Category Archives: Developmental Spurts

Q&A: 18-month sleep regression redux

I got a question from Kelli a few weeks ago, and then an almost identical question from Kyo a couple of days ago, about the 18-month sleep regression.

If you all recall (and those of you with kids over the age of 18 months probably do), there's a big developmental spurt that happens right in the 18-21-month corridor, so many kids who've been fine sleepers suddenly stop sleeping (either at nighttime or for naps or both) around 18 months and it lasts for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

It completely and utterly bites, and parents can feel blindsided and insulted and very very angry about it.

So, what Kelli and Kyo were asking was what they should do about it. Their kids were waking up in the middle of the night either once or a bunch of times, and they were having varying degrees of success with getting them back to sleep using various methods. The big concern seemed to be whether they were setting themselves up for later problems if they did things like nurse the kids back to sleep or bring them into their beds or use other sleep crutches that they'd mostly gotten away from before the sleep regression happened*.

I think that, as usual, it depends on your kid. By the time your child is 18 months old, you've been through a few sleep regressions already. So think back to what happened when your child came out of the 4 month regression and 9-month regression: Did your child go back to sleeping the way s/he'd been sleeping before? (Some kids just go right back as if the regression had never happened.) Or did you need to ease your kid back into sleeping and wean off processes of getting to sleep that you'd used to hold down the fort during the regression? (Bitey Biterson, for sure.)

Whatever happened with those other regressions is probably going to happen with this one. If you've been reading me for any length of time, you know that I figure that people just sleep the way they sleep, and there's not much parents can do to change that. So the sooner you can figure out how your kid sleeps, the sooner you can figure out both what's realistic for you and how you should approach sleep issues.

The other thing to think about, though, is "Do you care?" I know that, for me, it didn't matter if I knew I'd have to spend a few weeks breaking a habit again as long as I could get some !@#$% sleep in the meantime. If that's the way you are, then who cares, and do whatever it takes to get you all the max amount of sleep at any given night.

But if it will kill you to have to undo something, and you're not so fried at this moment that you just need to sleep By Any Means Necessary, then take a little time to think about how you could replicate conditions that will help facilitate sleep without actually going back into the processes or crutches you don't want to use. Either that or schedule a solo vacation at a spa for a week and let someone else deal with it. (If only. Can you imagine?)

Anyone want to share any fond memories of the 18-month sleep regression?  I would, except I seem to have blocked out a whole lot of it. I can, however, remember standing over my older son's crib wondering how I'd morphed from awesome to completely incompetent in a matter of weeks. Parenting is hard.

* In general, I think sleep crutches of all sorts, from pacifiers to rocking to loveys, get a super-bad rap. No one has to bring their mom along to college to nurse them to sleep. And so what if you have to sleep with a white noise machine? If it bugs you when you're 30 you can break the habit your own self, and leave your poor parents out of it. So I'm only talking about breaking habits because some parents really want to get away from sleep crutches because they're adding more stress to their lives. If sleep crutches are working for you as a family, then party on with them for as long as they work, and then figure out the next thing.

Q&A: 20-month-old scratcher

Kathy writes:

"I'm sorry about the long email but my husband and I are losing ourpatience fast. It all began with a recently trip to Jamaica. On our way
there, our 20 month old son refused to nap. By the end of our trip, he
was screaming, squirming and scratching at our faces. He's never been a
scratcher but we just thought he was deliriously tired and acting out.
While we were in Jamaica, he scratched our faces a handful of times but
again it was only when he was tired. Our trip back was an absolute
nightmare. My husband and I look like we got into a fight with a rabid
tiger and lost. Since we've been back 3 days ago, the scratching has
gotten out of control.

We've tried the serious voice and stern
"No scratching. It hurts mommy/daddy." He will either not care or claw
at us again. We moved to the "Ouch. That hurts" with a fake cry. His
response is to scream at the top of his lungs… not the I'm sorry
scream but the don't piss me off scream. We even tried the time out
thing today but he was perfectly content to just sit there. We try to
intercept his hand before it gets to our face but he's like a ninja. We
rarely see it coming.

scratching is sort of random. Sometimes he's tired or angry but other
times we're having fun together and he'll reach out and take a piece of
my face off. Everything that I've read says to be firm, consistent and
wait it out but I'm not sure if we can wait weeks or even months. We
won't have any skin left on our faces.

