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To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Monday, September 17, 2007

You'd think a topic like sleep would unite mothers everywhere. After all, who doesn't believe that getting some sleep is a good thing?

The reality is that sleep is like anything else related to babies. It's unpredictable. What works for one mother and child may not work for another.

In fact, my own family is the perfect example of this. Elnora began sleeping through the night (12 solid hours) at 7 weeks of age and did not wake up a single night until she was 7 months old. For the next several months, she woke up about once a night, but generally went back to sleep pretty easily if I rocked her with a bottle or sippy cup of my expressed milk. (For new readers, I exclusively pumped for the first 13 months of Elnora's life.)

Honestly? I never understood what the big deal about using bottles was. I made up two bottles each night and put them in an insulated bag with an ice pack before we headed up to bed. When Elnora woke up, I'd set the bottle upside down under the sink with hot water running over it and go change her diaper. By the time I had her diaper changed, the bottle was warm enough for her to drink. We'd settle into the rocking chair in her room, I'd sing her a song as she drank her milk and then I'd put her back in her crib and head back to bed.

We never had to deal with any night crying until she was seven months old and started waking up again. Then, she'd occasionally cry out in her sleep. She was a night fusser, but we learned over time that the more actively we tried to comfort her, the more frustrated she'd become. It was like she couldn't unwind with the extra stimuli. Our rule quickly began to give her five minutes to fuss before we'd go and check on her. Nine times out of ten, she'd fuss for a few minutes and then go back to sleep.

Overall, life was fairly easy in terms of sleep. With just Elnora around, I was able to take naps during the day when she took naps, so while I was tired, I was never "beat."

Emmitt couldn't be more different.

Nursed at the breast from the start, Emmitt began life nursing once an hour and didn't quit until he was nearly two months old. With a 22 month old in the house to care for (who was down to one nap a day), sleeping while Emmitt slept was not an option. Add in the fact that I work from home and nap time had to become work time by default.

I'd like to say it ended there, but even when he stopped nursing on the hour, he simply moved to nursing every two or two and a half hours. Even today, at just shy of a year, he still wakes up a minimum of twice a night and often three or four times a night. I honestly believe that hell is someone poking you to keep you awake for all eternity. He's been in our room from the start, in a bassinet next to my side of the bed. At three months he transitioned to a pack n play and at six months we moved the crib into our room and put him in that.

In the early days, he spent about half the time in our bed and about half the time in his. By five months, he was sitting up and rolling all over creation and I had to start putting him in his crib after each feeding.

While sleep deprivation is bad, the hallucinations and black outs are worse.

During those first six months, I'd wake up, gather him in my arms, change his diaper on our bed and then lay down to nurse him. That's where my memories ended. I would wake up and start frantically searching through the covers for him, having no memory of putting him back in his crib. On a weekly basis, I'd have complete hallucinations.

This is the point at which I would have done almost anything to get more than two hours of sleep in a row.

Unfortunately, I sit here typing this entry as Emmitt nears his first birthday and things aren't much better. Emmitt woke up six times last night. Four of those times I had to get up with him to nurse him. The other two times, he woke up, rolled around, played for a few minutes and went back to sleep.

Like Elnora, he occasionally cries for a bit as he goes to sleep as well. There have been nights where I've spent two and a half hours trying to get him to sleep because I didn't want to let him cry. There have been other nights where I let him cry for less than five minutes and he was out like a light. The same goes for nap time. As much as I don't like to let children cry, the reality is that when you have two kids in two years, you're going to have a point in time where they both need you at once. Sometimes that means one of them has to cry and sometimes, that someone is the baby.

Night weaning is heavily on my mind.

It's been nearly 18 months since I've slept more than five hours straight and even that has happened only a handful of times. I'm a grumpy person. I'm not near the wife or mother I'd like to be. I would say I dream of the night I can sleep six, seven or even eight hours, but I rarely sleep long enough to dream.

I honestly don't remember what it's like to feel awake. I have no recollection of having energy.

I've decided that as soon as Emmitt is weaned, I am going away for a weekend, whether anyone comes with me or not. I don't care where I go, as long as it has a comfy bed and a Jacuzzi tub.

