My experience and what might help
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Our baby is not sleeping well. Since the birth there has not been a night in which he (and therefore also I) have slept through the night, and as it currently looks, that will not be the case in the near future.
It was extremely stressful for me for a while and I was really exhausted. In the meantime I have come to terms with it quite well and found ways to deal with it.
Without being super tired during the day or feeling grudges against the child at night. Because one thing is clear:
My child certainly doesn’t do that extra.
1. What is sleeping through?
For us adults, staying asleep usually means one thing: going to bed in the evening (usually between 10 p.m. and midnight) and waking up the next morning (between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.). Without interruption.
In the case of babies, on the other hand, one speaks of “sleeping through the night” as soon as a night meal is omitted. As a result, the little ones usually sleep five to six hours. It doesn’t matter whether this long sleep phase is at the beginning or at the end of the night. It may well be that a child who is put to bed at 7 p.m. sleeps five hours straight (i.e. until midnight) and then wakes up every two hours. Of course, if the mother does not go to bed until 11 p.m., the night is constantly interrupted for her and she would probably not say that her baby is sleeping through the night, although this is actually the case.
2. Our baby doesn’t sleep: our “sleep story”
I think when I became a mother I was pretty naive. Sure, somehow I was aware that it would be exhausting sometimes, but how exhausting I underestimated that. Above all, I underestimated that sleep would be in short supply in the first year (and apparently beyond that for us).
When we got out of the hospital, the son slept quite a bit, but – like all newborns – in small doses over the day and night. I had already expected that and could handle it quite well. He developed a day-night rhythm pretty quickly. During the day the waking phases were significantly longer, in the evening he was visibly tired and therefore ungracious. Only the phases of sleep at night, unfortunately, they didn’t get any longer. Every two to three hours he woke up and wanted to be breastfed.
Well, I thought to myself, he’s still very young. I just put up with the fact that other babies slept for up to six hours at a time without interpreting too much. I just thought that my child wasn’t ready yet.
Days, weeks, months passed. The son only slept two short naps during the day and very early on we noticed that even that was too much for him. In the evening he was up until 11 p.m. and did not want to fall asleep. So we switched to an afternoon nap when we were about nine months old. That worked very well during the day: He was fit, fell asleep quickly and in the evening there were no more problems getting him to bed between 7 and 8 p.m.
The nights, however, continued to be interrupted. He seldom slept for more than three hours at a time. The maximum was four hours without a break. But I kept telling myself that the baby just wasn’t ready yet. And it was okay for me, even if I slowly realized that this sleep behavior was pulling on me.
2.1 Today (December 2017)
Our son is now almost 13 months old. So he’s actually no longer a baby. But he still doesn’t sleep through the night. Even now I am happy when we sleep for three hours at a time. Fortunately, he usually wakes up, breastfeeds, and then falls back to sleep. There is seldom screaming at night, and when I do, I know that something is really wrong: Either the teeth are cracking or he has digestive problems or the day was just too full.
The problem at the moment is that he absolutely cannot sleep on his own. While I used to put him to bed around 7 p.m., breastfeed him briefly and then get up, this is absolutely not possible at the moment. He wakes up as soon as I leave the room for a few minutes and then is heartbroken.
In the meantime I try to just accept the situation as it is. I am just not ready to change it if it is stressful for my son. That means that I go to bed with him in the evening. Fortunately, I can easily work on my smartphone there, watch series, make phone calls or even read a book. As long as my son can feel me, he usually sleeps well.
At night I breastfeed him as soon as he wakes up and he then falls asleep again quickly and easily. If the night was very exhausting, my husband gets up with him in the morning and I can go back to sleep for another hour or two.
2.2 Is breastfeeding to blame for the baby not sleeping?
For a long time I asked myself whether I was to blame for my son’s sleep behavior. Because I breastfeed him a lot and often to sleep. But now I don’t believe that anymore and I rather suspect that my son will put this down on his own when he is ready.
A friend weaned because of the bad nights. The result: the baby does not fall asleep so quickly, the nights are just as broken, but there is now a lot more screaming. Sure, that will happen at some point and such a change takes time. But I know that at the moment I don’t have the inclination or the strength to push through and endure such a change. So I leave it.