Any other tactics or advice? "

First off, I'd cut his nails and then file them down as far as you can without hurting him, just to reduce the efficacy of his weapons!

I have to say that it doesn't surprise me at all that your son is 20 months and is doing this. Remember how we've talked about the whole 18-month evil phase? The kids just get so frustrated and have no autonomy so they basically just lash out. And then something seems to ease around 21 months–they get more words, they seem to have more physical fluidity, and they just seem to be more in command and less stressed all the time.

What that means is that 20 months is the end of the build-up of frustration. I get dozens of questions from people about why their 20-month-olds won't eat, and that's all about controlling the one thing they can control. I think this scratching is the same thing–he can't control things and has so much anger and frustration inside of him. It's probably exacerbated by being back from vacation and feeling tired and off-kilter, and missing all the piña coladas and warmth of Jamaica.

I don't think you're going to be able to magically stop it, but I do think you might be able to ease it until he gets older and more able to deal with his conflicting emotions and urges. I think helping him express his feelings and wants might give him a little more space. So definitely start signing, if you haven't been doing any already. (And if you've been doing it but have tapered off, ramp up again.) People loooove the Signing Time DVDs, and you can also use the Michigan State ASL browser online (you need QuickTime on your computer to use it, but you can download it free if you don't already have it).

The other thing you could do is to verbalize his feelings for him. If you can tell he's getting frustrated with something, you can say "You're frustrated. That's making you feel angry and like you want to scratch something!" and then give him a chance to confirm. It's got to be so horrible at this age to have so many complex feelings and not be able to express them so adults can understand! If a grown-up gets what you're feeling and can tell you they understand, that makes things better, even just a little. Everyone just wants to be understood, no matter how old or young we are.

The part about it coming out of the blue is, I think, also just human nature. Think about times when you're carrying around something that's been bugging you, and sometimes you can only be angry about it or mention it when things are back to being calm or happy. And the person who has to hear your anger is blindsided by it. Same thing here, only with physical pain.

Aside from this, I think it's going to help you if you can think of it in terms not of your son acting naughty or trying to hurt you on purpose, but as a problem you need to solve together. Clearly he's feeling awful and angry and frustrated and is just lashing out because he's got nothing else. So whatever you can do to help him reconnect and feel like he's got some power over himself is going to help, and shutting him off (with time-outs or other "discipline" stuff that's really just punishment) is going to make things worse. But you knew that–I just thought it was worth reminding all of us of it again. (And again, and again. Parenting is hard, y'all.)

What else do you guys have for Kathy? Stories? I'm hanging on here by a thread with a chest cough and aching head, so I'm praying my younger one will take a nap (he's in the middle of dropping it) so I can, too.

18 months

I've had a request for a commiseration post for parents of 18-month-olds.

The suddenly not sleeping! The willfulness! The earnest and desperate desire to talk but the inability to say the words they want to! The slapping themselves! The battles over food! The way you've been feeling good about your skills as a parent and suddenly you feel both incompetent and angry all the time!

Yeah, I feel really bad for you guys.

So, if you're in the middle of it, complain here. And if you just came out of it, give them hope. And if you're long out of it, see if you can come up with any good stories to make us all feel better.

Also, does anyone know exactly what skills they develop during the developmental spurt that causes them to stop sleeping for those 4-8 weeks? I think it's definitely about communication and organization, but don't know if there's been anything written specifically about that spurt.

More unformed thoughts on those rough times (3 1/2-year-olds)

So I've been thinking a lot about this 3 1/2-year-old thing. And how it really seems to me like all the "difficult" stages seem to be at times that double: 4 months, 9 months, 18 months, 3 1/2 years, 7 years, 14 years. I don't know if that means anything, except that if you're 28 maybe you're having a tough time, too. And 56 might also be rough…

Anyway, it seems like the difficulties start out more weighted toward the physical but become progressively more emotional as the people get older. So that first rough stage at 4 months is mostly about being fussy and not being able to sleep. Then at 9 months it's not sleeping but more generalized crankiness. 1 months seems to be a tie between physical and emotional distress, and then by 3 1/2 it really seems to be mostly emotional (even if all of this is caused by some physical process of development in the brain).

