnancy, because then after the baby was born I was used to the idea that a character could live in a 24-hour world, not paying much attention to The Right Time To Do Things. So I'd sleep a couple of hours, then be up a couple of hours, then sleep an hour, then be up a bunch of hours, then eat at 11:00 at night. SURVIVAL. Survival is the only goal. Schedule comes later.

6. There is no One Right Way to handle the Newborn Night Craziness. Different things work for different people at different times. You can pick and choose from whatever sleep tips anyone gives you, but don't be discouraged if what they think is SO OBVIOUSLY THE ONLY RIGHT WAY doesn't work for you at all.

7. I PROMISE. (This is not a guarantee.)


Joceline said...

Great advice. Also, a couple of things to try for a baby who always wants to be on you:
1. The Miracle Blanket--This really helped my babies to stay asleep longer, especially in that newborn stage, when their arms and legs flail in their sleep and wake them up constantly!
2. A wrap--Something like a Moby Wrap keeps the baby close to your body, but is still comfortable for you and keeps your arms free. It takes a bit of a learning curve, but be patient with yourself. I used this a ton with my first, but I used it non-stop with my second. As my husband was leaving for work in the morning, I'd be strapping the baby on, so that I could play with my first, fix his meals, clean up, etc. She'd sleep a bunch, waking up to nurse, but she'd be much more content than if I were to put her down. If you're scared of sleeping with the baby, you might feel comfortable sleeping in a recliner, or reclined on the couch with the baby in the Wrap.
3. Will the baby sleep in a carseat? If so, the Graco SweetPeace may work for you. I thought it looked silly, but I have a friend who loved it, and I then wished I had it!
4. Nap whenever you can, put a sign on your door asking visitors to come back later if necessary, and make no apologies. You are in survival mode, so don't worry too much about cleaning the house when the baby is sleeping. Just take naps, if you are able to.

nnodnar said...

I can't advocate co-sleeping enough. Unless you are drunk or on meds you won't roll over on the baby.

d e v a n said...

Yes! Survival!!! YES!

g~ said...

I think that by the time the second comes, you are "used" to not sleeping through the night so it isn't as much of a shock to your system. And you're used to doing horrendous and not enjoyable things for the sake of your kids.
But then again, barring a medical miracle (as we have doubly taken care of this), there will be no more than two kids for us so I have admittedly limited experience.

Jenn Mc said...

We used the swaddling blanket to wrap him until he would ABSOLUTELY not fit in it anymore. The blanket should be enshrined in his room for the few precious moments of sleep we were able to score. Really . .. I'll probably buy multiples when we have our next child.

g~ said...

Correction: My previous comment now makes me want to punch myself. You don't necessarily get "used to" not sleeping, it just isn't as Startling and New and Insanely Tired is a feeling that you are now intimately familiar with so when you return there with the next baby (hopefully you'll return there and not have remained there) it isn't as unexpected.
Have I sufficiently muddled my explanation?

LoriD said...

One of the best pieces of advice I got was to make sure the baby is wide awake when you feed her - that way, she'll nurse longer and sleep longer the next time. Instead of just putting the baby on the breast when she first wakes, change her diaper by getting her totally undressed - let that cold air hit her skin. Turn on the light and talk to her. THEN feed her. She'll nurse until she's sleepy, then you can swaddle her, make her nice and comfy and put her back down. Good luck... it does get better!

Little-Bit said...

The best piece of advice was given to me by the nurse at my baby's 4-week checkup. I was in tears because of the no sleeping thing, and she said to me exactly what you said. DO WHATEVER IS NECESSARY. She said that she had to have her husband drive the baby around until he fell asleep and then just put the car seat by their bed so that they could get a full hour of sleep. It was so relieving to hear that a NURSE had to do the thing that MADE ME FEEL LIKE A TERRIBLE MOM. By baby #4 we were putting the car seat on the vibrating bouncy seat as our survival technique. And I felt 0% guilt about it.

Virginia Ruth said...

I also suggest doing some more research on co-sleeping. It's actually very safe, if done right-- bed set up properly, parents not on alcohol or medications. There are a lot of other advantages, too. It's not right for everybody, but definitely worth looking into, especially along the lines of "do whatever is necessary."

mamarose said...

It really, really does get better - hopefully has already started getting better? What (sorta) worked for us - swaddling, pacifier, singing, and swinging - and just sleeping WHEREever. And also, I think one of the hardest things about that newborn phase is that you've had this idea of what kind of mother you want to be to your child, namely, the PERFECT mother, and you've also been bombarded with information for nine months on what exactly makes the PERFECT mother, and are probably still being bombarded with those opinions, and one thing that you have to do to make it easier on yourself is just accept that you cannot be the perfect mother, you can only be HER mother, and really, that is all that little girl needs. P.S. It is not the end of the world if breastfeeding just doesn't work out.

jonniker said...

I had the worst sleeper ever. I had the baby who was up -- no lie -- every 45 minutes for MONTHS.

It will be okay. IT WILL BE OKAY. Sleep with your kid. Figure out a way to sleep while holding her -- you aren't creating bad habits, you are SURVIVING.

You will be okay. You will!

