Q&A: SAHM wants to go back to work because of 4-month-old's naps

Here's yet another sleep question that's not just about sleep. Mary writes:

"Not sure if you've posted an answer to this before, but I am at myWIT'S END with my son. He is 4 months old, and his naps are a horrendous, stressful experience for me....I am a SAHM and I almost want to go back to work so I can get out of this heart-wrenching situation and let daycare deal with it.

He sleeps well at night. He wakes usually once per night to eat, although sometimes he wakes at 1:30, sometimes 4...you never know. Typically, though, he sleeps in 6+ hour stretches for us.

Naps are pushing me to my limit. He has never once in his life fallen asleep on his activity mat or in his bouncer just willy-nilly. He does not nod off. Ever. He becomes obviously fussy when he's tired...no slipping off to sleep. So at naptimes (typically 1.5 - 2 hours after waking) I swaddle him (he is swaddled at night), turn on soft music and then have to take him into the bathroom (super dark, no windows) and sway him with the exhaust fan running for white noise until he falls asleep. Sometimes he wails like he's being killed, other times he goes down with a whimper or two. However, if I try to lay him down in his crib...boom...he's awake after 20 minutes. If I sit and hold him, he stays asleep for an hour, sometimes longer. Even when I hold him, he'll come to, which means I jump up to either sway some more or go back to the bathroom if he starts to fuss.

My arms and back are killing me because, well, he's four months old.

I can't cope anymore. I can't do anything during the day because if we're not napping/attempting to nap, I'm playing with him or feeding him. I barely get to pee or drink or eat.

Please...do you have any words of wisdom, and is there something wrong with him? Or me? Will he outgrow this...do I need to keep holding him? Just put him down and take whatever nap I can get? I can't let him CIO. I can't.... I've purchased every sleep book known to man. I'm ready to burn them all!"

Oh, no. I'm so, so sorry that you're feeling this way.

And also: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. That's the bitter laugh of someone who remembers exactly what that was like. If I'd had any kind of decent career at all before having a baby I'd surely have gone back to escape. And I *know* 90% of the people reading this are chuckling bitterly because they either wanted to go back or felt a guilty sense of relief at not having to deal with naps when they did go back to work.

Being a parent is hard, y'all.

It does not matter how much you love your child: Caring for a baby is the ultimate tear-you-down-and-build-you-back up experience*.

And here's where the bad news and the good news are exactly the same: What you're experiencing is totally normal.

Exhibit A: When you hold him he'll stay asleep for a long time. When he's sleeping by himself, he only stays asleep for 20 minutes. (Babies that age seem to be pre-programmed for either 20 minutes or 45 minutes.)

Exhibit B: He doesn't fall asleep on his own. (Apparently there *are* babies who will do that "drowsy but awake" thing--I know because some readers have had them. Neither of mine were. One of mine needed to be nursed or rocked to sleep. Always. The other needed to create white noise by crying to shut himself down, and could not be nursed or rocked to sleep. Almost always. They both sleep like champs now.)

Exhibit C: You are going insane. (Check. Check, and also check.)

Allllllll normal. At this age, no matter what you do, he's not going to get a long nap, so don't stress yourself out trying to make it happen. When he's 5 or 5 1/2 months old, it'll all change. Read the comments on this post and absolve yourself.

Here's what I think you should do, right now, today. First, round of all the baby sleep books you have. Put the ones that your son has read and has agreed to follow in one pile, and the ones that your son hasn't read in another pile. Take that second pile and put it in a kitchen garbage bag and put that bag either 1) in the way way back of a closet to pull out when your son is 8 years old and read and laugh at, or 2) in the paper recycling bin.

Now, put your baby in the stroller or wrap or sling or what-have-you and forget about his naps, just for this one day (or tomorrow, if you're a planner). Pop in on that new moms' group you always wanted to go to but couldn't because of the !@#$%ing naps. Or call a friend (with kids or without) and meet for lunch. Go to a cafe and have an iced coffee and bring along a book and if your son falls asleep, read your book. (OK, magazine--Who are we kidding about your ability to concentrate on plot right now?)

Let today not be about naps. Your son will probably end up getting the same amount of sleep he would have if you'd stayed home and tortured yourself, only *you* will feel like a human being instead of some inadequate robot.

Now. Do you want to go back to work? That's another story for another day. There is no easy path for a mother. It's just a different set of problems. So maybe table that discussion and let the nap thing go until tomorrow and see how you feel.

Sympathy? Empathy? Bitter remembrance?

* Has anyone out there gone through military boot camp *after* becoming a parent? Because I kind of feel like it wouldn't be the huge deal it is for most recruits after going through the newborn stage. I mean, you get 7 hours of straight sleep a night, someone else cooks your meals, you get to pee all by yourself, you're not responsible for anyone else's socks, and all you have to do is physical tasks and not let a drill sergeant make you cry? Please... muscle soreness is nothing compared to the dark night of the soul.