It feels to me, from being on the outside of it, that the developmental spurt that's happening somehow seems to remove the protective emotional layers somehow, so that all the person's emotions are right there, waiting to bubble over at any second. The person on the inside can't process or deal with or control them. Which is why they get stuck in a "Pick me up!! Put me down!!" loop. It's like they have an exposed nerve, and any time anything brushes against it they just go off from the overload.

I've noticed that when I'm feeling emotionally fried, my child being in one of these emotional wack-out times just sets me off, too. But when I'm on an even keel, my response just instinctively seems to be more one of "Oh you poor sweet little thing. Let me give you a hug."

Does this resonate with anyone? About any of the stages? About yourself? Or do you think there's something different or more going on?

Q&A: that unbelievably annoying spitting stage

Michelle writes:

"We are flummoxed by my 10 month old’s food-spitting.  It is actually pretty cute…the minute we present him with ANY type of food (baby puree, toast, fruit chunks, even the “puffs” he usually loves) he starts blowing raspberries.  The only problem is that, apart from drinking bottles, he hasn’t had a single bite of any food in several days.  He doesn’t seem in pain, so I don’t *think* he is teething or suffering from a throat infection or something.  Rather, he seems playful or even triumphant about it.  But here’s my question- isn’t 10 months too young for the toddler-style testing?  Is this something babies do when they are leaping forward in other ways?  He is also about to start walking and struggles/fusses a lot in any position other than standing.  Is he basically trying to talk, and I can diffuse some of this behavior by doing baby sign language- which honestly feels a little silly to me?  Is he just destined to reject food and become one of those really picky eaters who only eats fruit roll-ups and peanut butter?"

First of all, I need to put my foot down and insist that no one diss the baby signs. Baby signs have the power, so you can think they're silly all you want, but once you see them in action you'll change your tune. And when your 9-month-old can tell you "more," "all done," "milk," "sleep," and a few other things, you'll be happy you did them.

Now, on to the question. Michelle labeled this a "lighter" question, but I get a version of this at least every month, and some of the parents are truly upset about it. I think it's hard for some parents to see their children testing boundaries and exerting their will so soon. When you've been used to a cuddly, compliant baby and suddenly you have this creature who just won't stop doing something that seems so counter-productive, it can throw you for a loop.

I also think that some parents react with a distress or rage about spitting that's out of proportion to the actual even because it hits something in them. If you were punished or harshly dealt with about eating and food and table manners when you were a baby and toddler, then your child stepping out of line (so to speak) is going to trigger those really anxious, rage-filled feelings in you. If you recognize yourself in that description, good! Now that you know what's going on, you can use those feelings to tell you what you need healing from. It's a good opportunity to give yourself what you didn't get when you were a child.

Now, as for why Michelle's baby (and yours) are doing this spitting thing: Michelle pretty much hit everything. It is too early for toddler testing, but it's right on time for older-baby testing (which no one wants to tell you about for fear that you'd say you were going out for a gallon of milk but you'd never come back). There's a 46-week developmental spurt, and I think part of it is that, but really I just have known so many many kids (both of my own included) who've started to really want to just do what they wanted and now! when they were 10 or 11 months old. 

Add in the physical stuff, and yeah, you've got a would-be tyrant with little ability to make his desires known and a very limited ability to go where he wants to go. You'd be cranky, too, in that situation, and would do whatever you could to piss off The Man

So, seriously, try the sign language (at the Michigan State free ASL dictionary or the Signing Time DVDs), and don't get too upset about the spitting, because it's just a result of frustration on his part plus exploration and being able to do something that feels cool.

Oh, and some of us would be happy if our kids ate both fruit roll-ups *and* peanut butter. Sigh.

Cast your vote in the comments for the most annoying baby/toddler behavior that isn't an actual problem but makes/made you nuts.

Q&A: Controlling Toddler Meltdowns?