No, you can't come with me. It'd be dull anyway. All I'm going to do is sleep.

Check out the rest of the entries in this month's Carnival of Breastfeeding:

Motherwear talks about finding what works for you
Mama Magic is "So Tired"
Hathor serves up a family sleep cartoon
Breastfeeding Mums was as tired as I am
Leche Baby is dreaming of night weaning
Veggie Way says "let em sleep!"
Breastfeeding 1-2-3 speaks against sleep training
Crunchy Domestic Goddess relies on co-sleeping
Life with Twins speaks in defense of sleep training
Mama Knows Breast hasn't slept in years

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  1. Blogger Dana | 7:20 PM |  

    I completely understand where you are coming from and feel absolutely the same way. Doesn't it suck when you get your kid down to one or two nursing a night, just to have teething, growth spurts, or any other little thing bring it back to 4+? I too dream of the day when I can have at least 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. I have not slept through the night since I was 3 months pregnant. My son is 14 months old! Wishful thinking for now, I guess.

  2. Anonymous natalie w | 7:31 PM |  

    Oh, I'm feeling your pain. I am relieved to hear that I'm not the only one with an all-night nurser at this age (mine is a month younger than Emmitt), and that I'm not the only one who has very mixed feelings and who doesn't have a clear-cut solution. Everyone I talk to seems to know very definitively that the best system to use is... (fill in the blank), or that I should have... (again, fill in the blank with any number of answers). I've become embarrassed to admit that my kid still wakes up every couple hours and will only go back to sleep if he nurses. I tend to feel like it's somehow my fault that I let him form these habits, and if only I'd been more vigilant, more disciplined, etc. he would be sleeping longer. Every day I have to stop those thoughts and look at my incredibly happy, even-tempered kid to remind myself that I'm not a horrid lazy mom. Sorry to leave such a long comment with absolutely nothing helpful to say, but I just wanted to come out as a sister-in-solidarity, hoping that the loving snuggles will live longer in our memories than the sleepless crying jags and foggy wanderings.

  3. Blogger Lesley | 7:31 PM |  

    My daughter, who is now 2 and a 1/2, still does not sleep through the night. When we weaned her, we took away night feeds last, since from about 6 or 7 months on she was helping herself while I snoozed away. I had to spend a couple nights awake, essentially defending myself against her tricky little fingers that could undo clasps (she was 20mos when I weaned her, I had done it earlier than we planned because I was pregnant and it was very painful). Grace needed the breast to fall asleep, and frequently needed it to stay asleep.
    My son (5mos)...he is a dream sleeper. I can actually do that whole lay him in the bed awake thing the "experts" are always on about. He likes going to sleep at the breast, but he does not have to. He frequently choses not to. He sleeps long stretches into the night, wakes briefly at 7 or 8am and then drifts off again until 10 or so. The difference is amazing.
    I imagine at some point I'll stop looking this gift horse in the mouth and stop waking him to make sure he's ok, right? (lol!)

  4. Blogger Crunchy Domestic Goddess | 8:10 PM |  

    it's amazing how siblings can be so vastly different.
    i hope you can catch up on some of that sleep soon. take a weekend off and stay in bed as much as possible. let greg take care of the kids. :)

    amy

  5. Blogger Jen | 8:18 PM |  

    Wow. I'm so glad to have found your blog!!!

    So much of this post feels uncannily familiar -- my kids are also 22 months apart, and the younger, now a bit over 7 months old has many of the night habits of your little one (as I wrote in my contribution). I feel ya, sister. I'll be checking back frequently to see how it all works out for you. Best of luck!!!

