I never intended to write much about motherhood on the blog. But then again, there are a lot of things a person never intends to do until their baby is born. Today, I’m bucking my own trend temporarily to participate in a series called “Real Talk with Real Moms”, which I’m co-hosting with a handful of other stellar blogging moms. For the next three months, we’ll be opening up about a few hot mothering topics and sharing our individual experiences.
If you’re pregnant or a new mom, this series will be gold! For everyone else, tune back in later in the week for regular programming.
My pre-baby self feared the sleeplessness of early motherhood most. But we’ve made it this far and I haven’t lost my mind yet! I’m counting that as a miracle. Outlined below in chronological order are the things that worked, the things that didn’t and what we’re learning in the process. Of course, it can’t be said enough… This is by no means an exemplary plan. I’m probably doing a lot of things wrong. In fact, I’m sure I am! But so it goes. We live and learn. I’m not going to stress and neither should you.
Gabriel was six weeks premature and spent the first two weeks of his life in the NICU, which meant that our situation was unusual from the start. I’ve had to remind myself along the way that his milestones might be slightly delayed because of it. Regardless, though, he slept like a dream in the beginning – in carseats, on errands, in the bassinet, and in the bouncer. He also kept a tight one and a half to two hour nursing schedule, which meant that by the time nursing, burping, changing, and occasional consoling were done, this mama was left with very little time to sleep herself. I did my best to sleep when Gabriel did, just like they tell you, but it was surprisingly hard to accomplish most days. By the time 4:00pm rolled around, I had usually finished enough house chores and baby duties to take a quick nap and I guarded that time like a hawk. It became nearly essential to daily function.
During the night, I chose to use a co-sleeper bassinet (this one). It made me feel more comfortable having Gabriel close by at such an early age (he was a preemie with lots of acid reflux and occasional choking). Additionally, I wasn’t interested in jumping out of bed and into another room every few hours to nurse. He was literally within arm’s reach all night which made waking up and going back to sleep SOO much easier. We used pacifiers from the beginning since they were introduced to Gabriel in the NICU. I can’t tell you how many nights I blindly searched in the dark, while still half asleep, for a lost pacifier and a tiny baby’s mouth. More than a few times I missed and sweet Gabriel got a pacifier to the eye. Ha!
We used swaddles all the time. Gabriel has a tendency to “jump” in his sleep, so these not only helped him feel snug and cozy, but also helped him avoid waking himself up unintentionally. I used these during the day because they were lightweight and multifunctional and these at night because they were super snug and warm and almost wiggle proof.
My words of advice: Choose one nap each day to sleep when your baby sleeps and make that a non-negotiable part of your schedule. Embrace the swaddle. Don’t tip toe around. Consider a co-sleeper.
At one month, Gabriel started sleeping five hour stretches at night. I felt super lucky to be getting that much sleep but was still zonked during the day from the rest of his schedule. Each nursing episode was an ordeal – turning on my night light, grabbing the Boppy pillow and burp cloth, picking up Gabriel, nursing him while simultaneously fighting off my own sleep, burping him afterwards and sometimes changing his diaper in the bassinet. For a while, I was even pumping after each nursing! It was exhausting. But then I discovered the “side-lying” nursing position and it changed everything. I realized that my routine was WAY too high impact and what I really needed to do was make each feeding as simple and non-disruptive as possible. When he was big enough (probably around two and a half months) I felt comfortable nursing him while lying on my side in bed, which meant I no longer needed the Boppy. Eventually, I stopped turning on my light and the process became minimally disruptive and so much easier for both Gabriel and I to go back to sleep afterwards.
By the time we reached three to four months, Gabriel’s sleep patterns at night had plateaued to a max of six hours. Still good but not the ten hour plus stretches that you hear some mothers talk about. I started putting him in his crib during the day to help him acclimate to that environment in the hopes of an easier transition. It also became harder and harder to put him down to sleep for naps and at night. I think it had to do with his growing awareness and curiosity of the world around him. He would fight and fight and fight! So we swaddled and rocked and bounced and sang and shushed till we were blue in the face. Music (specifically one lullaby album by a friend) worked really well, so that became our default. We also initiated a bedtime routine which helped him wind down and prepare for sleep.
My words of advice: Simplify your night-time nursing routine to be low impact. Experiment with soothing methods until you find the right one (or two or three). Change up sleeping environments. Establish a bedtime routine.
Here we are at five months!
Like anything, a lot has changed and a lot hasn’t. Gabriel’s naps are gradually consolidating down to two long daytime naps and a handful of shorter ones depending on our schedule. He’s better about falling asleep on his own but occasionally has a rough time, in which case we pull out our old tricks from the parenting “hat”. A light swaddle still helps him sleep during the day and the pacifier is necessary to start but often falls out mid-sleep. He’s still sleeping beside me in the co-sleeper, which I don’t mind. He sleeps quietly and when he wakes to nurse, it’s a fairly quick and simple process. I said I wouldn’t move him into the nursery until he was sleeping through the night but I’m starting to rethink that position. More and more, his nursing in the night seems to be a soothing method rather than a nutritional need. So, the next thing on our “baby sleep” itinerary is to experiment with different soothing methods at night and try transitioning to the crib.
Eeck! Any suggestions for this last one from fellow moms out there?? To be honest, part of me wants him to transition and the other part of me loves having him near by. Ah, parenthood. Full of dilemmas.
Oh, and coffee. We can’t have a discussion about motherhood and sleep without bringing up coffee. Some mom’s choose not to drink caffeine while nursing because it can affect milk supply or baby’s alertness. I’ve been fortunate enough to have an abundant milk supply and I never noticed a significant difference in Gabriel’s behavior when I was and wasn’t drinking caffeine. So, I drink coffee – usually one to two cups a day. End of story. The alternative was just too bleak!
My words of advice: Don’t be discouraged by slow progress. Keep using the methods that work and don’t be afraid to reevaluate the one’s that aren’t. Talk to your fellow mom friends! Everybody does things differently so it’s helpful to hear how others are managing sleep.
Come back in a month for our next topic… FEEDING.
(Dear lord, have I got some things to say about that one!)
MORE from the other mom’s in this SERIES below!
Jen of The Effortless Chic // Erin of Apartment 34 // Sarah of Smitten Studio // Alex of AVE Styles // Em of The Refined Woman // Amy of Parker Etc. // Rebecca of A Daily Something // Sam of Could I Have That