Sarah writes:

“I discovered a few days ago that if I yell, sternly, ENOUGH!!!, when my18-month old starts spiraling into a tantrum, he stops, stunned by my
loud and stern voice, and returns to a calm state.  On the weekend, he
was about to meltdown in his stroller, and I yelled ENOUGH and it
stopped him dead in his tracks, I have to admit I was quite pleased.
Today he started to melt down because I wanted him to stop playing with
something that was dangerous and so I yelled ENOUGH again, and again,
it worked.  But today instead of being pleased I started to wonder if I
was scaring him into submission, or “training” him like one might train
a dog.  I have no idea how to deal with tantrums.  I have read your
posts and I understand that it’s ok to comfort an 18-month old through
the tantrum without giving into their “want”.  But if I can stop it
before it becomes full-blown, isn’t that preferable?  Or, am I using
old tactics that we’ve learned since are harmful to a child’s

This is part of a broader issue, which is that I just want my boy to be
happy, and I know my husband feels I am on the verge of spoiling him by
rarely saying no to him.  Do (good) parents yell at toddlers, as I’ve
started to do to halt bad behaviour, or is that a total no-go?  I feel
at a total loss.”

I’m going to say that this is not a good thing. On the one hand, it is kind of just a distraction method, right? You’ve shocked him into being quiet. But really what’s happening is that you’re yelling at him to get him to stop yelling.

I absolutely appreciate the urge that made you yell ENOUGH! in the first place. And I think we’ve all been there with the kneejerk, instinct-level reactions (your preschooler smacks you and you reflexively smack him back, your elementary schooler calls you a name and you respond with “it takes one to know one!”, etc.) because none of us are perfect and it’s just human nature to react when you feel attacked, even by a little kid. However, the goal is that you make discipline policies that are well-thought-out and are going to help your kid (and yourself, too) learn mastery of themselves and increase connection with you.

So, as a policy, yelling is a no-go, because it’s just punitive (and is experienced as violence, for sure). It’s not teaching anyone anything good–it’s teaching your kid to be afraid of you and it’s teaching you that brute force is the way to run the situation with your child. And in the long-term it’s not helping you guys individually or as a pair.

Honestly, I’m really starting to feel like toddler tantrums are just another developmental blip for us to ride out, like the 4-month sleep regression or that stage when they only want to eat things they can feed themselves. I think tantruming, on a kid-by-kid basis, is “normal” behavior and no matter what we do it’s going to pass. And maybe for some kids there’s something simple you can do to get them to stop having tantrums or to get them through that stage faster, but not for all. Which means that you try some stuff, but not with the goal of finding The Cure, just with the goal of helping you all deal with it in a way that honors all of you as people.

The bigger thing I think you need to look at is how you and your husband are approaching discipline. At all ages, but especially at this age, it’s about setting boundaries, not about getting kids to obey. (I really hate that word obey.) When kids obey, they’re doing it because they fear punishment, not because they’re making the choice themselves. I think we can all (or most of us) agree that the goal is to raise adults who have an internal sense of right and wrong and the power to make good decisions for themselves and others.

This young toddler age isn’t about having them make good choices, because their ability to actually choose and then carry out an action is limited, and when they get an urge it’s super-hard for them not to do it. But it is about getting them used to boundaries, and that they aren’t going to be allowed to do certain things (like hurting a pet, running into the street, sticking forks in electrical outlets, etc.), that they are going to have to do certain other things (like brushing their teeth, having their diapers changed, etc.). Another aspect of boundaries is learning that they will be loved, that no one is going to hit them or yell at them (which is why kids who are abused have problems with boundaries later), that their opinion matters, that they’re part of a community.

So it sounds like your husband sees setting boundaries as “saying no to him,” while saying no sounds too punitive to you. So maybe sit down together and talk about setting boundaries and how you want to do that. Three great references to get your head around the concepts of setting boundaries are Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child, Lawrence Cohen’s Playful Parenting, and Faber and Mazlish’s How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. (If you can only get one, get the Ginott.)

For practical, minute-by-minute tips on boundaries and dealing with tantrums at this young toddler and preschooler age, I don’t know anyone else better than Sharon Silver. I’m hoping she’ll drop in and comment on this post. (OK, I just clicked over to her site to find the URL to link, and started laughing because her current headline is “Stop Reacting – Start Responding – We’ll Show You How. Do you find yourself yelling at your toddler or preschooler because you’re frustrated and you don’t know what else to do?” Ha! So yeah, let’s hope she drops in.)

