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April 18, 2013

High Needs Series: Sleep, my Coping Tips

Let me be clear from the start here, I can't help your high needs baby or toddler sleep better. Seriously, I could barely get my own baby to sleep. But I have learned a few things over the last 25 months, to at least try and make things easier on you when your baby just doesn't sleep.

1. Throw out your expectations: We all have them when we are pregnant..."my baby will be sleeping by X weeks old" or "babies should sleep through the night by X" or "toddlers should take naps until X." Forget it. Let it go. Dwelling on those expectations, or trying to meet those expectations, is only going to cause you more frustration. High needs babies and toddlers are their own beasts. What goes for one, might not work for your child.                                          
2. Don't take sleep advice from someone that hasn't had a baby in the last 5 years: {sorry Mom} Memories fade really quickly -- especially unpleasant memories. Way faster than we realize. So when people say stuff like, "my baby was sleeping all night by 4 weeks old," it's just not helpful, and it may not be entirely accurate. People forget the hellish nights during  growth spurt, or the napless days that accompany a new skill. Instead, use these people for support -- to vent, to babysit, for anything other than tell you what you need to be doing to get sleep. 

3. Don't compare to other babies -- especially those that aren't high needs: We all know that children are each different and unique special snowflakes...but high needs babies and toddlers have made their reputations on being frustratingly unpredictable. It's not going to help you to compare to what your other child, niece, neighbors cousin, friend's baby, whoever. Your baby is who he/she is and what another baby is doing won't change where your child is at.

4. Rule out medical concerns: For Henry it his acid reflux and a dairy allergy that caused serious interruptions in his early sleep. I'm a big believer in checking in with your pediatrician and making sure there are no medical problems you may be overlooking that are causing the issues. Rule out reflux, rule out problems with ears, rule out teething. For me, a medical check helped me know that my child may be super fussy, but at least he is not in pain which made sleep training that much easier.

5. Advocate for your child's needs: If your child needs a strict routine, or exactly 3 blankets, or that pair of pjs, or the sound machine turned the exact way, with the humidifier, the music for exactly 3 minutes, nursing and then rocking {all in that order in that amount of time} to sleep -- do it! And, DON'T FEEL BAD ABOUT IT. You know your baby best, and when someone says "just lay him down, he'll figure it out," ignore them. Do what your child needs to sleep. Yes, its high maintenance -- and that's probably not going to change -- but it's what they need at this moment. 

6. Get Informed: There are so many sleep training theories out there. Read them! See what fits for your family, see what doesn't fit. Just know that when you're ready, help is out there.

7. Try everything: Don't give up and accept that you'll never sleep again. If something isn't working, try it another way, even if its just for a night -- you're already not sleeping so what's the harm? I know this was particularly hard for me to accept because I didn't want to lose the precious little sleep I was getting. But in the end, the changes were so worth it. I think that eventually trying something also made me feel like maybe I had a little more control over the situation, which {maybe} cut back on my frustration.

8. Mix and Match: This is related to the last one. But seriously, the frustrating thing about high needs babies and toddlers is that there is no "one-size-fits-all" fix that will work when it comes to sleep. Don't be afraid to take tips from one philosophy and another and do what is working. Be creative and find what works.

9. Give it Time: This is the hardest one for me, and I'm betting for you. It just going to take time. Accept that. Know that someday your child will sleep, someday. And hold on to that to get you through those terrible long nights.

Do you have any tips you would add to this list? How do you cope with a baby that doesn't sleep?

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The Pajama Mama
The Pajama Mama said…
There were different times of Mango's life when he needed to be bounced on a yoga ball 425 times. Or when we had to rock him to sleep and then gently lay him in his crib 8 minutes after he closed his eyes. Not 9, and holy crap, not 7!!

They do grow out of it, though. He's 2y3m, and I can reliably get at least 4 hours of sleep these days! ;)
Natalie said…
My niece never slept when she was a baby. NEVER. Now she's over 2 and sleeps through the night great!
Taara said…
I would add another: liquid naps - ie, coffee for mama during the day!
Jade said…
My daughter has ALWAYS been a restless sleeper and waking at least once a night (well, there were a few months where she was good...) and it was absolutely horrible when people would say their kids were sleeping X hours at X months etc etc and "you should try", "I'm doing this, why aren't you?" etc. Thank god she's finally getting there! Oh, and I totally agree with Taara^^ re: LOTS of coffee :-) x
Jelli said…
Great list! You wrote this post very well, the intro had me wanting to dive down into the wealth of info. Thankfully my first child didn't have too many sleeping troubles (if you don't count naps) but this post will be in my toolbox just in case baby #2 is restless.
Kirstylee said…
This is a wonderful set of tips. My baby didn't take very long to start sleeping through the night, but since I had serious insomnia problems when I was pregnant with him it felt like it took forever! I really like #7 to just try everything. It doesn't hurt to try, right? Thanks for the tips!
Rodney KSiegel
Rodney KSiegel said…
One thing that has helped me is just telling myself, “Well, if I’m going to be really tired and sleepy tomorrow, so be it.” It’s silly, but if said to myself with enough conviction, it helps me relax and not worry about falling asleep.