Friday, 30 January 2015

Mommy Mental Health: Coping with a Bad Sleeper

New Year's Resolution: Get more sleep.

They say the sign of good parenting is a happy baby. If that were the case, I would be a rock star in the field. My son is a good eater, a decent sleeper, and quite the little performer. He loves to be the center of attention. Through family, baby groups, and mall walks though, I know that good parenting comes in many forms. One friend of mine does what amounts to a full aerobic routine to rock her daughter to sleep.  Another dealt with sleepless nights due to her son's colic for the first six months. A third knows every kids' song in the book, and has no shame in belting it out to calm her fussy tot. Alas, what I really am is lucky.

I've had my fair share of sleepless nights, been pinned to the couch because I was afraid my napper would wake, played the same song over and over so my son would relax in the car.  I know it's not easy. So what do you do if you're at your wit's end?


Start by knowing a little more about baby's sleep and disturbances. In the first three months, the best approach is the one-two punch of diaper and feeding. 99% of the time that's the cause. You might want to use a piece of paper, whiteboard, or phone app to track the last change and feed to better see trends and predict behaviours. It's not fool proof, but it's about as good as it gets with a newborn. For 3 months and older, you might want to try to implement some semblance of routine and try to gets some blocks of actual shut eye. A good way to show your child that it's time to sleep is simply finding a set of pre-bed activities to indicate night time for your baby. This might include a combination of things like a nice long cuddle and feed, a story, a bath, or other predictable elements which work to sooth your little one.

Realistic expectations

For those tiny infants, a "full night's sleep" is 5 hours. Yup, just five. So you maybe go through multiple cycles with long periods of wakefulness over night. It's one of the reason those early days are just so hard on mom. You just never feel caught up. Older babies generally sleep 9-12 hours, but not always all at once. The goal, of course, is to have them sleeping through the night (for their own health and yours), but not all babies work like that. Like grown ups, some kids are night owls, others are early risers, and you might not be the same. You can juggle their sleep in some ways, with patience and time, but in other respects, their body will do what it's going to do. You might consider sleep training, if you're of that camp, or simply understanding and mediating the reasons that cause your particular child to wake. For my son, it's hunger and wetness. Even with extra-dry, 12 hour, super diapers, my boy always needs at least one change throughout the night. On cue, when he wakes because he's wet, he also thinks to himself "I could use a snack." Personally, I don't mind terribly his once or twice a night rousal over a ten hour period. If it's more than that, I know that one of 2 things is usually true:
  1. He didn't eat enough for dinner. If we have been trying new foods or fed him too far out of his normal dinner time, it has a tendency to impact the night.
  2. He's teething. This is a major issue for him, but only sporadically. It is usually fixed by Orajel, Tylenol, or one of our other suggestions here.
Dealing with the inevitable

As you train, or during those few nights that happen once and a while where your child is up constantly, you need to comfort and cope. First and foremost, check yourself. Pause for a moment and breathe, trade places with your spouse, heck - go to the bathroom. The calmer you are, the easier the battle is fought. A mentor of mine and public health nurse put it this way; if you're concerned, on top of their own trouble, they will start to think "now what's her problem? Am I not safe?" It adds a layer of panic on to what was just a simply physiological response before.

Each time you enter the room, do a simple head to toe check to observe anything obvious; any fever, vomit, diaper leakage, etc that would be the immediate cause of concern. If nothing presents itself as uncomfortable, try a simple comfort before waking the baby completely. This might mean a low shhh, a light rub, a pacifier, or whatever soother best fits your child. The idea is to minimize noise and contact in case the baby is awake due to something small such as a dream or gas bubble that is quickly remedied. If the crying doesn't stop, or worsens (or of course if the child is under 3 months), diapering, feeding, or a more attentive cuddle will have to do. No one said parenthood would be easy.

The morning after

No matter how rough the previous night was, my son is happy, smiling, and ready to take on the day. Me? Not so much. If you are feeling tired and overwhelmed, pare down your day as much as you can. You might not be able to avoid doctor's visits and the like, but the laundry can wait and the little one will just have to miss playgroup. 

As you lay on the couch, thanking the gods for swings (or playpens, or exersaucers), reflect on how you did. This means both thinking about why baby might have been up, and ways to avoid it again, but it also means giving yourself a little pat on the back for surviving the trenches. You didn't want to sing your entire repertoire of kiddie songs, you didn't want to walk laps of your house in the middle of the night, you didn't want to see every 47 minutes on your alarm clock, but you did it for your baby. You're a great mom.

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