Q&A: stuttering in toddlers/preschoolers

A few weeks ago, my youngest one (he turned 3 in May) started stuttering. At first it was cute, but now it's getting a little bit annoying because he gets so annoyed by it. I'm not worried about it, because it seems clear to me that it's part of the disequilibrium phase Ames & Ilg talk about in their 2-year-old and 3-year-old books. It came out of nowhere, and is happening simultaneously with a huge growth spurt (I think he's grown 2 inches in the past two weeks) and a bunch of new skills and a cranky, brittle stage.

Once again, it appears I'm not the only one. Kathy writes:

"My almost 2 ½ year old son hasbeen a really good talker for the last 4 months or so.  Vocabulary was going
well and he was easy to understand.  Then he started stuttering a week and a
half ago.  He’d just gone through a growth spurt and then began sleeping
5 hours straight and even through the night on occasion (something new for us,
and I have no idea if it is related to the stuttering).  Then about a week
later the stuttering started.  At first it was him repeating the word “you”
at the beginning of the sentence.  Then it was a few more words at the start of
sentences.  Now it’s all through his speech.  We corrected the first
couple of days, then found out not to do that, just be patient and talk slowly
yourself.  The doctor didn’t seem concerned at this point, and said if he
is still having trouble at three, then they will review it then.

Is it really that normal?  He gets so frustrated, and
even will hold his chin like he’s trying to stop himself from stuttering. 
It is really hard to watch.  There are times when he will even break down and
say he can’t do it.  I am looking for any tips on what to do and or
expect from this."

It's so normal, but so frustrating, isn't it? To reassure you, it is all about the growth spurts and developmental things. He'll be really smooth at some times and then jerky and clumsy at others. The stuttering is part of that.

I wish I knew what to do to help him. My guy's old enough that he can still make himself understood past the stuttering, but with such a new talker it's a different ballgame. Does anyone have any tips for Kathy to help her and her son get past this phase? I've just been ignoring it, but it also isn't as cumbersome for my not-so-little guy.

Q&A: rocking baby to sleep

Eric writes:

"I have been pouring over various entries in your blog for a while now and decided to ask you a few questions.  Based on different books (Ferber, Weissbluth, etc.) and doctor recommendations, my wife and I tried CIO and it was miserable…for us and our son.  It didn’t feel right and we were reassured when we read your thoughts on babies who increase tension by crying.

We have found some success by rocking our son to sleep though it often seems to take ages for him to fall asleep.  This might seem ridiculous, but one question is about how to get our son into the crib without waking him once he does happen to fall asleep.  On several occasions, he has fallen asleep in our arms by rocking him to sleep but awakens as soon as we set him down in his crib.  Do you know of a successful way to put him in the crib without waking him up?  Also, what is your stance on rocking him to sleep?  I know that you suggest rocking as a way of calming a baby who increases tension through crying, but should we be letting him fully fall asleep in our arms?  The problem is that if we don’t let him fall asleep in our arms and we attempt to soothe him while he is lying in the crib, it takes a much longer time and he seems to be more restless. 

We are experiencing other sleeping problems (night wakenings), but would really like to try to first tackle the issue of getting him to fall asleep without the nightly battle that it always has been.  I am not sure if his age would vary your response, but he is approximately 4.5 months old right now.  He was born approximately 3 weeks early due to my wife’s development of HELLP Syndrome. 

Exhausted and eagerly awaiting your response,

Ooh. Three things I hate combined into one post:

1) HELLP Syndrome. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s like turbo-ultra-mega preeclampsia, and is very serious. If the baby doesn’t come out, the mother can seize and then her organs shut down and she dies. I’m glad Eric’s wife and the baby came out of it healthy. We should all keep a close watch on our blodd pressure and the protein in our urine while pregnant.

2) The 4-month sleep regression. It just sucks. There’s no way around it. 4.5 months minus 3 weeks puts Eric’s baby smack in the middle of it. It’s so so hard for babies to sleep at this age.

3) The cultural expectation that a baby that young should be able to go down awake and that if the baby can’t it’s something the parents are doing wrong.

Yeah, there are things you could be doing to screw up your kid’s sleep. Some of them are obvious, like playing loud music at 10 pm in the same room your baby’s in, or snorting coke while you’re breastfeeding. Some of them are not so obvious, like drinking coffee in the morning while nursing(caffeine has a half-life of 96 hours in a baby’s system–go figure–but it doesn’t seem to affect some babies at all) or putting a kid in pajamas that make him/her too hot and sweaty all night.