Kelly said...

excellent excellent advice Swistle!

CARRIE said...

I'm losing sleep now with my 3rd child. My first slept in her carseat, but she was a freaky baby who started sleeping 8-12 hours a night at 4 weeks old.

My middle one didn't sleep through the night more than 5 times until he was 14 months old. I spent a long time sleeping next to him, which I hate doing (given all the scary "you'll crush your baby" stories). But one HAS to sleep sometime.

Now baby 3 is doing the same as baby 2, requiring me to wrap a boppy around his body with my arm under him. I think I would wake up if I rolled over a baby and a boppy. I hope.

Mary said...

Somebody told me right before my first was born that it takes six weeks, and then all of a sudden one day you wake up and realize it's so much better. And you know, with all three of my kids, it happened that way almost to the day. So hang in there. You can survive six weeks, and then it will get better. I PROMISE!

I was also very nervous about the baby sleeping in bed with us thing. But by number three I was so desperate, I would put her on the bed between us, and sleep with my arm sticking out toward her, so I couldn't possibly roll on her. She was sleeping in her crib by two months, but I'm telling you, for those few weeks it made all the difference.

Bunnyslippers said...

Try lining her bed (wherever it may be) with a fleece blanket. Little Bunny wakes up even now (6.5 mo) if her bald little head touches a cold sheet.

You might want to have your husband take one feeding a night or morning so you can get a couple of consecutive hours of sleep. (Contrary to popular opinion you are not damning her forever if she gets one serving of formula a day.) It is good for both of them to bond, too.

The hospital was probably pretty noisy-- she might sleep better beside a running dishwasher or with the tv on.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Totally unrelated, but saw this on Etsy and thought SWISTLE!


Anonymous said...

Having survived this phase twice I feel like I can add a few thoughts. The best advice given to me was to not keep track of how much sleep I got. Don't add it up, don't look at the clock, just forget it. It won't be enough anyway, but knowing the exact number makes it worse.

I also figured out with the second baby that I didn't need to be awake because he was (in the middle of the night). I'd nurse him, change him (if needed, can be skipped), burp him, usually swaddle him, and put him next to me before I dozed off. If he didn't go to sleep he'd let me know. I think this actually helped him learn how to go to sleep on his own. I don't know if this would have worked with my first baby, but it's worth a try.

Also remember that sleep deprivation is an actual torture tactic. Really. Once I remembered that I didn't feel so bad that I had minimal brain function for weeks (months). I also had to accept help from my husband at night. When the baby woke up he would get her, change her, and bring her to me. He did the part that was the hardest for me, which was mentally waking up and then getting out of bed. Hearing him do it gave me a few minutes to wake up and adjust. Thankfully this worked for him and me, because it helped me to survive.

Hope this helps someone. :-)

Marie Green said...

Yes, everything Swistle said. Most important: this will pass and this is SURVIVAL MODE ONLY.

It helped us to think of sleep as "where ever everyone SLEEPS is where we all sleep." This often meant guest beds, couches, etc were used for short periods of time for the adults, and cribs, carseats, and humans-as-beds were used for babies.

Also, for that babe that only wants YOU, Dr. Sears has great "safe cosleeping" guidelines on his website askdrsears.com. If you end up with baby in your bed more than not GET A BED RAIL. Trust me, please. Your bed will feel 2-3 FEET bigger. ;)

Good luck!

Marie Green said...

Ooo, I should have mentioned that I also think Dr Harvey Karp is GENIUS in his approach to newborns. Even if you don't have a "fussy" baby, his techniques are quite useful. I think the DVD is better than the book because you can see him in action with real live babies! It's called Happiest Baby on the Block.

SIL Anna said...

1. The Miracle Blanket Joceline mentioned worked really well for us, too. The blanket swaddles were just a little looser, but the tighter M Blanket swaddle kept her sleeping for longer.

2. I know lots of people love co-sleeping, but after 8 months I STILL occasionally wake up in a full-blown PANIC, searching for the baby who is surely suffocating in our bed. The baby who never spent one night in the bed. I could never do it, I'm just too anxious. We got a rolling bassinet and put it in the hall just outside our bedroom door. It was GREAT because then I didn't wake up every time she made the slightest sigh, but I could still absolutely hear her every little cry.

3. The first week, our baby cried nonstop. Turned out she just needed a little more food. We supplemented with formula, and that helped a lot. Good luck! It does get better!

Swistle said...

Anonymous 10:59: LOVE IT. That is SO SWEET.

Anonymous said...

I remember actually crying one night from sheer exhaustion. I was nursing the baby with tears running down my face, it felt like I hadn't slept for YEARS. If you can make co-sleeping work for you, do it. It was the only thing that saved my sanity, because as someone else said, even if baby isn't actually asleep, you can doze beside them. Plus you don't have to physically sit up to nurse. And it does get better, somewhere between 6 - 8 weeks. You know your baby better, and your body finally starts cooperating, at least a little. So hang in there.

el-e-e said...

Yep. I camped out on our couch for the first three months, day and night. Baby slept better on my shoulder, and I slept if she slept. I pushed the ottoman up to the side for a little more space and safety, and always held her toward the inside. (Hint, this was also like letting her sleep on her stomach! Gasp! Guess what - it worked.) No reason to fight it.

