Oh how I miss it. I miss waking up full of energy and feeling ready to go and I miss sleeping past 5am.
The thing is, I thought we had the sleep thing sorted. Emilie was an amazing sleeper as a baby. I fondly remember the time she was sleeping through a massive 13 hours. I even took her to the GP worried that she might be dehydrated from sleeping so long without a feed (typical first-time mum – worrying about everything even when everything is perfectly fine).
So what the hell happened?
Where do I start… Coughs that wake her in the night throughout the winter as she literally caught every bug going. Teething, the torture that never seems to end (for us and them) the last ones are meant to appear around 24 months. Separation anxiety which Emilie got really bad at around 12-14 months and then general bad sleeping habits and a toddler with an overactive mind that likes to express itself by babbling endlessly at 2am.
Oh, and sleep regression, no-one told me about that. Sleep regression is thought to occur when a baby who is normally sleeping well begins to wake frequently at night and/or fights/refuses naps. There is thought to be a regression around 3/4 months, 9 months, and 18 months. So there’s a pretty big list of reasons why your little one might not be sleeping so well. Yawn!
If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that life is endlessly easier when you’ve had the rest your body & brain needs to function. Without sleep just getting through the day and being alive, albeit unwashed and untidy is an achievement.
There’s been a massive period of disrupted sleep in our house and I know from speaking to other mums that we’re not alone. For us, it started when Emilie was around 6 months old and although she now sleeps well she is still an early (5am) riser and we expect to be woken through the night as the next teeth or cough comes knocking at the door.
If you’re reading this feeling exhausted then I want you to know you are not alone!
So what can we do?
Here are some things that we’ve tried.
I didn’t realise that many of the loving things we were doing early on, that felt so lovely and nice were actually creating really bad sleep associations for Emilie. I used to hold her and rock her and breastfeed her to sleep and then once she fell asleep in my arms I’d pop her in the cot. It all seemed so lovely at the time but as time went on I quickly discovered this was the only way she could get herself to sleep. Even daddy couldn’t get her back off to sleep. So as she woke from sleep cycle after sleep cycle wondering where she was and why she wasn’t being gently rocked and fed by mummy anymore I had to respond to her cries and rectify the situation. An endless cycle of us both being woken from sleep over and over again.
We decided after many months, (when I realised I just couldn’t keep going like that anymore) to do a bit of Googling and that’s when we discovered sleep training (which I highly recommend). It ultimately means Emilie can settle herself and does so many times in the night without our assistance. The idea behind sleep training is that little ones learn how to get themselves to sleep on their own so that if they wake up in the early hours they don’t need a milk feed, a cuddle or to be rocked etc to get themselves back off to sleep. The best advice I can give you is to try this before the point you’re super super desperate for sleep (which is when most people discover it). It can be tough to implement sleep training because it takes time and willpower in the early hours when all you want to do is get back to sleep as quickly as possible.
We used the Pick Up Put Down method rather than Cry It Out and it was worth sticking it out because it did work!
Of course, if she’s in pain or can’t stop herself coughing then she still needs our help so it doesn’t solve all sleep problems but it has helped a lot!
Popping a non-spill sippy cup of water into the cot has helped too. If she wakes up thirsty she can have a drink and get herself back off to sleep.
For teething, we found that infant Ibuprofen rather than paracetamol works best and a dab of Anbesol on the gums seems to help too.
And I hated giving into this one but going to bed earlier helps. I could never manage the “sleep when baby sleeps” idea when Emilie was a newborn and these days I just don’t get a chance during the sometimes very short lunchtime nap she takes. So getting to bed a little earlier at night at least guarantees us a few extra hours of much-needed sleep.
I guess the biggest thing I wish someone had told me is that nothing lasts forever. Especially when it comes to little ones. If you’re getting good sleep enjoy it, revel in it, love every single second of it. If you’re not, know that you’re not alone in the daily battle to get through another day and that one day it will end.
And when we’re not asleep why do toddlers tire us out so much?