But aside from a really small group of things, there’s not much you can do to change the way your baby sleeps. It’s largely a function of personality and age. If Eric’s baby needs to be rocked to sleep, that’s the way the kid is. It doesn’t mean that he’ll be like that forever, or even a month from now. Just that it’s what’s working now. By Any Means Necessary to get everyone as much sleep as possible.

So I think rocking your kid to sleep is fine, as is putting your baby in the swing, or nursing to sleep, or using a pacifier, or having the baby go to sleep with a comfort object or white noise machine or anything else people use. (If you use a comfort object, make sure you have a spare in case something happens to the primary one, or you’re screwed.) You child will not need that thing forever, and you’ll probably have a good instinct about when you can switch that thing out of the routine. At the very least, you’ll do better making sleep changes in your child if you have some sleep under your belt, so think of it as strategic pacing.

But. If it takes forever to rock to sleep, I’d look and see if there’s something else that might work better. Eric and his wife tried CIO so they know that doesn’t work for their son. (In contrast, my second son didn’t want to nurse or rock down, so I tried letting him cry and he fell right to sleep after a few minutes. Stunned me, since my first son would escalate if I let him cry for more than half a minute.) Maybe swaddling would work, or something else. I wouldn’t be afraid to try other things, because they just might stumble onto something that will work faster than the rocking. Or maybe not, and the rocking is as good as it gets at this stage.

It’s just awful staring down the barrel of a long, long bedtime routine (those of us in the 3-year-old sleep regression can sympathize). You’re finally at the end of the day, and you know you’re still facing an hour of getting the kid to sleep. No way around it but through it, but it still just makes you want to cry, and ask for your money back.

How many of us have suffered through the problem of getting the kid to sleep but then not being able to put the baby down into the crib?! It’s the bloody hangnail of the first year of parenting. I’ve head suggestions of putting a heating pad/hot water bottle in the crib to leave it warm, then moving it right before you put the baby down, but I didn’t have enough hands to do that. You can let the baby sleep for 20 minutes to get deep into the sleep cycle before putting him down (and then let all the blood rush back into your arms) and that might help. I’ve also heard that in Australia they don’t have this problem because they all put their babies down to sleep on sheepskins, and the sheepskin magically keeps them asleep. Honeslty, I can’t remember if I came up with anything good at that age because I was so sleep deprived that not much stuck from that phase.

So, can anyone solve the problem of putting the baby down into the crib and keeping the baby asleep? If you can patent it, you’ll make mountains of money.

And if anyone else wants to sympathize or complain, please feel free.


Samantha needs some hugs

If any of you are in HR and would let me pick your brains about something (not my current job–no worries), please email me. Thanks.

Poor Samantha writes:

"I’m at my wits’ end.

I don’t know where to start.  I do know that my head is pounding and my eye bags are now purple and I long for my baby to sleep for a 4 hour stretch.

I wrote to you over 3 weeks ago and told you how my 12 week old was waking every 2 hours (at least).  Well now I think she has got into the habit.  The gas that was waking her has stopped and I thought that the 12 week growth spurt would be over by now, but at over 15 weeks, she is waking regularly.  She cannot put herself back to sleep.  I’m trying to get my nipple out of her mouth so that she falls asleep without it in there.  Sometimes it works but she wakes after half an hour and nothing seems to get her off.  She gets so upset, she doesn’t even realise a boob is being offered.

On top of that, she is finding it hard to get to sleep in the day.  She has switched on to the world and I think it makes it difficult for her to nap.  My husband has been away for the last 2 weeks so I have been the sole parent.  It’s so hard when she wakes every 30, 90, 120 minutes during the night and then only naps for 30 or 45 minutes in the day. She is so tired when she wakes from her naps and it’s getting harder and harder to get her off (even boob and bouncy chair are failing).  The other day I planned to walk with her in her carrier for an hour and a half to get her a decent nap.  The carrier always gets her off.  And it did – for 20 mins.  Then something woke her and she screamed.  She wasn’t in pain because I could stop her from crying for a bit but I just couldn’t get her to sleep.  In the end, she cried herself into a sobbing sleep, with me sobbing next to her.

