Surviving Baby Sleep Struggles

Surviving Baby Sleep Struggles

“Why is my baby awake every 30 minutes?”

“Reasons my 4 month old wakes up at 2 am”

“How to get my baby to sleep three hours for the love of all that is good and right”

“Best under eye concealer”

“Does Starbucks deliver?”

Does your search history look something like this? I’m pretty sure my 1 to 5 am google history repeated this cycle for at least a year. I’ve tried every trick in the book – and the internet – and bring to you today How to Survive Baby Sleep Struggles. Before we begin, note the goal: survive. I would love to write an article about how to thrive in the midst of sleep struggles, but I’ve found there’s nothing quite as defeating and soul-crushing in the moment as the sleep deprivation and desperation after days, weeks or even months of little to no sleep.

I’m not a baby expert or a sleep trainer. But I have been a single mom to three high / special needs infants (two newborns and a 3 month old) through foster care, so I have a lot of thoughts on the subject. This advice is less “here’s the magic formula to making your cranky non-sleeper sleep 12 hours straight” and more “here’s how to sort of function when everything seems impossible.”

1. Set Expectations.

I thought I’d experienced the gamut of girl comparison / subtle shaming / competition: I went to private prep school, joined a sorority, and participated in a southern junior league chapter. Turns out, those were rookie level compared to mompetition. I don’t think moms are trying to make others feel bad, but we all care so deeply about doing the right thing for our kids, we’re so maxed out, and we don’t understand why it seems so easy for others. Here’s where we need to set expectations around sleep: My baby is not your baby. Your first baby is not your second baby. Your sleep trainer’s baby is not your baby. Your mother in law’s baby (your husband) is not your mother in law’s grand baby (your baby). Your IG role model’s baby is for sure not your baby. Babies (and humans for that matter) are not robots. A certain input does not guarantee a certain output. Of course, input matters, but you can do all the “right” things and still have a baby that doesn’t sleep. Or you can do none of the “right” things and have a fantastic sleeper. I have parented babies who had all of the “very wrong” things in utero, and some are perfectly healthy and others are not.

In summary, expect nothing when it comes to sleep. It is not your fault that your baby doesn’t sleep. There will come a day when your baby will sleep longer than a Friends’ episode, but for now, lay down those expectations.

2. What to Try.

Ok, so there’s a lot of advice out there. Between the pediatrician, the masses on Facebook, your parents, in laws, distant cousins, neighbors, church ladies, and mommy and me frenemies, it’s hard to tell when to take it and when to say “thanks so much!” and walk away.

Here are some filters I use:

Did I ask for your advice? If you didn’t, unless it sounds brilliant and just the thing you needed to hear, bless and release and go about your day.
Does this conflict with medical advice from a professional who has actually seen my baby? Yes, we all know babies sleep better on their stomachs. They like it a lot. But it’s not safe sleep practice now even if it was when we were babes. If it goes against your pedi’s advice, I say ditch it. If you don’t trust your pedi, find a new one. Don’t pick and choose when to follow pedi’s advice and when to follow an insta mom with no medical training / who hasn’t seen your baby.
Does this go against my common sense / instinct? You know your baby. If your baby is communicating “I’m scared and need you to hold me,” maybe you should do that. If your baby communicates “I am bored and don’t want to sleep,” maybe you don’t pick her up. I think VERY often, we know what to do deep down but go looking for answers on Google or Facebook to validate the answers we already know. Trust yourself. This really, truly isn’t rocket science. I promise.
Does this person know me and my baby? I have a group of moms that I trust, who know me, my parenting style, my priorities, and what I’ve already tried. They aren’t going to tell me to try “sticking to a schedule” because they know that is water on the fire of my soul (enneagram 7 here). They are selective in their advice, careful with their timing, and only suggest things they’ve actually done with their babies. I trust them, and they can tell me when they think something could be better. Decide who is in your circle – it might be just one or two people – and say “thanks so much!” to everyone else, then delete the text.

3. Caring for You.

Ah, the heart of the problem. For me, my kid not sleeping was never really about my kid. The problem isn’t that the baby doesn’t sleep. The problem is that the baby doesn’t sleep, which means I don’t sleep, and someone has to adult around here. From birth to 1, I was a mom to a baby who woke up 4 times on a good night, every 30 minutes on a bad night. Here are my last ditch survival strategies for YOU, not baby. Baby will sleep when baby is good and well ready to sleep. Baby is fine. You are not.

Get help before you are desperate. The best thing I have ever done in parenting is hire a night babysitter. It’s expensive, no doubt (it’ll cost more than daytime babysitting, possibly double). Some are trained on newborn sleep, but I just used a college sitter who wanted to study and was willing to feed my baby all night. If you aren’t sleeping, figure out what you can cut from your budget for 2 months so you can get at least one night of sleep a week. I cannot tell you what 8 hours of sleep does for you if you have been getting 2-4 hours of broken sleep before that. It is worth every penny, and it won’t be forever. I’ve also had friends offer to stay a night with the baby while I sleep, and that is the best gift you can give a mom of a sleepless baby.
Do what makes you feel “normal.” Write down things that make you feel like you, and like the world isn’t collapsing. Yoga, showering, getting actually ready, going to get coffee from your favorite shop, talking to a specific friend, reading a whole book, eating a vegetable, etc. Narrow that list down to 3 things, and out of those pick 1 you commit to doing every day. Then talk with a friend or your partner about how you can make it work to get that ONE thing done, every day. Once that becomes routine, add another thing. I *know* it seems like it will feel better to sit in PJs and eat leftovers every day for months, but that feeds hopelessness and not joy and abundance for many of us.
Meditation and prayer. Whenever I am in the trenches – whether it’s with a tough spot at work, no sleep, or a bad relationship – it feels like this will always be my life. It’s not true, though. Write out affirmations of what you know in your bones to be true, even if you don’t believe them right now. It might be favorite scripture (“The joy of the Lord is my strength”) or reality checks (“I will sleep again. This is not how it will be for the rest of my life”) or gratitude (“Thank you God for this baby who makes me tired but fills me with so much joy!”). As I always say, we care about what we prayer about. (Ha!)

I hope this is helpful! Know above all else that mamas everywhere are cheering you on in this hard, wonderful season. It is not forever, but it is very much for now. Your feelings are real, and they are also temporary. With you all the way!

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