  6. Blogger Abigail Munday | 9:35 PM |  

    You know, my toddler Matthew sleeps fine through the night, and I get enough sleep, but I still have the same night hallucinations that I've had since he was born -- where I look through the sheets in our bed to try to find him (and we've never even done co-sleeping). I read that those dreams/hallucinations are pretty common for mommies, and even some daddies have them (though my husband has never had them and gets annoyed when I wake him up looking for Matthew). So Jenn, you're probably not having those just because you're sleep deprived (though it does sound like you've got a bad lack of sleep, poor thing). Just wanted to let other mommies out there know, too, that those hallucinations where you're looking for little Johnny are pretty common and not to worry. You're not nuts, just a mommy (though the terms may not be entirely mutually exclusive). :)

  7. Anonymous Anonymous | 11:08 PM |  

    Well, I've gotta say, been there, done that too. It's rough, eh?
    A couple helpful things for me were: getting rid of the clock in the bedroom so I wouldn't panic everytime I woke up and looked at it (oh, no, it's 2 22 am. Oh no, it's 3 05 am. Oh no, it's 4 15 am....) and giving everything I could away the next day if I'd had a particularily bad night.

  8. Blogger JD | 11:44 PM |  

    I can absolutely relate to you on that. Right now, my second baby is 6 months old, and I am still sleep-deprived. :( God knows how much I long for a real relaxing, spa vacation..complete with ten hours of sleep for even one night. :)

    Jocelyn (JD)
    www.hipmamablog.com

  9. Blogger JK | 11:53 PM |  

    Sleep... It is so necessary! I struggled a lot between Feb '06 and November '06. (In 2/06, I had a 6 month old, a 21 month old & a 4 year-old). Then there was another bad stretch between Feb/March '07 - May '07. You can read all about it

    http://3littlegirls-ohmy.blogspot.com/search/label/Sleep?updated-max=2006-10-23T22%3A57%3A00-07%3A00&max-results=20

    (That gets you to a lot of the sleep issues, and some of what I tried...)

    It sucks while they are not sleeping. I hope you can figure something out to make it better.

  10. Anonymous sinead@breastfeedingmums.com | 2:44 AM |  

    This could be me talking - are we one and the same on opposite sides of the Atlantic?

    Or is that another sleep-deprived hallucination I'm having?

    (In fact I wrote a post with the exact same title as yours just a few weeks back - http://breastfeedingmums.typepad.com/breastfeedingmums_blog/2007/07/to-sleep-percha.html)!

  11. Blogger Erin | 2:53 AM |  

    My oldest was 16 months old when she no longer needed to nurse at night. My son just turned one two weeks ago and still wakes at least twice, usually 3-4 times to nurse. I work nights, and between that and the interrupted sleep on the nights I don't work, I don't remember the last time I got more than 3 hours of sleep together. It is exhausting, and some days are really really hard. But they are only this little today. Tomorrow, they'll be bigger, and the day after, bigger yet. And soon, sooner than I'm ready for, Noah will wean himself just like his sister did, and I won't be able to remember the last time I nursed him, just like I can't remember the last time I nursed Madeleine.

    I am an RN, and I work in an NICU. I see mothers everyday who don't breastfeed, whether by choice or circumstance. I also see mothers, not everyday, but more often than I care to, who leave with empty arms. I thank God for our healthy children and the ability to breastfeed. It's a grace, and I know we are a blessed family for it.

  12. Blogger Erin | 2:54 AM |  

    Oh - I also wanted to say a weekend by myself with a comfy bed and Jacuzzi tub sounds delicious! Someday...

  13. Blogger mommymichael | 6:14 AM |  

    what dana said is completely us!! he was almost night weaned, to the point i'd wake up engorged a little bit *we co-sleep too* and suddenly teething hit. At 10 months old. So with another one on the way, we're trying to transition him to his crib. So many people *tell* me to let me son cio and i literally tell them Hell no. I'd rather be a little bit sleep deprived than let my kid scream in the crib.

  14. Blogger Judy | 6:54 AM |  

    My daughter, who was formula fed, slept wonderfully almost from the start, but then started having sleeping problems when she was 2 or so, and those weren't fixed until she was 6.

    So, when I was pg again, I expected something similar. HA! My first son didn't regularly sleep more than 2 hours at a time until he was weaned, at 2 1/2. He still, at 3 1/2, has nights where he will be awake for hours, or wakes up 6 times a night. Most of the time, now, he will just crawl over into bed with my husband and I'm oblivious to that one.

