Sleep is the holy grail for pregnant women and new moms. We talk about it in hushed, reverent tones like it’s heroin and we’re all jonesing for a fix (Are you getting any? Where can I get some of that? Is it good?).
My sleep problems began during pregnancy. For my entire first trimester and part of the second, I was commuting 4 hours a day and working 10 or 11. My day started at 5:00am and ended around 10:00pm, when I’d eat a frozen meal on my couch and stare out at the Real Housewives of Something with purple zombie eyes, shoveling forkfuls of flaccid organic lasagna into my mouth. I’d head to bed after that, where I’d stare at the ceiling and listen to repeats of This American Life for hours. “This is just preparing you for new motherhood!” people would say about my insomnia. (Someone should write a book about what you should not say to pregnant women, and this should be the second item, after “OMG are you still pregnant???”)
Eventually, I transferred my job to be closer to home, which helped with the insane hours, but the insomnia remained. Becoming a walking vessel for hormone soup (aka getting pregnant) made me realize that I had been taking all of the normal activities of daily life for granted. I literally could not imagine how I’d ever been able to eat things without wanting to puke, go to the bathroom EVER, or sleep at night.
After Lucy was born, I tried to breastfeed. That meant that every two hours for 24 hours a day, I’d latch a screaming purple goat onto my body and let her terrorize me until she drew blood (some women love to breastfeed, but I was not one of them). When I wasn’t able to breastfeed (because I was trying to heal), I was pumping every two hours instead. Even when my husband would take the night shift, and be with our daughter for 5 or 6 hours in a row so I could “sleep,” I’d have to wake up every two hours and pump for half an hour while I groggily soaked in an episode of Friends.
Have you ever seen Homeland? You know the scene where the CIA is questioning a terrorist, and their method for getting him to talk is to blast loud music every time he almost falls asleep? Replace the loud music with a screaming infant and bingo. And that guy didn’t even have barf on his clothes and shit in his hair.
To moms out there who have ever or are still breastfeeding: you guys are TOUGH. Olympic athletes don’t even train that hard. You’re like millions of all-natural Hulk Hogans.
Around two and a half months, I got her on a schedule. I want to share a little bit about that, because I hear a lot from new moms who are seeking any and all suggestions about where they can find their next sleep fix. This is what worked for me, (though every kid and every mom are their own unique snowflakes, and we are all doomed unto the apocalypse for offering mommy advice, because nothing will work for everyone forever).
Another side note: one of my very coolest friends ever, R, has a son who has actively REFUSED to sleep since the moment of his conception. I would like to hereby induct R into the hallowed halls of Sainthood, because she still manages to get dressed every morning (AND cleans her house, and makes beautiful drawings).
I take a lot of liberty with it. For example, I let her nap for however long she is tired (instead of letting her “cry it out,” which I have no problem with, theoretically, but it’s just not for me). Some mornings she naps for two hours, and sometimes (okay, most of the time) for 45 minutes. I trust her to make up that time later in the day, and she does.
I also need the freedom to be able to leave the house every day, so she takes naps here or there in the car, at Target, or in the parking lot of Dunkin Donuts where I accidentally might buy half a dozen donuts and a box of Joe and make an afternoon of it. I’m not one to say, “I can’t eat 12 donuts today because I have to be home by 1pm for Lucy’s nap.”
But I do follow the scheduled feedings. According to my pediatrician, the two biggest things you can do to get your kid to sleep through the night are:
1. Make sure they eat enough during the day. (So when I have a 6 oz bottle scheduled, I try my best to make sure Lucy eats 6 oz, even if it’s over the course of an hour).
2. Don’t let them graze. You want to get them used to going for a stretch without eating, so they can go at least 8 hours at night (by 3 months) without eating. This means don’t let them have a little bit of food all the time, instead of larger feedings at greater intervals.
Lucy is now 4 months old. She gets between 25-30 oz of formula during the day, plus a little vegetable puree. We put her to bed at 7:15pm, and she goes right to sleep. We wake her up at 11pm for a dream feed, and put her back to sleep. She wakes up around 7:00 am.
Granted, much of her ability to sleep through the night is pure luck on our part as parents. I don’t think you can take a baby who refuses to sleep, or is colicky or whatever else, and put them on a schedule and expect magic. But for those lucky moms who are almost there, like I was, and need a little nudge to get those really life-changing extra Zs, this is what worked for me.
Another thing I can’t recommend enough is finding other moms you can talk to about this stuff. My neighbor-friend down the street has read all the parenting books, which I have not (because I literally haven’t read a single one- aren’t you glad you’re reading my advice column?). She has a daughter who’s just a little older than Lucy, and has faithfully figured out all this parenting stuff just ahead of me and then told me all of her brilliant secrets. This particular schedule was one of her magnificent finds.
Please share if you have any other tips for me! Especially if they involve how to achieve optimum weight loss through an all-donut diet while watching 9 hours of t.v. a day and still raising a well-adjusted genius.