I feel like such a loser.  Young teens have babies, women have twins and toddlers to contend with.  Some people put up with sleep deprivation a lot longer that my measly few weeks before melting down.  I only have one, lovely little baby and I’m exhausted and tearful.  I sometimes feel angry towards her.  I know it’s wrong and I wouldn’t do anything to hurt her, but I do feel like putting her in her cot and leaving her to cry because none of my efforts are working.  I don’t want her to lose her trust in her mummy.

I’m quite certain that the reason she is getting so upset is because she is tired.  Plus, maybe she is picking up on my increased tension as the sleep deprivation continues.

I’m now really resenting breastfeeding.  I found it really hard in the early days but I persevered because I wanted my baby to have the best. My husband and mum were constantly telling how ‘breast is best’ and I continued.  However, I’ve never been the best expresser and with my husband’s shifts and time away with work, the baby has forgotten how to use a bottle.  Now I can’t even get a break in the day.  I long for some sleep.  My friend’s baby can go off to its grandmas armed with a bottle (and pacifer – which my baby also has no idea how to use but does have an overwhelming desire to suck) and she can recharge her batteries.  Not me.  How can breast be best when the baby’s mother can barely raise a smile in the morning??

I know time will be a great healer, I just feel so exhausted.  My in-laws keep saying how she should be sleeping for longer periods by now and perhaps I should start her on solids.  I just can’t see her ever sleeping for longer periods – it’s all so foggy.  I have bought Elizabeth Pantley’s book, which I’ve read and will start the logs soon.

I love your website – it’s such a comfort.  I know there is probably no solution – just to wait it out, so I’m sorry if I’m wasting your time. I think I’m just searching for hope and support."

Oh, honey. This is just so sad, and I have felt every one of the emotions you’ve written. Especially the part about how feeling like a loser because other people deal with much tougher things than this.

You’re right that the ultimate cure for this is going to be time. But in the meantime, I have a few things to offer:

She’s heading right smack into the 19-week developmental leap, which means she’s in the middle of the 4-month sleep regression, which reduces many parents to quivering masses of pain and despair. Remember this post when we all shared how awful the 4-month stage was? Let’s go back and read the two pages of comments (you have to click "Next" at the bottom of the screen to see all of the comments) about people going through this torturous stage. You are not alone. It ends eventually.

This is probably the worst time possible* for you to be the sole parent for two weeks! That’s just adding so much on top of this that makes it worse. Of course you’re completely fried. If there’s any way to afford it, I’d try to get someone to come in to help you for a few hours a couple of times a week, at least.

Now, about your in-laws: Babies all slept longer when your ILs were parents because the babies all slept on their stomachs. I really wish there was some way for us to let our kids sleep on their tummies without risking SIDS**, because I’m absolutely convinced that that’s why we’re all so consumed with sleep–they don’t sleep well in general, so it’s not just that we’re nervous or micromanaging or whatever. I get 5-6 sleep-related questions a day, and I just think some of them never would have been issues back in the days when kids all slept on their stomachs.

In theory, I think that if you want to quit breastfeeding, you should
feel free to without guilt. Your daughter has already gotten way more
breastfeeding than most kids do, and kids are fine on formula. In
reality, however, I think weaning right now will make your situation
worse because she won’t take a bottle from you so that will add another whole
level of struggle to your day. Also, weaning could (two days in a row
with this warning) push you into full-blown PPD from the hormone drop.

Instead, I think you should ask someone you trust to take your daughter for 3-4 hours every other afternoon so you can stay home and sleep. Send along a bottle of pumped milk or formula. If she drinks it, she drinks it (and whoever she’s with might take it–you never know what kind of magic someone will have, and most babies won’t take a bottle easily from a breastfeeding mom), but if she doesn’t take it, one afternoon isn’t going to hurt her, and it’ll get you a stretch to help fortify you for the next few weeks until she breaks through the developmental leap.