    My 17 month old son just recently slept a 4-hour stretch for the first time in his life! That was probably the first time I'd slept a 4-hour stretch since about July of 2004. Most nights, he's still up many times (I don't count anymore), and a 2-hour stretch is long for him.

    I used to fantasize about very different things, but now I want a full night's sleep, and to wear the same clothes all day without having mushed fruit on me.

    I've been telling my husband for awhile that when the baby is weaned, I'm going to spend a night in a hotel all by myself. Go for it!

    And would night weaning help? We tried it with my first son, at about a year, but after a few months it didn't do any good. That's why we haven't tried it yet with the little one, but we might soon.

  15. Blogger Rixa | 7:07 AM |  

    I can sympathize, totally. My 10 1/2 month old still wakes up every 2-3 hours at night to nurse. Last night I was probably up about 6 times. The longest she goes is 3, maybe 4 hours, right when she goes to sleep. But even that has stopped recently. Most days I feel okay, but today I am completely wiped out. We co-sleep, so I tried putting her next to the bed in her crib to see if it would change anything. Nope.

  16. Blogger JudyBright | 7:44 AM |  

    Add a totally unsympathetic husband and life is pure joy.

  17. Blogger Ahmie | 9:19 AM |  

    Liam didn't night wean until just before I conceived Del (and didn't totally wean until about 4 months later). What worked for us was switching which side of the bed he slept on. I think smelling me was part of the issue. L has night terrors (complete with getting up and trying to walk around) so there's no way he's going into another room any time soon and his night nursing wasn't the only think waking us (he's had the terrors since he was about 10mo, they come in waves - he'll not have them for about a month, then have one or more a night for a few weeks, then they'll disappear again, so trying to figure out the trigger is a real pain, may be just growth spurts).

    You don't need to fully wean to night wean, or even partially night wean. If your hubby can deal with primary nighttime parenting for a few nights, you may get better sleep out on the couch (don't you guys have a futon? I seem to remember E near one in a picture once). Liam only took a few nights to adjust and it really helped.

    Not sure if you're planning more kids or if you're done (betting with the sleep deprivation you're probably thinking your family size is big enough right now ;) ), but even exclusively breastfed babies DO sometimes sleep well. Del is a great sleeper (too well, I keep waking to check his breathing!), even with reflux issues. Try to make sure E is getting enough hindmilk, especially in his hopefully-last-for-the-night nursing session, wake him up if you have to in order to get him to empty the breast as much as possible (I tickle Del when he's drowsing off). The higher fat content will help him feel full longer. Another issue if he's getting a lot of foremilk from snacking is he could be waking from a full bladder (those may be the times he fusses and goes back to sleep, may be rousing just enough to pee is my suspicion). Does he complain when wet during the day? We're using cloth on Del during the day (gDiapers, we use the flushables at night, DSQ prefold inside during the day), so he's definitely unhappy when he's wet during the day, could that possibly be contributing to night waking for E?

  18. Blogger Jaime | 10:34 AM |  

    I feel your pain!!

    I got little sleep with the births of my oldest 3 (ages 5, 4 and 2 respectively). I'd finally started sleeping more than 4-5 hours per night when I got pregnant with our last child (now 2 months).

    The hallucinations are the worst thing imaginable. I sometimes see things, shadows if you will, that are not there. I sometimes feel like I'm losing my mind.

    I hope you get some much needed rest soon. Unfortunately for me, my 2 month old daughter has been staying up from 11pm until 3-4am each night, so sleep isn't in my near future.

  19. Blogger Jen | 11:30 AM |  

    Mine is a couple of weeks younger than yours. I had a crib, even bought cute linens for it. He's never slept in it. (: The short story...after a horrible near-death delivery, early hospitalization for him, lots of trouble getting him to learn to nurse, and then near-constant nursing when he did...we coslept. From day one. (I had the hallucinations the first few weeks, as well. It's so scary. I now know why sleep deprivation is considered torture.)

    Cosleeping has been a gift. We still nurse once, maybe twice a night. On fussy nights, the breast helps him stay asleep. And while I'm aware that I'm turning over to nurse him, it's not really waking me up. (Or him, either.)