I actually googled this. Because surely looking after a small person can’t be this exhausting. This is what I found…
There’s something called hyper-vigilance which I think many mums can relate to. For parents, hyper-vigilance is basically being in a heightened state of awareness, fight-or-flight and protection mode on behalf of our children who are too young to do it for themselves properly, if at all.
Fight-or-flight occurs when someone perceives a threat of danger and experiences physiological symptoms that will help them to fight or flee. Anxiety and worry are basically heightened states of awareness. If you are anxious, then it’s almost as if your body is in a low-level state of fight-or-flight.
So, how does this concern us mums? Well, by the time our children are mobile they begin to explore their environments. Things that were seemingly safe, like a chair, suddenly become an opportunity for big falls. Functional things like toilet cleaners or food processors become objects of potential disaster.
Even after a house is “child-proofed” there will still be many times when your young ones will attempt something that is dangerous to them. Since they don’t register this danger, we do.
When we are in charge of little ones we are constantly in high awareness. Physiologically, this is exhausting. This is why you hear many mums that have gone back to work after mat leave say that work in the office can at times seem relaxing in comparison to the days they’re at home with a toddler.
From sun up to sundown you are directly focused on others. Up until motherhood you’ve likely had much of the day to yourself. Even in our busy pre-mum lives, while working, we could go to the bathroom alone. and get a tea or coffee when we so desired and have the time to drink it.
And for those of us who are working mums our time away at our jobs is done while simultaneously wondering/worrying about our kids who are somewhere else all day and then come home to be hyper-vigilant all night. There rarely is a moment in the day to truly switch off.
As mothers we try and become more efficient, we have infinitely more things to cram into a day than we did pre-baby and they all take twice as long with a little person around. When I walk from one room to the other I put away a few things in the process. I will eat my lunch while scheduling playdates in my google calendar and working through business emails. This is helpful in that it allows me to accomplish many things in the short time during which Emilie takes her lunch nap. It is unhelpful when it means we are so busy that we do not relax and rest.
Life with a little one is a busy life, there’s never-ending piles of laundry, stacks of dishes, food to cook and toys to put away. No matter how organized, efficient and structured you are as a mother and no matter how obedient and well-behaved your children, being a mother to young ones requires focus, concentration and a heightened sense of awareness. And that makes us tired.
There is no downtime.
Not even a moment to go to the loo in peace.
There are no days off.
No sick days, no duvet days, no holidays. We do it 365 days a year.
Parenting is physical.
Although Emilie is walking I still spend the majority of my day lifting a 26-pound toddler on one hip. She is heavy and by the end of the day, my back often aches.
But we love them, and they’re cute
If I had a pound for every time I’ve said “it’s a good job she’s cute” I’d be a wealthy lady. With all the sleep deprivation and the long nights, and sometimes even longer days, she brings so much joy.
I am constantly mesmerised by just how wonderful she is. I am constantly thankful that I get to spend every day with such an amazing little being.
I quite simply can’t imagine life without her and I sure as hell can’t remember what I did with all those hours of the day I now so lovingly give to her.
Even at 2am when she’s screaming all I want to do is make her little world better, make her happy and be the mum she deserves.
So here is what I’ve heard…
From the mums who have gone through all this before us and have survived…
No-one can promise you that you will never feel tired again. But the tired changes. It goes in phases.
First there’s the baby-up-every-hour-to-nurse tired.
Then there’s the baby-is-sick-and-teething-and-screaming-all-night-long tired.
Then there’s the chasing-after-the-toddler-all-day-long-tired.
Followed by the dealing-with-terrible-two-tantrums-all-day-long tired.
Each one is hard in its own right. And each one is different to deal with. But each is a phase.
One day your baby will sleep through the night… eventually. It might take two or three years but they will finally cut that last set of molars. They will eventually stop waking up at 5am in the morning.
So hang on in there! You’re doing great. You are a good mum, even when you are too tired to see it!”
So take heart tired mummies. You will make it through these exhausting days. And you will be stronger for them.
You are a good mother. You only need to look into the eyes of your children and believe it.