You can’t deal with this all by yourself anymore. You’ve done everything right. There’s no magical way to get her to sleep while she’s working on this developmental leap, so instead people need to be helping you to maximize the sleep you can get each day. If no one knows how much you’re dealing with, send your husband the link to this post, and ask him to help. Dealing with a not-sleeping baby alone is what propels women into PPD, so don’t even begin to minimize what you’re going through. You need someone else there to hold that baby while you sleep four 4 hours in a row. And not someone who’s criticizing the fact that the baby’s not sleeping. Someone who knows what a great job you’re doing, and just wants to be part of your team when you need it.

Now, readers, please say something nice to Samantha.

* Maybe not exactly the worst time. A woman told me her husband left for an overseas two-week business trip when their first child was three days old. Yeah.

** Whoever can come up with a no-risk-for-SIDS tummy-sleeping device deserves billions and billions of dollars.

Q&A: early nighttime wakings

In the past few days I’ve gotten four separate emails from four separate moms who are at the ends of their respective ropes with their babies’ sleep. The babies range in age from 4 1/2 to 7 months, and they’re all sleeping decently (one or occasionally two wakeups) from around 11 to 6 or 7 am.

The problem is that first stretch, from 8ish to 11. All of them report that the babies are waking up every 30 to 45 minutes during that time and crying hysterically.

The moms are at their wits’ ends about this. Firstly, because they feel like it’s somehow their faults (or at least that they could be doing something they’re not doing), and secondly because they’re spending 3 hours every night repeatedly getting their babies back to sleep.

I just want to thank all of you who email me for being so honest and funny and poignant win your emails. This was a particularly bittersweet run for me to read, because they were all so funny and desperate at the same time. One mom said all she wanted to do was be able to have sex with her partner in the living room some night without having to go get the baby in the middle of it. Another mom signed off "Yours Truly,StaysUpLateToAvoidBeingWokenUp20Times". (I sooooo remember that phase with my older one.)

It makes me really, really sad that our first reflex is to blame ourselves when our kids don’t sleep the way they’re "supposed to." Most of the moms reported trying to let their kids cry it out, with horrendous results (two hours of crying! stick a fork in the whole household), rocking, nursing, bottles, no bottles or nursing, pacifiers, swaddling, white noise, etc. etc. The only things I don’t think anyone mentioned trying were opiates and reading the babies constitutional law textbooks.

I think sometimes babies just can’t sleep. Remember back when this was the witching hour when the babies were 6 weeks old? I wonder if it isn’t just some developmental reprise of that.

[Hey–in the time it’s taken me to type this I just got another email with this exact same theme! The older newborns of the world are in sleep rebellion!]

I also wonder if it isn’t what happens sometimes when the babies are switching from three naps to two, or are going through that combo of movement stuff and developmental stuff that happens at those ages. I wonder if they’re just so overstimulated from being inside their own bodies that they’re tired and can get to sleep initially, but then can’t stay asleep unless there’s someone else right there with them the whole time (and sometimes not even then).

I’m not sure we can know the answer. (I know Weissbluth has his theories, but he also tells people just to let their kids cry it out as if that works for every kid and you’re an incompetent dumbass if you don’t, so I can’t really get behind him.) What I do know is that it doesn’t last forever. And that if you’ve tried the things that seem reasonable to you, given your normal lifestyle and your child’s personality (like moving bedtime earlier or later, messing with nap times if you can, providing white noise, a full tummy, and a soothing routine), then you should just switch to trying to figure out how to let it bother you less until your baby grows out of it (which will happen–the commenters with older babies and I promise you).

It can be as simple as knowing it happens and it’ll pass and it’s not your fault. It could mean getting one of those reading light headbands and sitting in the room doing crossword puzzles or reading Lucky magazine or constitutional law textbooks while the baby sleeps. Or it could be a more formal plan to get past it, like switching off 8-11 duty with your partner on alternate nights, or trying to hire a babysitter if you can afford it for one or two nights to get yourself away from the situation mentally. (If you have relatives nearby, this would be the perfect time to ask for help! A few nights of not having to deal with the 8-11 hours could change your whole worldview.)

Anyone have any tales to tell of your own kids doing the wake-up repeatedly thing during that first stretch? Do you think anything you tried worked, or was it just the child growing out of that phase? (I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that people with kids who release tension by crying don’t even realize that this sometimes happens, because it seems like the kids who do this waking thing are also tension-increasers. I know my first–a tension-increaser–did it, but my second–who had to cry a little to get to sleep–never did.)