    We wound up baby proofing the bed and entire bedroom. The mattress is on the floor. I kind of like waking up to a smiling baby.

  20. Blogger The Lactivist | 1:43 PM |  

    I've been sleeping on the couch now for about a month.

    I started heading out here at his 5am feeding because Elnora was waking up at 6 and coming in our room and waking everyone up.

    This way, I'm out here and can snag her some milk, cereal and give her a bit of Noggin while I snooze a little longer.

    Then it got to where if Emmitt could see me, he wouldn't sleep. So I started nursing him, putting him in his crib and heading straight out here.

    We're in process of moving to an upstairs bedroom and leaving him by himself. He sleeps much better if we aren't in there. (every little sound wakes him up.)

  21. Blogger The Lactivist | 1:43 PM |  

    Oh and LOL at using the same title. Now I feel bad. If I had more than two free seconds a day i would have seen your post and come up with something original. ;)

  22. Anonymous Aruni | 7:03 PM |  

    I totally feel your pain. Our eldest did not sleep more than 3-4 hours in a row until he was over 3. After that he would sleep maybe 5 to 7. Even now at age 5 he still wakes up often. During the week, he'll wake up anywhere from 3 to 5 days on average.

    We weren't even sure we could handle another kid. Talk about being a zombie. Only now do I feel like I'm returning to as close to 'normal' as I've ever been. I had to resort to taking some sleep medicine just to get my sleep patterns back to reasonable levels.

    Fortunately our daughter is a dream sleeper...just put her down and she sleeps. No cajoling, no bribing, no having to take deep breaths, etc.

    All I know is that I felt pretty worthless for a long time. I'm sure I didn't make the greatest decisions at that time.

    It does get better though...just try not to expect too much of yourself and take a deep breath. :-)

  23. Anonymous single mom with tiny tot | 10:30 PM |  

    ugh. i get it. A__ is about to turn one and still nurses 3-6 times a night. i'm single so it's all on me. she's a busy-body who would cry for hours if left alone so i've never had the guts to get through enough days of "sleep training" to make it work. call me a softy, but i like sleep. and sleep training takes too much lack of sleep to make it worth my while.

    on a side note, can i be in the carnival next month? looks like fun.

  24. Blogger The Lactivist | 4:30 AM |  

    Single_mom, we open the carnival up to public entries each time. I often forget to post the notice with our topic and due date (because I kinda of suck like that) but even if I don't have it, you can get it at the Mothewear Blog, Breastfeeding Mums, Mama Knows Breast and Breastfeeding 1-2-3.

  25. Anonymous Anonymous | 12:26 PM |  

    I didn't read every post here, but sorry if this is redundant.

    Elizabeth Pantley's book "The No Cry Sleep Solution" has some great tips. I have read most of it, and I must admit that most of the info I have tried already before the book and my 10 mo is still waking 2-3 times a night, but maybe there are some things that can help others. I know I want to sleep all night sometime again soon!!

  26. Anonymous Anonymous | 7:55 AM |  

    Dear Lactivist, obviously you know that if I am reading your post, I am a sleep-deprived mum too. Yep, co-sleeping breastfed baby... wakes up 5 - 7 times a night. No way to get him to stop, I have tried. He is nearly a year old today and shows no sign of stopping the night feeds, though the day feeds are down to 1 or 2 a day, supplemented with formula and milk.

    My question is this... Emmitt must be nearly 2 now as your post is from last year. How is it now? Does it get better? What advice can you give me? Is there a silution that worked for you?!

  27. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 11:41 AM |  

    It DOES get better!

    Oh, how I feel for you. I remember those days of being the waking dead. So exhausted. Especially when friends babies were sleeping through the night months sooner.

    Emmitt finally dropped night nursing sometime around December last year. When he did, he started sleeping through the night. He was 15 months old before he consistently made it the whole night, but he's been pretty solid since then.

    He might wake up once every other week or so, but for the most part, he's down from 8:30pm to 7:30am.

    You'll get there!

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