Help! My baby is broken!

How to survive a sleep regression – when your baby just. won’t. sleep!

exhausted mama and baby sleeping, sleep regression
The nights are long, but the years are short

Parenthood and sleepless nights go hand in hand – everyone knows that. You sort of sign up for less sleep, regular wakings and early mornings, right?

The early months of our small person’s life are a bit of a blur to me now – I vaguely remember the first night we brought him home, and falling asleep for what I thought was hours, but turned out to be about 47 seconds, and wondering if we should perhaps call the emergency services because we had no idea what we were doing. Luckily we did not call an ambulance, and slowly, over the weeks, we began to get into a bit of a rhythm. 

baby sleeping
Sweet sleep

 

Every evening, we’d eat dinner and Squid would happily cluster feed until we went to bed, and I’d get about 90 minutes of sleep before he’d snuffle around and find a boob again. It was tiring, but predictable, and the sleep I did get was pretty solid. 

And we ambled along in this happy little routine for a while. Until December 2015, when Squid was nearly 4 months old, and sleep changed quite dramatically. 

The four month sleep regression had hit us 

I had heard of it, but was unsure if it was just an urban myth, or something that genuinely happened to babies. The night in question, Squid went to sleep with us as usual, and we all traipsed to bed. And then Squid woke up. I fed him back to sleep, but he woke again, and again, and again. And this continued all night long – my longest stretch of sleep was about 30 minutes. 

So, what exactly IS a sleep regression?

wide awake child, breasfeeding
So many hours spent latched on and wide awake.

At certain points in the timeline of your baby’s sleep, they stop being quite so predictable with their slumber, and become much harder to settle, and more restless when they do sleep. A sleep ‘regression’ really marks a ‘progression’ for your baby – this sudden disruption to the usual sleep schedule is invariably because some major development is going on with your ray of sunshine. At 4 months, this is usually because your baby is learning to roll, starting to babble, and suddenly becoming aware that they are a separate person from you. The fourth trimester is over. At 8 months, separation anxiety sets in, and your little one is learning a new skill by the day. 12 months sparks developments such as walking and talking. At 18 months, your baby’s busy brain is concentrating on chatting away – far too busy to sleep!

This sleep regression lasted for weeks

The pattern was the same: feed, sleep ONLY in my arms, wake. Day time naps disappeared: long gone were the days of napping every few hours – this child just wanted to be awake and enjoy life! 

I didn’t sleep for more than 45 straight minutes for nearly 2 months, and then, at the point that I felt something close to insanity, Squid began to sleep for longer stretches again. It was over. 

That was, until the 8 month sleep regression hit. I was more prepared then, but it was still so very difficult. Another bout of sleeplessness hit at a year, and more recently again at 18 months, but still nothing compares to the 4 month sleep regression, where I thought my eyeballs had melted from exhaustion and I might never recover. 

My top tips for coping:

1 – call in your village. You do not have to do this alone. If someone wants to come and hold your (wide awake) baby for an hour so you can sleep, let them.

baby sleeping on mama
Close isn’t close enough

2 – forget the house work. Seriously, the dishes will wait. The choice between a 30 minute nap and a hoovered living room is a no brainer for me. 

3 – bed share (safely) if you can. This was a game changer for us. Before the 4 month sleep regression hit, Squid was in a ‘Snuzpod’ co-sleeper bedside crib, which worked well for us. In the midst of the sleeplessness, he needed to be even closer, and so sharing a bed worked for us. We did this safely, of course. For more information, see here, here and here.

safe bed sharing
Bed sharing safely can really buy you more sleep.

 

4 – ALL the chocolate (or any other sugary snack)! Sure, sugar gives you false energy, but any energy is better than none, in my opinion!

5 – go for a walk. In the day times where I’d spend such a lot of my time trying to get Squid to sleep, sometimes leaving the house and going for a walk really broke the day up. The fresh air is good for you both, and hey, who knows, maybe a brisk stroll in the sling or pram will send your little love off for a kip! 

6 – trust your baby. Know that it is normal, try and roll with it (as hard as that is!) and don’t give in to the well-meaning in-laws who insist your baby needs to learn to ‘self settle’ or that crying alone might be ‘good for their lungs’.

 

sleep regression Baby sleeping whilst mama eats flapjack
Snacks!

How have you coped with changes in sleep? What are your top tips for any sleep deprived and desperate parent? 

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Emily Lipscombe

Emily Lipscombe

Emily is a 20-something year old mama and teacher, living on the south coast of the UK with her husband and their toddler, balancing motherhood, family life and work (with varying degrees of success!) She writes about breastfeeding and parenting and everything else in between - check out her blog!
Emily Lipscombe

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