In addition (and much more important in this context!): My child now falls asleep easily without breastfeeding. When we go to bed, I breastfeed him, but very often he doesn’t fall asleep straight away. At some point I loosen it and then he babbles a little longer, cuddles with me and eventually falls asleep on its own. It has only worked like this for a few weeks, but it shows me very clearly that my child can generally fall asleep on its own.
3. Reasons the baby is not sleeping
Why a baby doesn’t sleep well is mostly a mystery. There are many possible reasons and it is seldom found out which one is responsible for the sleep behavior. Nevertheless, there are a few things that should be observed to make it easier for the child to fall asleep and stay asleep.
3.1 Too many stimuli during the day and a lack of rituals
If a baby sleeps poorly, it may be related to the fact that it is overwhelmed by daily events. When the day is unstructured, there are no routines or rituals, babies often become restless and cry more. They find it difficult to relax at night and sleep is often interrupted. Many visitors, long excursions and too many stimuli (loud music, bright colors, etc.) can overwhelm a baby’s brain and these stimuli continue to have an effect at night.
It can help to structure everyday life and create rituals. Especially in the evening, rituals can help babies to recognize that it is now time to go to bed and that they will sleep soon. Such rituals do not have to be laborious: it can simply be that you always first put on your pajamas, brush your teeth and then read a book and cuddle. Especially in the first few months it sometimes seems nonsensical to move the baby to sleep, but this is an important reference stimulus for the child to be able to differentiate between waking time and sleeping time.
3.2 The sleeping environment is unsuitable
It is generally recommended that babies sleep in an extra bed in their parents’ bedroom. The ideal room temperature is given as around 18 ° C and the child should wear pajamas and a baby sleeping bag over them. However, these recommendations do not take individual differences into account. Not every child feels comfortable with these conditions: some are too hot, others too cold and others don’t like the fabric on their feet.
It is important to try out and see when your own baby feels best. The temperature can be felt well by feeling the baby’s neck. If it is hot and sweaty, if the child is dressed too warmly, if it is very cold, too cool. Cold hands or feet can be a sign that the child is freezing, but they don’t have to be (not everything!).
Many children sleep better when they have physical contact with their parents – but not all of them. It is particularly difficult that everyone has an opinion on these questions and everyone knows better. In the end, however, it is not important that you please everyone, it just matters that you are comfortable. Your baby shows you what it likes and what it can’t and should and should be listened to as parents – regardless of what others think of it.
3.3 Teething, digestive problems and other aches and pains
Many babies have digestive problems in the first year of life and when their teeth grow, this often leads to sleepless nights. While there are doctors and other experts who believe that these things are often wrongly blamed for poor sleep, I can say from my experience that I was able to differentiate fairly precisely when the son slept poorly because of pain and when he slept other reasons.
However, one should be careful about resorting to medication too quickly. In general, you should always clarify this with your doctor (even with drugs that you can buy freely) and try to calm the child down without them. With us, gentle massages and heat pillows have proven effective for digestive problems (though not always) and something to bite or chilled teethers when teething. And mums and dads closeness and care is a simple measure that is too often underestimated.
4. Your baby is not sleeping well and you are desperate?
Ultimately, it is also crucial for this issue that a solution is found that everyone is somehow satisfied with. There’s no point if mom gives up and then can’t anymore. And while switching may be more strenuous at first, it will likely lead to things getting better in the long run. In the end, it’s always a weighing of needs. I have decided for us that the situation will not burden me so much that I absolutely have to change something now. Sure, sometimes it annoys me that our baby doesn’t sleep well, but quite often I even lie in bed, look at my son and can enjoy the time. And waking up at night is annoying, but if I don’t fight it and just accept it, I can handle it quite well.
If, on the other hand, you are already on your gums and are totally annoyed by the situation or simply can no longer physically or psychologically, you should try to change something. What you do differs from family to family and also depends on whether you are still breastfeeding or not. And of course the most important thing is that you feel comfortable with it yourself!
I’ve put together a few courses of action that you can try if your baby isn’t sleeping. The order is random. I don’t recommend any of the methods for everyone, rather I advise that everyone just try what he or she is most comfortable with. And if it doesn’t work and you return to the familiar, that is (contrary to some claims!) Not bad at all! You can just try again when the child is older or …
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