Up until recently Mr B and I have been one of those smug parent couples; you know the ones who will tell anyone who will listen about the fact that their baby sleeps through the night and has done since the age of 6 weeks. Well guys, you’ll be glad to know that karma has finally caught up with us, and oh don’t we know about it!
The last few weeks have felt a lot like the first month of Dexter’s life; pretty exhausting, with what feels like no sleep-filled end in sight. It’s quite fitting that we have recently had Halloween as Mr B and I are definitely channelling the zombie vibe right now, with even the most mundane of tasks proving all too much. Take putting on clothes for example: I have managed to put on and subsequently wear a jumper both back to front AND inside out on two separate occasions within 24 hours. Great going, I think.
Just before he hit 4 months Dexter suddenly stopped sleeping from 7pm to 6am, and instead began fighting sleep at bedtime and then waking up every couple of hours until it was morning again with shit loads of crying in between (just to make it all that much more enjoyable). As you can imagine, this scenario is not entirely ideal and one can understand why people warn you to ‘sleep whilst you can’ when you’re pregnant – not that this kind of advice is in any way useful whatsoever, thank you very much.
We have tried everything: rocking, singing, shushing, feeding, and even bringing him in to our bed to sleep on me which was a regular occurrence in the first month, but now all our old tricks are just that; old news, redundant. One night when Dexter began crying for what seemed like the hundredth time in just a few hours, I broke down too wondering if he was OK and how we were ever going to come out the other side. Has our best parenting achievement to date come unstuck?
Being a first-time parent involves lots of guess-work and theory sharing and you can drive yourself stir crazy trying to work out what your baby is thinking or what is causing their latest change in behaviour. What I didn’t realise is that it is perfectly normal for a baby who has been ‘sleeping for England’ to suddenly go through a bad patch, and that (I hate to break it to you) if your baby currently sleeps through it is very unlikely that this will continue forever and ever amen. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones, in which case I don’t want to know.
Usually there is a reason behind the change in pattern, it’s just not always obvious as to what that reason is. Cue theories flying everywhere! “Could it be the fact that he has recently had a cold, or that we have just been away to Northern Ireland so his routine is messed up? He has also had his immunisations so it could be that? Maybe his cradle cap and baby eczema are annoying him?” Mr B and I trawled the net to see if we could prove any of our theories with hard fact and it did seem that basically everything that Dex had done/been through recently could all have been contributing factors. The main possibilities we were finding were:
- Routine disruption e.g. a holiday
- Change in environment e.g. temperature, light/noise levels
- Not getting enough sleep – sufficient daytime naps actually help your baby sleep better at night and prevent them getting over-tired FYI
- Developmental milestone – they may be coming up to mastering a new motor skill
- Separation anxiety
The other thing that stood out to myself and the hubby which we had never heard of before but seemed to describe exactly what the three of us were going through was the ‘4 month sleep regression’.
This is what is supposedly a permanent (excellent) change in your baby’s sleeping habits which you can only really adapt to rather than conquer completely. Up until now your baby has had a baby-like sleeping pattern with no distinct sleep stages as such, but instead a continuous deep sleep. As adults we cycle between deep and light sleep, and at around 4 months your baby’s brain matures and their sleeping pattern becomes more like ours. This is good news (yes, really), as apparently it is just as much of a developmental milestone as your baby learning to walk and talk.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s also a complete nightmare and I have almost lost my shit on many occasions in the last 5 weeks. Not with Dex obviously, but I have felt on the brink of a bit of a breakdown a few times and have relied on my amazing Mum and husband to take over during those serious SOS moments. You pretty much expect the sleepless nights and continuous crying when you have a newborn, but 4 months down the line when you think you’ll be well in to a routine it’s a lot harder to contend with. The night-time awakenings and shorter daytime naps are due to them now moving in to lighter sleep cycles, so there’s a good chance they will wake up (OK, they will definitely wake up), and will more than likely need your help to get them back to sleep.
So what to do when your wonderful, gorgeous, perfect little angel refuses to sleep, rest, lay down, sit up, play, not play? I’m afraid I don’t exactly have the answer to that (sorry to disappoint if that’s what you’ve been reading for), however we have tried a hell of a lot of different things in the hope that we would crack ‘it’:
- Moving Dex from his moses basket in to his big boy cot (but still in our room) – this was a great move purely for the fact that he had completely outgrown his basket and loves the freedom of the cotbed now
- A late night ‘dream feed’ at my bed time – this worked the first night so we thought we were on to a winner; turns out it was just a coincidence
- A bedtime formula feed rather than breast – we thought this may fill Dex up a bit more; again a coincidental victory and then things were back to
- Trying Dex on solids (sweet potato and baby rice – not together) – everyone was telling me Dex was clearly hungry and ready for solids but he pulled faces, choked and pushed the food back out so we decided that wasn’t the case
- Controlled crying (heartbreaking)…ABORT…
- Tending to his every need straight away (diva baby)…ABORT…
- Controlled crying
- Working on his daytime nap routine by trying to get it more consistent – he’s laughing at us I swear
- Keeping his step-by-step bedtime routine as consistent as possible
- Sleeping in his own room – tonight is ‘the night’, and I’m devastated and relieved all at the same time. Lying in bed now without my little man in touching and smelling distance is definitely way harder for me than it is him (who ironically has been as quiet as a mouse thus far)
I hate to say it, but the controlled crying seems to be working from what we can gather. I hated it so much after a couple of nights that I told Mr B we couldn’t continue, only for us to revert back to it a couple of nights later and back at square one. We have never left him crying for longer than 10 minutes as for me it’s just not something I’m comfortable with, and those were the hardest 10 minutes of my life. Some people swear by this technique and others wouldn’t dream of even trying it. Go with whatever feels right for you. Dexter has gradually improved over the last week or so and has tonight gone down in his own room with no real dramas.
He has also recently fully mastered the art of rolling over and can almost make his way around the entire living room via this method which is exciting and bloody scary too! I can’t help but think that his building up to this milestone may have contributed to his sleepless nights as the articles suggest – one night at about 3am we even caught him practising his rolls in the cot when he didn’t know we were looking!
We’re getting there, slowly. Some nights are great and we think we’re making progress, and others revert back to complete disaster and I have a meltdown all over again. I really want to appear to have this parenting thing down and be the envy of all parents ever, but instead I’m constantly asking myself why I’m such a bad parent and why we can’t help him sleep like he used to. If any of this sounds familiar, remember you’re not the only ones; Google told me so.
P.S. How can you be cross at that face?