Whatever Works Theory: Swistle is wise.

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice, Swistle! There should be no feelings of guilt for doing what works! After 3 kids, I've realized that for me to get sleep during those first months, I need to have the baby OUT OF MY ROOM as soon as possible. Otherwise my dang Mom Ears wake me up with every sigh, hiccup or rustle. With the baby in his own bed, down the hall, I wake up easily when he's fussing and ready to eat, but not everytime he moves a muscle.

Anonymous said...

Swistle, I remember emailing you in a frenzy because I was at my wit's end. I WAS DONE. And your words totally helped me. It doesn't last forever. It's a stage. It could me a short stage or a long one, but it's still a STAGE. And that calmed me down.

samanthajocampen at gmail dot com

I have nothing to add other than what you said is right, and because of that you prevented me from running away from home. Which would have been sad because my kid is super cute.

Anonymous said...

Um, don't know why my email is jacked in the middle of my above comment. I'm sorry it looks all "HEY LOOK AT MEEEEE!"


(I couldn't do 'Google Profile' so I had to go anon.)

Anonymous said...

Okay, I JUST went to a Sleep Talk last night-speaker was Jodi Mindell from CHOP who has authored a book, etc. Part of it is that baby has not developed their melatonin yet, to help them master the sleep thing-apparently it comes in around age 5 weeks, but if your baby was early, add on that amount til it comes in as it's approx 48 weeks post conception. Anyway, it will help. She cautioned about sleeping on a couch w/ baby, as research shows greater risk of smothering than beds. She did say at under age 2 months, to pick baby up any time they're crying, but early on, to try and let babies fall asleep on their own (ie: last feed, change diaper, then put down to sleep (rather than nurse down, or you'll have to do it EVERY time baby wakes)...

In real life, we were bouncy seat users and when I got really sleep deprived, I'd arrange w/ my husband for just one good 4-5 hour stretch, and feel like a new woman. Our youngest (22 mo) needs company to lay down w/ him to sleep, then gets up around 4 hours later and joins us in bed. Good luck...

Joanne said...

When I had my second, Swistle saved my damned LIFE by writing about sleeping in the recliner. It was not the most comfortable I've ever been, but it saved me. I bought a my Brest Friend (ugh) nursing pillow that clipped to me and I spent about six or seven weeks in that chair. I slept like six or seven hours a night, which is six or seven times as much as I slept with my first. With my third, mere SECONDS (it seemed) after I had my second, I just continued in the chair and it was great.

I think up through 12 weeks it is a CRAPSHOOT and you just do whatever you can. It will get better and it will get easier. If you a person who likes to know the ins and outs of sleep, after 12 weeks, get Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. It's a little dry but it helped me to make sense of what was happening.

What else. I never change the baby's diaper in the night unless something horrible has happened. I cloth diaper but I use a disposable at night so I can just leave it alone. Hang in there and for pete's sake, do NOT think about other children you might have. Just take one night, and sometimes one hour at a time. You can do it - and if you can't - take a night off and get your husband to take a feeding so you can get six hours. It will really revive you to have one good night.

Just Jiff said...

OMG. I thought *I* had written that 19 months ago. :) Seriously, I was in the same boat. Early baby means preemie until due date ... AND THEN you have a newborn. It DOES get better, but my biggest piece of advice is to have a friend, neighbor, or family member come to "babysit" for however long they'll do it (I usually asked for a couple of hours) and then you are to go take a shower and GO TO BED. SLEEP. And sleep EVERY SINGLE CHANCE you can! Your house will be dirty, your laundry and dishes will pile up, etc. but it's OKAY! NO ONE is judging you for it. They know you have a newborn and sleep is your priority (behind baby, of course).

I was afraid of the co-sleeping, too, but we did it often. I actually slept with Bayley on my chest and I thought I didn't sleep...but would wake up as soon as she shifted.

God Bless new mommies! If any of you live in Arkansas, let me know and I'll come babysit so you can sleep. :)

anymommy said...

Perfect advice. It's awful, but it ends. The best piece of advice I got when I was a newbie was NEVER to wake a sleeping baby. If it's sleeping, it doesn't need to eat and it doesn't need to be changed and it doesn't need anything. I suppose a baby with weight issues might be different...but this helped me so much to just relax and wake up when the baby did.

Dr. Maureen said...

Have not read the other comments, so forgive me if I repeat.

As a new mom of two, I'd like to say that it is way easier with the second kid because the crippling anxiety is gone, at least with me. Now, neither of my kids had/has colic or anything horrifying like that, and they are both reasonably good sleepers. But with my oldest, I used to get very very tense every evening around five o'clock or so as I started to stress about what kind of night it would be. Would he sleep? Would I? How much? Gah! But now, I don't worry about it. Maybe she'll sleep, maybe not, but what's going to happen is what will happen, and there's nothing I can do about it, so I may as well enjoy my dinner. You know? Plus, I've already lived through it once, so it's easier to fathom that this does not last forever. So I think some things do get easier with the second.